One Day in September

In one hand, I hold my letter. It’s from Emily. It is the only thing about this strange day that connects me to my life. My real life. The one before. The one where school and friends and what to have for lunch were the only things that mattered. I wonder what Emily is doing today. I want her to think about me.

In my other hand is my mother’s. Dry and papery. Her thumb running back and forth across my fingers. I spy a tissue poking out of her sleeve. I want to tuck it in, but I don’t. The lump in my throat is starting to choke me.

Looking down on my feet, they look strange. My school shoes are really shiny, because this is a special occasion. I think they want to run. That’s what they normally do when they race, late, into Sunday School. They don’t do that today.  They just walk, one in front of the other, like a grown up, towards the church.

We go through the massive arched wooden door, flowers tumbling from the curve above, suspended in mid air. I feel a bit like that. Like I am floating. I have been floating for over a week now.

I hear footsteps behind me. I turn my head just a little and close my eyes. I hope to see the man from my dreams, the one who lifts me up and spins me round. My mum gently pulls on my hand.

We walk up the aisle. It is so long, like a road. I can feel eyes on me. Wet, worried, wise, unwanted. I am in my own movie. I’m not really real. A hand reaches out and brushes my arm. I keep walking.

The box is high up on legs. It is not a rectangle. It is a shape. I climb onto the pew, catching my tights on the splintery wood, and I can see a chess board pattern on top. Tiny squares of beige and cream on the brown wood. I climb back down.

I hear the door open again. I close my eyes. It’s the man from my dreams. He is smiling at me. His blue eyes sparkle. The lump in my throat hurts so much.

I open my eyes and touch my mum’s sleeve. "Is Daddy in that box?” I ask. “Yes.”  “Can we open it? I want to see him.” She squeezes my hand. “No. He won’t look like Daddy.” “Why not?”

“Because people look different when they die. You wouldn’t want to see Daddy like that.  Let’s remember him how he was.” She bends down and gently kisses the top of my head.

I turn to the back of the church. For the first time, I see rows and rows of pale faces and straight backs. Statues with damp eyes and soggy tissues. Statues that see me and smile.

I see the door open, again. I don’t close my eyes. It is not the man from my dreams. The vicar gently pushes it to. As the latch drops, I feel the lump in my throat sink into my tummy like a stone. I turn to face the box.

 

- Anna Todd, Haslingfield

photo, A. Todd

photo, A. Todd