The lightning strikes next to me and I shudder at a clap of thunder. The water is delicious and I just want a few more minutes. The lifeguard’s hands are waving frantically and he’s trying to call out to me. I dive under the water again and do a handstand. The water ripples at the next strike. I am invincible. I surface and make eye contact with my best friend. “Gin, you’ve got to get out now.” She’s the only one I will listen to and so I swim towards the side.
The others are already dressed and waiting for me at the bicycle rack. They’re not cross. I’m indulged. I climb onto my bike and we set off up Duncan Street. The rain is coming down in buckets now. We’re used to thunderstorms. I stand up to cycle madly and catch up again. Then I relax into the saddle and find my rhythm. The Tabone twins are flirting with my girl friends. I don’t mind. I’m the baby of the group and am quite okay with that.
“How old are you now?” Dr Rink’s gentle voice breaks through my reverie.
“Almost eleven. Ten or eleven.” My tongue feels thick and the words come deliberately.
“And how do you feel?”
“Invincible.” I can feel the smile forming at the corners of his mouth. As if through a light fog, I hear Archie meowing somewhere.
“How old were you when your dad died?” He waits for me to answer and it takes a little longer now.
I toss and turn in the strange bed, not sure why I’ve been farmed out for the night. Dad’s quick hospital visit has turned into something else. Words swim around my head…coma…too much insulin…the nurse…You are being silly, I tell myself. I try to pray but the panic is engulfing me. My body feels stiff and awkward. Every fibre is screaming that something is wrong. Very wrong. And then I know. I sit up bolt upright. Dad. He’s gone…
The drive home is endless. No one breaks the news. I see the pity in all their eyes and I don’t want it.
“How do you feel?” The doctor’s voice enters the trance.
I’m aware of the sea of faces in the packed church, but can’t take them in. I only know that I need to hold my little brother’s hand…
The doctor is taking me to the graveside now. I am being led there, gently, gently.
The coffin is on top of a green gurney. A priest is whispering prayers as the men prepare to lower it into the grave. My uncle has his arm around my mother’s shoulders. My older brother is next to her and my younger one, by my side.
“How do you feel?”
“Give me an emotion,” the gentle voice coaxes.
“Lonely.” The words aren’t enough.
“Are you crying?”
“No.” Somehow I feel the need to explain this. “It’s too deep for tears.”
I watch the coffin being lowered into the ground. I know that my dad’s spirit is in heaven. If anyone deserved to go to heaven, he did.
“Sprinkle some earth over it now. A little more. Tell you father how proud you were of him, how much you loved him.”
I stand there for a long time. A tear is rolling down my cheek and I let it. Gradually my heart slows to its regular rhythm, just as the doctor’s voice comes in.
“Say goodbye to him now.”
And I can.
When I open my eyes, I see the understanding in Dr Rink’s. “We’ve needed to do that from the day you first came to see me.” I nod.
“How do you feel now?”
Archie is meowing plaintively now. He takes the closed door as a personal affront.
“At peace. I feel peace.”