The walls are grey, the blankets are grey, her gown is grey, even the sky outside is grey.
She stares blankly out the window without blinking, seeing but not speaking as tiny droplets of rain spatter down from the heavens: sharp as needles, glistening in the cold morning light as they fall against the window. Outside, thunder rumbles somewhere in the distance. The noise is threatening, almost sinister. She knows she should feel fear, feel something, but all she can feel is blankness. And darkness. It surrounds her always, its twisted arms wrapped around her fragile body, refusing to let go.
She wants to feel something, so she reaches out a hand. It’s shaking slightly, but not from the cold. She presses it against the icy glass, wishing she could open the window. Wishing she could feel the cruel gust of wind in her face and wishing the rain would freeze her skin to the bone. She is tired of being locked away in this cold prison. Every day is monotonous. Here, change is non existent and everything is so sterile, so clean. Like the hospital wing or a retirement home.
She remembers her home. Always messy, always chaotic. Dirty dishes stacked untidily on the bench top, clothes spilling out of the cupboard, pots of paint and powder splayed across her vanity table. And smears of mud at the front door, spreading all the way to the kitchen. From his boots. His favourite boots, the ones he always wore to work.
A man walks down the street, past her window. She watches him with blurred eyes. He wears a long travelling cloak and carries a yellow umbrella. It is the only colour she has seen for days-or maybe weeks. Time passes in strange ways here, and that’s the way they want it.
She hears the man yelling faintly as his yellow umbrella blows from his hand and begins to fly away, down the street. She watches him as he races after it, his feet sliding on the slippery pavement. She watches him until he disappears from view; is just a tiny dot on the horizon. She is jealous of the man, because he can go places. Because he is free. She would give anything to go running again, or to climb trees like she did when she was little.
She loathes being locked up in this prison, like a criminal, and doesn’t understand why she’s here. She has done nothing wrong.
The door of her room creaks as it opens, but she doesn’t turn around. She just continues sitting, wishing and waiting. She hears hushed voices, but can’t make out what they are saying. She finds she doesn’t much care.
And then there are footsteps, careful footsteps, coming towards her. She feels her body tensing, worry gnawing at her insides like an angry monster. She curls her hands into fists, waiting to strike. But then a familiar hand is placed on her shoulder-a hand that is small and rough. A hand with chipped and dirtied fingernails. A hand belonging to a girl who loves to paint. She relaxes.
“Hello Victoire,” her sister says, in a voice that is completely unlike her own. Dominique was always bold and strong. She wasn’t afraid of anything. This Dominique sounds different. Grown up and sad. More than anything, she wants to comfort her, but she doesn’t know how.
Victoire can see their reflections in the window, now. Her sister, tall and slim with a face full of freckles and strawberry blonde hair, pulled up into an untidy knot. Dominique, the artist. And behind her is Louis, wearing a cap that is on back to front and a nervous smile.
She sees her reflection, too. Sees hair that no longer shines with luminosity, sees eyes that are hollow and sees a face that is gaunt and sad. Above all other things, sad.
Dominique and Louis sit down on the bed, watching her. She wishes they wouldn’t: it makes her feel uneasy.
All you need to do is ask. But she can’t. Because her lips won’t let her form words. Not anymore.
“How long has she been like this?” Louis asks uncertainly. “She’s even more mental than last time we saw her…OUCH!” he cries, as Dominique elbows him the ribs. “What was that for?”
Victoire sees her sister eying her nervously. “You heard what the healer said,” she mutters. “You’re not supposed to say things like that. Not while she’s…recovering.”
Victoire wonders if Dominique knows she is listening. If she knows she can listen.
“And how long is that supposed to take, exactly?” Louis says. “She’s been in here three months, Dom, and…”
“Shut. Up,” says Dominique through gritted teeth. ‘We’re supposed to be in here to help…not make things worse.” Dominique looks at Victoire. She wants to comfort her little sister, to say everything is going to be all right. Because that’s what big sisters do. But all she can do is sit at the window while the rain trickles down the glass, like tears. “How are you Vic?” Dominique asks. “Healer Turpin says you’re better. Says you willingly took you meds yesterday!” Dominique’s bright tone does not match the sombre mood. Dominique looks at her brother, who shrugs unhelpfully. “I thought you might want to know I got a new boyfriend,” Dominique continues. “You’d like him-I think he’s a keeper this time. Not like…”
“DOM,” says Louis firmly. “Do you really think she wants to hear about your latest fling? After what happened to…”
She closes her eyes, drowning out his voice. She doesn’t want to hear his name. Doesn’t want those painful memories to come bubbling back up. Because then…then she’ll lose it completely. She won’t know who she is anymore. But…maybe it’s already too late. Maybe she’s already lost herself.
“Now look what you’ve done!” says Louis firmly. “She’s crying!”
Dominque frowns. “She…what?”
Victoire realises her cheeks are wet, like the pavement outside where the man with the yellow umbrella had been. She wants to reach up and wipe them away. She doesn’t want Dominique and Louis to worry. But her hands refuse to move from where they are clasped tightly in her lap. Her efforts are hopeless.
“Do you think that’s a good thing?” Dominique whispers. “That she’s crying?”
Louis stares at his sister like she’s crazy. Victoire feels a small smile tugging at her lips, one that won’t fully form. She doesn’t blame him. Her sister is crazy. She never does things the normal way. Not like Victoire. Although nobody expected this. “Of course it’s not a good thing! You really are moronic sometimes, Dominique.”
