Everything that remained of the life of a human being after death, she was seized by such a violent attack of grief that I felt like opening the window and throwing myself out. I could no longer remain between these walls, which had sheltered her for so long, I could taste her scent and the air that she breathed. Her empty bed, the pillow exactly how she liked it…the covers scented, they retained a thousand atoms of her skin But no matter what, I had to stay and look after my confused little sister.
It had been about one and a half weeks since Mums death, I was lying in bed thinking about her, when a small sound disturbed the silence. I listened. The sound had filled the water pipes, which drained the roof. Somehow I could not fix the sound. I rose and drew the blind. No rain was falling; there was no wind, no light for miles and only a still moon high in the sky. I went back to bed and once again I heard the sound of drizzling rain but this time as I listened closer I realised it was the crying of my sister.
Each tear was like a million raindrops, splashing on the empty floorboard. Abby was missing Mum, like all of us, I suppose. She needed her warmth, her generous heart, and her healing touch…Abby lay still, no more tears washing her cheeks…. Just her eyes wide open…just gazing towards the empty sky…not a single star insight. Not a single star to wish upon. I calmed her and she slowly fell to sleep. I was slowly dozing off when…
I heard the door slam shut so I flung my dressing gown on and impatiently ran down the stairs. I opened my eyes in darkness. It was obvious who had wakened me, my brother Nathan. He had changed…since Mums death. I knew that everyone dealt with their problems differently, but I just hoped that he would get himself together for the sake of Abby…forget me I was eleven, old enough to look after myself. Nathan hadn’t done the shopping or even given me the money to do it…I didn’t know how much longer we could go on.
I tried to talk to him, before he used to be so easy to talk to, but not anymore. He was rough…drinking all night. Came home so late. I made my way up stairs, checked in Abby’s room, sound a sleep she was, but for how long? Than I went to my room and collapsed on the cover.
“Darling, I have packed your lunch for you, don’t forget to take it will you?”
“Thanks Mum” I replied. I gave her the biggest kiss on the side of her cheek leaving the print of my lips. Abby was watching television, I think it was Tweenies, that was always her favourite. Nathan comes running down the staircase, shoved a spoonful of cereal down his mouth.
“I’m going to be late, Mum can I have a lift”
Speaking with his mouth full…
“Sure, you just hold on one second”
Nathan and me made sure that we always remembered our lunch and P.E kit, because the days we forgot Mum would rush into school in front of everyone. It would be major embarrassing. The school we went to was pretty nice. It was nice to have an older brother to protect me, too. The day would go really quickly and before we knew it we were home again. Mum, Nathan, Abby and me all around the dinner table. It was so pleasant, calm and peaceful…we all talked about what had happened in the day. It was great…
“I’m really scared, can I sleep near you, please” Oh, it was Abby she had woken me up, she couldn’t sleep. It was only then I realised that I was dreaming again, the things I took for granted no longer left. Nothing. After a while the alarm went off.
It was the next morning. No milk in the fridge. No toast. Nothing. I was annoyed Nathan wasn’t bothered.
“Are you never going to help us with money, Abby and me might get taken away and you don’t care?” I was feeling anger raging inside, while poor Abby watched in fear.
Nathan closed his eyes and grated the words out, as if his throat was filled with sandpaper…
“No, why should I… you’re not my responsibility” I chased him…. tripping and stumbling with every step I took…my voice stuttered and I fell flat on my face. I lifted my head up from the hard concrete. He was hit. It sounded like nothing more than a silent, gliding milk spill. His head cracked down against the pavement edge. A fleck of blood rose up between his lips. His legs shook briefly, one heel rattling like a drumstick against the pavement. Then he died.
My brother, my clever, understanding older brother. My best friend and biggest pest of course. The sharer of my secrets, the joy between Mum, Abby and me. Dead. They took him. why they wouldn’t let us see him for the last time, I didn’t understand. We begged at them. But no. Not a single glimpse. His pale complexion had died out. His eyes were gloomy white, wide open. They covered him in a white bag. Abby lay on the damp grass, head against the pavement edge. Crying. I ran to the ambulance. The door was shut in my face. He was gone forever.
