The Chandelier

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A family notices a change in their father after returning home from battle.

 

I always hated that chandelier. When I bought the house I was told the previous tenants would be taking it with them, but on moving day there it hung, dusty, tattered, and off-center in the sitting room. The rest of the house was perfect in comparison, it was a one-story house just outside the city, no more loud nosy neighbors awake at all hours of the day. Everything about the house screamed sturdy, from the brick finishing to the hearty mahogany doors. Even that damn light fixture was solid. No amount of books thrown, whacks with the broom, or to my son’s best attempt, paper airplanes thrown at it made it budge. 

In one of the many letters I had sent to my Bobby I’d told him how: The days seem longer without you, the nights darker, but by God’s hand that chandelier is still as ugly as the day you left. He had promised to take it down for me, but the Great War had other plans. Before we had unpacked our last box he was gone, off to sleep in a trench somewhere in France. For one year, seven months, and five days I arranged the furniture in the sitting room like a madwoman. Moved the table under the light, but now the chairs don't fit around it with the coffee table, arranged the chairs in front of the furnace, but now the light was only over the right loveseat. The kids found it amusing, it was like an odd sort of Christmas, except instead of coming into the sitting room and finding new Lincoln Logs or a Raggedy Ann, the furniture was in a different spot every morning and mommy was angrily staring up at a lamp.

585 days later, the lamp as dusty as ever, the kids a year older, the floor slightly scratched from the furniture constantly moving, the victory parades over, there stood my Bobby. Except he wasn’t really my Bobby anymore.

 

* * *

Fridays were always a hectic day in our house. The kids both had school, Daniel always tore the house apart searching for pieces of his messenger uniform, I had to get the kids to school and then to my job, and then keep Dorothy occupied after school. My job as a telephone operator was offered back to me after our men came back home, and I decided to keep it. I wasn’t too concerned about finances, my parents had left my sister and I a considerable amount of money after they passed, there was my job, Daniel’s pocket money, and then there was the little bit of money Robert still had leftover from his service. 

“Mamma, did you know that the Eiffel Tower is the tallest building in the world?” My eldest was at that really cute age where he spits out any random fact he heard at school. 

“No Danny I didn’t know that, but we really need to hurry so if you’ll-”

“London Bridge is falling down, falling down, fall-” 

“Okay Dot, honey, that’s great but we’ve really got to g-” 

“Mamma did you know that Califorg...Cal-li-for-na raises more turkeys than any other state?” We were so close, lunches were packed, 3.5 shoes were on, my hair wasn’t completely grey yet, and if we left in the next ten minutes we could still make it on time. 

“Bricks and mortar will not stay, will not stay, will-”

“Oh! Or that violin bows are made of horsehair?” 

“That’s really nice hon-” but my tongue seemed to grow three times in size at the sound of breaking glass, my words stopping in their tracks, Daniel’s facts no longer fun, and Dorothy switched to humming instead of scream-singing. My son’s warm brown eyes met mine and he quickly bent down to help Dot put the right shoe on the correct foot, and took her by the hand out the front door.

The kids had drowned it out before, but now loud radio static and my husband's deep voice could be heard in the hallway just outside the sitting room. Peering around the corner I saw Bobb-...Robert camped out in his usual spot in front of the furnace. Since he came home I didn’t come here that often, so the furniture hadn’t moved for six months. I had separated the two chairs, leaving one under the chandelier where one would have better reading light, and the other near the radio and furnace. Robert had chosen the latter chair as his, so bottles and cigarette butts littered the coffee table, whereas my chair had piles of books and the kid’s toys scattered around it. 

One of the many-colored bottles that littered his section of the room was now just a pile of light green shards and a few specks of liquid that would stain if they weren't cleaned. But I knew better by now. My feet didn’t cross the threshold to the room I had once known every inch of. My feet knew not to get too close. Robert was hunched forward in the chair, elbows resting on knees, a brown bottle with the label peeled off in his hands, and his blue eyes stared into the fire. In between swigs from the bottle, his mouth would move ever so slightly, but I knew he was just muttering things my ears were never meant to hear. His once boyish face had hardened, the few nicks and scrapes he had acquired were hidden behind a layer of scruff he was too unbothered to shave off, his once short and slick hair had lost its shine and had grown out of its short buzz. Those things didn’t trouble me though, a trip to the barber could fix that. What troubled me were his eyes. Those once azure blue eyes that reminded me of the sky whenever he smiled or looked at our kids...looked at me, were gone. In their place were these cold, lifeless eyes that were always watching, always on alert. 

He was like this ever since he came home, he looked like my Bobby on the outside but something was off. It was as if the war had blown out the flame within him, and sent me the burned wick. He rarely left the house these days, and I had stopped trying to force him a few months ago. It broke my heart to watch him try to interact with a world that had chewed him up and spat him out. He’d insist on sitting with his back to the wall so he could watch the entrance if we went out to eat, and the one time I brought him to the picture palace with the kids he spent more time scanning and memorizing every face in the audience rather than on the screen.

He spent more time with those bottles than he did with the kids, and the kids almost didn’t seem to mind. They had grown used to our daily routine, and Dorothy was young when he left so she had gotten used to the idea of it just being the three of us quicker than Daniel did. Daniel had helped me cut up confetti and decorate the house for when Robert returned home, but a few days of living with this new dad seemed to change his mind. This new dad didn’t read the Oz books to him at night, take him to ball games, or help him with school work, this new dad avoided loud noises like Dorothy’s singing, and paced the hallways at night like a ghost from one of his storybooks. 

I waited outside the sitting room for another moment, my eyes had never left his still moving mouth. I opened mine in an attempt to say something, but nothing came out. I think on some level he knew. I think he knew I didn’t know how to help him. He knew the kids would trigger him in some way and set him off. That the world would think he was a coward if he went to seek help. All he’d known was how to be strong and fight, but no one had taught him how to ask for help. All he knew now was the inside of an illegal bottle. 

I loved and hated those damned bottles. For the briefest moment they gave me back my Bobby, but only for a moment. His hands would shake as he’d open it, and after a while his muscles would loosen up and there’d be a second where a flash of the man I fell in love with at nineteen was in that hardened face. But that look never reached his eyes, if anything the drink only darkened them. Those eyes met mine as I turned to leave the house and that look will haunt me for as long as I’ll live. There was no recognition or trace that he knew where he was, or whose brown eyes he was looking at. He just turned back to the fire.


 

* * *

Everything about the house screamed sturdy, from the brick finishing to the hearty mahogany doors. Even that damn light fixture was solid. No amount of books thrown, whacks with the broom, or to my son’s best attempt, paper airplanes thrown at it made it budge. Not even my Bobby’s body hanging from it could take it down. I always hated that chandelier.

 

 

 

 


Submitted: May 07, 2021

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