It was dark. The only sound was
the cicadas singing and the soft breeze rustling through the
leaves. Autumn had come in all his finery, but Maria could find
no joy in his pompous displays. Her heart was broken, and all she
could remember was the day that her daughter had died. Tears,
salty and warm, dripped silently onto the windowsill like rain.
Anyone looking at her would have thought she was a ghost, and in
a way she was. The bubbly Maria who had been the life and soul of
every day was gone. In her place was a stranger who had no sense
of time and spoke in a voice as hollow as the deepest caverns of
Maria gazed unseeingly out of the
window, down towards the river where Ashley had drowned. She felt
no pain. I must believe that her death was painless, she thought,
but in her heart she knew that Ashley's death had not been
painless. It had been a terrible death brought about by years of
neglect, and the thought of Ashley's final moments haunted her
waking hours and mocked her sleep. She screamed silently, letting
the voice in her head go ahead and taunt her. It's all your
fault. You were her mother and you didn't love her like you
should have done. It's your fault, and you know it.
The tears flowed ever faster,
until they felt like a torrent of rain, soaking her face and
drenching her soul with remorse. Her bitterness overflowed and
spilled from her mouth in a waterfall of curses. She railed
against God, against herself, against Ashley, against everything
she knew and loved, until finally she could curse no more.
Sobbing, she slumped back against the dark leather chair upon
which she was perched and buried her head in her hands. A
high-pitched keening forced itself from her throat, only to be
lost in the closeness of the room.
Maria's slumped back shook with
the sobs that racked her body, and with each sob a little more of
her strength disappeared. A small voice, timid and shy,
whispered, Don't cry, it wasn't your fault. There was nothing
you could have done - you didn't know she'd kill herself.
Another voice snapped loudly, You made her go, you drove her
away with your hate and your anger against her father, and you
didn't bother talking about her feelings! You didn't even worry
until she failed to come home three nights in a row!
"Shut up, please! Just leave me
alone! I know it was my fault, I know I could have been a better
mother! Now leave me be!" Maria wailed, her voice akin to that of
a child. She got up and stumbled into the living room, where she
sat on the sofa and switched on the television. However, she
couldn't concentrate. All she could see was Ashley's face, all
she could hear was her daughter's voice. She clapped her hands
over her ears and closed her eyes, but it didn't work. Image
after image of her beautiful daughter flashed across her mind's
eye, phrase after phrase of songs or conversations sounded in her
ears like death knells.
She leapt up, knocking cushions
to the floor, and ran to her daughter's room. Crying, she threw
herself onto the soft pink duvet and hugged one of Ashley's
teddies to her chest. Her long hair splayed itself out below her
head like a dying octopus. Oh, Ashley! she screamed silently. Why
did you have to die? Her eyes drifted shut, and she slept. As she
slept, she relived her daughter's life, so cruelly cut short.
Every smile, every laugh, every tear ... it all replayed itself
across her mind like a film.
Maria suddenly bolted awake,
still clutching Ashley's teddy. She sat up slowly, and then saw a
small piece of paper on the bedside table. She unfolded it, and
burst into tears again. It was a letter from Ashley, dated the
week before she died.
Mum, it read. It's me, Ashley. I just got back
from Dad's house. It's huge - twelve rooms, and four bathrooms.
Dad said I could choose everything that goes into it, and that
Danny can sleep over sometime. You'd have a fit if I suggested
that here, wouldn't you? But you're such a prude anyway, you
probably didn't even know I had a boyfriend! Just so you know,
we've been together for two years now. Yes, two years. I know -
you're probably gonna shout at me. Oh well, I don't much care. I
hate you. Why can't you let me live with Dad? At least he loves
me! Anyway, I'm going to the river. This time it's going to be
different. This time I'm not coming back. You can't control me
forever, Mum, and now that I'm sixteen I can take care of myself.
You never loved me, and you never will. I'm sorry it has to be
this way, but to be honest I'd rather it ended here than I spent
the rest of my life under your rule.
Maria sat on the bed, trembling
with shock and misery. Her slight frame, emaciated by months of
self-starvation, shook with pain as she began to scream, the full
story finally hitting her. She shuddered as she remembered the
times when she and her former husband Steven had rowed, their
words flying like arrows between them. The divorce, which still
cut like a knife whenever she thought about it. The rare times
when Ashley hugged her, the even rarer times when Ashley told her
she loved her.
Suddenly she dashed from the
house, her hair whipping her face like a cat o' nine tails. She
let her thoughts carry her down to the river, their grim
pronouncements like wings to her fleeing feet.
Oh, Ashley, I am so sorry. If
I'd tried to love you, maybe I'd understand you better than I did
when you were alive. I should have talked more, I should have let
you in, but I hid my feelings behind a mask and ultimately drove
you and your father away. I should have let you live with your
father, but my pride wouldn't let me. Maybe one day you will
forgive me. Maybe someday I'll forgive myself. Until then, all I
can do is apologise. I am so very sorry, my darling daughter, and
I love you so much.
The river was calm and peaceful
when Maria arrived beside it. She hugged herself tightly and
gazed intently into its murky depths. Her breath came in short
gasps and her hands twisted around each other like eels. She took
one last look around her, and then jumped into the river. A few
bubbles floated to the surface as she sank, but soon disappeared.
Within a few minutes, it was though nobody had ever been
The water closes over my head
like a blanket. It is soothing and gentle, and as the current
carries me downstream, I feel myself growing calmer. I am not
afraid of my own death - in fact, I welcome it. I open my mouth
and swallow water. It tastes like the ice of Alaska, with the
softness of silk. My hair floats up from my head like a brown
halo, and my hands float to eye level. I see my wedding band with
the inscription 'Io te amero' - I love you - as I turn my gaze to
the left. My eyes
close and my arms drift away from my sides. A soft white light
explodes behind my eyelids as I go over the edge of the
waterfall, and I am suspended in mid air for a long moment. Then
I fall, my arms outspread like wings. My body falls quickly, like
a stone, down and down and down, towards the white foaming mass
of water at the bottom. The light grows ever stronger as I fall
and hit the rocks at the bottom. Ashley appears in front of me,
her eyes calm and smiling. She is dressed in light blue, and her
blonde hair falls over her shoulders like a cape. Her beauty is
so astounding that I barely recognise her. She has grown into a
woman, and it makes me weep for joy. "Ashley!" I cry. She smiles
gently at me, and in that moment I know that she has forgiven me
and my penance is over. She takes my hand, and I am finally
released from the cares of the world.