A short story of mine, originally posted on this blog last year before being taken down for use in a competition. Please do not plagiarise this work or use it without permission.
The steady tap of stiletto heels on wooden floorboards was a sound to which I had become most accustomed. I was awoken each and every morning, not by the chirping of the birds in the tree outside my window, nor by the first glimpse of daylight streaming through my curtains. No, the sound that pierced my dreams and stirred me at precisely 7am for as long as I could remember was that familiar clunk of heels making their way past my door. This was a constant which I had never attributed my conscious thought to; it had always occurred, and always would. Or so I thought.
Until the day when the steady tap of the stilettos walked out of my life, with the same regular pace as they always had done, and I suppose I would have presumed always would, had I actively entertained the thought at all. It is not unknown for people to overlook the minute details in favour of the moments they believe to be significant, but the moments which will eventually become our most treasured are those we do not render important, or even acknowledge the presence of, until it is too late.
Until it is no longer there.
Life doesn’t stop for anyone, however much we may want it to. Something happens – be it good or bad – and the world powers on around you as if it is taking no notice. This is something you never get taught as a kid. Nothing can warn you about life; the only way to learn about it is by living it. I learnt this aged nine, when something changed my life forever. I don’t like change at the best of times – it throws you off course, leads you somewhere you never intended to go. I like it when I am following a straight path, with no twists or bends. For if the path is straight, you can see everything mapped out in front of you, with nothing blocking your sight. Of course, any attempts at making life run this course are futile; it does what it wants, when it wants, regardless of my petty views. We meagre humans can never see what’s coming ahead.
I certainly didn’t.
I knew my mother had been ill; at the age of nine, you are trapped between two worlds – being old enough to know when something is wrong, but not old enough to be told the whole, unaltered truth. It wasn’t until later I was made aware of the fact that everyone knew of the severity of her condition but me.
They never said it was cancer.
I remember the last day out that I had with my mum. At the time, it was no different to any other, nothing significant. How was I to know it would be the last? Mum had been planning it in secret for a while – whether she knew it would be the last time, I may never know. We spent the morning eating pancakes before packing a picnic and heading to the station. I loved trains; not the act of travelling on one, which made me feel quite sick. I loved leaning against the window, watching city and country alike, dashing past so quickly that you would miss it in the blink of an eye. Seeing hundreds of buildings and people pass so suddenly made me realise how vast our world is, full of so many hopes and possibilities that there is always something new out there to see. To the mind of a nine-year-old, the prospect of never-ending chances is so exciting; now I just see it as daunting.
My mother and I spent the entire day going in and out of expensive shops and fancy coffee houses. When the sun was setting, leaving streaks of orange and pink across the cloudless sky, we set ourselves down on a bench by the Thames, pointing out each boat that passed. We talked about the people onboard, fabricating their lives and travels – where they were from, why they were travelling and the places they have seen – until the only lights along the embankments were the streetlamps overhead and the illumination coming from the windows of the skyscrapers above us. It wasn’t long before Mum and I gathered our overflowing shopping bags and dashed back to the station to catch the last train home. As I once again watched the buildings pass by the windows, I wondered what it would be like to be a person on a riverboat, sailing down the winding paths of water and seeing where it may take me. I imagined having my own boat, and travelling on a much larger body of water, completely unaware of where life would go. Of course, Mum would come on these journeys too, and we would make an incredible team – just us two, drifting wherever the tide wanted us to go. At that moment, I didn’t truly understand that people are all drifting to wherever the ‘tide’ wants us to go, just by living every day. Life is the tide, dragging us sailors along with it, but even if our ship encounters trouble, the waves will continue going back and forth, as if the problem never occurred.
And life did just that, only a few weeks later, when it felt as if my world had stopped, frozen, showing no signs of continuing, yet the waves still ebbed and flowed as if nothing had ever happened. I discovered I did not need a boat trip to feel a sense of the unknown; I was feeling that now, and I was not entirely sure that I liked it.
Mum and I had always planned elaborate adventures together; we made it our project to unearth the facts, see the unseen, know the unknown. It was then I knew that – if death was the final voyage, and it caused so much pain – I would never want to face the unknown again.