"This is what history consists of. It's the sum total of all the things they aren't telling us."
—Don DeLillo, Libra.
His hands tell her what he doesn't. She learned to translate when he stepped off the plane and wrapped his arms around her. That was "hello" and "I missed you" and "I'm glad I'm back." When she realized he wouldn't say anything, she taught herself to read.
At first she only caught simple sentences. In the calluses of his palm she read "It was rough." When he didn't let go until they were home, she understood "It's been too long." When he cupped her face, she felt "It's good to be home."
She woke to his silhouette against the window. She slipped her arms around his waist, and his hands jerked up, halted, rested around her wrists. She knew he didn't recognize her for a moment. She said nothing.
She began to notice his hands were swifter, every motion fluid and practiced like loading a gun, part of an absent-minded memory. His hands didn't move that way before. When he helped her cook that night, like he had before deployment, she watched his mechanical chopping, knife flashing up and down.
"A little softer—you'll mark up the board."
He put the knife down for a moment, flexed his hand, then picked it up again, cutting with slow, deliberate strokes.
Once she asked what New Year's was like in the desert. His hands curled into fists, exposing the rivets of his knuckles. He didn't answer to his name. She put a hand on his shoulder, and his hands broke open with a jolt, jumped to cover his face. She watched his hands run through his hair and rub his eyes. She watched the way he held his face as if it were on fire. She read that they didn't celebrate.
That night she watched his hands twisting in the sheets, thrashing, trigger finger twitching, reaching and pulling back. She shook him but his movements amplified until his whole body was shuddering, and his eyes opened as he shouted, "Get down."
She caught his hand before it could strike her face. She wrapped her hands around his, fingers twining as if praying, and his palm stuck to hers with sweat. She held it to her heart and watched his vacant eyes, his heavy breathing.
He put his other hand over hers. "I'm sorry."
"It was a bad dream."
He released her hands and rolled over.
That afternoon she took out the letters he sent her last January, read through each one for clues until she found one.
She entered his room. "Was it the house?"
His hands furled and unfurled, crossed and hooked at his elbows.
His hands dropped, trembling. "A bomb."
"What else?" When he didn't reply, she took both his hands and led him to the couch. She brushed a thumb over his knuckles. "Tell me."
She took his pulse while he told the story, feeling the way his hands squeezed and fingers twitched to fill in the gaps. She could feel the way he moved—beckoning them to follow, firing his gun, reaching out for his friend's shoulder and falling short, throwing his hands in front of his face. She could feel the way his hands quivered when he carried his friend back.
He didn't finish. He fell silent after dragging his friend through the sand, and his hands shivered in hers. She squeezed his hands then put one hand on his face. They didn't have to say a word.