June 2017 Competition Winners are:-
First Prize: Jacqui Cooper of Bradford for
‘Best Friends Forever’
The Judges were unable to separate the next two stories and awarded joint second prizes to:-
Sen Jayaprakasam of Westcliffe-on-Sea for ‘The Doctor’
Dianne Gillies of Eaglesham for ‘Leap’
Best Friends Forever
‘Mrs Donavan? Is that you?’
Locking her car in the supermarket carpark, Anna Donovan turned to face a young man with blond hair and very blue eyes. He had changed a lot but she would have recognised her son’s once-upon-a-time best friend anywhere. ‘Luke?’ she said coolly.
He nodded eagerly, missing, or ignoring her lack of enthusiasm. ‘How are you? How’s Sam?’
‘Fine,’ said Anna, her polite smile fixed in place. She grabbed her empty ‘bags for life,’ from the boot. ‘How’s your mother?’
Luke’s smile faltered. ‘She passed away. I’m here seeing to the funeral.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ said Anna, softening slightly. Luke was an only child like Sam, a connection that had probably helped cement the friendship between the two boys all those years ago. ‘That must be very difficult for you.’ She glanced at the full bag of shopping he was about to put in his car. ‘So, are you moving back home?’ Please god, no!
To her everlasting relief he shook his head. ‘No. I live in London. I’m only here for a few more days. Is Sammy around?’
‘He’s away at the moment.’ The lie was swift and smooth.
‘Oh right.’ Now Luke was the one with the forced smile. ‘Maybe you could give him my number?’
Over my dead body, thought Anna. ‘Of course. But he’s very busy.’
Luke’s smile didn’t falter but his eyes took on an expression Anna recognised from the past; knowing, older than his years. They locked gazes for a moment. ‘Do you know what?’ Luke said. ‘On second thoughts, I’ll find him on Facebook.’
‘Of course.’ Don’t you dare Anna shrieked inwardly. ‘Are you staying at your Mum’s place?’
Luke nodded. ‘Until I decide what to do with it.’
After a few more strained pleasantries Luke drove off and Anna wandered round the supermarket with memories flooding her mind. When she reached for a bunch of bananas she saw that her hand was shaking.
How dare he! How dare he come back after all this time and disrupt their lives! Who did he think he was!
Luke had started at Sam’s school in the first year of secondary school. At first Anna was thrilled when he and Sam hit it off. The accident that killed her husband had been a terrible time for everyone, but especially so for Sam since his dad had been driving to pick him up. Sam had blamed himself and refused point blank to discuss his feelings with Anna or a counsellor.
Luke’s mother was a single parent. She was also a nurse and worked shifts. Anna knew Luke took himself to and from school and sometimes went home to an empty house, so she was more than happy to have him round for tea a couple of nights a week.
Luke’s mum seemed to give her son a lot more freedom that Anna was prepared to give Sam and at first this caused some friction. Often it was just easier to have the boys to her house than have Sam go to Luke’s and worry that they weren’t being properly supervised.
Sam stayed introverted whereas Luke seemed to have a maturity far beyond his years. He questioned Anna’s rules in a way Sam would never have dreamt of doing. Bed times. How many fizzy drinks was too many. Whether they should be allowed to go to the cinema on their own.
Soon Luke was staying over most weekends. Yet in all the years the boys were friends Anna never once met his mother. They’d spoken on the phone of course, to make arrangements, but if ever Anna dropped Luke off at home, he leapt from the car like a scalded cat and raced into the house. His mother never seemed to manage to attend any school events. Before long Luke started riding his bike to their house so there was even less chance of Anna meeting his mother.
As the years went by, the boys stayed inseparable. While Anna was glad Sam had company, she wished he had a wider circle of friends. And to be honest she wished Luke had less influence over Sam.
And then came the night when the boys were sixteen and Luke brought Sam home drunk from a party. Anna was livid but there had been no point in talking to Sam until he sobered up. Luke had been cagey when Anna fired questions at him. Next day Sam insisted he’d only had one drink, that someone must have spiked it.
