By Sadie Jones
Hardcover, 384 pages
List price $24.99
The army had rented them a house in Limassol, quite near to the harbour because married quarters on the base hadn't been sorted out for them yet.
Hal knew the weather had been bad on the crossing from England — even after Gibraltar — and he pictured Clara and the girls laid up in their cabins all the way from Portsmouth. He hoped they hadn't been too sick; Clara wasn't a good sailor. He had enjoyed his own journey from Krefeld, flying in bumpy weather with the countries of Europe and wrinkled blue sea passing below, like a clay model you could stick flags in, and move imaginary armies from place to place.
Hal had been promoted to major, and transferred from his battalion in Germany to this one, alone, not knowing anybody. Everything had been new to him. He had set about the business of leadership and his new rank with steadfast energy, and was rewarded by a smooth transition. Sleeping alone in that house for a month, as he had, he missed the company of barracks, and the isolation was grating.
The Limassol house was narrow, in a cobbled street, with no outlook to speak of and barely a lock on the door. It made Hal uncomfortable to think of it, the unsettling lack of security, and that you couldn't see anything from the windows other than the crooked windows of other houses. If someone were to approach, or set a booby-trap, there'd be no stopping them. A few months before, in Famagusta, an EOKA terrorist had lobbed a bomb through the open window of a soldier's house as his wife was putting the children to bed. Hal knew his instinct — his agony of responsibility — must be tempered and that the Housing Officer was doing everything he could to get him married quarters at the garrison. But the other soldier's wife, in Famagusta, had lost half her arm in the explosion. Hal had spoken to the Housing Officer again that morning, reminding him, but beyond doing that he had no power: he must trust everything was being done that could be done. If he didn't have faith, he wouldn't manage, but with it, he could live with the knowledge of the other soldier's wife and still have his own come to be with him.
He lay in the bed that was too big for him, but would be too small for them both when Clara came, and imagined her leaving England for Cyprus. It had been a vicious winter all over Europe. Hal pictured a cold day at Portsmouth harbour, HMS Endeavour vast and cold too, and Clara waving to her mother.
Hal was right. Clara had been sick on the voyage. Meg and Lottie hadn't seemed affected by the heaving boat at all, perhaps being small and low to the ground their bodies weren't so disrupted, and she'd had to run after them, bent over, up and down the slippery metal corridors of the Endeavour, what felt like all day, every day, for the whole journey. The twins were sixteen months and had discovered exercise, exploration and teasing their mother.
Clara, whom Hal had taken to calling 'Pudding' during her pregnancy in Krefeld, had lost all of her baby weight, and with being seasick all the time and no German — or even English — stodge to sustain her, now barely filled out her clothes at all. She hoped she wouldn't be too skinny for Hal. He loved her curves.
When she wasn't chasing the girls up and down the Endeavour, or leaning over the metal bowl of the lavatory, she read to them. She read the new books she had bought for them in London, and she read the old books her mother had allowed her to take from the shelves of the nursery. She held the loose-spined books gently, reading to Meg and Lottie about fairies and trains and England, until all three fell asleep.
The Endeavour made its slow floating entry into the deep east of the Mediterranean. They passed Greece, and the long reaches of Crete. The ancient seas slid away beneath them, the boat throbbed and heaved, the islands and the skies surrounded them. Now she stood in the drizzle, watching Cyprus coming towards her out of the mist.
She had travelled out with an odd assortment of people: an Italian nightclub singer, a young teacher for the English school, who was a shy man barely out of school himself, and a Welsh businessman, with 'interests' in Nicosia, who was very boastful; he liked to frighten them with stories of EOKA's terrorist atrocities, and make them feel as if they were entering a proper war zone, not just a long-held part of the Empire having a little trouble with a few insurgents. 'It's hardly the Blitz, is it?' Clara said to the young teacher one night. It made her feel braver.
Despite the recent war, she had never felt herself a foreigner in Germany: it had the northern European restraint and ragged bombed greyness of home, and she had felt unthreatened there, even as she missed her family. She thought her sense of belonging might actually spring from the war between them, that England and Germany were like two siblings, badly bruised, but forced to carry on in the same house and learn to get on. Cyprus, though, was another thing altogether. Part of the Empire it may have been, but the island was a virtual chip off the Middle East too, Byzantium, Turkey, Greece, all of these parts in crisis, under the British flag, and her husband charged with part of its protection; Clara couldn't help but feel nostalgia for the dull concrete barracks and modern flats of Krefeld, and Brunswick, that she had called home for the six years of her marriage.
From Small Wars: A Novel by Sadie Jones. Copyright 2010 Sadie Jones. Reprinted by permission, HarperCollins. All Rights Reserved