“Sleep light, wake early” - Lieutenant Liffey’s nightly advice, until the day he himself failed to heed it… And then…
Now back with his folks, in his Grenfell farm bed, ‘Rabbit’ sweats in screwed sheets every horror nightmare night. At sixteen, Billy ‘Rabbit’ O’Reiley had bounced onto the peninsula, brim-filled with freckled grin courage. But it leeched slowly into Turkish blood mud tears, until Liffey closed his eyes… Then… The courage drained, a giant plug-hole whirlpool in his soul.
His mother’s nightly kindness is a contrasting - hopeless - “sleep well”. He is broken. The folks down town don’t speak, but whisper “shell shock”. He smothers the gutless-given silent screaming white feathers… But he doesn’t throw them away. They sit under his new bedside table, shoe-boxed with his discharge. He doesn’t sleep well. He sleeps light, wakes early.
On his nineteenth birthday - he wakes to a terror… He sees a savage broken face which drills new depths of fear. Chilled white, he can’t stop the scream as he leaps away towards the door. His mother had finally fallen asleep, but hears the yell and the floorboard running. She flies. He shoulders the fox-ready-loaded Lithgow Lee Enfield, sat by the back door. She arrives to see him leap into the house paddock. He turns towards the house to face his attacker. She calls “Billy”, stepping out into the yard. As she hears the shot, she realises her mistake. The new bedside table has a mirror. He sinks in sudden awareness, screams, slams the bolt, fires again.
Billy and his mum are not war casualties. The real cost is never counted.