Wednesday afternoons spent packaging rations at the RSL were the Essay

Wednesday afternoons spent packaging rations at the RSL were the only remote sense of comfort that Andromache felt in a time where affliction seemed to be the main ingredient in her life. It had become a place of solitude, a home away from home, of sorts. Surrounded by women whose husbands were also fighting in the trenches, it brought a strange sense of peace to Andromache, to know that her soul wasn’t the only one splintered by numbing despair. It had been two years and three months since Hector had left Armidale for the front line.

According to the last letter Andromache received, he was now stationed in Gallipoli. Every letter written was an act of faith; hope that for every letter she wrote, he would write one back.

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“Andromache, why don’t you and Astyanax come around tomorrow evening? It’s been a while since he and Tommy have had a playdate and I sure wouldn’t mind the company.

It would be nice to catch up.”

Suanne’s husband enlisted around the same time that Hector did. Like Andromache, she had also been left with a home and baby to look after. Andromache’s shoulders slumped with the responsibility of maintaining a roof on her child’s head. She had no other family besides Hector. When Wednesday afternoon turned into evening and her child was fast asleep, she couldn’t help but feel inexplicably alone.

“I’m sure Astyanax would love that Suanne, thank you.” Andromache looked up at the clock. It was almost 4 o’clock and dinner wasn’t going to cook itself. “I have to get going now but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Orange gold of the afternoon sun stretched across Armidale, illuminating the town’s beauty and reminding Andromache of happier times. Every Saturday afternoon, her and Hector would go down to Civic Park and watch Astyanax play with the ducks as the lake behind him sparkled under aureate rays. It was these moments, that Andromache longed for. They replayed in her mind. So much so, that she almost believed she was there again. That is, until she arrived back to an empty house and Civic Park faded into another world.

The sofa erupted in a cloud of dust as Andromache placed her canvas bag on its battered floral print. Sunlight trickled through every open space between the lace fringed curtains, illuminating the room and the curling edge of wallpaper. She reached over to the raw bark coffee table and picked up a small wooden box. She ran her fingers across the intricate carvings on the lid and lifted it up. There he was – in his tartan shirt, smiling at her with Astyanax in his arms. She gingerly pulled out a stack of yellowed paper from underneath and unfolded the first one.

“My Dearest Romy,

I miss you and Astyanax terribly. Every night I lie awake, wishing that I was back with you. I wonder how you are getting on without me. I wonder how much our baby boy has grown.

I hope you are not worrying too much about me, I am doing quite well here. The weather is pleasant and in fact, I have even almost become accustomed to the tremendous snoring of the other men…”

Andromache let out a soft chuckle. Hector always brought a smile to her face. The letters made it seem that he was right there with her. It seemed that the war he was fighting in Gallipoli and the war she was fighting at home, disappeared when the wooden box opened. The golden rays soon turned to pink and purple hues as she went through the contents of the box.

Then came a sudden clattering of the door knocker. Who could it be? The newspaper had already come around this morning. Andromache opened the door and was surprised to see a young boy. He was 15, maybe 16 at most. Either way, too young for the bleak expression stamped across his face. The emblem on his navy-blue sleeve read ‘Australian Postal-Masters Department’. She looked down to see a pink envelope in his hand. Her throat tightened almost instantaneously. She had, of course, heard about the dreaded pink telegram; the one that haunted the dreams of families whose sons and husbands had perished in the trenches.

“I’m sorry Madame.”

All at once, there was an intense ringing in her ears. A wave of darkness washed over her vision causing her knees to buckle. She dissolved into the wooden floor and found herself clutching on to her chest. Ragged, shallow gasps barely escaped her body. It was as if her heart had stopped fighting for oxygen. An anguished howl tore through her, rippling through the creaky floorboards and flaking walls. She cried with more violence than that which Hector had endured at Gallipoli.

Only when a faint cry could be heard from another room, were Andromache’s tears were interrupted.

She picked up the baby boy with trembling hands, trying her best to fight back the ocean welling in her eyes. His soft brown eyes mirrored Hectors and were a constant reminder of his absence. Now, more so than ever.

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