by Gregory Wilde  /  fiction  /  22 Sep 2007
Then there was death. I sit, watching the trees flash through my train window. I'm in England, somewhere between York and London. The fog has started to rise and it's hard to tell where the world begins. The castles are hidden in the white strawberry-clouds, and the lakes are velvet-blue. I remember visiting York when I was a child.
My father and I took a trip to see his sister. I was eleven and everyone around me seemed numb. Of course, it was the hounds of winter, and the snow had just started to filter down from the white sky. As I try to forget what happened fourteen years ago, I get images of death and horrible conversation. There was tremendous loss during those two weeks in York, not only of my aunt, but also of a boy who would be alive today if it were not for my careless actions. The train I'm on moves very fast, and the memories filter even faster through my eyes.
It was the winter of '93, and what took place will never go away. Fourteen years ago, my father lost his flair for life. I remember him being a different person then. York, 1993. Cold air brushes my hair as father and I walk to the York train station exit. My father has his John Lennon beard and I love him. I ask father why mom decided not to come, but he does not answer. I suppose she and father are arguing about something I am too young to understand. We exit the station and there is nothing but white snow in the air, on the ground, in the distance, and below us. I can't see the sun, and father and I cast no shadow on the ground while we walk to the bus station. There are peasants begging for change to buy a loaf of bread from the bakery next door. Father looks at the men and pushes me away, saying, "Do not go near these peasants."
On a bus going towards the outer parts of York, I see a church with two huge pillars arching into the sky. Father looks straight ahead and closes his eyes. I look to the back of the bus and see two men begging for change from an elderly woman who wears layers of clothes with a red scarf bundled around her neck and shoulders. She's had enough of the men, and walks to the front of the bus. I see she has only one eye.
The fog had just started to fall when we arrived a few hours ago, and now it's completely white. The driver stops the bus and announces on the microphone that he can no longer see the road. Father wakes up and pushes me off the bus. The woman with one eye looks at us and closes her eye. Father and I open the door and walk into the fog.
The concrete is white when we look down. It's like we're in clouds. Father tells me he knows where we're going and not to worry. A mile down the road, the fog lifts up a bit, and we can see a street sign in the distance. Father says, "Hurry on now," as we take a dead-end road that is poorly paved. I ask father why aunt Rebecca moved to York, and my father responds, "Because she grew up here and she wants to die here. The hell with London." That was all he said, and I accept his words even though I knew nothing of what he means. After a good amount of walking, I see a small two-story house with a big white yard. Father tells me not to say anything negative about Rebecca and her poor features. I nod okay, and we walk to the front door. Snow has just started to fall again, and it falls on my head and in father's beard.
Father knocks on the door and we wait. A skinny, sad-looking woman opens the door and hugs my father. We walk into the house and it's completely black. There's no light anywhere. My father sits on the couch, and I stand and wait for him to tell me where to sit. "There, son." And I sit on a wooden chair next to him.
My aunt reenters the room and gives my father a cup of tea, or coffee. I don't know which; it's much too dark. I ask father if a light can be turned on, and my aunt responds, "A small one there. It sets off my migraines."
"Are you feeling any pain?" my father asks.
"Sometimes yes, right now no. How are you and the boy?" aunt Rebecca says. She gets up and turns on a small lamp, and it gives off just enough light to see where I'm sitting.
"I'm fine, the boy's fine," father says, "What have the doctors said?"
"Doctors. They have nothing to say. I'm sure they have given up by now," aunt Rebecca says with shallow laugh. My mother had told me before we left for York that aunt Rebecca has cancer, but I do not know what kind of cancer. I think it's lung cancer because there's an oxygen tank next to the kitchen door.
"We'll be here for two weeks," my father says.
"Oh, very nice. I have the beds ready." My aunt gets up and grabs her cane against the wall. She walks into the kitchen.
"Father?" I ask.
"I feel badly for aunt Rebecca, is she going to die while we're here?"
My father gets up and walks into the kitchen. He asks aunt Rebecca something, but I do not hear it. Aunt Rebecca and father exit the kitchen and walk up the stairs.
