by Eileen Herbert-Goodall
In your street, I pull over. Let out a breath. Note how my hands tremble. There are police vehicles everywhere. An ambulance. Siren silent. Lights off. Fuck. I get out of my car and head up the driveway, boots crunching on gravel. A little bird flitters about inside my heart. I am here, it says. I am here. I check the latch of its cage. It seems secure. Steadfast. I reach your porch, grasp the door handle, turn it, cross the threshold. Scattered about the living room are a number of strangers. Six? Seven? They turn to stare. No one speaks. No one moves. They are waiting for me to say something. Do something. I wade through the swamp that is my mind. Clamber through flotsam. The wreckage of emotion. I state my name and explain who I am—your sister. A tall man in blue steps forward, levels me with eyes that are not unkind, and tells me what I already know. I can feel the little bird’s tiny heart tap, tap, tapping against mine. Not now, I say. ‘Is he here?’ Again, the tall man speaks: ‘Yes.’ The little bird begins to sing, its tune sweet and pure, despite the horror snapping at my heels. Sloshing against the walls. On and on it sings. Quiet. I survey the room, my gaze swimming from one person to the next. ‘I want to see him.’ The tall man places a hand on my arm and guides me towards the door. ‘Let’s talk outside.’ On the porch, I blink against the daylight. I wonder if you are nearby, observing earth-bound events from some inscrutable interstice, some unfathomable space between worlds. The tall man watches me, but I do not look at him. I stare straight ahead, knowing there is more to come. ‘How?’ He explains. Voice steady, calm. I think about the sorrow you must have felt, about the despair that ensnared you in its grip. Eclipsing all else. ‘When?’ ‘It’s been a while. Several hours at least.’ It sounds as if he is speaking from some place far away. Or perhaps we are standing at opposite points of a tunnel. A tunnel lined with cracked, concrete walls that leak tears. A tunnel littered with endless rows of rafters that loom high above. I hate rafters. I hate fucking manholes, too. I have lost all sense of spatial orientation and am soon floating upon an ocean of despair. Unanchored. Unmoored. The little bird calls to me, its voice faint but insistent. I am here, it says. I am here. I fail to process whatever the tall man has just said. His words are slippery silver fish that elude my grasp. Fleeting fragments that refuse to be caught. The water subsides, vanishing down an invisible drain, leaving me stranded on a barren suburban shore. Insides washed-up. ‘Pardon?’ ‘Do you have any more questions?’ I do. Many. But none he could answer, so I shake my head. ‘Okay. Can I get you anything? Some water?’ ‘How about a whiskey?’ A sad smile tugs at his lips. What is there to say? No words can undo what has been done. The ground seems to heave and sway. I sense an abyss down there. An impenetrable darkness that writhes and churns and twists like some murderous beast. It drags at the core of my being. A monstrous maelstrom. The little bird whistles in warning. Do not look down, I tell it. Do. Not. Look. Down. We could have talked, you know. We could have listened to the little bird together. But all that remains is a severed connection. A harrowing, empty static. I emerge from depths of watery-grey to find I am crying. The tall man observes me in silence. I look out across the quiet street, a stream of bitumen awash with afternoon sun. Finally, I turn to face him. This stranger. The tall man with eyes that are not unkind. We stare at one other for an increment of time I cannot quantify. My vision blurs. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘Me too.’ Apparently there are forms to be signed. I must bear witness to something I cannot yet comprehend and perhaps never will. Later, I will pray that you have been safely delivered into the arms of loved ones passed. For now, I follow the tall man back inside as the little bird jitters about inside my heart once more. I am here, it says. I am here. Yes, I answer. I know.
Eileen Herbert-Goodall has had many pieces of non-fiction and short fiction published and is the author of a novella titled ‘The Sherbrooke Brothers’. Her second novella is due for release in early 2020. She holds a Doctorate of Creative Arts.