When Nora Malone, a college student, meets her fiancé at the bus station after his discharge from the army, he has no visible wounds from the war in Afghanistan. But soon he shows symptoms of a problem, and now after three years of dealing with the acrimonious separation of her parents, she has to deal with her fiancé’s invisible wound.
The next day was uneventful, but on Thursday their peace was shattered. In the morning she went to her class, and in the afternoon she hung out with Ryan in the living room, intermittently studying. When her mother came home around four thirty Nora was ready to go to work at O’Malley’s and Ryan was dozing on the sofa. Since he didn’t have to be at work until six, she asked her mother to wake him at five.
“I thought he was sleeping better,” her mother said.
“He is,” she said, “but he gets tired easily.”
“He said he was examined by a doctor before he was discharged.”
“Yeah, he was. And there wasn’t anything wrong with him.”
“Well, he should be examined by another doctor.”
“Why do you say that?” She was annoyed with her mother for upsetting her. “There isn’t anything wrong with him.”
Her mother shrugged. “Okay. You know him better than I do.”
Nora was about to leave when a fly that had been buzzing around the room came within striking distance of her mother.
Her mother clapped her hands sharply, trying to kill it.
Ryan leaped up and attacked her mother, yelling “Heeagh!”
Her mother collapsed under a chop to her shoulder.
“Ryan, stop,” Nora told him, moving between them to protect her mother.
He shook his head as if he was dazed, and then he looked at her mother, saying: “Oh, my God. What did I do?”
“You attacked her.” She had figured out why. In his dozing state he must have thought the clap of her mother’s hands was a gunshot, and he had reacted like he was in combat.
“I’m sorry,” he said, reaching down to help her mother.
Her mother shied away from him as if he was a dangerous man.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“Maybe you didn’t,” his mother said, rubbing her shoulder. “But it was unacceptable.”
Nora helped her mother get up, and they determined that there was no damage other than a pain in the shoulder he had chopped.
Still, her mother said: “I want Ryan to leave immediately.”
“He has nowhere to go.”
“I don’t care. I want him to leave.”
“Well, if he leaves, I’m going with him.”
“You’re not going with him.”
“Yes, I am. You can’t stop me. I’m nineteen, and I’m an adult.”
There was a puff of air. “You’re only a child, and you’re not what he needs. What he needs is medical attention.”
“There isn’t anything wrong with him,” Nora said, though this was getting harder to believe.
“Maybe there is something wrong with me,” Ryan said. “I shouldn’t have attacked her.”
“She startled you out of your sleep. You must have thought you were back in Afghanistan. So I don’t blame you for attacking her.”
“I blame myself for attacking her.”
“Let’s go to work. We can talk about it there.”
“I don’t want him to come back here,” her mother said adamantly.
“We’re not coming back here,” Nora told her, “except to get our things.”
They stayed long enough for Ryan to go into her bedroom and change his shirt, and while her mother was in the bathroom examining her shoulder, they left.