Authors: Abby Wilder
By Abby Wilder
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY THE AUTHOR
Published by Abby Wilder
© 2016 Abby Wilder.
This book is a work of fiction.
Any resemblance to actual events, any person living or deceased is entirely coincidental. Any references to real places or events are used fictitiously. All characters and storylines are products of the author's imagination.
No part of this book may be reproduced, re-sold, or transmitted electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright.
For more information about the author visit:
I never thought it would end like this. I never thought it would end at all. But not all stories get a happy ending.
As I tore myself away and the car lunged forward, I ignored his pleading eyes and the terror that had settled within. It only took a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. The tyres chewed the gravel and savagely spat it out behind us. The barrier did nothing to stop the car and we sailed over the edge. He reached over and took my hand in his, just as the force of hitting the water smashed my head into the steering wheel. I wound down my window, not daring to look at him.
His eyes stayed on me as water filled the car. And although he never voiced it, he knew. He knew this was the end. He knew there was no other choice. And he didn't fight. He smiled sadly as the water rushed in through the open window, and as we were sucked below, the cold lapped against our chins. It filled the car quickly, and as we sunk to the bottom of the lake, I closed my eyes, blocking him from my vision, my life, my memory.
I needed to move, to leave what would soon become a watery grave, but even though my lungs were bursting and panic sounded like a siren in my head, I turned to look at him one last time.
"Forever blue," he said, though the water muted the words. As the last breaths of air escaped, bubbles slipped from his mouth and became trapped under his eyelashes. His dark hair swayed with the movement of the water. But he did not move. He did not try to follow. He just smiled faintly as I pushed myself through the window and swam towards the surface. With one final glance back, I watched as his eyes followed me from the watery depths. And even though I was desperate for air, the feeling no longer panicked me. It was too familiar.
I broke the surface and gulped in air, running my hands over my face to push the water away. A raindrop splattered on my cheek. He did not rise. Seven more raindrops in quick succession splattered against my skin. And still, he did not rise. The heavens opened and rain fell like a sheet, blanketing me, cutting me off from the rest of the world.
I thought it was the end of everything. But I was wrong.
My ritual with Grams revolved around a cup of tea. I entered the nursing home, my nose following the scent of the freshly brewed leaves and cigarette smoke, and fell into the chair opposite Grams, ready to pour out the latest of my innermost thoughts. I'm not sure if it was something in the tea, or the straightforward way Grams looked at me—eyebrows slightly raised, rim of the cup poised at her lips, waiting for me to speak, smoke from the tip of her cigarette swirling into the air—but whatever it was, I was unable to lie to Grams. And that day I wanted to lie. I needed to lie. I couldn't tell her how much I wished I could skip over the day as though it didn't exist.
I had tried to avoid Grams and stay in my room, staring at the old maps pinned to the walls, the colours faded from the sun and place names in pirate-scrawl, but the thought of her sitting patiently, waiting for me, was too much guilt to bear. And it wasn't really Grams I was avoiding; it was my mother. I didn't want to look into her eyes and see the memories that hovered. I didn't want to see the loss or the longing. It was selfish of me, I know. But I had enough memories of my own. I didn't want to face hers as well. Knowing I couldn't avoid the world forever, I pushed off the covers and padded down the hallway, still dressed in the same tracksuit pants and tee shirt from the day before, and drove the short distance to Lake Puruwai nursing home.
The nursing home was everything you'd imagine it to be; big comfy chairs placed in a semi-circle around the TV, ladies who greeted me with warm smiles as their knitting needles clacked together, and old men bent over tables, arguing over who had moved the last chess piece. But my Grams wasn't in the living area. She was where she always was, holed up in her room. I walked down the long hallway and pushed open the door. The scent hit me as soon as I entered, and even though I knew it to be pointless, even though I'd voiced it many times before, I still said something. "You know they'll take them away if they catch a whiff of that inside."
Grams, sitting at the small table, shrugged and leaned over to blow a stream of smoke out the open window. Her wrinkled lips puckered as she pursed them over yellow stained teeth. "They haven't yet." She tapped her cigarette on the windowsill, letting the ash fall into the bushes below. "You're late."
I placed a kiss on her cheek and slumped into the other chair, wondering if she had been waiting all morning. Probably. Grams didn't do a lot else other than drink tea, smoke and play cards with the 'ladies'—Grams' two best friends who moved here with her when the old home burnt down.
The liquid sloshed up the edges of the cup as I poured from the faded pot covered in miniature roses and edged in gold. The tea set had been given to Grams by her mother on her wedding day and she cherished it more than most of the people in her life. I added a sugar cube and a little milk and brought the cup to my lips.
