It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.
- P.D. James
Tonight silvery clouds skipped across the sky, thick gossamer curtains that blotted the cold light of the moon. I stood on the roof of our barracks for the better part of an hour just watching the night wind chase them through the high atmosphere. In the grip of those ceaseless currents of air they would scatter like children playing a game of hide and seek, only to reform minutes later into billowing sheets of pearlescent light. The last time I remember seeing clouds was months ago. During the arclight days of summer the sun refused to share his high kingdom with any usurpers.
The breeze lazily shuffling past was crisp and cool, like a bite into an unripened apple. When the wind flickered past I could feel the air greedily bleeding away my body heat, but I stood rooted in place. Because when I looked up at that jigsaw sky, endlessly reforming itself in some chaotic ballet, I could almost fool myself into thinking I was home.
Standing there lost in memory I started to hear the skeletal scrape of leaves bouncing along the driveway. For a second I caught a familiar scent on the wind, the smoky tang of seasoned wood crackling on a fire. That phantom smell was enough to soften the cold lines of the FOB, and the next breath I took pushed me even farther into memory. For a few minutes I wasn’t on a forlorn roof… I was home. I could see the flickering incandescesence of a fireplace dance on my wife’s face. I could hear her voice, as pure as a claret and as bright as the searing embers in the fire. I don’t know how long I remained absorbed in thought - dreams and memories follow their own meandering path through time. Eventually I heard the rooftop door groan heavily on its dried hinges, the tortured sound pulling me back across the long miles. Back across the oceans of sand, and it scattered islands of pain and strife. Back across the fierce shoals of vehicles and weapons that ring our encampment. Until I was once again standing on an ugly roof. In Baghdad. Alone.