[This is version one of a story I wrote. After writing and editing, I then changed the plot line around the characters, creating a rather different version two which will follow soon. Note there will be many similarities between the two pieces of writing as one came from the other.]
Your Story, My Story
Death is a funny thing. Not funny HAHA, funny strange. It is taboo, spoken of in code words and hushed tones. Shushed at dinner tables, avoided in the street, tiptoed around every day. And yet, it is inevitable. It is the one thing we can be assured of, and it is what makes life worth living. I realise that now.
The bus trundles along, slugging its way through the slush, churning it up beneath the wheels then depositing it on disgruntled passers-by. Yesterday was so different. The snow lay thick, blanketing the pavements. The air was crisp and clean. Outsiders could marvel at the beauty created by something as simple as a covering of snow, ignorant to the dirty streets, dilapidated buildings and empty stores. Meanwhile, the town’s inhabitants could forget about the reality of our poor, ramshackle home and allow themselves to delight in its temporary splendour. It was as simple as disguising a badly risen sponge with a dusting of icing. We all knew what lay beneath, but were willing to ignore it and appreciate it for what it was. We could live in the moment. You were always so good at that. Today, however, all the snow has been replaced by varying shades of slush that line the roads and clog the drains. People no longer take their time passing through, allowing themselves to take in the unusually mystic appearance. Instead they slog their way along the streets, shoes sliding instead of crunching, eyes trained on the slush covered concrete instead of up at the trees and the buildings and the sky that once sprinkled little flakes of geometric perfection down on them. They have been snatched away from the beauty of yesterday, and have succumbed to the grey of today.
I watch from your seat on the bus. My breath fogs up the window so I have to keep wiping a gloved hand across it. The streets are near empty, despite it still being the Christmas holidays. No children, no shoppers. Only a few pedestrians going from A to B, cursing at the grit lined streets that stain their jeans with a grimy salt line. There’s the postman. He is attempting to complete his round in the shortest distance possible, without dropping any letters in the menacing slush. We stop at the button roundabout in the centre of town. I draw lines on the window as I watch him attempt to squeeze himself along the tiny paths under the windows rather than go the long way round. You would have drawn pictures.
I hear his voice breaking into my thoughts.
It’s not good news. I try to understand the words that stumble from his mouth. Disjointed. Careful. Lots of big words. But the message is clear.
My eyes stare blankly. Face hot and clammy, my palms sweaty. I feel your hand, soft and reassuring, slip into mine.
The bus lurches forward, and I lose sight of the postman. I think he was a John. He looked like a John.
You stand and guide us out of the cramped office, the door taking forever to close. Through the waiting room teeming with faces. You don’t stop to look, don’t stop to see each face, giving them a story like you usually do. Instead, we pass on by, letting them blur into one another, leaving their stories untold.
Looking around the bus, I realise there are three other people aboard, besides the driver and me. Two teenagers slump at the back, headphones blaring, and a middle-aged woman with a book spread across her lap sits in front of me. She’s been on the same page for most of the journey. You’d have had to point that out to me before.
I try to make up stories. Each person I pass gets a name, a back story. Watching is getting easier now. I’ll tell you about everyone I pass. I never used to be any good at it, but you always made it seem so easy. When we pull up at the next stop an elderly lady gets on. She looks like a Margaret, although you’d probably disagree. She has a husband who loves her, children, grandchildren. Each year she gives them a chocolate advent calendar to count down the days ‘til Christmas. She’s done it every year, even when they were babies and their parents had to open and eat the chocolates for them. Even now, when they have left school. Her husband owns an allotment too. He grows the vegetables that make her famous lentil soup. If you were here, you’d laugh at me for being so boring.
But you’re not here.
And we won’t have that.
Street after street we trundle on. All of us with our different stories.
We finally make it across the threshold. Your hand is still safely in mine.
Only it doesn’t feel like home anymore. Everything is different now. It is an empty shell filled with photos of you and me. Filled with memories of our lives together. Together. The furniture we bought together, how can I keep it after… The mug you left abandoned this morning that still holds a dreg of your ghastly Scottish blend. How can I get rid of it when you…
You see the pain on my face and kiss me softly on the cheek. I try to smile, try to be strong for you.
The bus has made three more stops to let people on and off. I do my best to concentrate my attention on the new passengers, but I can’t seem to focus.
We are outside. It is much later. That day seems like years ago. Almost as if it never happened… But it did. The air is cold. It catches in my throat. I know it’s coming.
I don’t know where I’m going. I just know I haven’t reached my stop. Not yet.
Walking down the snow covered paths I realise you haven’t shed a single tear. It feels wrong. You shouldn’t be able to function. Not the other way around. It should be me comforting you. You’re so strong, so powerful. So perfect.
