The Indus Seals [Extract]

My boy Will come back last month.

I went up on the train to see him in the hospital, big new place in Birmingham. Six weeks before he gets home, they said. And then he'll have to take it quiet, not do too much. Not for a while.

I say my boy but that don't seem right no more. It's Will's name on the end of the bed, but it's not my lad lying there, like. Someone different, they got Will's name up by mistake.

I won't say it wasn't a shock, like, seeing him that first time.

All he said was: “Thanks for coming, Dad,” when I got there, and then he didn't say much else the rest of the time. I sat with him, just quiet. Once, he says: “Pass me the water, would you, Dad?” and I passed him the glass so he could reach it, I put his hand round it, watched him while he drank a bit. I had to go soon after that because of the doctor wanting to see him.

We called him Will, his mum and me, after Prince William. We reckoned he was better-looking though, growing up, everyone thought that, it wasn't just we was his mum and dad.

Derek, at the factory, does nights, he lost his brother, only been married three years. There's a good few of us at work got family affected, one way or another. A lot of the lads round here go in the Army, not much for the youngsters to do these days, things closing down all over.

They say next year the troops'll be coming home. I've not followed it all, what's gone on, why they went out there to start with, they was always saying something new. But there's plenty said different, our Leanne for one.

“How's our Leanne?” Will says that second time I'm up there. “How's she getting on with them clever types at college?” I was sitting quiet, like, in his room, neither of us talking much. Nice room.

He was a lovely boy – fair hair, blond almost, same as his mum, brown eyes. She spoilt him terrible. We called him Will after the Prince.

My girl Leanne, she's the one with the brains, just started at uni. Studying History, reading History she's pleased to call it. So there's Will out there fighting, part of the history, like, and our Leanne studying up about it all. They was always scrapping as kids, she was out to prove she could do what her older brother did and more, we couldn't ever stop them, but now Will's - now things is the way they are, Leanne's quite different with him, can't do enough, like she's making up for all the wars they had. She didn't go in the Army same as him though, not her style.

She visits him regular. Very upset she was, that first time.

. . .

This story was awarded second prize in the Exeter Writers' Short Story Competition 2016, and later published in A Change of Direction, 2019.