Wrote this for a competition. Feedback is welcomed.
Let’s start on the twenty-seventh.
A mild day. Not utterly winter, though not seemingly close to spring. The wind lapped playfully at the trees and pushed against my face. I could feel the hard boards of the bench underneath me, the thin clothes that hardly protected me from the childish wind and the strands of my blonde hair that whipped against my cheeks. I breathed in the scent of wood, of pine, and the foreboding, electric smell of a thunderstorm on the wind. I fumbled in my pocket. A moment later, a matchbox appeared in my hand. A few images, black and white as all memories seem to be, played through my mind. There was the memory of a fairy-tale, long forgotten on the road to adulthood, about a little girl lighting matches on a winter’s night. Slowly, my hands picked up the box, prised it open and lifted out one of the small sticks. The end was perfectly round. I struck it against the side of the box and watched as the tiny flame flickered up. The colours were bright and stood out against the bleakness around me. In a moment, the wind had picked up and the flame was snuffed out. The smoke was all that replaced it, spiralling up like a whirlpool.
All hope is snuffed out eventually. That is what I believe. I’ve lived long enough in this world to decide that for myself.
I’d like to move on now, to the twenty-eighth.
ANNA. You haven’t eaten yet today. You can’t go out until you’ve eaten.
MYSELF. I’m not hungry. Why eat when I see no need to?
ANNA. You’ll waste away, you will.
And Anna pulled me into an embrace. I tried to tug my way out of it, but she held me tightly. I felt as if I were in a prison, a prison of emotion. I did not look at her face. She pulled away and put her hands on my shoulders.
ANNA. Do you want help?
The words hung in the air, a question unanswered.
MYSELF. No. Why should I?
I left the house, pulling my coat around me. The wind had subsided for the day, off to annoy another citizen of the world. Perhaps Anna, with her washing strung only loosely on the clothesline. The town reared up before me, the spindly spire of the rundown church, the collection of buildings and finally, the library. I entered the building, breathing in the musty, woody smell of old books and knowledge. I nodded at the people behind the front desk, so used to seeing me walk through those doors. It was not a large library, with only a few shelves of leafy paperbacks and a few preciously bound antiques. I liked to run my hand along the shelves, feeling the spine of each book beneath my fingers. There were whole worlds trapped in there. I would open one and start from page one, flicking quickly through it from start to finish, catching a glimpse of the world that lay stranded inside. I usually spend hours at the library. Anna knows where to find me. But lately, I’ve been running out of books to read. And my life has begun to feel like a book about to finish. I cling deftly to the last few pages, waiting for the world to disappear.
Then, the day of the twenty-ninth came.
Anna brought me breakfast on that morning. She knows I don’t usually eat before lunchtime. As I sat in bed, curled up in the covers and in my own imagination, I heard the door open. I opened my eyes and felt the disappointment of reality wash over me. But Anna was smiling. I was not. She held a tray out in front of her, laden with breakfast foods, the likes of which I never eat. She placed it on my bedside table and then went to fetch a pot of tea for me. I wanted to sleep again, or read, but not to eat. I did not want to seem ungrateful, however. These days, I spend my life seeming ungrateful. Soon Anna came back, pouring the tea and watching me expectantly. I picked up a piece of toast and delicately tore it between my fingers, nibbling at it eventually. Anna seemed pleased, but she did not leave.
MYSELF. Why do you want to watch me eat?
ANNA. To make sure you do.
MYSELF. Why? I’m an adult. I can look after myself.
ANNA. I don’t believe you. I’m your mother and you need help. I will take care of you.
I wanted more than anything to be alone, but Anna sat down on the bed next to me. An expression that can only be described as motherly was planted upon her face. She tried to smooth my hair, as if I was a child, but I pushed her hand away.
ANNA. What happened, darling? You used to be so bright and happy.
MYSELF. I grew up. It happens to the best of us.
ANNA. But adults aren’t like this. You can be an adult and be happy and smile and eat! You don’t have to live like this.
MYSELF. But I do. You don’t understand. You never will.
ANNA. You don’t give me a chance! Angela, what happened at the school? You never told me. Nobody can tell me, nobody knows the truth except for you. If you did something wrong, then don’t worry. God forgives us all.
MYSELF. God doesn’t exist. If he does, then he must be blind.
That hurt Anna. She blinked and tears appeared on her flushed cheeks. I looked away from her, down at the floor, out the window, at the breakfast painstakingly prepared but barely touched.
MYSELF. I’m not ungrateful.
The words were barely more than a whisper. I’m not sure she heard them.
MYSELF. But I’m beyond help. Nobody can help me. Not a doctor. Not a mother. Not God.
