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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes - From our Archives

Life After Death
Emma Callan

I was thirty four years old when I died. I’d never thought about dying before. My friend Cassie used to be pre-occupied with the notion of death. I always put it down to her Catholic background. It was an entirely blank subject for me. So what’s it like? I still don’t know if I can explain it. I must be in my fifties now (if we’re still adhering to an earthly concept of age). Twenty years on and I’m none the wiser.

Maybe I could try smells, tastes. There’s so little here. How can I describe the glorious stimulants of the senses if there’s nothing to stimulate them? My eyes are open and see things - blocks, lines, forms, profiles, contours of things. I’m holding a photograph but I can’t really feel it. Sorry I can’t be more use. But if I close my eyes, that’s different. Bear with me, let me go and I can hear everything; bird song, the cracked laugh of our fire, a single raindrop hovering on the leaf tip of my geranium plant. Just let me go back, I can give you the touch, the taste, the smell of their sandy curls blanketing my cheek that early June evening. Every evening. Let me go, just for a moment.

My eyes are wet. Like when I first found out I was going to have them. I had just had a job interview at NatWest for a position I had thought I was under qualified for. Consequently in the interview, my laissez-faire attitude gave way to a confidence and eloquence I never knew I had. Evening drinks with Cassie and Jade became a ‘pre-emptory celebration of my new job’. I remember that they were the exact words I used as my friends stood and clinked their glasses with mine. Despite my tongue in cheek self-indulgence, I was genuinely bursting with a glowing belief in my job prospects and myself. I was the type of person who never pushed themselves for fear of failure and yet inadvertently I had pushed myself (I thought) into a damn good position. There’s nothing like death to incur regret. I regret that cowardice I let myself live with till that point. At least I want to regret it. I’m not sure I do. I can show you the true meaning of regret. Then you can decide for yourself whether you think I give a shit about anything else at all.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I don’t want anyone here to read it. I’ve tried to make them listen when they’ve asked. It’s very simple – I want to be alive. Alive with my girls. They don’t have to do anything, just let me go.

Shortly after my smug toast, I was lying in the back of an ambulance. I’d fainted and taken my dinner and a bottle of bubbly down with me. In my half conscious state I remember thinking that maybe my body had conspired with providence to kill me so I wouldn’t get my job. In a way I was right. Pregnant, twelve weeks gone, twins. My first life ended there. I saw my profile - Single, mediocre wage, stunned. I didn’t speak for a good twenty-four hours until I uttered a word that, as I scratch on to this page, makes me wince – abortion. It was a question more than a statement, one I thought I had answered until I saw them; grey and blotchy, electronic and beautiful, together as always. That was the first and only time I fell in love.

When I rub my thumb and forefinger together I feel the soft, plump pink of two year old skin. April would only sleep if I used my two fingers, no more, no less, to stroke the palm of her hand for at least five minutes. As I sat there, my other hand would stroke Sara’s forehead, smoothing the unruly locks away from her chubby cheeks. I would tell April that this would have to stop soon, that she can’t rely on mummy to get to sleep forever. She would just squeeze the hand that was stroking hers and make warm, comforting noises on her dummy. I knew it was the right thing to stop, so three months later, I fought my maternal instincts. After several calls from April and one from Sara, there was silence. Both relieved and perturbed that my girls had adjusted so quickly to the absence of their mother at bedtime, I peered round the door. Both sets of eyes were shut. April’s fingers were nestled in her sister’s hair, dragging it over her face rather than holding it back. In turn, Sara had her hand round April’s, her thumb and forefinger gently stroking her palm. If I could have foreseen what was to happen the following year I would have ignored my sensible parental instincts. If I could change what was to happen, I would still ignore them. I would spend every night with my flesh on their flesh. I would spend an eternity listening to the quiet breath of my children’s sleeping innocence.

Do you ever think about decisions and consequences? Parenting was full of them: which nappies avoid nappy rash, when is best to stop breast feeding? Simple decisions can steal sleep. Even simpler decisions can steal lives.

I decided to drive my twins to Norwich to my friends Linda and Simon. Since the birth, my friends had been substitutes for a father and grandparents. It was a cold but clear February day and the drive was familiar to me. When I go back over my choice to go I search for reasons, signs I should have spotted to deter me, alert me to the fact that a depressed drunk would smack his Volvo into my old Festa. But there are none. You may think this could alleviate my conscience. You’re wrong. I cannot bear to think that it just is.

They need to let me go. But they won’t and each time I’m nearly there, where I belong, they pull me away. I’ve been so close, several times. They try to convince me that I must stay, make the most of the rest of my life. Yes, they call it ‘life’. What a fucking joke. They thought the photograph would help to convince me.

Well, I’ll wait with my eyes closed and try to be patient. I’ll drift back to plump pink and wispy sand. Occasionally I’ll look carefully at the photograph of my daughter’s graves. One day I’ll live with them again, for now I’ll wait for my death to end.

© Emma Callan Jan 2008

School Dinners
Emma Callan

I feel like a pigeon, tottering tentatively into the dining room. Nothing prepares you for this.

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