She sat. Paralysed, petrified with self-loathing. Eyes unfocused and bleary with tears. Her face screwed up into a grimace so tight, and rigid, that it looked like she would rip herself apart from the tension. The moisture pooled on her waterline and started to drip freely. Down her cheeks, off of the tip of her nose, hitting and burning her lips as they fell.
She sat. Curled into the tightest ball. Knees pulled into her chest, forcing themselves against her ribs, trying to still her heavy-beating heart. Fingers and toes became claws, biting and ripping at skin. Inhumanly still, blood pooled in her mouth as her bottom lip split under the slicing pressure of her teeth.
She sat. In the corner of her shower. Stripped down to her underwear, coughing and gasping under the running cold water. Goosebumps infecting her skin, the cold water turning her extremities blue.
“Don’t do what I did.” Those were his last words. Those were the words he’d chosen as his legacy. What a joke.
Celia’s father had died five years ago. When she was sixteen. Drugged up, lungs still full of smoke and breath smelling like a still, she had sat next to him in the hospital, holding his hand. Then he had said those words, and the world exploded into sound. The monitors flat-lined. The crash cart rolled in, pushed by doctors yelling out orders. Her mother started to wail, dishevelled and waterlogged, her skinny figure shaking with racking sobs.
But all Celia did was watch. She watched the sad, weak face of her father and wished that he was still alive, shutting her eyes tight as the nice doctor with pretty hair and strong arms carried her out the room, holding her breath petulantly as if her protest would force nature to concede and bring her Daddy back.
But it didn’t. And they didn’t bring her Daddy back. They must’ve hated her because they left her holding her breath and closing her eyes until the nice doctor with the pretty hair and strong arms shook her until she cried. Until she started breathing again.
Sitting in the shower and thinking back to it all, sometimes she wonders if it wouldn’t have been kinder of him to have just let her suffocate.
Celia’s mother found her in the shower as she did every year. Sitting on the tiles, huffing as the cold water froze her skin. Celia’s mother hadn’t been the same since her husband died. For one, the drugs stopped. After a week-long bender where Celia had discovered her in a room, reeking of booze and pills semi conscious on the bed, her mother had decided to quit. Cold turkey. They moved out of that grim apartment and lived with Celia’s grandparents until they were stable again, less than a year later. “We have somewhere to be. Now get your drunk ass ready and meet me in the car. Ten minutes.”
What a joke, Celia thought. Five years later, and I’m on my way to the hospital bed just like he was. As soon as she stops shooting up, I start. What a joke. The down from the pills starting to wear off. She stood up in the shower, washed her mouth out until she could no longer taste the bitterness and got dressed.
They drove to the graveyard in silence. The old ute drove in silence, it’s own sign of respect for the man who first bought it. Celia’s mother wore the white dress with flowers on it, the one that caught the wind and flew out around her, the one with the gathers that her husband used to bunch at her hips when they danced. She drove with the lavender bunches rested in her lap, the ones that he used to hang up around the house when he was riding a high. Celia wore her torn jeans and her mother’s old sweatshirt. She looked out of the window at the pale blue-green gum trees passing her by, turning her head to hold follow their image, then she turned away. The tall trees held a lot of memories for her, memories that the pills helped her forget.
They reached the graveyard and Celia’s mother stepped down from the car, walking down to the headstone that was inscribed with her husband’s name, and the words, “Forever loved, and never forgotten. The best of us.” Celia watched from the car as her mother sat next to the grave, hung the lavender and shared a glass of sparkling grape juice with her husband. Like old times. She watched as her mother spoke to the heavy stone, as she laughed with it, and like always, as she cried to it. She waited till her mother had dried her eyes and finished her drink, and finally, when her mother stood up to take her walk around the grounds, Celia pulled the well-worn sheets of paper out of her pocket, and grabbed the brown, weathered leather jacket from the back seat.
She breathed deeply as she took her slow steps to the gravestone, it looked illuminated with the smatterings of yellow and gold leaves falling around it, the sun’s light hitting it just right, reflecting off of the polished stone and blinding her. She hated how close it was. How it came up to greet her. How it stared her down. And as she got closer, she lowered her head in shame. She reached the plot, unfolded the tear-stained, yellowing papers and read them out.
I’ve been trying to write you this letter for almost a year. But I just didn’t know how to say it… Dad, I’m so sorry, I…”
She stood there in front of the only man she’d ever loved and she apologized. She apologized for her failures. She apologized for disappointing her mother. She apologized to the only person she’d ever held up to any esteem. To the only good man she’d ever known, no matter his mistakes, she stood in front of his remains and told him everything.
“… I know I can’t make up for my mistakes. I know that I’m past any forgiveness you could give me. But I—I just miss you Dad. I miss you so, so much. Come back to us Dad. Don’t leave me like this. I can’t change without you here.
You’re floating up there in the clouds, wings spread, telling all the other angels about your adventures, and your fairytales. Take me with you Dad. Every day it gets worse cause you’ve been gone another day. I’m doing what you did, and even though I know you don’t want me to, I can’t. It’s the only way I can still feel you around, and you’re the only thing that keeps me safe. You’re my comfort, Dad.
I love you forever. I’ll never forget you. The best of me.
She finished her letter and laid it down along with the brown, leather jacket. Then she lay down next to the grave, held onto the jacket sleeve and lay there. Watching the breeze flow through and shake the blades of grass, counting the spots of the ladybug landing on her arm. Tears flowing down her cheeks, she smiled sober for the first time in a week, as she told the man who raised her again and again that she loved him, and that she could never forget him, and that he was the best father she’d ever known. And as she spoke, her mother joined her.
Sitting together as a family once more, they spoke, and they laughed until sunset came.
Then they sat up. And they stopped talking. And they watched as the man they loved left them just as the sun did, taking his place on as one of the twinkling souls in the sky. Then they packed up their things, and walked back to the car.
Celia nodded in ascension. Eyes still watering, but a smile on her face, a smile for him.
“Till midnight?” Celia’s mother asked.
“Like always… till midnight.” Celia answered. Till midnight they would remember him, and then their lives would resume and they’d try their damndest to forget today. To forget this one day of comfort that was all they could scrounge up for themselves.
Sara continues to struggle with her paralyzing neuroticisms while also juggling school, extra curriculars and ambitions to write. She is currently trapped alone in her bedroom playing Arctic Monkeys on endless repeat.
Feature image by Bryan Ball.