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Wednesday, 1st February 2012

Categories: Moving Stories

Author: Peter Barry

This is one of the twelve shortlisted entries for the Peter Barry Short Story Competition

Written by Laura Huntley

I beg my feet to just get on with it but instead I resemble a granite carved statue. I will them to move up the stairs yet they disobey me. I inhale sharply; my cold hand clutches the wooden banister, steadying the nauseating butterflies that crash against my empty stomach.  I’ve put this off for several weeks and it has taken such a lot for me to be here. My right foot tentatively strokes the step above and before I know it I’m on the move, trembling and hesitant, and half way up.  

It’s when I see the door to the flat that I could scream from the top of my lungs; just like I had on that morning. I can visualise myself, I still hear the screams, bile rises in my throat and it’s all I can do to swallow the hot liquid down. Tears prick the corners of my eyes, my nose tingles with the urge to cry. But I can’t. Not yet. I need to reach that door.

On my feet go again, like a controlled marionette; left leg up, foot down, right leg up, foot down. The creak of the old wood and the thud of my heart deafen my ears. I’ve done it. I fumble in my bag for the key and feel sad as my fingers find it; the familiar shape of the attached teddy bear shaped key-ring chokes me.

In it goes. This lock was always tricky and, as ever, it takes me a few attempts before I feel the turn. My hand rests on the handle for a few seconds as I realise how difficult this could actually be. But there’s nothing else for it so I plunge down the handle and push the door wide open.

I slide in to the kitchen, close the door behind me and take a brief, furtive glance around. It’s freezing, too cold to take off my coat. I pull my scarf closely around me and wonder why it’s colder in here than outside. There is no noise; yet the silence is so eerie and heartbreaking that it almost becomes one, a raging, offensive sound that I wish I could grab and smash to make it go away.

I approach the hallway and need to steady myself. I’m outside the living room door and so frightened of what I will see, what I will feel and, most of all, if this wall of numbness does not break down and I feel nothing at all. I bite my bottom lip until a lump forms. The pain helps establish that I really am awake, alive, here. I push at the door a little with my finger and then remember that it gets stuck on the badly fitted beige carpet. I’m cross at myself for forgetting. I can’t afford to forget these small details.

I trap the edge of the carpet with my shoe and force the door open, eyes closed, my fractured brain coaxing them into reopening. I slowly manage it and am immediately shocked. All the things that I expected to see just aren’t here. It’s like it never happened. It’s like he wasn’t here. There’s no evidence in this room to suggest that he was. Where is everything? I remember tripping over his tiger toy, hanging his tiny striped blue socks on the radiator, the box of nappies under the table.

I weep now. I knew it would have been hard for me to be faced with all the memories but this is, somehow, so much worse. Somebody had come and packed it all away, probably to ease my pain but all that’s happened is that it’s just increased tenfold. I need to see his tiny vests, the teddy bears, the bouncer, and the play mat, all of it. I feel angry that this option has been removed. I throw down my bag in despair and stride out to the bedroom.

Nothing. Not even a stray bib or bootee. I’m crushed and pulling at my hair, the sobs coming thick and fast; fat, salty tears pouring down my face. This is the worst thing. The worst thing of all. Not only do I have to try and cope with everything that has happened but I live my putrid life in agony and fear of forgetting; forgetting his sweet smile, his comical yawn that sounded just like my Granddad, so many things. And now it feels like the world has forgotten him already and that it just too much for me to take.

I walk to the bathroom and almost collapse. Nobody had thought to come in here. His little bath and rubber ducks greet me, his white towel embroidered with silky rabbits hangs on the rail, and his bubble bath sits on the shelf. I take it down and open the bottle and wail because I can smell him. So many bath times come flooding back and I laugh and cry all at the same time. My arms ache for the weight of him and my heart aches for the love of him.

Thank goodness for this untouched room. I bury my face in his soft towel and open the drawer. His brush, the tiny scissors to cut his tiny nails. I touch everything that once touched him and breathe it all in, desperate to catch a scent of his beautiful baby aroma. Relief that I haven’t forgotten adds a few more tears to my day.

I sit on the floor and make myself see that morning again and again: waking up, the horror that it was 10.23am and he hadn’t cried to get me up, the quiet cot, the lifeless body, the rigidity of his limbs, my screams, the emergency services call, the tragedy, the grief. And my cries continue yet become softer, quieter when I try and replace some of this with happier times with him. Bringing him home from the hospital springs to mind, beaming with delight, prouder than I’d ever known about, and saying “This is where you live. This is your home”.

A recollection: I smile at the picnic we’d been on just as the summer came to an end; his small chubby legs kicking wildly in the fresh air, his fascination with the clouds, the happy little egg yolk sun in the sky. I must remember of all these special moments because they are all I have. I won’t watch him grow, see his first timid steps, hear his chatter, pack him up with crust-less sandwiches for school, feed the ducks, wrap his Christmas presents, receive handmade Mother’s day cards with beautiful, scrawled handwriting inside.

This is not my home now. I cannot come back here and exist in these rooms without him. I have to say goodbye and move on. I will drink up all the cherished memories I have of his short life and take them with me. I have the keys to the new house and move in next week. I don’t want to do anything or go anywhere without him but I have no choice about that. I don’t belong here anymore.

Written by Laura Huntley

This is one of the twelve shortlisted entries for the Peter Barry Short Story Competition