Grams was a contradiction. She was super thin with spidery blue veins laced across her skin, and yet she ate more than any other person I knew. She drank tea from delicate hand-painted cups. She wore matching pastel-toned tracksuits. Her bedroom, decorated in soft pinks and blues, was a sweet old lady's room, and yet, the butt of a cigarette was never far from her lips, the words that came from her mouth could rival those of a sailor, though she tamed them around me. And at night, she replaced tea with gin until her eyes glazed over and her words slurred.
Grams' disapproving look deepened at my lack of apology or explanation. She snorted and took another sip, leaving the cigarette hanging out the window. "You never miss our Sunday morning cup of tea." She lifted one eyebrow and brought the cigarette to her lips again, watching me intently and drawing in a deep breath. The sound of shoes squeaking on the linoleum flooring outside her room spared me from answering her unasked question, and Grams quickly dropped the cigarette and waved frantically at the exhaled wisp of smoke hanging in the air. But the footsteps walked straight past Grams' room and she sighed at the half-finished cigarette lying in the dirt outside the window.
"How is she?" she asked finally.
I shrugged and took another sip of the lukewarm tea. I hadn't talked to Mum yet, not that she would have noticed. My morning was spent avoiding her, my nose buried in the pages of a book and my mind distracted by the alternate reality. If it was up to me, we would skip this day altogether.
The door opened and a nurse popped her head through. Grams lifted her pencil-thin eyebrows, daring the nurse to say something about the lingering scent of smoke, but she merely sighed and closed the door again.
"She will be keeping herself distracted, I suppose." Grams blew on her tea, even though it wasn't hot, and took another sip. "So, he's coming?" Her voice was deep and rough from years of smoking.
I looked up at the clock ticking loudly in the corner and nodded. "Should be arriving soon."
Grams shook her head slowly, anger flashing in her eyes. Her fiery red hair almost looked magenta in the midday sun, but grey showed at the roots. "I would take pleasure in seeing that man—"
"I know, Grams." I didn't need to hear, yet again, what she would like to see happen to my father. I was angry at him too, but I had heard enough. He was still my father, even if he was a coward.
Grams reached across the lace tablecloth and patted my hand. Her skin felt soft and loose against mine, as though it wasn't connected to the flesh underneath. I stared down at the milky-brown liquid and watched my reflection quiver in the ripples as I blew over the surface. I knew Grams was looking at me, studying me, but I didn't want to meet her gaze. She sighed heavily. "Just promise me you won't let that man rile her up. She's got enough on her mind without him adding more stress."
I squeezed my eyes shut at the unvoiced memory. The way his little fingers felt so cold under my touch, and how perfect he seemed, even in death. I shuddered and pushed the thoughts away. "I won't, Grams. I promise."
The pressure of her gaze lessened and I risked a peek. She was transfixed on a speck of dust dancing in the rays of the sun. Her eyes were glazed, separating me from wherever it was she went. Sometimes, it was as though a veil passed over her and she retreated into her own little world. Before Grams, all the women in our family died before the age of fifty. Grams was determined to live to a ripe old age and that's why she had lived in a home ever since she was forty-two. She was sick at the time, though no one will tell me what from. I'm not sure if it's because they don't want me to know, or if it's simply because they don't know. Grams refused to talk about it, but sometimes, when I would call over on a Wednesday afternoon to drop off her bottle of gin, I would stand and listen at the door as she and her friends reminisced. They didn't say much, or what they said didn't always make sense, but occasionally I would hear them tell stories, and they would laugh and cackle until tears ran down their cheeks. But I'm not sure if it was the memories they were laughing about, or if it was the effect of the gin.
"Grams?" I reached out and pressed my fingers against her hand.
She jumped and snapped, "What?"
"You were gone," I said.
"Nonsense. I was right here the whole time." Grams lifted her fingers to her mouth, mimicking the motion of a cigarette, as though her body was so used to the movement it replicated it even when there was none between her fingers. "You should go," Grams said. "You don't want your father to arrive and Shelley have to deal with him all alone."
I leaned over to kiss her, but she swatted me away. "Be gone with you, girl. And next time, don't be late."
Mum wasn't home when I got back, but it wasn't long before the door swung open and she walked in, arms laden with grocery bags, and dumped them on the kitchen table. She looked at me, hands on hips, hair in disarray, and her eyes unsettled and distracted. "Are you ready? Your father will be arriving any minute."