I look out the frosted window and wonder how anyone could live here longer than a day without dying. The snow has just started to fall again. I made it through a day, only thirteen more to go. My aunt has the saddest eyes in the world. I look at them and see how much she's cried. I heard her crying last night, and I wanted to make it go away, but father does not want me upstairs. Aunt Rebecca is five years younger than my father, and he is only forty-three, I think.
I try to open the drapes covering the windows in the living room, but the cord is stripped and it does not slide across the blades. I cannot see two feet away from where I stand, making it real hard to get around the house. The temperature is near thirty degrees. I'm pretty good at telling cold temperatures these days.
My father and aunt Rebecca left the house a little while ago to see the pharmacist. Father told me to occupy myself, but I do not see anyway in doing that. I open the door and walk outside and the fog is light enough to see where I'm going. The grass is bone dead, and I can tell that no one has cared for it in years. At the back of the house, there are a bunch of red rocks that sit in a huge pile. I pick one up and it is colder than ice. It almost burns a hole in my skin, so I put my gloves on and pick up another rock. There must be a reason why the rocks are covering this part of the yard, and since this is the only thing I can do, I find myself anxious to get to the bottom of the pile. I sing "Yesterday" to myself while I move rock by rock from the mound. I hear a car door close and I drop the rock in my hand and run through the backdoor. Out of breath, I lie on the couch, pretending to sleep. My father and aunt enter the house and they do not see me asleep in the dark.
"There you go, I'll get some coffee," father says, and they walk into the kitchen. He slides a pot on the stove and I hear a match spark, and the flame growing. Then a cup lands on the counter, and father says, "Black?" to aunt Rebecca.
"Yes," aunt Rebecca says. I hear her rings tingle around the coffee cup, and they walk back into the living room.
"Aunt Rebecca?" I ask.
"Oh, Jesus. You scared me. Yes, Nicholas?"
"Can I have something to eat?"
"Sure, your father bought you a sandwich at the deli."
"Thank you, father."
"No problem, Nick," father says. He walks to the kitchen and brings out a plate full of chips with a huge roast beef sandwich. "Nick, I'm sorry I left here you here alone. Tomorrow, we can walk around the city."
I pick up the sandwich and take a bite. "Sounds good," I say.
Father and I walked through the streets of York for hours, talking about aunt Rebecca and her illness. The fog has lifted a bit, and I can actually see the sky and sun. York is a bit better when you can see where you're going. The churches are so big and beautiful that I have taken a few pictures of them already.
After the walk, father bought two train tickets to the west coast of England, to a small city called Filey. In Filey, we saw the North Sea and the currents riding up and down the coastline. We walked around Filey for a couple hours, and then father called aunt Rebecca to make sure she was doing alright. The phone conversation went well, and father told me we could either venture out further, in Filey, or travel north to a city to which my grandfather took my father just before his fatal heart attack a week later. I told my father that I would love to see the city, so we boarded the train to the town called Ravenscar.
Ravenscar is another pretty place located on the coast of England. There is something mystical about the sea, and the little bay called Robin Hood's Bay. Father and I sat down in a grassy part of the woods looking at the birds flopping around the bay, and then father got up and walked to the bay, where he put his feet into the water and looked into the clouds, stretching his arms into the sunny blue sky and smiling for the first time since we arrived in York. The sun was actually out for a while, and the birds flew across the sky in huge packs, and it seemed like death was nothing but a silly word that someone made up long ago.
On the train ride back, we briefly stopped through Whitby, Goathland and Malton. Father and I did not say very much, but I got to see another side of my father that I had never seen. He seemed more peaceful in Ravenscar, and I could tell he was letting his father go.
Now it's nighttime in York. Aunt Rebecca has fallen asleep hours ago. Father checks her breathing every few hours and gives her some medicine for the pain. Father tells me "Goodnight" from the top of the stairs, and then closes his bedroom door. I walk to my dark, cold bed and pull the covers over my head. It's raining and very miserable outside.
