Upon his orders the troops lined up for war; green versus red with rifles at the ready and canons in support.
It was a bloodbath. With a sweep of his hand whole armies were swept away, falling where they stood, left to lay rigid in the carpet. But like the Vikings in Valhalla the plastic soldiers were resurrected one by one as the small boy put them back onto their feet, aggressively arrayed for another dramatic confrontation.
Potpourri fragranced the living room and impeccably dusted china figurines adorned the mantelpiece. The man of the house was forbidden to smoke indoors but his wife had no objection to the newspaper. It was a polite partition, a black and white broadsheet shield against the verbal slings and arrows of his hectoring gossiping wife. He usually only perused enough of the pages to maintain the pretense of reading, but now he was peering over the top, watching his son play at sterile death. His newspaper told him it was nothing like that. It was terror, horror, shit, blood, gasping, begging and hoping against hope that it would all end before you’re killed and left to stiffen in the mud.
The man of the house quietly squirmed as the armies fought and died once more. This time the little boy added cinematic screams and puffed out his cheeks as he mimicked explosions that he himself had never heard.
The newspaper told the man of the house that it was nothing like that. It was deafening, ear-splitting, bone shaking, so loud that the death screams were never heard; a soldier’s last words might as well be silence.
A knock at the door announced the arrival of the prestigious dinner guests, the colonel and Mrs Sheffield. The man of the house fussed with hats and coats while the colonel, encumbered by his wooden leg, lumbered down the hallway. He was still a gentleman, though, gallantly escorting his wife with his one remaining arm.
When the man of the house reached the living room his wife was already arranging drinks.
“I’ve got it all under control here darling, has the table been set?” The glance that came with the question made it a mandatory suggestion. The man of the house handled the best china with the delicacy it deserved, folded the silk napkins exactly as his wife had shown him and laid out the best silver just so. Soon enough the roast was in the middle of the table and grace had been said. The man of the house carved and distributed the roast, ensuring that the guests got the choicest cuts. He’d done everything right. He couldn’t understand the judgmental glare from his wife. Why were her vicious lips pressed so tight and white?
“No bother…” said Mrs Sheffield, reaching over to pick up the knife laid to the right of her husband’s plate; the side of his mangled arm. “…we do this at home all the time” She explained as she began cutting his food into bite size pieces.
As the boy looked agape at the Colonel’s empty sleeve neatly folded and pinned to his shoulder his innocent mind took in all the horror it could cope with. He still hadn’t heard the explosions, smelled the blood or screamed against the din; but he understood that “FIRE!” had consequences. Unable to fully comprehend, the boy turned his gaze to his father. Unable to look at his wife, the man of the house turned his gaze to his son and found an expression that washed away his pacifist guilt. The boy understood it wasn’t about avoiding the horror; it was about not inflicting it. Reassured, the man of the house knew that his son would never ask him, “Daddy, what did you do in the great war?”