Sarah’s tired, a bone-deep weariness that started when Joseph left for the Front and worsened when he never came back. In those long years since, the world has become a thing behind glass. The only thing reliably vivid is Steve, her astonishing, sunlit son.
She pushes open the door to Winifred’s tenement and hears the boys scuffling, Becca’s high voice. Winnie’s by the stove and smiles at her. George isn’t here tonight, so everyone's more relaxed. Steve and Bucky are wrestling on the floor, Steve’s laughing and Bucky shouting, ‘I don’t need rescuing!’
Steve’s giggling. “It’s Sleeping Beauty, Buck, but don’t worry, I’ll get you out.” He flourishes like he’s wielding a sword, clips Bucky’s ear and Bucky unceremoniously shoves Steve's face into the rug.
Winnie meets Sarah’s gaze, grins, beckons her into the kitchen with a tilt of her head. Sarah follows, frowning. It should be funny, tiny eight year old Steve being the prince to rescue Bucky, a year older and nearly a foot taller, but nothing about that particular story makes her smile. She’s owned that book for years. Joseph gave it her because he thought she’d like Rackham’s illustrations. She thought she did like them, at first — because it was from Joseph, because she was happy, because she was in love — but since then the empty spaces where people should be just became too true to bear.
She picks up a knife, starts peeling potatoes. The kids are whispering under the table. It’s all warm, sweet and ordinary, but Sarah’s chest is tight, long years of grief packed down below her ribs.
Don't think of it. The cursed forest of the Western Front, blood and barbed wire. Don't think of strange sleep either, the hospital, the new sleep therapies, those people silent, suffocating, half-dead. Her history and her working day tangle with the fairytale and a line from the story keeps running through her mind.
“The briers held firmly together, as though they had hands, and the young men became stuck in them, could not free themselves, and met their death in the thorns.”