Anna wanted to believe him but after that Sam started coming home drunk with alarming regularity. Friends told her that it was a phase he would grow out of, that he was testing the boundaries and she prayed they were right.
But she grew more and more suspicious that Luke was at the same parties but never seemed to get into the same state as Sam. Too late, she tried to limit the time the boys spent together but Sam no longer listened to her. If she pushed too hard, they sloped off to stay at Luke’s. Sam’s school work suffered, but he was a bright boy and he managed to scrape an offer of a place at university. Anna was relieved; she hoped that once he eventually made new friends, things would improve.
In the meantime though, Luke was always present, watching everything with knowing eyes. At some point the boys stopped asking permission for Luke to stay over. He just did. Anna could have told him to go home but by now she and Sam were so at odds she was worried Sam would simply leave too.
She didn’t understand her son anymore and felt she was losing him.
And then, glory be, Sam got a serious girlfriend. Ellie was a nice girl from a nice family. She too had a place at university and as Sam spent more time with her and less with Luke, he began to clean up his act.
Until that is, Luke stole her away. One day Ellie was Sam’s girlfriend, the next she was Luke’s.
Sam started drinking again. There was no more talk of university, and though Anna tried everything, she couldn’t reach him.
Some truly desperate times followed. She never knew the trigger that made Sam turn himself around, but, although it was a long haul, eventually he did. Her heart bled watching her boy struggle every day. But he made it. He came through. He never did go to university but he started an apprenticeship. Now he was an electrician and doing well. He’d met a girl and things seemed to be serious.
The last thing he needed was Luke back in his life.
With that thought in her head Anna abandoned her shopping and turned on her heel. She hadn’t protected her son from Luke’s influence all those years ago. No way would she allow him back into his life now.
‘Mrs Donovan.’ Luke looked surprised to open the door and find Anna on his doorstep.
‘Hello.’ She forced a smile. ‘I just thought I’d pop round and see if there was anything I could do. I’m sorry. I should have offered earlier.’
Luke’s eyes narrowed but he stood aside to let her in. It was the first time Anna had ever been in the house and she was surprised by how run down everything looked. Her heart bled for his poor mother having a son like this. It looked as if Luke wasn’t nearly as attentive a son as her Sam.
‘Would you like some tea?’ Sam offered, awkwardly.
‘That would be perfect.’
Ove their drinks Anna repeated her offer of help but Luke declined. ‘There’s not much to do, to be honest.’
When he left the room to fetch the sugar she had forgotten to ask for, she did what she had come to do. Ten minutes later, she saw herself out.
Anna hurried back to the supermarket to finish he shopping and when she arrived home Sam came out to help her carry it in. ‘You’ll never guess who just messaged me on Facebook,’ he said.
Anna busied herself putting stuff away.
‘Luke,’ Sam continued. ‘We’re meeting up.’
‘I know what you’re thinking Mum. But we were friends a long time. I know what he did with Ellie was harsh,’ said Sam. ‘But to be honest she actually liked Luke first. I think she was attracted to my ‘bad boy’ image. Besides, if she hadn’t dumped me I’d never have met Katie, would I?’ He grinned at Anna’s expression. ‘I’m glad he got in touch. Poor guy. His life hasn’t been easy.’
Not easy? Luke? With his supreme self-confidence and his university education? Who was he kidding? ‘I heard his mother died,’ said Anna.
‘Yeah. Good riddance,’ muttered Sam, putting the ice cream in the freezer.
‘I mean it. She put Luke through hell. Why do you think he was here so much?’
What on earth was he talking about? ‘She was a nurse. She couldn’t help the hours she worked.’
‘A nurse.’ Sam sneered. ‘That was Luke’s story. The truth was his mother…well there isn’t a polite name for his mother. Luke fended for himself most of the time. I suspect he only ever got a cooked meal when he came here. I know he never had any lunch. I always shared mine.’
His words made no sense. ‘That can’t be true,’ Anna said. ‘I mean, I’d have made him some lunch if I’d known. In fact if what you say is true I’d have called the authorities-‘
‘That’s why he wouldn’t let me say anything,’ said Sam. ‘She might have been the worst mother in the world but she was all he had.’
