The Colours in His Hair
by Davena O’ Neill
We only had one hour.
Sixty minutes alone, without sympathetic looks or words of encouragement. Everyone asked me after where we’d gone, but I never told.
‘We lost track of time,’ was all I said.
That seemed to satisfy them, wrapped up in their own remembrances. This memory was precious, mine alone, delicate as a butterfly wing.
The sign at the registry office, ‘Back in 30 Minutes’, was like a slap. Couples drifted away, some waited. Hesitating only a moment, you squeezed my hand, I nodded. We ran.
We arrived at the hotel breathless and giggling. The room door creaked as you pushed it open. Dust motes danced their way from the window to the bed as I unbuttoned your wool jacket and laid it over the chair. When I came out of the bathroom in just my under-slip you drank in the sight of me, cigarette half way to your mouth, a blush rising on your cheeks.
Marvelling at the freckles on your smooth pale skin, I traced a map to your heart with my fingernails. I didn’t have time to count them all. As you leaned across me to put out your cigarette the sunlight caught the red and gold in your brown hair. Rose petal lips, under the moustache that had tickled and scratched my flesh. Smoke made a halo about your head as you kissed me.
‘I must go.’
The spell broken, we dressed in silence, shyness returned, glances from under eyelashes, small smiles. It reminded me of the night, long ago, we first met. I had known then I would be yours.
Outside, we followed the raucous crowd to the station. You pushed our way along the platform and found a spot. As you held me in your arms the shouting, crying, shoving, faded away. There was only you.
‘Write to me.’
One last kiss and you were gone, swallowed in steam and raised waving hands. A brass band played, there was cheering. I stood silent until the train was out of sight and it began to get dark, then walked home alone.
Mother went to her keepsake box and took out Nana’s wedding ring. Handing it to me she said, ‘We’ll fix it when he gets home.’ She had noticed the swell to my belly. No more words, just a hand to my shoulder. A raised chin as we walked down the street.
The telegram arrived three weeks later. All whispers stopped. You left me your watch. I gave him your name and my eyes.
The rest is all you, more so every day. Sometimes just to look at him takes all my strength. Sometimes I cannot look away, then hug too tightly until he wriggles free. Each night I count the freckles on his skin and kiss his face, his rosebud mouth smiling. And when the sunlight catches the colours in his hair I go back. Back to when my heart did not ache. It was lighter, unbroken. Before you left. Before Gallipoli.
Davena O’ Neill writes about moments, the small everyday events that shape us.
She is a published writer of poetry, flash fiction, and short stories, and lives on the west coast of Ireland.
Photograph of watch from page 102 of “Highland Echo 1915-1925”, taken circa 1915, courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images.