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One Step

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I remember the wind.

My hair was whipping across my face while I stood waiting for the courage to step forward.
To take one step towards the end of my pain.

But I didn’t.

I’m a coward.
I’m so weak that I couldn’t take one step. One step into the darkness. One step that would have set me free.

***

I remember the wind.

My coat was flapping and my ears were freezing.
I looked up praying the police officer would coax her off the roof.

I remember the relief when she was in my arms again; my baby girl.
I tried to look after her the best I could after her father moved out. I knew I had failed, but I hoped she would forgive me.

When we got home, she pushed me away and disappeared into her room.

***

I stared out into the rain, remembering the days my dad would push me on the swing.
The days he would sit with me in the tree house he built and tell me stories.

My life changed after my father moved out.
I holed myself up; hardly talked to anyone. I could go for days without eating.
My father had been my rock. The rock that had dragged me under.
With hardly any hope of resurfacing.

There was a knock on the door.
I turned around. A near stranger was watching me closely. My mother was eyeing my figure, an eyebrow raised.
“You need to eat. Snacks are in the kitchen.”

I made the three strides it took to cover the room. Standing as an equal and staring her straight in the eye, I reached for the timber door.
I grasped it hard and frowned.
“Go away.”
The words were low and harsh. The doorframe shook as the timber slammed.

Anger was pounding in my ears.
I gritted my teeth, striking out at the jagged edge of the dressing table. The sharp pain I felt was comforting. The blood dripped off my fingers, staining the carpet. It was making its lucky escape.

A photo frame was lying on the ground; its glass shattered. I leant down and picked it up.
It was a picture of a young girl, thick black curls framing her face. Her eyes were shining like the stars. Each hand was grasped by a parent as they wondered along a leaf covered pathway.
Good things that only happen once in a lifetime. Things that were just memories.


I took out the picture and stared at it.
My frustration got the better of me. I scrunched it into a tiny ball and threw it in the bin.
It landed with a satisfying thunk.

There was another knock on the door, followed by the clatter of a plate being left on the floor.
“Honey, I’ve left you some snacks. You need to eat.”

I gritted my teeth, trying to get the familiar voice out of my head.
I moved to the window and slid onto the windowsill. The oak tree had grown in the most convenient place.
I shut the window as I left, hoping the thud would alert the woman that I wasn’t there.

***

I heard the thud and assumed she was gone.
I grasped the knob and pushed the door ajar. A quick scan told me the room was empty.
I pushed it open and stepped inside.

The room was extraordinarily clean.
Too clean for someone who had spent two days in it without leaving.
An obvious indentation was in the quilt where she had sat down. I sat next to it, my hand loosely skimming the worn fabric.

I noticed the broken frame lying on the ground.
I picked it up; fingering the colourful stones I helped my seven year old glue on.
It had been her present for Father’s Day.

The photo was missing.
I looked around for it, spotting the crumpled ball in the bin.
I fished it out and uncurled it.
Leaves were falling as a family walked along a leaf-covered pathway. The child was bouncing between her parents, hanging off their hands.
Good things that only happen once in a lifetime. Things that were just memories.

***

I walked along the same pathway.
My hands were deep in my pockets; my scarf was wound around my neck.
I sat down on a bench. It was cold; I shivered.

I heard a giggle and glanced around.
A young girl with thick black curls was skipping along the path, crackling the leaves under her feet.
Her parents called out, telling her not to run so fast. I frowned at them. Obviously she wanted freedom, why couldn’t they just let her go?

Her father ran after her, lifting her by the waist.
She squealed and kicked in joy as he held her high in the air. She spread out her arms; a helicopter.
The mother caught up with her family, tapping her husband on the shoulder. He lowered his daughter to the ground and gave his wife a peck on the cheek.
They each took a hand of their daughter as she skipped home.

A blast of cold wind made my eyes water.
I blinked away the moisture and the family disappeared.


***

The porch swing creaked; unused for so long.
I wrapped the blanket around me, watching the wind swirl the leaves along the footpath.

It was on a day like this that he left.
He never said why; he just left.
The wind was howling as he slammed the door. I remember the devastated expression on my daughter’s eleven year old face as she watched. Her father was gone.

She was never the same again.
She hardly ever talked to me.
The doctor told me that the loss of her father had changed her mental state. He warned me she might try to end her life.
I’d laughed when he mentioned it. But this last attempt made it four.

***

I’d suffered for three long years and four times I’d tried to set myself free. It just took one step into the darkness. One step I could not take.

The wind whistled in my ears as I strolled along the footpath.
Hardly anyone was here; there was no reason to be outside at this time of year.

No reason.
There was no reason to do this anymore. No reason to live; no reason to return home. My father wasn’t going to be waiting for me. It would just be my mother, a woman who I had no connection with anymore.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the pen knife my father had given to me.
It’ll help you out whenever you’re in trouble, he’d said.
I was in trouble now. In a dark space that no one was going to help me out of.
I was alone.

I flicked open the blade and poised the tip over my wrist.
Surely this was an easier way to go. It would be over in seconds.

“Time to go!”
I whipped around.
A woman was calling for her daughter. A girl, about eleven, ran towards her, black curls flying.
“But we just got here.”
“We’ve been here for an hour.”
The girl giggled, clearly finding it amusing. Then her smile faded. “Dad won’t be there, will he?”
Her mother slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid not, honey. But I’m here. I always will be.”

Something clattered.
The penknife had slipped from my frozen fingers. It cracked on the icy concrete; splitting the neat engraving etched into the side.
As I picked it up, the words gleamed up at me.
I’ll always be there baby girl.

You weren’t, Dad. You were never there.
But Mum was. She always has been.




***

A sunny afternoon, my twelve year old daughter returns home.
She hands me some papers and leaves in the direction of her room. I hear the door slam.
Sifting through them, I realise they’re tests. The marks average a C-.
I glance at the refrigerator door where magnets were threatening to slide off from the weight of tests beneath them. A red A+ was stamped on every one.

The gate creaked.
I looked up to see that same girl, four years older trudge down the path.
I glanced away, expecting her to leave for her room. I expected to hear the door slam. I expected not to see her for the next twelve hours.

Another creak and the extra weight said she was sitting next to me.
I peeked up at her, noting the bags under her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Mum. For everything.”
The yearning for my daughter to be safe made my arms reach around her. And unlike the other night, she didn’t push away.

“I miss him.”
I sighed.
“I miss him too.”

***

The warm comfort of her arms felt like home.
I’d missed its strength and comfort.

“Every time the police called me, I feared I’d lose you. I know you suffered and I know I didn’t help. But you’re still my baby girl.”
I let her familiar voice ring in my head.
“It’s ok, Mum. I’m still here.”

She looked up.
“Will you ever try again?”
I thought about that one step into the darkness I couldn’t take. Maybe I’d never take it.
I shook my head and her face broke into a watery smile.
“Tomorrow, we’re going to see the doctor.”

As bad as that sounded, I needed the help. I couldn’t take that step because something inside me knew my mum needed me and I needed her.
With her I would take a step.
One step back into the light.



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Light_Walker said...
Mar. 12 at 9:09 am
I haven't been on in  while. This is amazingly written! I started to cry at the end! I love the inner thoughts of both the mother and daughter transitioning throughout the story. The thoughts also allow the reader to become emotionally attatched and relate to the characters. You have done very well with this and I'm glad it was in the top 3 in that competition! Congradulations and continue to write more stories!
 
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