Death came for us two years in a row at Christmas. The first time it happened, I made myself laugh in assembly the day after, while we were practising ‘Away in a Manger’. Mrs Smith thought I must be very sad about my grandmother dying, and that I was having “an hysterical reaction”. I wasn’t: I was imagining Father Christmas dressed as the Grim Reaper, pulling a sleigh of skeleton reindeer. I told my friend David at break-time, and got a hug for my troubles.
The next year was the Explosion. My mother was screaming, the kind of scream that will eventually cause you to vomit up your own lungs if you’re not careful. Her cousin had been killed in an explosion at the shipyard, leaving behind a wife and four children. The youngest was my age. I tried to imagine my father, his face blown off, white skull fragments and red blood and then I blurted out that I was going to walk my friend home.
My mother was still screaming when Libby and I made our escape into the freezing night. I tried to explain to her who the cousin had been, but Libby couldn’t keep our family ties straight in her head. How do some people only have two cousins? How do they respond when it’s their name called out and not everybody else’s first? Libby had told me that “all your expression is in your eyes” the summer before, and I tried to remember to be cool.
Libby was so cool. It wasn’t cool to worry about all those cousins I hardly even knew. I tossed my head, let my hair fall over my eyes, my beautiful, expressive eyes, like she’d said, pretended it was the frost stinging them. No, I’m not crying.
About the Author:
Frances Mulholland is a multitalented writer, poet, actress and teacher. She has been writing ever since she was five years old, when she realised that putting an amusing caption on a drawing of her dad could get cheap laughs. Her inspirations include folklore and mythology, as well as the everyday lives of the people around her. She lives in Northumberland.