Today marks 100 years since Australia lost thousands of its young men on Turkish shores, at the place now known as Anzac Cove. The magnitude of the losses of human life is unimaginable a century later.
As a woman, I might think differently about war than the men who were sent to the battle front in the world wars. I know I think a lot about the families left behind, especially the women with small children and babies. I wrote a story about it several years ago and I thought I would share it again, in the spirit of Anzac Day 2015.
Across the Ocean
Love waits for me across the ocean, abandoned more than once. Once I promised her there would be no more voyages, I would turn my hands to farming instead. Instead I sailed away from her. Her fidelity undiminished despite this broken pledge, she waits for me, a beacon to guide me back to land. Land is now but a memory, adrift I have been on these seas, a compass without a map, a star without a night’s sky for weeks, nay, months.
Months slip away until I know not when I last saw my heart, alone, waving from the headland as my boat left the bay and entered the turgid seas, black as the clouds that hovered above, threatening to engulf her where she stood, with an arm raised in farewell.
‘Farewell, my husband,’ she said to me that morning, tears sparkling in her eyes the way sunlight shimmers upon dappled waves. Waves of regret assailed me, forcing me to my knees to encircle her waist with my arms, to bury my head in her burgeoning belly, fecund and full with my child. Child of mine I am yet to see, to smell, to hold. Hold on to the thought of me, for I shall return to claim you as my own, teach you what I have learnt of the world, guide you through the narrow straits of life, give you the father you have met only in your dreams.
Dreams guide me across the water, filling the wind-whipped canvas with snatched images, ballast to the torment in my mind. Mind tricks prey on the unsuspecting sailor, visions of death drive out the living. Living day to day, I mark notches in my soul, chipping away piece by piece the nourishing memories that sustain me until the day the ocean is behind me and I can return to my waiting love.
My love dies a little every day I am left unprotected on these untrustworthy shores. Shores bearing witness to many a ruined marriage, a coast of familial shipwrecks, teeming with cunning and hidden shoals.
Shoals of abandoned wives swim through town as one, pitying and despising each other in equal part, united in their simmering rage, forsaken once again. Again I join these widow crews, helping where there is need. Need I see firsthand the pain that is coming when alone I birth this child of yours? ‘Yours’ is what he is – I can sense the wanderlust, the way he pummels me from the inside out, demanding to be freed. Freedom is what you guard so jealously, as you scud across the ocean. Oceans of gold, onyx, sapphire and jade you will never let me see.
See the way they swallow you. You drown each night in my sleep. Sleep brings no rest, choking me with terror. Terror that my love will die.