Anna shook her head, clinging to the facts as she knew them. ‘But even if that’s true he wasn’t a good friend to you-‘
‘Luke?’ Sam stared at her in surprise. ‘He was the best friend ever. He dragged me out of parties when I was causing trouble. He got between me and the guys selling drugs.’
‘But he brought you home drunk…’
‘He brought me home, Mum,’ said Sam patiently. ‘He couldn’t stop me any more than you could. I had my demons to work out about dad…’ He paused, gathered himself. ‘Luke didn’t drink – because of his mum I suppose – but he stuck by me. And he always, always, brought me home, sometimes kicking and screaming.’
This was not what Anna wanted to hear. ‘But he copied your homework. And there was the school trip when you gave up your place because he couldn’t go and then he stole your place…’ she said desperately.
‘It wasn’t like that,’ said Sam. ‘Sometimes Luke didn’t even have electricity at home. That’s why he couldn’t do his homework. And the school trip? I gave him my place. His mum had a new ‘friend’ staying. Luke was upset at the thought of having to spend more time at home while I was away.’
Stricken, Anna thought of Luke’s expression, the one that had always annoyed her; old beyond his years. Why hadn’t she seen the truth?
And then she pictured Luke as she had last seen him, head lolling in a drug induced sleep from the sleeping pills in his tea.
Poor Luke. All alone in the world now his mother was gone. Presumably he just couldn’t take it. Didn’t even leave a note...
Oblivious to the bombshell he’d dropped, Sam put the last can away. ‘I’ll give him a call. Maybe go to his mum’s funeral. I doubt anyone else will. Mum? Where are you going?’
But Anna was gone, flying out the door, phone in her hand.
She hadn’t protected her son all those years ago. But please God let there be enough time to save the boy who had.
Bones bulged through taut skin as pimples of sweat dotted my body. It was never a good sign when you sweated through the night. With just spoonfuls of water to last a day, it wasn’t worth wasting it so carelessly. As I tried to stand, pain shot up my right side to the base of my skull, snapping my spine back to its concave form. A waft of hot air caught in my nostrils, allowing its sour stench to flood my mind.
I knew that smell. Someone else had died in the night. I wondered how long it would be this time before they thought to remove the body.
Neck jarred and eyes wide, I gaped at the bolts unfastening by the door. I hadn’t disturbed my chains and had made sure my pain remained silent. Surely I didn’t deserve another beating? I scolded myself as my eyes leaked; another useless waste of water.
The door opened as a tall bespectacled man fell through, landing on his knees in a crumpled heap. He bit on his lip, hiding the pain as the guard bolted the door behind him. His clothes were tattered and his glasses cracked, but he didn’t smell as strong as I’d expected. Clearly he was new. It was impressive he’d managed to avoid the Khmer Rouge for so long.
Of course, I wasn’t that surprised. It makes sense they’d force prisoners to share cells once they’d run out of space. There was barely enough room for a man to stand without his shoulders touching the walls, but I suppose, as prisoners, it didn’t really matter. Enemies of the Khmer Rouge deserve no mercy. Besides, I was sure it wouldn’t be long until they had another clear out.
Hours passed and, apart from the odd bit of gesturing as my roommate relieved himself in the corner box, the morning passed uneventful. Eventually, it was that time of day and I listened – ear on door – for that faint sound of snoring in the distance.
And there it was.
I turned back to my companion, leant close to his ear and whispered my question.
‘What’s your name?’
His eyes flashed wide and fearful, placing a finger over his lips as a warning.
‘Don’t worry,’ I continued. ‘The guard always falls asleep around this time of day. If we talk quietly like this he won’t wake to hear us. Trust me. We’ve all been doing it for weeks.’
He blinked a couple of times, adjusted his glasses and, as if to test the air, allowed breath to pass over his tongue and escape in a barely audible whirr.
‘It’s OK,’ I rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘You can go a bit louder than that.’
