Free Day

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I sat on the doorstep. My head was filled with a itchy buzz that drowned out the noise from the road fifty yards away. The afternoon was damp and humid and a smell of rotten leaves hung thick. The air licked my skin and my scalp prickled as I sucked life into my lungs, attempting to clear the fog that stifled  brain. I had been grinding my teeth ever since I received the phone call at 11am that morning and now my jaw ached. Outside, the doorstep was my reprieve, a place to escape. The mourning. It was the crying; the fear, it was the look of desperation etched on faces; pale, ashen and distorted. Outside I was alone, raw and separated from the solid hugging arms of collective grief and crumpled bodies. Fat blobs of rain began to fall, and I looked up to charcoal clouds scribbled over the sky.

“This,” I thought, “is how the sky ought to look today’.

From behind the rooftops of an adjacent tenement block of flats, a single black helium balloon appeared. I watched it stagger over the sky, bashing into thick air then sucked into jets of cold.For a moment it hesitated.

“Where are you Mum?”  I shook my head and watched as the balloon skittered off into the distance. The world above was black and white.

How was I meant to feel today? How are you supposed react when you get a call at 11am on a Sunday morning telling you that your Mum is dead?

Death.

Grief.

I had often tried to imagine how I would feel when this day arrived, especially more so in the last year as I noticed how fragile my mother looked and how tiny she had become. One thing was certain; I had always known my heart would break.  What I did not expect was confusion, fear, emptiness and a feeling of no longer being safe. I got up and went back into a house that was no longer home.

Loss. I had experienced it before.

***

It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was off school. I wasn’t even sure why my Mum had let me have a free day but it was bound to be great. I got to pick my own clothes because Mum had gone out to see Granny in hospital. Before she left, Mum told me to be good and remember to brush my teeth. When I went downstairs to see who was looking after me, loads of aunties and uncles had come to visit. I felt really excited because that usually meant a party. The room was filled with pipe smoke and old lady smell.

“I got a free day off school,” I said, and tried to squeeze in between Uncle Jimmy and Auntie Agnes.

Everyone was looking at me and pulling weird faces. Auntie Phamie was crying. Auntie Isa had a crumpled up face and was looking at the floor. Uncle John coughed and left the room. I was afraid I had done something wrong.

“Your Granny died this morning,” Auntie Isa said, looking up.

I laughed because I didn’t believe her. My Granny was in hospital. Auntie Phamie started wailing so I turned around and stood in the corner.

“Poor Eleanor, not getting there on time,” Uncle Roberts voice came from near the kitchen.

I knew my Mum was called Eleanor, and I wondered if she had missed the bus this morning.

“And Chic, poor man, going home to an empty house,” one of the Aunties said. I wondered who Chic was and if he’d been burgled like the folk on Jackanory yesterday. I nervously picked wood-chip off the wall, and it fell in between my feet and on to the green carpet. I was hungry because no one had made me anything to eat. This didn’t seem like a party to me at all. I was scared to turn around, partly because I could still hear Auntie Phamie sniffing and grunting, and also because there was now a pile of wood-chip on the floor at my feet. I stood and looked at the mess for ages and thought about my Grannie. Why did they say she was dead? I thought this was a nasty lie to tell.

After what felt like hours, I heard the front door open and turned around.  Mum walked in with Auntie Nan and Papa and everyone got up and started cuddling, just like at Christmas, except no one was singing. Papa was crying, and I felt like I should be crying as well but didn’t know why. My Mum took ages to come over and see me and when she did she crouched down so her face was close to mine. I wondered if my Mum would like what I had picked to wear.

“Your Granny died this morning,” she said.

I frowned and turned my back on my Mum, then felt warm pee dribble down my leg and into my sock.

© Kirsty Lear-Grant

 

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