Saturday, 6 June 2020

'Better With, or Without' by Sarah Davy

The light goes out. She draws her chair close, shines the beam into my eyes. Her bob drops from behind her ear, brushes my cheek. A faint electric tickle as our knees touch. She’s been drinking coffee. I hold my breath so she won’t smell the cider I had with breakfast.

The lights come on. Numbers punched into the flickering screen. I notice the pictures pinned above the computer. Thick crayon in primary colours. Mam & Ethan, aged 6. Happy Birthday Mam, Ethan, aged 7. It’s Xmas! Ethan aged 8.

The test frames are screwed tight, pinching my temples. The scar still smarts. A car crash, I tell her. I almost died. She nods, changes the lenses. Better with. Or without. With. Or without. Her voice is cool, measured. A ring hangs on a chain around her neck. I remember the headline. Head-on horror crash. Three children. Their father, a husband and the local GP. A tragedy. Such a loss to the community.

I leave with a new prescription and eye drops and walk across the village to the graveyard. Old moss-wrapped graves nearest the church, newer stones fanning out to the blossom-tree lined edges. A headstone each, so new they sparkle in the spring sunshine. Beloved husband. Darling girl. Beautiful boy. My baby. Ethan. Aged 8. Taken from this world too soon.

There’s no marker here for my loss. For the boy I fell in love with. He died instantly. And the family in the car we hit head on. Her family. Survivor guilt, they told me. When you go through something like this, it changes you. I was never named. Just a passenger. An anonymous survivor.

I sit on the bench at the bus-stop and wait for her to leave. My daily routine. She pulls up her hood even though it’s dry, shutting out the world with its hollow sympathy. Grief marks you, makes you stand out when all you want to do is hide. I sit on my hands and resist the urge to cry out, to run after her. She disappears around the corner and I take my flask from my pocket and drink, wince at the sting in my still dry eyes as tears flood my face.

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