The past bunch of days skipped by rather quickly, and now it's the second week. During the last few days, I met a boy next door named Peter, who is home for a few weeks during winter break. On certain days, he comes over to play hide and seek when my dad and aunt Rebecca visit the doctor. Peter is from York and is a year older than I am. Sometimes, I have a hard time understanding what he says because of his heavy Yorkshire accent, but I'm learning pretty quickly.
Today, Peter came to my door with a huge blue jacket on because it's really cold. I tell him that I cannot play hide and seek because I have a hard time breathing through the fog. We walk to the backyard, and I show him the rocks that I've taken off the mound during the past week. Peter asks me what's under the mound and I tell him I have no idea.
"Do yah want to get those rocks cleared or what?" Peter asks.
"They're heavy," I say.
"Fuck, jus' lift um, it's easy, Nick." Peter lifts a rock up and pushes it off the mound. "Fuck, you're right. Them fucks is heavy as hell," he says.
"I just want to know what's under, that's all."
"Well, if it must be done, then it must be done." Peter lifts another rock, and we slowly chip away at the mound.
"Peter, what's it like living here? Is it boring all the time?" I ask.
"Shit, it's boring, there's some fuckin' ugly birds 'ere, but there are jus' as many mayors. I've kissed a few mayors, and one ugly one too."
"That's cool then."
"Yeah, I guess, fuck this is going to take forever." Peter's language is much stronger than what I'm use to at home. I've learned to accept his use of the word "fuck," and have started to use it in my everyday language -- except when father's around, of course.
We finished the day by clearing half the rocks off the mound. Peter walked home, and I went back to the living room to read a book that aunt Rebecca gave me about monkeys. The fog has started to show again, and I wonder how dad and aunt Rebecca are going to find the house in this weather. I have three days left, and I'm beginning to tolerate it here. But I would never live in York. I don't know how anyone does. Father and aunt Rebecca came back an hour after I started reading. Aunt Rebecca looked very pale when she walked up the stairs, and had no energy to say hello to me. Father told me the doctor gave her within a day to live. Her lungs are now completely closed up, and her breathing is being done through a tube running into the base of her neck.
"Don't make any noise tonight, and no TV," father says. "I want her to pass in peace."
An hour has passed, and father calls me upstairs to say goodbye to aunt Rebecca. I make my way to the top of the stairs and into aunt Rebecca's bedroom to see her eyes closed, struggling to just say goodbye. Aunt Rebecca lifts her hand and opens her eyes, and I see a tear run down her face. Father and I hold aunt Rebecca's hands, and we watch her breathe. Aunt Rebecca takes a breath and holds it, then opens her eyes and leaves us with a sad grin. Father gently puts his palm over Aunt Rebecca's face and closes her eyes. I had never seen anyone die before. The image of aunt Rebecca passing in peace is the only thing that lets me cope with the loss. Father tells me we will be leaving the day after tomorrow, and he will be making arrangements with the people in town for her cremation tomorrow morning.
This morning is fogged in. Father left at the brink of dawn and has yet to come back. I dialed Peter's house, and his mother picks up the phone. I ask if Peter can come over and she agrees. I walk outside and wait for Peter to walk down the street. A few minutes pass, and I see him with his blue jacket on wearing a smile.
"Let's finish those rocks," he says, and runs to the backyard. I run to the backyard and watch Peter rummage through the rocks on the mound, and we pull them off one by one with great expectations at reaching the bottom. "So was it a bad death?" Peter asks, referring to aunt Rebecca.
"No, she was in peace. At least that's what dad says. But I don't know if anyone can be really at peace knowing they're seconds from death."
"That's true," Peter says under his breath. "I can't even fuckin' think about that. My father died last year from cancer. He wasn't in peace, he suffered like a fuckin' fish out of water, and no one is peaceful dying, you ask me." Peter wipes some sweat from his forehead and catches his breath. "Fuck! That's the last of it," Peter says, as I move the last rock from the mound. We bend down to see a thin sheet of rusted metal covering a few meters of land. "What do you think this is?" Peter asks.
