“I killed a bee once” she said through lips twisted by that one eye she has closed to block out the sun.
“In a glass, I mean. Not like, from it stinging me”.
Her hands were hidden beneath her thighs, her legs swinging back and forth over the brown water flowing in the river beneath us. This old, rickety bridge was just where we went to once everyone found out what happened to her sister.
I looked at her, but remained silent, wondering whether this story would be the one that turned the key in the lock.
“It was buzzing around in the daisies and I’d just finished my drink. I just wondered how long it would last under the glass but I forgot about it. I got bored of watching after awhile, and then I just forgot, and then that afternoon, mum came in from the backyard carrying my glass”.
She was picking at a freckle on her knee, knowing it wasn’t going to come off.
“I went back out there and it was under the flower, just laying there. It didn’t move when I poked it, so I guess I killed it”.
She was staring at me again through that screwed up, sun-staring face of hers, waiting for me to say something. To connect the dots between this story and the question I’d asked her.
“So was it kind of the same deal with Ashley? Just something you did and then got bored and forgot about?” I asked.
She nodded, watching the brown water below us.
“You wanted to see how long she’d hold out, waiting for you to find her?”, I pushed.
She shook her head.
“She wanted to play, I wanted to not play. I got sick of her whinging. I told her to go hide and I’d find her. But I didn’t even look. I forgot she even existed once I told her to hide. I just.. I was busy. Stupid busy. Just chatting online and tumblr”.
Faster now. Her words weren’t flat and far away like they had been these past few months. They had feelings in them and I could almost taste the tears they carried.
“I got hungry. Like, hours later. Hours. The sun had moved so far. The house was dark on my side and I remember that I suddenly got real cold. Heartcold, not weather cold. I remembered her. And then I heard the silence. It was the silence of her not being in the house.”
The words hadn’t slowed as much as they had started to detach from her. I could feel my skin begin to prickle as she recounted the moment that the pure horror of her realisation began to walk up her spine.
“Four hours, Tristan”, she whispered.
“It was an accident”, I reminded her, watching teardrops bloom on the denim of her shorts. “You didn’t know she’d hidden there. You didn’t hear her in the shed. You didn’t know the coolroom had locked and you didn’t know she’d had an asthma attack”.
The silence stretched as we watched logs and leaves come and go beneath us. I didn’t know if she’d heard me.
After awhile, she looked up at the sky again, barely needing to screw her face up.
“The sun’s moved”, she observed in the sad voice she had been wearing since Ashley died.
She grabbed the rail and pulled herself up. “I’d better go”.
“See you tomorrow?”, I asked the back of her.
She shook her head, stopped at the end of the bridge.
“They don’t want to be here anymore. The house. The town. The sympathetic looks they get”.
“So.. what? You’re going? You’re moving? When?” I shouted in panic, taking a step towards her as she began to turn around to face me, hurt and fear clouding her face.
“Two days, if we can get packed. Mum doesn’t stop crying. She sits in the shed, outside the cool room. She won’t let removalists come in to do it for us. Dad’s stopped talking to me. To anyone that isn’t mum. Now the only thing that breaks the sobbing is mum’s crying and dad’s shh’ing”.
She was gripping the railing and I could feel the guilt radiating from her.
“Abby, it’s not your fault. It was a horrible accident. You know her asthma was bad. You didn’t do anything to her.”
“I didn’t do anything for her” she whispered. I didn’t know how to respond.
“They don’t say it, but they hate me just as much as they love me. I’ve killed pieces of all of them”. This time the words fell in ragged, drool-dripping heaves. Her eyes were pouring pain onto the worn boards of the footbridge. I was beside her in seconds, helping her to the ground.
“Have either of them spoken to you?” I asked, my arms wrapped around her as she shook. Inhuman sounds came from her throat.
“This is the first time you’ve spoken about any of this to me. Is it the first time you’ve spoken to anyone?” I asked, squeezing her, desperate to hold her, to love her.
More inhuman wailing. Guttural, choking, mournful cries so painted in pain that I felt my own tears dripping from my chin.
The sun moved a little closer to the hills as we sat on our bridge, grieving for Ashley, and for Abby. Eventually, her grief turned to exhaustion and her eyes began to stare into nothing.
“My mum misses you. I think it’s time you stayed over at mine again”, I said, guiding her to her feet. She followed, like a puppet, hearing nothing, seeing even less.
My mum was walking through the hallway when I opened the door. She took one look at me, at Abby, and her face crumbled. A surprised, hearthurt gasp broke from her chest and she took a couple of rushing steps toward us. Abby responded by throwing my arms off her and running to my mother, burying her face in her shoulder.
I walked around them to the kitchen, where I began to make cups of tea that neither of them would end up drinking. I phoned Abby’s parents to tell them where she was, but nobody picked up. I left a message, hoped they would check it.
Abby spent that night curled in my mother’s arms, their heads fused together, my mother’s caring whispers eliciting silent, healing tears from the girlfriend I lost the day her sister died.
The next morning at the breakfast table, as my mother fussed over bacon and eggs, Abby stretched her arm out, closing her hand over mine. She smiled, then, and her smile sparkled in her red, swollen eyes.
I smiled back, but inside me my heart swelled. Inside me, I wept with relief, and an overwhelming sense of love.
Too soon, this joy was broken by the flashing lights of a police car outside. Too soon, this sliver of peace that had settled on Abby was shattered by the Policeman asking Abby to confirm who she was. Too soon, did I once again hear the sound of inhuman wailing that had broken my heart as Abby was told her parents were dead. By their own hand.
I haven’t seen her in a long time. She hasn’t seen me in even longer. Abby doesn’t see anything anymore. She stares, but she doesn’t see. She doesn’t speak, listen, love, laugh, draw, write, cry or live at all – Abby sits in her hospital bed and stares.
Three years later, I still see that smile she gave me across the breakfast table, and I still whisper “it was an accident”.
She still doesn’t hear me.