His letter waits on the table in one of your fancy envelopes. ‘Mum’ glides along the paper in his neat handwriting. You can’t open it. You so want to open it.
The bottle stands beside it, reflecting the declining closed-curtain light. You can see your silhouette in the glass. Not a clear picture. A murky reminder of who you are and who you were and who you’ll never be. The bottle’s gold crest protrudes, wanting to be stroked; the cap gleams, wanting to be unscrewed. You can’t open it. You so want to open it.
Bottle on the left, envelope on the right. Left. Right. Right. Left. This is you now, stranded at a crossroads. The rock and the fidget. The clawing at your thighs. The sit and the stand. A myriad of thoughts – regrets, memories of milestones, and which will destroy you first; the left or the right.
You’ll drown in poison or words.
You bang the heel of your hand left against your forehead, desperate to remember the moment he withered away. You think you should have probed further, should have pushed the school to help. You hear people say, ‘Fifteen. Poor boy. Poor mother.’ But the whispers are louder: ‘A mother should know? A mother should never let this happen to her son?’
The bottle calls to you. One little sip won’t hurt.
You grip the glass, and peer inside. You can already taste it. Tart but satisfying.
‘I don’t want you back in my life,’ you say, almost childlike.
Sshhhh. Let me take you away, Helen. Lose yourself. Don’t look back. Helen. Helen. You cover your ears and squeeze shut your eyes. You see Jack in his rugby kit; his cheek smeared with mud. He is lying in the bath, peaceful, before deep red rises, rises, covering his face.
He was looking at you when you found him. At least, you thought he was, as if he was asking for help. You called, but he didn’t answer. You screamed, but he didn’t flinch. His cold face was beautiful, even then.
You jolt forwards.
The crisp rip of the envelope crackles through your hands. It tremors up to your shoulders, charges your heart. The blood cascades through your veins. Each ratt and papp of the paper amplifies in your head and echoes around the room.
Inhale. Hold. Exhale.
The words swirl at first. When they settle, you take a sip. You taste every stroke, analysing the speed and variations of pressure. Now you’re guzzling the words. As you give into them, they flood to your head, making it spin, a little at first, then faster, until there’s thudding in your ears, a swell swill swell that spreads through your body, your face, which throbs with an urgent warmth and you try to ignore it, you pretend you’re okay because if you don’t, you’ll likely vomit. Then what? You could do it again. You could suffer the pain all over again like you want to, like you deserve, like he deserves.
The explosion starts in your head. Then it’s at the corner of the table. Then all over the table. It’s in your shaking hand, shrapnel sticking out. It’s all over the carpet, up the wall. You imagine pulling the letter to your chest because you want to protect him. You want to keep him pure.
I’m sorry I pushed you away when I needed you close.
The words ring in your ears. They stand you up.
You grab the bottle and search for another. You take them up to the bath and run the water.
You pour a bottle into the water.
None of this is your fault.
You rest the letter on the side, lower yourself in, and hug the warmth that wraps around you.
You take the other bottle, tilt your head back, then slowly pour it onto your face and hair.
I’m so so sorry, Mum. Please don’t stop loving me.
You lie back, submerge your head, and listen: Laughter at the beach. Tone-deaf singing from behind his door. Shouting at the rugby. Your slowing heart.
You sit up, look at the letter.
You’re the strongest, bravest person I know. Please be those. Please just be.
You pull the plug and watch the demons drain away. Their stain leaves a line where below is murky and above is clear. You don’t take your eyes off this line. It’s so definite, like it will never break.
Jimmy is a short story and poetry writer who is also working on his first novel. He has work published in various journals and anthologies, and has been on the winners list in Henshaw Press competition, and Essex Book Festival Story Hunters Project.He can be found in the Twitterverse using _Jimmy_san_