"I have no idea. It's weird," I say. I pick up a rock from the pile and throw it into the thin layer of rusted metal. The sheet makes a loud cracking sound, and a thin line grows up the sheet of metal like water dripping down a hill.
"What the fuck is that?" Peter asks. He picks up another rock and throws it at the cracked sheet. The metal sheet completely breaks in half, and we bend down and push the sheet away to revel its secret. It's a black hole about four feet wide. I step back and see that this is an old well. "Holy shit. How far does it go down?" Peter asks.
"I don't know, drop something and see if we hear it." Peter picks up and huge rock and drops it into the well. We don't hear it land. "Shit that's fuckin' deep. Maybe we shouldn't have uncovered the fucking thing. It's as old as shite."
"Yeah, it's old," I say under my breath. The fog starts to drift over us, and suddenly we're in the middle of a thick blanket of white.
"Try to jump over it. I dare you," Peter says.
When I hesitate, Peter prepares to jump. "No, don't. You can't see nothing!" Peter takes a step back and leaps over the hole with a laugh. He lands next to me.
"Don't do that again. Fuck!"
"Fuck you. It's jus' fun." Peter jumps again.
The fog is so thick that I barely see his blue jacket. Little pieces of snow are coming down too, and I fear walking back to the house.
"Don't move," I say.
"Because we don't know where we are."
"Fuck that, I know where I am."
Peter takes a step, and then another. I look around, but I can't see him. I can hear his footsteps, but it's just white in my eyes. Then I see a blue in front of me. Then blue falls.
"No! No, no, no, nooooo," Peter screams.
I bend down and look into the black well. I do not hear Peter drop.
"Fuck! Peter! Peter! Can you hear me? Peter? Oh, God." I get on the ground and listen for his voice. I can't hear him, so I crawl away from the well. I reach the backdoor and run into the living room. I'm shaking so badly my hands cannot hold the phone. I shove the phone under my chin and dial emergency. I tell the police that a boy fell into the well at my house, and they ask for the address. I have no idea what it is. I look around for a letter, and I find one in the top drawer of the desk. I tell the police the address and minutes later an emergency and two fire trucks arrive at the house. I show the firemen the well while streams of tears run down my face. Are they going to put me in jail? Execute me? It was my fault. The firemen tie a rope and a man lowers himself into the well.
Ten minutes later, a radio transmits, "No sign of the boy. I'm coming back up, I can't breathe."
"Are you sure, sure, that Peter fell in that hole?" a fireman asks.
"Yah, he fell. I saw his blue jacket through the fog. I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
"Boy, it's not your fault okay, where's your pa?" the policeman asks.
"He went to the place, to the place to cremate my aunt. She died yesterday!"
"Jesus," the policeman says under his breath.
My father has arrived an hour later, and the firemen tell him Peter fell into a well and died from the impact. Father asked me if I saw it happen, and I said yes. I think he's going to kill me, but he gives me a hug and thanks God I'm alive. I don't remember him thanking God for anything else before. The policeman tells me I'm needed to fill out the report, and that everything would be okay. Peter was an accident and that was all.
Today seemed like it would never come. Father woke me up and told me that Peter's mother would be very sad, and she would never get over what happened. I nod and my father makes a phone call to Peter's mother. Father tells her I'm sorry and that I didn't know any better and that it wasn't anyone's fault. Then father cries for a long time, and I can hear Peter's mother sobbing very badly. I watch father walk across the living room a few times and then hang up and walk upstairs. At two o'clock, father and I check all the locks on the doors, and we leave aunt Rebecca's house.
Now we're at the train station waiting for our train back to London. Father did not talk to me during the entire way to the train station. The train has arrived, and we wait for the doors to open. There are many people getting off the train today, and no one looks or talks to father and I. I keep my head down and wait for father to enter the train. Father enters, and I sit down next to him in the back near the bathrooms. A few minutes pass and we jolt forward, and after a while we're halfway through York and the fog lifts and the rain settles and I say I'm sorry to father while he closes his eyes.
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