By Hannah Lavery
We all sleep late into the day, like corpses we lie in our beds, our curtains drawn tight. We are in the darkness; in the silence. Eventually, we emerge, sedated and beaten down.
Walking the roads we walked together, I find myself turning back and looking for him, my boy, dawdling behind me, his feet dragging, his coat hanging off his shoulders, his school bag scraping along the road. I have all the words to hurry him up but, as the days turn into weeks, I fear all those words I have just for him, are gathering, readying to suffocate me, to subsume me in a never ending scream.
We walk past each other now, gone are the days when we shared our torment. The posters of our lost children litter the ground and we walk over them. All the evidence of our children's lives, the parks, the swimming pool, the soft play, the school, are now monuments, sacred places. We tie messages of love, prayers of hope and our final goodbyes with beautiful silk ribbon to the railings, swings and slides. We place their teddy bears and dollies in pyres in the parks. We attempt to live our lives but, with a slow step and deadened eyes.
Our grief is no longer public, we hold it close as it is the only thing we have left but, at the strangest of times, it overwhelms and like moths attracted to the light we spin out of control, pulled toward the fire; allowing our grief to finally take us, we fall, throwing ourselves violently, completely. Our screams, our anguish, has the rest turning away, fleeing from us and from their own fate.
Our hands without their hands to hold, no little cheek to kiss goodnight, no bath-time, no lunches to be made or clothes to be washed, no stories to be read, no little bodies to carry up to bed. No more beautiful smiles. Haunted, tormented, we sit in silence; in absence and on the wind our calling for them swirls around us and leaves us frozen.
My house backs on to the woods and my boy, my beautiful, cheeky little monkey was the first, the first, the first to go. I look now into those trees, now darker and denser it seems and I swear sometimes in the night, in the shadows, I see him. Floating almost, reaching out for me. I have tried to go after him but, the woods close up, shutting us out.
The men at first bold and determined went for the woods with chainsaws and axes. Later, they told us, as they lay defeated and shivering in our arms, that as they tried to cut back the wood, the trees, the branches cried with our children's cries. It was as if by cutting the branches, by trying to follow our children into the dark, they were cutting away, destroying, hacking away at our babies, at our little boys and our little girls; and for days and days afterwards the woods seemed to scream out with their little anguished screams; and our men, already so humiliated by poverty, withered away to nothing, they took to their beds, or to the bar and some took themselves away completely but, we who had grown them in our bellies, fed them from our breast, stayed, for we had no choice, we could not be anywhere else.
The supermarket has these aisles of toys and sweets. My boy would beg me to let him look and most trips I would give him a few coins and let him choose something wee for himself. Now that they are gone, the aisles remain and we quicken our pace as we pass them. I have not allowed myself to even glance, but today, I saw them there, the last two. Their mother like a tigress prowls around them, never are they out of her sight, always within her reach. How do we feel about her, is she better than us, a better mother? Certainly, she provokes something within us. I am too lost to myself to know but, when I see those children. I feel a fault line resurface, a break, a shattering. I am rooted to the spot. I want to be her, to be her with her children, to be given another chance to protect my boy, my world. I walk behind them as they pick up and put down the toy cars, brightly coloured ponies. He, the boy, like my child, looks in the basket of cars, diggers, trains, trucks and with his small pale hands he turns each one over, inspecting and deciding. I look at him with something that overwhelms me, I force myself to turn away worried I will frighten him. Suddenly, I am looking at an army set. Toy soldiers and tanks, little guns and little bombs, I would never have let him have this, how gentle and peaceful I had wanted him to become, I should have bought him up a warrior; he was weak, too trusting, too easy a target. I take the set and put in my basket.
My house, my home was once beautiful. Well looked after, but now the pots that stood as a welcome, so full of colour and blooms are withered and grey and the scent of the rose is replaced by something rotting. I walk to my door barely noticing the decay. What does it matter?
I rush up to his room clutching his new gift but, as I reach his door, I stop. Struggling to steady my breathing, attempting to slow my heart I, finally, enter his room, all blue and unnaturally tidy. How long has it been? I touch things with a reverence for this is my chapel. I lay out his toy soldiers, his tanks, the guns and bombs on his desk; the soldiers facing out toward the wood, watching for his return.
I want to die here, in this place, surrounded by his smell, his books, his toys, his clothes. I lie on top of his bed and pull his covers around me. His blue teddy falls on to the floor. I stare at it there. I don’t know how long I stare but it is dark when I leave his room. Making once again his bed and closing his door as quietly as I did when he slept there.
There is this play park across the road. When they built the estate they put these parks on almost every street. We all used to meet there with our children, getting to know our neighbours and imagining our little babes all grown up. Now they are empty but, today I saw them there, the last two.
It was beginning to look like rain and I was taking in the washing and as I hurried the clothes into my basket I heard that familiar creaky swing. I couldn't help myself. I rushed out into my front garden. I stood watching them.
He is so beautiful and his sister so tall and strong looking, she pushed him high up on the swing. His laughter was like a song I had forgotten. I watched them as the rain began. They didn't seek the shelter but seemed rather to be liberated by the cold clean drops falling upon them.
His laughter, so sweet, my heart so suddenly full; and then, I can't explain it. I am no longer sure of it but, it did happen.
The wood, those large and monstrous trees were full of their voices, as if the bells had rung for playtime. The street was full of the noise of children, of our children, his voice, my boy's voice was surrounding me, pulling at me, I could hear him; yet, the street was empty but full, teeming, with their voices, so strong and loud and continuing to get louder and the last two, the last precious two, started to move as if dancing, they were consumed by the noise, by the joy of their voices, by their laughter and they couldn't resist it and I couldn't stop them or join them and then she appeared, the tigress running for them, yelling for them and pleading for me to help but I couldn't. His voice, his sweet voice, my boy, my beautiful, daydreaming, gentle boy was pulling at me and I was drowning in him and then quite suddenly they were gone; and it was silent once more, no, not silent. One voice remained, hers, calling back her children with such a pain, with such horror and the trees. The trees were thick and dense once more, repelling us, mocking us, leaving us, alone; alone, without them.
Without them; without them and without hope, we shut ourselves away once more. In our torment, in our darkness and in our screams buried deep in the silence; and we let it all finally fall into ruin; for what does it matter?
© Hannah Lavery, unless we state otherwise
In January 2013, this story was shortlisted for the Hansel and Gretel adult creative writing competition organised by the National Library of Scotland and Scottish Ballet.