It’s Carry on Tuesday again.
This week the prompt comes from Possession by A.S. Byatt , who just happens to be one of my favourite writers –
The book was thick and black and covered with dust.
Its boards were bowed and creaking…
Here’s my story :
There are many ideas of heaven. Some say a house by the sea is close enough. Some say the love of a good man is as heavenly as it gets. Some think of riches or good health. I don’t know if heaven can be found here on earth. I think the hearts of men are too full of fury and darkness for that. But I like to think that the chance to find it still exists.
They lined us up and shot us. The men with the guns. They claimed they were soldiers fighting in the name of god, but no god with any idea of heaven would let women and children be murdered for nothing. They shot Sadie in the chest, in the throat. She fell like she was made of paper. She pulled me down with her as she hit the ground. I felt her blood, sickeningly warm, soak right through my dress. It was the only one I had – the one with the little blue cornflowers.
The wind turned, filling my nose with the smell of gunpowder. In that moment my heart turned to stone. Just like that. I knew it had happened because instead of getting into a panic about Sadie lying next to me dying, I fretted and fussed about how I would get the bloodstains out of my dress.
I knew when she was dead. I didn’t even have to look; I just became aware that she was gone. I couldn’t even cry. It wasn’t just my heart that had turned to stone, my mouth, my face, my throat, all of me – stone.
All I could do was wail deep inside my head.
My dear, dear one. My sister.
I think I lay there for days. I wanted to die myself. I hoped I had.
They came for us. The good soldiers. Wading among the dead. Good, bad, I was indifferent. They were all killing in the name of something.
They put us in houses, gave us clothing and things that weren’t our own. The carpets and curtains were full of dust from the bombings. We cooked food that tasted like rubble in dented pots.
They told us we could not return to our homes. Too dangerous. Too many traps. But we wanted our things. Our own things. Some of us fell to our deaths in houses that were no longer ours as entire floors collapsed while we searched for one photograph, one keepsake.
I went back to my house after midnight. The streets were stale and broken, smelling of dried blood. I wasn’t prepared to see that my life had been narrowed to nothing. Grey plaster rocks covered in ashes.
I wanted something. A memento that a good life had existed once for me. For Sadie. I wanted the mirror she had decorated with dried flowers, her amber ring, the sketchbook that contained every bird she had ever seen; but the room was a desert.
The soldiers put us on ships. Heading for a new life. We all stood at the back of the boat searching for one last glimpse of the land to which most of us would never return. The waves lapped at our dreams like tears. We did not weep, there was no point; but we were ghosts wedged awake with grief.
In a foreign country we stood, gathered, huddling like baby birds in a nest; indignant and afraid. We were allowed to rifle through enormous crates on the docks; things salvaged from our old lives, from another time.
I stood back, numb as women jostled, elbowed, pushed for handbags with broken straps and teasets with no saucers. There was nothing there for me.
As the crowd dispersed I noticed a book, discarded, its spine split and fraying. The book was thick and black and covered with dust. It had a ribbon as a bookmark – forest green – Sadie’s favourite. I wanted to look inside it. I daren’t look.
The wind came up from the sea, leaping from the waves, turning the air white. I opened the book. Its boards were bowed and creaking, older than I remembered.
It was Sadie’s book of birds. Carried with me all the way across the sea. I wanted to dance with grief and love and bewilderment. I wanted to sing. She was gone but she was with me still in this new world far from home, where it was said men could be free. Perhaps ideas of heaven were given chances after all.