‘Chaunthou,’ he answered.
‘I’m Akra,’ I replied, attempting a smile.
It was strange. It had been so long since I’d spoken to someone that wasn’t through a hole in the wall, I found myself quite lost for words. In fact, it was Chanthou who broke the silence first.
‘What was your crime?’
‘The worst crime of all,’ I answered, gazing through the crack in the woodwork. ‘I was a teacher. Not only was I learned, but I dared to educate those who weren’t. I used to work in a school just like this one. No doubt it’s also been turned into a prison.’
He responded with a knowing head nod.
I looked him up and down. His hands twitched as he stooped low, eyes nervously darting from side to side. He readjusted his specs.
‘By the looks of things, I’d say you’re here because of your glasses?’
He smiled weakly. ‘Sad, isn’t it? That they’re willing to imprison and torture people merely for wearing glasses? But no, for me it was slightly different. You see, I was a doctor.’
My jaw dropped.
‘What?’ I stammered. ‘I knew they deemed all forms of education counter-revolutionary, but I thought they’d make some exceptions. After all, who’d they get to run the hospitals?’
‘Labourers mostly,’ he answered. ‘Generally people who can’t read or write. They use sugar cubes as treatments and make pills out of leftover vegetable matter. If you want a quick and easy place to die, then a hospital’s your best bet.’
His eyes traced the length of the cell.
‘They caught me,’ he continued, ‘because they found me trying to help.’
I let his words wash over me as reality sank in. If they’d go to the lengths of imprisoning doctors for the sake of some fanatical ideal, then what hope did the rest of us have. I slumped against the wooden wall, sinking home to my corner.
‘Don’t worry, there’s still hope,’ Chanthou offered. ‘I hear they’re moving people out of the prisons and into re-education homes. It’s not perfect, but anywhere is better than here. And at least we’ll get more than eight grains of rice a day.’
I sighed. As a doctor, I didn’t expect him to be so naïve.
‘There are no re-education homes,’ I said without altering my gaze. ‘It’s just a trick, lulling you into a false sense of security.’
‘How could you possibly know?’
‘Do you really think after the torture, after countless numbers die in this very building, that they give a damn about our “re-education”? We all know what really happens.’
I nodded as I pointed at the cracks in the wooden wall. ‘We’ve been talking and everyone is of the same opinion. They take us away to kill us, simply because they’ve run out of space for bodies in the school.’
Chanthou slumped down next to me, resigning himself to the truth.
‘It’s just a waiting game now,’ I continued. ‘Our only hope is that we’re not too weak when they come for us. At least then, if we coordinate our efforts, one or two of us might be able struggle free as we’re taken.’
‘Akra,’ Chanthou hesitated. ‘You realise that’s never going to happen? They’ll massacre the lot of you in seconds.’
I said nothing in response, letting the gnawing pain in my stomach distract my mind.
‘There might be another way,’ Chanthou offered, my eyes meeting with his. ‘I’ve seen the way the Khmer Rouge kill and they’re hardly accurate. They get the job done but I can tell they haven’t been trained.’
‘What’s your point?’
He put his hand on my shoulder as he held my gaze.
‘There may be another way we can survive.’
Metal wire bound our wrists as cloth wrapped tight around our eyes. We had no idea where we were. All we could do was wait.
Eventually, that dreaded sound shook at my ear drums. A recording of perfectly tuned voices and instruments blaring out propaganda. This was the signal to send us on our final march. Not to re-educate us, but to mask our screams as we died.
I hated myself for thinking it, but I wished Chanthou was here. If he had been selected too, then at least he could reassure us that his plan made sense. But no, I had to somehow convince the others alone. Even as I recounted his words, I doubted how it could possibly work. But right now, it was all we had left.
I was prodded until I rose and marched blindly onto the grass. Mud slipped wet around my blistered toes as my pace slowed into a cautious limp. Men growled orders as the music grew louder, blurring into a mesh of nonsensical sound.
The ground was loose beneath my feet so I edged away from the gap in front of them.
I knew what I had to do.
