The war, so they say, ended a half century and more ago, but the Ladies keep to the old habits, of want and privation, of solitude in the afternoons, of cold coffee on the balcony. These habits kept them alive, kept them canny, and have not lost their utility with the coming of a notional peace. The front has shifted, not dissolved, and if there are fewer mortars crashing between the buildings, fewer young men carried silently back through the quiet streets, even so: the siege continues.
They have lost the streets, the bars, and the factories, driven inside and underground. They drift among the new society, unseen aqueducts half-buried beneath newly green hills, trenches choked with poppies. In the labs and offices, they stand in circles, laughing humorlessly at a joke told by someone schooled in forgetting, avoiding eye contact, swallowing rage. They know each other in these moments by a tightness around the eyes, a blanch of white knuckles on a sudden fist, a twist of the mouth revealing the pinch of an ulcer.
Evenings they go to ground in windowless bars or drive through the country on surplus motorbikes, mouths wide and laughing to catch the air, eyes bright with whiskey, cheap cigarettes, country music, blues. They carry the war within them, pass it down in silence to their adopted children, who will use it in the war yet to come.