Allison never really comprehended that her best friend was going to die until it actually happened.
She was at home one Sunday morning, using her new water paints. She hadn’t been to church in quite a few weeks, as Karin had been too sick to go with her. She felt a little strange and guilty for being at home on a Sunday morning. The new water paints were great though. She’d painted in the landscape, the beautiful light blue waves that were about to crash onto the shore, and all of the sand, with seashells and crabs hidden in among it. She’d already done the sky, which was filled with clouds. Perhaps it should have been a perfectly clear day, a typical sunny day at the beach, but she couldn’t help herself. She liked clouds too much. Each one was different, no two the same, and they were fluffy, like white fairy floss she could’ve taken a bite out of right then and there.
She started painting in a beautiful blue dolphin, her careful brush strokes caressing the paper. She concentrated with all her might, her eyes squinting. She was eager to make this dolphin the most elegant and graceful creature ever to swim the ocean.
At that moment her Mum entered the room, her face a strained red colour, and streaked with tears. Allison dropped her brush onto the ground in shock. She’d never seen her Mum cry before, not like that, not silently.
She knew without asking what had happened.
She felt stupid and ignorant and insane for never having really believed that it would happen. Now it was so real, so agonising, so in-her-face that she couldn’t move a muscle, she couldn’t speak even one meaningless word. Her Mum embraced her and for one strange moment she felt pleased. Her Mum was usually uncomfortable with holding her but now she was holding her as if she would break if she didn’t – as if Allison was her strength, an important part of her.
“Mum…” she whispered, eager to be her strength, desperate to be courageous for someone else as she never could be for herself.
“Darling… she’s gone.”
“I know,” Allison said in a broken whisper.
With one relieving howl she let out all of the pain she had inside, letting a torrent of tears rush from her young eyes. She cried and cried and she cried until she was hiccupping. She cursed herself for not being brave in front of her Mother.
Three days later, they dressed in sombre shades, Allison and her Mum, to attend Karin’s funeral. How could this be? Just a week before, the girls had been giggling as they’d helped each other complete a crossword in the hospital.
Allison was sure she’d never again see anything quite so devastating as the sight of Karin’s Mother, standing there at the graveside, her face grief-stricken, the tears unable to escape her eyes. It was as though she was in a trance, as if there was no way for her to carry on or even move any more.
Allison was glad that Karin’s Mum had her husband, Mr Grey. Mr Grey held Mrs Grey close against him and smiled politely at people on behalf of his wife as they came to offer their sympathies.
Allison looked around, trying to see where Karin’s brother Owen was. She soon spotted him, standing with one of his friends, a tall guy whom Allison recognised. They were smiling and chatting away and Allison thought it odd.
Didn’t Owen care that his only sister was dead, dead, dead?
She didn’t understand any of it. Why did most of these people smile? Why was it that she and Karin’s Mother were the only ones that looked sad?
Owen, his Dad, and two other men that Karin didn’t recognise, lifted Karin’s coffin and walked towards the grave. Once they put that coffin in the ground, that would be it, Allison thought. There would be no way to even dream that Karin was alive. No one would be able to forget how fundamentally dead she was. She tried not to imagine her friend lying in that coffin, in a small, whiter-than-white body devoid of breath. Devoid of Karin.
She made a deliberate attempt to analyse the men’s faces. Three of the men were staring down at the ground. Owen’s was the only face she could see. He held his head high, his features unmoving and impossible to read. She stared at his face, wanting to find some sign that he cared, that his heart was broken in two, but the only expression she could find was one of seriousness, as if he was busy trying to concentrate on a test paper or something.
She couldn’t take it any more, why wouldn’t anybody do anything? She sobbed loudly, and again she was hiccupping and her Mum rested a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Then she had an asthma attack – the first one she’d had in years, she was sure.
“Where’s your pump?” Mum demanded in what Allison considered a too-loud voice.
“I – uh – I….”
She couldn’t explain that she didn’t think she’d needed it any more. Hell, she couldn’t even breathe properly. Her Mum bundled her up in her arms as if she was a babe from the cradle and ran from the graveside. Allison pulled at her Mum’s hair and punched her in the shoulder, a tantrum in her belly.
“Take me back there! Take me back!” She gasped, making the attack all the more extreme. “I don’t care if I die, just take me back there!”
At least another person was crying now, but that didn’t make Allison feel any better. She didn’t really know if she wanted to hear people wailing. She didn’t know any thing. All she knew was that Karin was dead, times three.
Mum was more panicked than she’d ever been. She had thought the asthma had disappeared for good, but now Allison’s breathing was more desperate and disturbing than ever. She deemed herself a downright failure as a Mother. Someone traipsed along behind them and Allison felt ashamed.
How could she have ruined Karin’s funeral?
How could she have been so disgustingly selfish?
She wanted whoever it was that was following them to go back to the graveside. She wanted her Mum to stop and just dump her where she was, to let her die.
She wanted everyone to ignore her stupid Mum and her stupid breathing problems and to concentrate on Karin, to cry for her like she was and always would be.
A few metres away, the child’s body was lowered into the freshly dug grave. Allison’s breathing was shallow and her lifeline was irretrievably disappearing. Through a slit in her half-closed eyes she saw the clouds above. They were beautiful and ever changing. One of them took the form of a dolphin.
She tried to take a bite out of one of the mashed potato-textured clouds but she couldn’t quite reach.
The brush strokes deftly painted a picture… a picture of life without her best friend.
The light blue waves met with the shore in a violently happy caress and she breathed, slowly and with strength. One day she’d see the girl again, in the wind and the ocean. Till then, she had to come to life.