The voice sounded a long way away. Or perhaps it was a long way away. He couldn’t be sure any more. All his certainties had long evaporated.
Was it really him they were calling for? He wasn’t even certain of that.
Often he felt that Tristan had died out there too, and that he was some changeling, a pale imitation sent back in his stead. They hadn’t noticed yet, but sooner or later they were bound to spot that he wasn’t their brother, their son.
“Oh for pity’s sake...TRISTAN! Where are you?”
He sighed. The girl that was probably Sarah was coming for him. Sooner or later she would find him, and the game of charades would begin again. Sometimes he played well, and managed to behave as they expected. He could tell, because they would both smile and the sadness would briefly disappear from their eyes. Mostly, though, he got it wrong, and they would sigh, and wouldn’t look at each other.
He didn’t care too much. He just wanted to be left alone.
There was a rustle, and Sarah’s face appeared, followed by the rest of Sarah. She wasn’t as thin as him – it was hard for her to squeeze through the gap. He might have smiled at the sight, if he could remember how.
“Mother says, will you come in to lunch?” she asked. She waited for a response, but not hopefully, because she had not received one in the two months since he had come home. Or was it two years? Or five? Ten? He couldn't recall. Besides, he had forgotten what she had said, so he stared at her blankly until she went away again. He thought he heard a sob as she ran off down the garden, but what did the sobs of one girl matter? At night he heard the sobs of a whole regiment.
Was she really his sister?
Sometimes, he wanted to scream at them. When they wanted him to do something, say something, and grew angry when he did not, he wanted to scream, scream and never stop screaming. When that happened, he would take himself away from them, no matter what they were doing. He knew that this embarrassed his mother. She had stopped having guests round now, because she couldn’t trust her own son to behave.
She didn’t know how bad it could be.
He blinked. It was dark. Had he been there all day? He couldn’t remember. Had he eaten? He was hungry, so he dragged himself back to the house and into the pantry. He looked at the shelves, and recognised an apple, but after two bites it became sawdust in his mouth, so he put it down and sought refuge in his (no, their) bedroom. He sat on the bed and drew his knees up, rocking back and forth, endeavouring to stay awake. To sleep was to dream, and to dream was truly terrible.
In the night, he heard his mother crying, and his sister going in to comfort her. He might have cried himself, if there had been any tears left to cry. As it was, he fell asleep, and dreamed of mud, and of bodies, and of being crushed by tanks, and he awoke, as ever, with a yell. Moments later (or was it hours?) his sister appeared at the door, and for a moment he almost reached for her, but then he turned away and after a few minutes she went away and left him alone.
He stared at the wall. Poor Sarah, he thought, absently. Poor Mother. They did not deserve this.