The grown-ups gathered, shrouded in black, heads and voices low. Tilly held her father’s hand as he limped to the front of the church. She tried not to shuffle her bottom on the hard wooden seat.
Afterwards, they went outside where it was warmer. The sun shone resolutely, and crumpled tissues darted behind sunglasses perched on reddened noses. Many hands patted Tilly’s father’s arm, went to ruffle her curls. Instinctively she ducked away.
They stood on the grass, and the freshly dug ground smelled to Tilly like summer and new things. She wished she could take off her stupid black dress and her shiny, pinchy shoes and climb a tree instead. She longed to scramble over the stone wall and into the field beyond and just run and run and run.
A bee droned around the tombstones as prayers floated away on the breeze. Tilly watched it join the mourners, whispering in first one ear and then another.
Without warning it veered towards her face, dived low, landed on her dress. The hymn book she hadn’t realised she was still clutching snapped towards the carefully pressed fabric and the bee fell to the ground.
Its little black and yellow body twitched once, twice. Fell still.
For a moment the world held its breath and then, as colour and sound and time flooded back, Tilly’s heart was filled with thick, black grief.
I killed it, she thought desperately. I killed it.
And the infinite ache that comes with knowing that something bad has happened and can never be undone settled like a mantle over her soul.
As the grown-ups sniffed and dropped flowers onto the coffin, Tilly fell to her knees beside the bee and sobbed until she thought she would break in two.