Successive waves of guilt rocked Harry as the plane lifted off from the runway. The terminal buildings sped by in a blur of glass and metal. His head throbbed. He half wished the Airbus would crash, exploding into a million pieces, offering him sweet oblivion.
Then he remembered Emily. And, with a jolt, Fiona. He checked his own seatbelt for the umpteenth time, then that of the little girl next to him.
‘Granddad? Did Nana take poison?’ a small voice said. Harry twisted in his sea and his hand shot to his throat. Emily screwed up her face. ‘Don’t you want to talk about it?’
‘Not now, Emily. Try and go to sleep.’
His granddaughter slipped her arm through his, and put her thumb in her mouth. The child’s warmth and softness comforted him, though her question brought back his nagging doubt. How he envied the innocence of a child. Emily seemed quite unperturbed, as if what had just taken place was normal.
Harry sighed, his mind drifting back to his forty years of marriage. The life he and Fiona had spent together had remained based on love and caring, not convenience or habit, like so many of their friends. The first sign of strain had come with Fiona’s illness. ‘Terminal’ was the word that shocked, that he had grown to hate.
But Fiona had made it clear. ‘When the time comes,’ she said, ‘I’ll need your help.’ She’d made him promise. That’s why he’d taken her to Switzerland. It was legal there. It seemed unfair to bring Emily along – being so young – but Fiona had been adamant. Those two shared a special affinity.
Harry gazed through the window as the aircraft banked. Lac Léman came into view. Yachts with spinnakers billowing skimmed across the water – white specks on an inky-blue puddle, framed by snowy Alpine peaks. But Harry saw no beauty in this, only resentment. It didn’t seem right for others to be out enjoying themselves. He snapped the blind shut.
It was useless closing his eyes; all he could see was Fiona’s last, weak smile and her watery eyes, blue as the lake below. He could feel the loosening grip of her cold hand in his. He had leant over and kissed her forehead, tears pricking behind his eyes.
He focused on the headrest in front, but couldn’t rid himself of the image of Fiona’s coffin in the cargo hold. Alone. Cold. Dead.
Dense fog engulfed the plane as it prepared for landing. Harry’s mood plummeted. Should he have tried harder to change Fiona’s mind? He suppressed a sob.
Emily rubbed the sleep from her eyes. ‘Don’t worry, Granddad. You did the right thing. Nana said you would.’
‘She said she’d be fine in Heaven, and to promise to tell you that.’
How like Fiona to give her blessing, Harry thought.
As they stepped off the plane, the fog cleared. The heaviness in Harry’s heart lifted. He ruffled Emily’s hair. Soon they’d be home.