They look back at me from the shop window, all shiny and new. Four-inch heel and round toe. A gorgeous pair of shoes prescribes against anything. This is a rule I live by, and these lovelies will give me the confidence I need to get over the nerves of my first day on Monday. They’re casual enough to wear as a day shoe but smart enough to give the right impression. Handing over my credit card, I distract myself so as not to see the amount on the screen, punch in my code and wait. The small white box with a gold panel across the front is placed on the counter in front of me. Strolling out of the shop, swinging my bag, I feel a little bit less anxious. My phone vibrates in my handbag and my mum’s number appears on the screen. She never calls me before eleven in the morning.
I can't remember how I got there. I climb the stairs looking for directions etched on a wall somewhere. I hear my father’s voice as I turn the corner and on hearing my footsteps he turns around. He looks like my father but somehow nothing like him. His eyes sink deep into a face unshaven and raw with emotion. I search his eyes for answers. He reaches over and puts his hand on my shoulder, and I feel the weight of the words he can't say. I lean in and hug him. He smells like copper and fresh sweat, the way he always smells. I hug him tighter, trying to make a fresh memory and I’m suddenly aware of how long it's been since I told him I loved him.
He leads me to a room hidden at the back of the hospital and I open the door gently. My beautiful sister greets me with a smile, but her eyes can't hide what her heart is feeling. I look towards my mother who is standing beside the bed, holding her hand.
I am a child again. My sister is a child. A horrible vision of a time when my mother won't be there crosses my mind. A time when she won’t be there to hold my hand, and I will have to face the world without her. Watching her, my heart hurts from loving her so much. She holds my sister’s hand, taking her pain and I look on and feel useless. I try to capture this moment of tenderness and to always remember what my mother was capable of. Then the realisation of what we have all lost hits me. My mother turns to me, but I look away.
My sister’s sobbing echoes through my parents’ house. The grief lies. Heavy, thick, confusion. Voices sieve their way through the sadness. The kettle continually clicks as fresh tea is made. Chats around the kitchen table, feeling our way through the solitude, each one of us trying not to reach out and touch the other’s pain.
I slide away to my room and lie on the bed. My white shoe box lies on the floor, mocking me. A shiver runs through me and stays. I reach for the duvet and bury myself beneath it, hoping to muffle my choking sobs.
My mother creeps down the stairs, trying not to disturb a house of unsleeping people. I close my eyes and wait for someone else to get up first, unable to bear her haunted eyes just yet. My niece stirs and her chirping vibrates through the house. A shuffle of bodies and beds as everyone descends to the kitchen.
My father is the last one to come down the stairs and without speaking; he walks over to my mother and leads her out to the car. They pull away and once again the kettle resumes its singing as we all sit waiting.
I hear my sister moving around in her room. I head back upstairs to help her as she decides what to wear. She searches through her collection of clothes, but nothing is suitable. Everything is stretched out of shape and won't fit a body contorted with loss. She looks over at my shoebox and sighs heavily.
“It’s the same size as that.”
She reaches over and traces the label with her finger. She lifts the lid and looks inside. Two sparkling new shoes lie side by side, snuggled together, a perfect fit.
She says as puts the lid back on and sits on the bed. I reach for a hairbrush and gently start brushing her hair. She strokes her empty, swollen belly and her eyes grow angry holding back the tears she refuses to let go of.
We hear the crunch of stones on the driveway as my parents arrive home.
My sister’s fiancé comes in looking as detached as she does.
He reaches for her hand.
The tiny casket is laid out on the bed, a small white box with a gold panel. My father reaches over and gently places the two tiny bodies together inside the box that should never have been made. He lays them side by side, snuggled together.
“They’re a perfect fit.”
My father’s first words since I came home. I watch as he lets the tears flow freely down his face.
It’s twelve before I can face the morning. Eager to rid myself of my own selfish grief, I quickly start gathering up my things. I look over at my new shoebox which lies discarded on the floor. I reach over, take out the shoes and start ripping up the empty box with a venomous rage that leaves me panting. I turn around and see my mother standing at the door. She walks towards me picks up each piece of torn cardboard. She leans over and kisses me tenderly on my cheek, then turns and walks away. I throw my new shoes in my bag and leave, knowing I will never wear them.
I’ve always hated Mondays.