I slowed my breathing and remembered Chanthou’s words – our last hope at life – as I waited. Ready. Patient.
Suddenly, a scream so shrill filled my left ear that I jumped instinctively to the side. It was short lived, replaced by a gushing noise before a thudding rolled out from the gap beneath my feet. The sounds repeated and grew louder, as I mentally counted the number of prisoners before me.
Finally, it was my turn. I waited, feeling for the guard steadying his stance behind me.
With all my might, I hunched my shoulders backwards and thrusted my head forwards. It felt like a thunderclap: metal crashing on bone as I fell to my knees. I tasted blood as I screamed, a guard catching me before I fell too far forward.
Chanthou had taught me how to shift most of the impact from my skull to my back. Now, both of them hurt like hell. I could barely think.
But I was alive.
The rag was ripped from my eyes and the metal wire unwound. It was dark but I could see the pile of bodies that had already half-filled the pit below. I felt cold steel pressed up against the left side of my neck as my skin peeled away with ease.
Recalling Chanthou’s words, I rolled my head sideways towards the knife as it cut.
But something went wrong.
The right side of my neck was spared but the cut to my left was much deeper than it should have been.
They dropped me into the pit. As I landed I scrambled, holding my hands tight against my flesh as it poured.
I slowed my breathing and tried not to move. My spine crunched and my neck seeped out, but for now, I was still alive. They hadn’t crushed my skull and my throat could have been much worse. If I could just stop the bleeding, then there was every chance I could survive.
Bodies upon bodies piled on top, so much so that I was struggling to breathe. After the last victim, the music stopped and was replaced by the sounds of footsteps retreating.
I couldn’t believe it. I was still alive! My head was faint and my fingers wet, but I hadn’t bled out. And now they’d left. All I had to do was climb and run to my freedom.
I began to rummage through the bodies until, suddenly, I froze.
I could hear footsteps returning.
Almost immediately, I smelt it. Sweet like fruit at first, but soon its overpowering aniseed musk filled my lungs as I coughed. Bodies stirred around me – the others who’d survived – as each choked and coughed and screamed anew. My lungs charred as my skin began to melt.
The light burned black before my eyes.
Holding my nose, I slipped the tattered shirt on, ripping the sleeve for good measure. It stank as if it’s last owner had died long before it had been removed. I glanced back to the senior guard in the hallway. Knowing him, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
‘Are you ready?’ he asked, handing me the cracked spectacles.
‘Yes Comrade,’ I lied, dreading another night in those filthy prison cells.
‘But,’ I continued. ‘why do we bother with all this? We lace the mass graves with chemicals as soon as the bodies are dumped. Nobody has the slightest chance of surviving. What use is it to make up this rubbish?’
‘To give them hope,’ he said simply.
I nodded in response.
‘I see. A final mercy for the enemies of the Khmer Rouge.’
His brow knitted as he unbolted the door.
‘Not quite. You see, people with hope are predictable. They don’t panic until it’s far too late. In short, they’re easier to control.’
I gasped, as he grabbed my hair, arching my neck backwards as he placed his lips to my ear.
‘You know very well there is no mercy for the enemies of the Khmer Rouge.’
With one swift movement, he kicked my back, sending me hurtling into the empty cell.
I wiped blood from my nose as the harsh reality sank in.
Nobody escapes the Khmer Rouge.
It was time for me to atone for my sins.
I’m standing on the metal bridge trying not to look down. I know that I’m forty-three metres above the river, which didn’t sound that high when I planned this, but it had to be high enough to work. I can hear the water below, sloshing and churning one minute and calm the next. There must be rocks down there. I imagine hitting it from this height and realise that I’m shitting myself. The slight breeze, which feels quite warm, is mussing up my mop of hair. Katie’s nickname for me was Shaggy, as in Scooby Doo, which I pretended to hate, but really, I loved it. I smile and think about prodding her in the ribs in mock annoyance. Then I feel sick, a painful, burning kind of sensation that spreads from my stomach right up to my throat, like bile. Grief or nerves? I can’t tell the difference.
