Someone pushed me against the wall, knocking the air out of me. Four paramedics crowded around him. I couldn’t see his face anymore. His fingers had stopped twitching. He was lying on his back and his feet had fallen to either side, his toes not quite touching the ground. My bruised palms started to grow cold.
Behind him, the birthday banner hung limp. It had been falling down all day, but this time no one pinned it back up. More people were arriving. I could see the red and blue flashing through the window.
My mum was screaming a few feet away from me. Her fingernails dug into her scalp and her body kept folding in on itself. Behind her the cake was beginning to collapse. I couldn’t hear anything over the sirens.
Someone touched my shoulder, but I didn’t turn around. They said something to me but I didn’t hear it. My eyes strained to catch a glimpse of his face, but I couldn’t move my feet. I felt heavy.
The paramedic blocking my view of him leaned back to grab something, and for a moment I saw his eyes. They were wide and empty. Staring at the ceiling they could not see.
It’s not your fault.
Yes it is.
It’s not your fault.
Yes, it is.
‘Clear!’ They planted the metal onto his chest. His body jerked upwards and thudded back down. His fingers stayed the same.
I could see the sweat dripping down one of the paramedic’s noses. He seemed too young to be doing this. He looked scared.
The grip on my shoulder grew tighter and started trembling. I turned to see my brother heaving with sobs beside me.
‘It’s not your fault.’ He choked out. I wondered how many times he had said this by now.
Yes. It is. I placed my hand on his. He was ghostly white. I kept looking at him.
I heard our dad’s body jerk upwards from the ground. I heard him thump back down. I watched my brother watch him. He staggered backwards and vomited on the floor. I didn’t comfort him. I still couldn’t move my feet.
‘It wasn’t your fault.’ My brother stood beside me, dressed in black from head to toe. He took a long drag on his cigarette and stamped it out underfoot. I tugged uncomfortably at the sleeve of my formal dress. I shifted my weight onto my toes to stop my heels from sinking into the grass. I wanted to leave.
‘You did everything you could.’
No, I didn’t.
‘And you could never have known.’
I did. I knew.
He gave me a long, hard look. I stared at the ground. He put his hands on my shoulders and rocked me back and forth slightly.
‘We’re going to be OK. OK?’
I nodded yes. I was nervous that my voice would sound rusty. Unused. I hadn’t spoken in days.
I watched the world pass as my brother drove us down old country lanes. We weren’t driving anywhere in particular. I don’t think that was the point.
‘I used to love driving down here when I lived at home. It’s really nice at sunset. I used to just drive back and forth on this road when the sun was going down and watch the sky change colours. This is the best view of the horizon that you’ll find anywhere near here.’
I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or himself. I don’t think that was really the point either.
We’d gone on long drives together every day since the party. The first few we both stayed silent. Now only I stayed silent. I didn’t know if he hoped that if he talked enough I would eventually respond and he’d know I was OK, or if me not talking was the reason he wanted me there so that he could pretend to be OK. He could talk for hours without really saying anything. I didn’t want to take that away from him too.
‘Did you have a nice drive?’ My mum tried to smile at us but her eyes were unfocused. My brother said yes and began chatting to her about where we’d gone. She slowly turned to look at me. It hung between us like a weight. We both knew it was there but neither of us dared to touch it with words. If we did we couldn’t go back.
‘Good… good, I’m glad.’ She breathed in response. I don’t think either of us knew what she was responding to, but my brother didn’t seem to notice. Her face wore an unreadable expression as she retreated upstairs. He asked if I wanted to watch TV. I walked to the lounge in agreement.
‘Let’s keep it lighthearted.’ He suggested, and clicked onto Friends. I felt him tense up beside me as we realised it was a birthday episode. He quickly turned it off and breathed heavily. I waited for him to recover from the blip in his cheerful charade but a sob caught in his throat. His face crumpled.
‘I’m sorry.’ I whispered.
‘It wasn’t your fault.’ He buried his face in his hands.
I sat at the edge of my brother’s bed while he packed. He was going home the next morning. I’d told him the truth a few days ago, and he’d stopped taking me on his drives.
‘I don’t want you to go.’
‘Yeah, well. Work only gives you so much leave for these things.’
‘You could call them. You could ask for longer.’
He laughed without humour. ‘They wouldn’t say yes.’
‘Do you hate me?’
He sighed and sat back on his heels, furrowing his brow. ‘No. I don’t hate you.’
I paused. My fingers strained into the mattress, my knuckles turned white. ‘Do you blame me?’
He rubbed his eyes in exhaustion. The seconds dragged out. ‘What’s the point in asking that?’ I didn’t have an answer.
‘It was my fault.’ I said, staring at him. My heart pounded in my chest.
He stood up and walked away.
I lay on the floor where my dad had been. It was dark outside, and I could hear the clock tick behind me amidst the silence of the house. I closed my eyes and tried to remember what he looked like before. But the back of my eyelids were covered in shuddering images of his purple, swollen face with his dead eyes. His limp fingers. His collapsed feet. His body being pulled away from the earth and then thumping back down. I remembered how I’d felt when I found his pills. When he told me how he’d been feeling. I remembered how he’d sounded when he begged me not to tell anyone. How it would kill our mum if she knew. I remembered how his ribs had cracked under the heels of my palms as I’d tried to pump the life back into him.
It wasn’t your fault.
Yes, it was.
You did everything you could.
No, I didn’t.
You could never have known.
I knew. I knew.
I don’t want you to go.
Do you blame me?
I could have saved you.
It was my fault.
ABOUT ELIZABETH (LIZZIE)
Elizabeth Akass is a writer, blogger, and freelance editor from Berkshire. She is a Creative Writing MA graduate from Loughborough University, and writes in a variety of genres including young adult fiction, adult fiction, script writing, and poetry. To date, she has six short stories and three art pieces published online and in print, as well as over 50 articles and blog posts published. Her current writing projects include a screenplay on the subject of divorce and mental health, and a young adult fiction thriller trilogy.