She yanked open the fridge door and pulled out jars of olives, gherkins and sun-dried tomatoes, and dumped them on the table. With her red hair pulled back into an untidy bun, wisps trailing around her face and tickling the back of her neck, she looked so much like Grams. Both short and finely built, both with fire-red hair, though neither were natural redheads. They had so much more colour than I.
"Do you think your father would have had lunch yet?" She scanned the fridge absently. Behind her, the bright cupboards clashed with her floral dress. Mum loved bold things, hence the hair. The house was decorated in a rainbow of bright colours, only interrupted by the pale pastels and lace of Grams' furniture which wouldn't fit into her room at the nursing home.
I shrugged, picked up an apple, and sunk my teeth into its flesh. As soon as my parents separated, they stopped using names and only referred to each other as 'your father' and 'your mother'. "Probably," I replied. "He learned that life lesson a while ago." I poked my tongue out through the mouthful of apple, and she gave me a wry smile. It was no secret that she didn't possess any culinary skills.
"If you look around," she waved her hand over the strange array of condiments on the table, "you will notice that I haven't cooked a single thing. I even picked up the chicken, already cooked, from the supermarket." She grabbed a loaf of bread and attacked it with a knife, the slices ending up unevenly thick.
Mum never cared for the appearance of food, or the taste. It was nothing more than a necessity. She'd been known to go days without eating when in the middle of one of her paintings, something I could have never managed. I was a nibbler, constantly looking for something to devour, but looking over what Mum had on offer, I wasn't hungry. Mum slapped butter onto two thickly-thin slabs of bread, shoved in some chicken, grated carrot and a couple of gherkins, sprinkled some raisins on top and handed it to me. I looked at her questioningly, but she just shoved the plate closer.
Before we moved back to Puruwai, we lived in an apartment close to the centre of the city and nearby Dad. Mum's excuse for moving was that Grams' health was failing, but I think seeing my father prance around with his new girlfriend was the true reason. Grams seemed fine, apart from her little spells where she went somewhere no one else could follow. She would be lost for a few seconds, or sometimes, even minutes, but she'd always come back, shaking her head a little to rid herself of whatever world she was lost in.
When we lived in the city, we only visited a few times a year, but we always came on this date to visit Harrison's grave. I never liked those trips. No one spoke in the car. Mum would rest her head against the window and stare out at the landscape as it rushed by in a blur, and Dad would grip his hands so tightly on the steering wheel, I was afraid it would snap off. We would drive straight to the cemetery, a sense of dread descending over me as soon as we crossed the stone entrance. Mum's eyes would well with tears, and Dad would reach over and pat her hand awkwardly, only to have her jerk it away.
My little brother, Harrison, was born and died on the same day. Mum never spoke about it, and the things I had learned were gleaned from overheard conversations and flashes of memories still embedded in my mind.
When Harrison finally made his way into the world, Mum and Dad were greeted by silence and the exchange of worried looks between the medical staff. The doctors and nurses rushed him away, but there was nothing they could do. Harrison never took his first breath.
I was with Grams back at our house, excited at the thought of having a new baby sister or brother, but when my parents came home with swollen eyes and pale faces, I knew something dreadful had happened, even if I was too young to comprehend it fully. I let Mum sob as she held onto me, without knowing why she cried. The feel of her tears soaking into my clothing and the great sobs that racked her body still haunt my dreams.
It was the beginning of the end for my parents. Dad threw himself into his work, and Mum into her art. They spoke only to relay necessary information, and the looks they shared were filled with resentment, each secretly blaming the other for his death, even though they both knew it was no one's fault.
That was why Dad was on his way, for the annual trip to Harrison's grave. Neither of us had seen him since we moved. He had called, and I had endured the brief and awkward conversations of him asking questions and me answering as quickly and bluntly as possible. I was angry at him. He should have stuck by Mum. He should have fought harder for us both.
I finished the apple, tossed the core into the bin and picked up the sandwich, examining it carefully before biting down. It didn't taste as bad as I expected. Mum kept looking out the window, checking for signs of Dad's arrival. Absently, she plucked olives from the jar and popped them into her mouth. Every now and again, I could see tears threaten, but she pushed them away by blinking rapidly.
"You should eat something decent," I said. Food was always the first thing to go when she was stressed.
She held up an olive, then shook her head, dismissing it as a sufficient food source before I could. "Not today."
The last anniversary of Harrison's death was the first one after Dad had moved out. That trip was even more painful than usual. Mum cried the whole way, her shoulders shaking and tears tripping down her cheeks, but she never made a sound. Dad looked as though he would have rather been anywhere but with her, with us.
And that was why I wanted to skip the day, because it contained every memory I wanted to forget.