Later, the door swings open again and Dominique and Louis leave. She hears them talking outside, with the woman who wears the white clothes and talks to her in a patronising voice like she’s five, not twenty five. They all sound so serious, and she wonders if she’s done something wrong. She hopes not. She likes it when Dominique and Louis come to visit. It’s the only time she’s not lonely. And when she’s lonely, she has only the darkness for company. The darkness that almost makes her forget who she is; makes her forget that there is still goodness in the world. That it is not all grey and storms and bad men with bad motives…
Days pass. Or possibly weeks. Time is making a fool of her and she has nothing to do but sit at the window and think. There are so many bad memories in her mind that she has to get rid of, so instead she thinks about all the people who have come to visit her. She has always been the centre of attention, even now. Some things never change.
And then, just when as she begins wondering whether she’ll ever get out, the door opens again and her father walks in. He doesn’t say anything, but sits down beside her. He stares out the window and she knows he is seeing the same street as her. The thought is comforting.
He looks the same as always. Hair pulled back into a ponytail, flecked with grey. More grey. Why is it everything is grey? The thick scars on his face are proof of the dangers and atrocities in the world. Proof that no-one, not even the good, are safe. More than anything, Victoire wants him to hold her in his arms, like he did when she was a child.
All you need to do is ask. But still, she can’t. Her throat feels like sandpaper. She can’t remember the last time she spoke. She thinks she was angry…but maybe she wasn’t.
Her father sits with her for a long time. Finally, he looks down at her, his eyes unusually sad. “Vic,” he says. “I want you to come with me somewhere. Can you do that?”
Slowly, she turns to face him. She wants to get out of here more than anything in the world. Robotically, painfully, she nods. The movement feels alien to her, like a friend long forgotten. But she knows, despite the warning bells that are ringing loudly, too loudly, in her head that going with her father is the right thing to do.
She kneels down on the damp grass, her whole body shaking uncontrollably. Tears threaten to leak from the corners of her eyes, but she refuses to let them escape. And then, for the first time in months, she begins to speak.
“I wonder what you’d think if you saw me now, Teddy,” she says, and her voice is hoarse and croaky from disuse. “You wouldn’t know what to do-you’ve never been the best with emotions.” She smiles slightly. “I bet you’d buy me a tub of chocolate ice cream, even though I don’t like chocolate. You’d end up eating the whole thing yourself, and then I’d laugh when you complained about feeling sick the next morning.”
She still remembers her first date with Teddy. She had been in sixth year, he in seventh. They went to the Three Broomsticks for lunch and he’d ordered enough food for a family of giants. And he’d eaten it all, too. She had marvelled at the fact that teenage boys could eat as much as they wanted without getting fat.
“September was always your favourite month,” she continues. “Though I didn’t know why. I guess I’ll never know now.” She pauses. Now that she is talking again, she has so many things she wants to say. But she doesn’t know where to start…or how to say them. “I always preferred summer. I wanted to go to a beach for our honeymoon, you know. But instead you dragged me off to the mountains. You wanted to go skiing. I didn’t have the heart to tell you I hate the snow.”
She pauses, feeling slightly out of breath, and watches as the sun moves across the darkening sky. The wind is picking up and she shivers, wishing she was wearing something a little warmer.
“Do you…do you want to know why I didn’t tell you?” she whispers. “Why I didn’t tell you I hate the snow? It’s because…because I love you Teddy.”
Her throat tightens. The tears are burning her eyes and this time, she lets them out. They stream down her cheeks as the first sob escapes from her trembling mouth.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Uncontrollable sobs are shaking her body now. She can’t seem to stop.
Why did he have to die? Why him? Why not me?
“D-Daddy? She manages to choke out, tears leaking into her open mouth. They taste as salty as the sea. She senses her father crouching next to her and leans her head on his shoulder. His arm encircles her small body. “I-I miss him so much.”
“I know you do sweetheart. I know you do.”
She doesn’t know how long she cries for. Time is, once again, making a fool of her. Tears stream down her cheeks and into her hair. She collapses into her father’s chest and he strokes her back and whispers comforting words.
But she is beyond comfort.
He didn’t deserve this. I should’ve been braver. I should’ve helped him.
The sobs grow louder with each hopeless thought. She is making herself sick with grief. Her whole body is clammy; she feels like she’s about to pass out.
And then, quite suddenly, the tears stop. She pushes damp hair from her eyes and sits up, feeling hot and cold all over. “I’m so sorry, Teddy,” she whispers. “I’m sorry I haven’t been here until now. I’m sorry you died protecting me. And I’m sorry I wasn’t brave. I’m sorry I wasn’t brave for you.”
“I’m not sure I want to live anymore,” she says, before pressing a hand to her trembling lip. She mustn’t start crying again. She mustn’t lose it. She must be strong now. Not like she was on the night of his death. She looks at her father and he looks back at her. His face is damp and his eyes wet. He hates to see his daughter cry. He hates to see the pain she is in. He hates that he can’t help her.
Together, they get to their feet. She is ready to go home now. She is going to get better…for Teddy.
“Goodbye, Teddy,” she murmurs. “I will always love you. Always and forever.”
And with one final look at the grave, standing tall and proud like the great man beneath it, father and daughter walk away, just as the sun disappears behind the mountains.