You might be wondering why I’m about to throw myself off a bridge. At least, I hope that you are as I’d like you to understand. Perhaps the mention of grief has given it away. Me and Katie should have been married by now, exactly four weeks ago. But, regardless of all the planning that goes into an event like that, something can always come along to cock it up.
When I proposed to Katie eighteen months ago, we were at the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh in the pissing rain. We stood on the rocky ground, water dripping from our hoods onto our faces, looking at the beautiful view of the city, albeit through what seemed like a waterfall.
‘ Sorry about the weather,’ I said, screwing up my nose.
‘It’s bloody Scotland, in April, you wally, what did you expect?’, Katie said, swatting my arm playfully.
‘Sometimes the weather is great at this time of year. Anyway, it’s good pub weather. We can shelter behind that bit of rock over there, eat our sandwiches and head down to the Holyrood Tavern.’
‘Go on then Shaggy, I’m starving,’ said Katie, rubbing her hands together.
Thankfully, I’d wrapped the food up well, saving the bread from becoming a soggy mush. Katie is going to love this, I thought, not able to hide my grin.
‘What’s so funny? This better not be cheese and coleslaw again,’ she said, unwrapping the foil.
She looked up at me, first with her brows raised and then narrowed eyes. ‘Corned beef and Marmite? Corned beef. And Marmite? Shit, is this a break up sandwich?’
I couldn’t help the belly laugh that erupted. You see, I loathe Marmite. It is the devil’s food. After the first-time Katie ate it in my company and I smelled it on her breath, I laid down the rule that she was getting nowhere near my lips for at least four hours. She convinced me to try it once. I said it’s what I imagined salty toe cheese to taste of.
‘No, it is not a break up sandwich, it’s a special occasion sandwich. In fact, there is something to go with it.’ I handed her another package wrapped in foil, with slightly shaky fingers, my heart rate increasing, my breathing quicker.
As Katie opened the box in the foil, I said ‘Would you do me the honour of becoming Mrs Shaggy?’
For split second, everything seemed to stop. Me holding my breath, Katie with eyes wide staring at me. Then she laughed. Not a giggle, but a roaring, head flung back, shoulder-shaking laugh. I took this as a good sign.
‘Course I bloody will!’ she said, wrapping her arms around me. ‘I don’t know what to do first, eat my sandwich or put the ring on,’ she teased.
‘Definitely the ring, especially if you want a celebratory smooch,’ I laughed, guessing that some of the water running down our cheeks were tears as well as rain.
Six months after that day, everything was planned. If it had been up to us, we would have got married there and then, on that rainy hill, but, aside from that being impossible, we wanted to share the day with our family and friends.
We loved the outdoors and spent a lot of time in the Highlands, so we decided on a September wedding right on the sandy beach at the shore of Loch Morlich near Aviemore. Surrounded by family, friends, mountains and forest. Katie’s vision was of colourful bunting in the trees, an array of wildflowers and possibly umbrellas and wellies. After the ceremony, we planned on a celebratory kayak around the loch, much to our parents’ amusement. Although I thought I detected a hint of despair as well. It was going to be the best day ever.
You may or may not be able to imagine what it’s like looking forward so much to marrying the love of your life, your soulmate, ‘the one’. I know, so many clichés. But, it is the best feeling in the world. You can’t wait for the future, for all the things you are going to do together. But in living so much in the future you sometimes forget about the good things that happen in the present. You never for one minute think the future won’t be there.
For me and Katie, it never was.
Nine months after the proposal, Christmas and Hogmanay had passed and we were into the murky dark mornings, dark evenings and post-indulgence slump of the middle of crappy January. Me and Katie both hated this time of year and for the last couple of years we had escaped to the sun for a week to break up the monotony. But this year, to save some money for our honeymoon, we stayed put and decided to battle through.
‘Right, Shaggy, what are we doing this weekend?’, asked Katie, sprawled out on the short arse couch with a glass of shiraz, her mane of freshly washed red hair getting bigger by the second as it air-dried.
