Winning story for Vibewire’s ‘Days like this’ competition
Sally dragged sleep weighted feet into the kitchen and resumed the orderly process of spreading, filling, cutting and wrapping her lunch. Moments later her father soundlessly shuffled out of the bathroom – pressed, ironed and ready for work. Sally was confronted by how frail he was. Here stood that same face, but only a shadow, a distant relic, of something she remembered but knew she couldn’t have again. His face was greying and eyes were dull, Sally wondered if he’d scrubbed so hard to rid himself of the stench of burning that had leached the colour from his skin.
“Morning Dad” she said under half raised eye lids.
He turned to her in startled surprise. She watched his eyes as they darted all around her head but never came to rest upon her face. His hands then smoothed and resmoothed the panels of his blazer.
“Morning.” he continued to mouth “morning, morning, morning” as he poured a long stream of coffee onto the bench beside his mug, not noticing the spattering of brown on his shirt – or the tiny liquid ember attack upon his face. Maybe he was sleepwalking, he’d been doing it all his life. Sally wondered which was easier – to sleep your way through pain and empty longing; or to feel the full onslaught of all the turmoil but still retain all the wonderful intensity of love and joy and hope that she knew hid within us all.
Things looked different on the way to school this morning. The trees opened up their arms to allow trickles of light to pool about her feet, flowers peeled back their petals and thrust out their stamen, the lollipop man held traffic for crossing children instead of sitting on the wall with his coffee, as he usually did. Things felt different too. Usually the sharper bits of gravel would dig in to her feet through thin shoe soles – but today she felt like she was walking on greying grass. Usually her bag straps dug deep red ridges into her shoulders, but today it was as if her bag was a suspended marionette with a life of its own, dancing above her shoulders. Even at school the shoes adopted a greater a sheen, the pigtails were thicker and the buttons rounder and more shiny.
She had walked out of a crumbling world of paper houses and paper men. A world where men crashed to their knees under the weight of their own burdens. She had walked into one where towers were made of sturdy stone and dotted with windows and doors; where people linked arms and held hands and passed strength between them to heal over scars and to dress fresh wounds.
Hope doesn’t have to be flickering candles and tearful reunions as bodies and hearts finally meet. Sometimes the prickle of the persistent sun and the gentle acknowledgement of existence is enough to keep us going and to warm hearts which so gradually freeze over.
Sally stood at the school gate and let the magnitude of the moment wash over her. She let the pallet of colours drip over her body and the trees bend and dance around her. Days like this make life worth living, and make the endless struggle seem full of promise.