The bus is nearing its final stop. I have to get off eventually. Here is as good as anywhere, I guess. I press the bell and leave your window seat, the lines I drew not yet faded.
Letting my feet carry me, I find myself going up the familiar hill, today thankfully gritted, though there are still cars abandoned on both sides. At the top there is a gate leading off from the road and into a wood. Not many people notice it, perhaps only the occasional dog walker. You can walk past and not even realise it’s there. But you knew about it. And once you’d showed me, how could I ever forget it?
You reach the gate at the end of the street. I’ve been stumbling along behind you, trying to keep up. You were laughing at me as I slid on the icy roads, doing my best bambi impression, as I tried to keep up.
I finally reach you and slide my arms around your waist, partly to be closer to you, partly to keep myself standing. You grin up at me and grab my hand. Heavy branches droop across the entrance, concealing it partly from view. Ducking beneath them, you pull me through and we enter a walkway lined by trees, all laden with snow.
I push the gate across, it sludging over the wet ground. Once through, the trees pave a path onwards, leading into a forest clearing. I follow the familiar path. The grit hasn’t found it’s way in yet, so it’s not churned up like everywhere else. Plus, no one has set foot here since the snowfall, and the remnants can still be seen.
Water droplets fall from above, dripping down on me. I pull up my hood, collecting my scarf tighter around me. The sun is low in the sky, only just visible through the trees. It has been working all day to melt the thick white covering that was once so beautiful.
It is as though you are in a trance. Step forward. And again. You let your feet carry you, gliding across the wintry fortress. Until, finally, you reach the clearing. You stop, right in the centre. As though a stage amongst the trees. I stop at the edge of the treeline and watch. What are you thinking? You stare up at the sky. At the flakes that begin to flit down, landing on your face and outstretched arms.
You really are beautiful.
You turn. Smiling at me. A ray of sunshine steals through the branches, and catches one side of your face. Rosy cheeks, full lips. Bright eyes, gleaming in the light. You begin to laugh. I feel myself smiling too.
Your laugh could always do that to me. It is – was – a light, girlish laugh, free from the weight of the world. Even then.
As you laugh, you begin to spin, crunching circles into the icy carpet. Throwing your head back, your blonde hair flies out behind you as you twirl.
I stand in the clearing. Centre stage. I hear your laugh. See your breath, lingering as it dances in the cold air. It’s a montage of senses, all playing in slow motion. Savour the moment, I tell myself. My snow will soon become slush.
You have stopped spinning. Your head bows as you trudge towards me, burying a shiny pink face in your scarf. Despite the layers, I know you’re still smiling; your dimples are just visible. The snow creaks with each step. It is pure, fresh, yours to make a mark on.
But then you hesitate. You turn and look at the path that will take you away from me. Your smile falters. For the first time, your eyes show the pain. Your body sags, your feet heavy. Dark circles loom beneath your eyes that are bloodshot and strained. Your cheeks are pale, off colour. And you’re thin, too thin, the many layers baggy around your frail frame. Sick.
I see my breath as it mists before me, slowly disappearing into the air. There is no sound but the drip of melting snow.
Tears fill my eyes but I smile at you, I can’t look away. I want the old you. Your perfectly rounded face, your delicate frame, your golden hair and your glittering eyes. I want the old you back.
I nod, slowly. It’s okay, I tell you wordlessly, I’ll be okay.
You smile back. A tear finally falls, and with one final look, you slowly turn and make your way along the fresh, untrodden path. Away from me. But also away from the pain. Leaving a line of perfect footprints in your wake.
I watch you as you go, a shadow disappearing into the trees that no longer sag with snow. You stand tall once more, a newfound life in each step. You are not the withering, sick girl anymore. Your hair bounces and I know, I just know, you are as you used to be. The healthy, perfect Emily. The one I fell in love with. The one I have to let go.
I can still see you fading into the light of the sun beyond the clearing. I feel tears trace my cheeks, but I let them fall, smiling to myself, to you. The warmth of the sun has now gone. It has done its job. The snow is slush.
As I think about the streets I past through to get here, I realise there is nothing keeping me here anymore. Not now. Now that the snow has left, the reality uncovered, I cannot ignore it anymore. You are gone. Our story is done. It is time to move on, to leave this place, and you, behind.
I turn and make my way from the clearing, back along the path lined by trees. One day I will return to your spot, one day when we can be together once more. But until then, I must go. I must live my own life, find my own story. For I know, somewhere, you will be writing them for me, conjuring up scenarios and adventures, urging me to live them for you.
I close the gate behind me, and turn back one final time. The trees sway in the gentle wind, drips of water fall to the forest floor, but everything else is still.
Death is a funny thing. It signifies the end of something, of someone. But standing there in that moment, I realise, as the snow thaws and the rain washes away the evidence, it is making way for a new season. A new start. A new beginning for you, and for me.