‘What about a Saturday afternoon, slash, early evening Leith Walk pub crawl? There are a few places we haven’t been yet and the guys at work said that new place Woodland Creatures has cracking beer.’
‘And we could also go to the Spanish place for some exotic scran and my favourite wine and pretend we’re on holiday,’ she said, her eyes sparkling and her mouth making a shape that said ‘ooooh’.
‘Right, that’s a plan, Stan,’ I said, chinking my bottle of beer against her wine glass, before settling back into the big couch, my feet sticking over the end.
Saturday came and we did justice to a Leith Walk pub crawl. It used to be all sticky-floored pubs with worn out furniture and that dark red wallpaper with the black velvet pattern, but it is so different now. Don’t get me wrong, me and Katie loved those old places. Some of them didn’t even have windows, so it was pot luck what was going on when you pushed the door open. But the new places made it busier, with lots of different people around, food from all over the globe on offer.
We had our meal at Serrano, wines and beers at the new bars, and before we knew it, it was ten o’clock. I was in that state of thinking, I am a bit drunk but not that bad and I could definitely go a few more pints. I could talk okay and I could walk in a straight line. Katie said she felt the same. Obviously, we were both drunk, but not proper drunk. Just merry and looking for the next place.
‘Port o’Leith,’ shouted Katie.
‘Are you sure? Do you not remember the last time when you almost danced off the windowsill?’
‘Come on, it’s a laugh. We’re on pretend holiday.’
Katie was walking backwards along the pavement at this point, smiling widely, with her arms outstretched, as if to say, come on let’s do it!
I was about to concede when I saw the black four by four cross onto the wrong side of the road. The driver swerved from side to side. One minute I was laughing, the next I was flailing my arms and shouting as I ran towards Katie. She looked at me with a frown and a question on her lips, then I saw the split second of realisation when she knew that something bad was going to happen.
There was commotion. Flashing lights, people everywhere. I could hear someone yelling. It could have been me. I could see someone lying on the ground, people in green uniforms surrounding them. Police officers were standing with a woman who looked ghostly white, mascara running down her face, her eyes screwed up, her mouth open yet twisted. Maybe she a witness?
I locked onto the thought that Katie was such a determined person. Once she made her mind up to do something, that was it, she would find a way. I felt a surge of positive adrenaline. She would be fine. But it turned out that as I was thinking that, Katie was already gone.
In the weeks that followed, I found out quite a few things: the ghostly-white woman I’d seen wasn’t just a witness, she was the driver of the vehicle. I thought I was a forgiving type of person, but I’m not and my imagination can conjure up some rather disturbing methods of retribution; hardcore swearing is a brilliant tension release, which I will leave to your imaginations; there was only so much sympathy that you could take; and finally, determination sometimes isn’t enough. I spent my time bouncing between two states. The first was almost catatonic, staring into space and concentrating on making myself breathe. The second was the hysteria of loss. Clinging to items of Katie’s clothing, sniffing her shampoo and holding photographs to my chest as I tried, and failed, to get some sleep.
Cancelling the wedding was an ordeal I put off as long as possible, but I couldn’t wait to cancel the honeymoon. If it hadn’t been for that we would have been on holiday in Spain that night and Katie would still be here. I’m not sure how normal it is to hate a country, but I hated New Zealand. My parents and Katie’s parents said that maybe I shouldn’t cancel it, that perhaps it would do me good to get away. They said that because it was the last thing that we’d had planned together, it could provide me with some closure. I thought they were insane.
I talked to Katie and tried to imagine what she would tell me to do and deep down I knew what it would be. It still didn’t seem right though. I wasn’t allowed to have fun or enjoy life, not without Katie. But, ten months after that night and here I am, on the other side of the world on a solo honeymoon, about to take a leap of faith. Had I been here with Katie, I would never have been standing on this bridge waiting to jump, thanks to my fear of heights. And water. And not being in control.
‘You’re such a wuss, Shaggy,’ I heard Katie say with a giggle.
‘Not anymore,’ I whispered as I stepped off the platform, a giant elastic band attached to my ankles, the wind streaming