Anna pulled me close again, stroking my hair and wrapping her flabby arms around my bony figure. She kissed the top of my head. Of all those black and white memories from my childhood, I never remember her ever doing that before. Perhaps it was because I was capable as a child. And now I am as proficient as a baby, except that I cannot eat and cannot laugh. I may as well be dead.
The day of the thirtieth came and went.
On the thirty-first, I ran out of books to read. I needed to visit the library. So I pulled myself out of bed, shaking with the effort, and dressed myself in many layers. The wind outside was blowing at my window, trying to claw it open. It pushed me along though I tried to resist it, as I tried to resist the memory of Anna’s despairing, disappointed face. The library staff at the front desk nodded at me. I nodded back, wanting no further conversation. But it was not to be.
LIBRARY. Are you well today, miss?
LIBRARY. I hope you don’t mind my saying, but you look a little sickly.
MYSELF. Thank you for your concern.
As I browsed along the lonely shelves, my fingers finding Hawthorne, Hemingway, Hugo, Irving, I could hear them talking about me. My ears picked up THIN and UNWELL and SCHOOL and DEAD and SURVIVOR. I did not want to hear anymore. I picked out the first book at my fingertips and strode to the counter, the book clutched to my chest like a small child.
And then, suddenly, something caught my arm. It was coupled with a sound, a name, a calling out to me. I turned around and my breath caught in my throat.
For days, for months, for almost a year now, my vision had been clouded with strangers. Everyone was a stranger. Everyone who was not there, who did not suffer as I suffered, was a stranger. Everyone who did not know the truth.
And now here was a face that was familiar.
LAWRIE. I hardly recognised you.
He kept holding my hand safely in his. I could not breathe.
LAWRIE. Have you been eating? Tell me you’ve been eating.
I frowned. I did not know what to say. Lawrie shook his head disdainfully and stood up, immediately pulling me protectively to his chest. I stood there, bony arms hanging limply. He cupped my face in his hands and kissed me lightly on the forehead.
MYSELF. I didn’t know you survived.
I hardly had enough breath for the sentence. Shock had encased my body and I could not move.
LAWRIE. I didn’t know you survived either.
MYSELF. Then how did you know to come here?
The article, crumpled from its time in Lawrie’s pocket, was months old. The headline made me shudder. FOUR HUNDRED DIE IN SCHOOL MASSACRE. I did not read the article. I could not.
LAWRIE. Come. Let’s go eat something. You look famished.
He took my hand and pulled me out of the library. A knot twisted in my stomach. I’d left those books behind. I needed them. But I did not have the heart to stop him. So I left along with him, watching the librarians, behind their desks, watching us.
If Lawrie had been Anna, he would have ordered for me. He would have sat, drinking a latte in a mug, and watched me eat every morsel. But instead, he ordered the same as I did. We picked at the food on our plates and he held my hand under the table. When he let go, my hand felt bare and cold.
LAWRIE. Tell me what’s been happening, Angela.
MYSELF. Nothing. Nothing’s happened. Why don’t you tell me about you?
LAWRIE. Me… I’ve been looking for you. That’s about it.
His eyes wandered to the ground, then shifted back up to greet me.
LAWRIE. Have you been seeing anyone about your condition… Angela?
MYSELF. My condition?
MYSELF. I don’t have a condition.
LAWRIE. Well then, how about you talk to me.
MYSELF. Talk to you about what?
LAWRIE. About why you’re so thin. About why you aren’t eating your food. About why you haven’t smiled since you saw me.
I sighed. Lawrie’s eyes were painful to look at, so my gaze dropped to the table, to my food. I felt his warm hand clasp mine.
LAWRIE. Just because bad things have happened to us, it doesn’t mean they have to haunt us for the rest of our lives.
I shook my head.
MYSELF. No. You don’t understand. Nobody does. I’m a bad person. I can’t let go of what’s happened… because it’s what I am. I can’t change who I am.”
LAWRIE. No, you can’t.
He stared at his food as well, his eyes in that safe middle-distance between painful emotions.
LAWRIE. But you can find somebody who loves you despite it.
MYSELF. My mother doesn’t love me.
LAWRIE. Maybe not.
His eyes found mine again, finally.
LAWRIE. But I do.
On the first day of the month, the new month, the clouds passed. I saw the sun. They say that people living in England sometimes become depressed because there is very little sunlight. Perhaps this is true. And when the sun came out again, it was easier to see the figure of Lawrie next to me. We had been in love once, when we were at that school, but now there is only understanding. Not love. Not romance. But the base connection that occurs between two people who experience a bad thing together.
And because of that, I can live again.