I grabbed Abby and ran back towards the house. It was empty. No more Mum. Now, no more Nathan. I didn’t want to go in. but had to before they saw us and realised we were alone. I knew what they would do. Put us into care, then separate us. We didn’t sleep all night- how were we supposed to? I couldn’t help thinking if it was my fault or not that Nathan ran out of the house so wildly. My cheeks were sore from crying and my eyes were dried out. I lay there still until the light came shining through. It was morning. Life was full of surprises, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what was coming next.
There was still no food in the house. I went to Nathan’s room. Got his wallet. I felt like a thief. But knew I had to get some food for Abby. I left her asleep, ran to the corner shop and back with some breakfast. It was then I saw one of them. The ones I was trying to avoid. The next door neighbour. I think he realised we were home alone. I crept back in. Abby was awake. In tears. She thought that I had left her too. After calming her down she agreed to help me make breakfast.
The door was shaking…and so were me and Abby. She was dressed in a posh frock. Hair tightly tied. Very polite.
“My name is Charlotte, I am from the social services. I have come to take you and your sister to a really beautiful place. There are lots of other kids like you too and all they do is play all day and there will be nice people like me to look after you both.”
It was an ugly building made of bricks which were as dark as ox liver, with an iron railing in front of it, with sharp spikes; it was held by the thread of the stream itself. It was caught feathered under a bridge and hooked around a stone barn in a fold of a knot. An evening light shone on the building, making the window panels glow like the blaze of a fire. The orphanage was in an appalling condition full of unhappy faces. Each of the children were hiding their individual unique story, I suppose we were too.
At first it felt hostile and we felt alone…but we soon realised that they were all the same as us. Alone. No family. No friends. Abby was very popular with the foster parents…she had blonde curls and a sweet face…but me…well that’s enough about me. Abby was going to be taken away to live with her new family, they had no other kids. They seemed nice, Mrs Morris, head of orphanage set the date for her to be taken, and it was exactly one week after the funeral.
After four days in the orphanage it was the funeral. A pair of black cars, men in black suits, flowers and the vicar. Abby and I were there. Mrs Morris said we should not come. But we wanted to say goodbye to mum and Nathan. So we went. It was a morning funeral. The grass in the cemetery was still wet. The vicar spoke and the coffins were lowered on ropes into the ground, together. I remember then a train went by- invisibly in the cutting- the hiss and the rattle of it, steam rising. Who else was there besides Mrs Morris, Abby and I. The vicar, I’ve mentioned him. The gravediggers waiting at a distance. A neighbour, a friend of mums had come… I think. The milkman too, perhaps, somebody from school. It was cold; I remember that, the low November sunlight glittering on the wet headstones. There was the sound of traffic from the road, the rumble of the presses in the nearby factory.
It was Abby who saw them first. She grabbed my sleeve but said nothing… I looked…. And there was Nathan and beside him…Mum. He had his hands in his pocket, his jacket collar up. His hair was as uncombed, as wild as ever. He was leaning against a tree. Mum, on the other hand was wearing a beautiful white dress. Hair combed neatly. Her face was so clear. They were both so pale but they were both smiling. You won’t, I don’t suppose, believe in ghosts. That can’t be helped. The truth is, in a curious way I’m not sure I do either. GHOSTS? I cannot speak for ghosts in general, number of ghosts. I don’t know. I will never know, I suppose.
Just the two…maybe. Mum and Nathan. I felt my eyes fill with water…but dried them before I could cry…Mum always said she was proud of me, I didn’t want to let her down. What excuse would I have to cry…Mum and Nathan were together…and Abby had a whole new family to meet? Even if that night there were no stars to wish on, both my wishes still came true. I thought that I would never feel this happy after what had happened. Life had fallen apart. But now the pieces had been but together again, even if they were a little jumbled. They were together. Like a jigsaw puzzle, piece by piece coming together.
My eyes filled with water again I couldn’t hold the tears back this time. They wet the sides of my cheeks. Abby looked up at me, while the images of Mum and Nathan disappeared. She was crying too. I knelt down and gave her a big cuddle. One more week and she would be gone too. I dried her tears.
“I’m so happy…Abby I really am, don’t cry”
“Mum and Nath are happy aren’t they?” she muttered in her sweet little voice
“Yeah, and I promise you, you will be too”
Tears of joy…honest they were. What more could they have possibly been?