“Daddy, look at that giant puddle!”
Her little hand pulled at his own, slipping away from his own larger paw. Veronica ran towards the puddle at the end of the street and launched herself, landing in a satisfying thud in her red rain boots. The sound of the splash was muddled by the passing of traffic, horns and music blaring, but the evidence was clear. The murky water rose and collapsed on her navy blue raincoat, sprinkling her pale cheeks. She continued to make smaller splashes, kicking and stomping in the water, failing her arms, determination and satisfaction sprawled across his small face.
“V, maybe let’s not run out into the street in the middle of downtown!” Her mother called out. Veronica ran back towards them, launching herself into his arms. He caught her, legs wrapped around his waist, her small face buried in his neck. It was a rainy cold night, cold enough that their breath was visible, as Veronica liked to constantly point out. Yet, the feeling of her cheek pressed against his was a glowing warmth, like an ice cube melting in a hot cup of steaming tea. He reached up to hold her cheeks in his one palm; her skin was still young and unabashed by any scars or marks, velvet against his calloused hands. The silken strands of her delicate yellow hair, like the down of a baby chick, brushed the back of his hand. He lived for these precious everyday moments with her. He leaned his face in to kiss her cheek long and hard in an attempt to relieve the momentous ache he felt pounding through his chest.
“Daddy, your beard! It's scratching me!” she giggled, scrunching her tiny nose. “Put me down!” He released her, set her off to run ahead of them, the world laid out before her to explore and revel in.
An incessant murmur, a whirring noise, hovered above him. He knew it well. He looked up to see the tiny black aircraft like a pestering wasp disturbing him from his memory. He was suddenly aware of the humid air and his uniform, suffocating him. It. was like being stuck in a hot elevator, desperate for help, for hours on end. The more one focused on it, the more panic began to rise. He wiped the collection of warm salty drops on his forehead, spreading dirt and scratching grains of sand across his face. Looking out before him, not much was happening, as usual. The dessert was vast and empty, with the exception of himself and a few of his fellow soldiers sprinkled throughout, and of course, the drone. It buzzed, the “eye in the sky”, on the watch for hiding militants. Nothing had happened for hours. The humidity, the dry scratching of his throat, the heaviness of his uniform, he felt it all oppressing him. He closed his eyes again, the backs of his eyelids like film reels. Breathing in deeply, he could feel like fluff of her hair, the fresh coolness of the rain sprinkling his skin as he wrapped his arm around the smooth curve of his wife’s waist. He just had to keep breathing, keep remembering, and he could be there with them.