Gingerly holding the fading Polaroid with the tips of her crinkly fingers, she sighed. It had been years since she had dared to open the old biscuit tin of memories. She had to be in the right frame of mind, even after all these years. All her happy photographs adorned the walls of the tired house. School photographs of her three children huddled together. One of them always looking away or grimacing at the staged nonsense of the situation. She’d never managed to get one of all three of them smiling and looking in the same direction. Her wedding photograph, she looked young and full of promises and dreams. Evan in his suit looking dashing as always, a broad grin and a cheeky glint in his eye, she missed him so much. But she had been blessed over the years with her handsome Evan, her beautiful children.
The cracks in the walls of the old aching house reminded her now of her body and the cracks and lines of her face. She often still thinks of herself as a young bride, a new mother, though the mirror tells her she’s wrong. It shocks her to the core at Christmas when she looks around the room. No Evan, the children all grown up and comparing mortgages and car insurance. Grandchildren! 8 of them, all talking about DS and PS something or other, thumbs flicking quickly over mobile phones. And she’s daft old Granny sitting in the corner, boring them with tales from the past and falling asleep after Christmas dinner.
She puts on her glasses and has a closer look at the Polaroid now. Evan, herself, a baby. Their baby. They hadn’t been together long when she found out she was pregnant. She’ll never forget that time despite sometimes, when the pain cut that bit too deep, she wished she could. Who said time was a great healer? Lying sods, she thought, absorbing their young faces and the face of the angel baby she saw in her dreams. Thomas was born bang on time, a normal pregnancy and a normal birth. But one day when he was six weeks old he died. He just died. They didn’t know until the morning and they awoke to the eerie silence where you know something terrible must have happened. She knew immediately. Walking to his cot in a daze, his lifeless body confirmed her worst nightmare. She doesn’t remember telling Evan, in actual words. She just remembers the longest, high-pitched, horrific scream she had ever heard, realising it had come from her own lips, and Evan crying in desperation as he tried to make their little boy magically come back to life just by willing it to be so.
The Polaroid captured a magical day; the skies had been the bluest blue, the pollen count high, the sun a happy little egg yolk. They had gone to the park and played with Evan on the grass. He’d fallen asleep watching the clouds go by. She had kissed Evan passionately and didn’t care who saw her in pure love and gratitude that he had given her this little treasure of a darling boy. Before they left they asked a young girl to take the photograph. It was difficult for her to go back in time in this way but it was the only thing she could do to override the harrowing flashback of his corpse and help to replace it in her mind with a real, vivid and cherished memory.
They had been soulless for a long time after Thomas died, together yet alone, drifting along with a mix of sedatives and a tidal wave of emotional agony. People forgot him too soon, that it should have been his birthday and the anniversary of his death. They’d been very brave, she thought, to try again in the hope of becoming a little family. But thank God, not that she believed in him, that three lovely children followed, woke them up and took them, hand in hand, into the land of the living. She had never been able to break that sort of news to them, that they had a brother but that he was dead. It just got harder to tell them over the years so they didn’t. It was their secret, their binding dark place. When Evan died last year, part of her did too. Her lover, her husband, her confidante. He had a sudden heart attack while she was out and couldn’t get downstairs to the phone. Once again she met that eerie silence and confirmed her worst fears when she crept upstairs and found him on the bed, his handsome face contorted in distress.
This photograph encapsulated her life, the secret one her children didn’t know about. Tears freely splashed down her face and that is what she had needed. A little minute to let out a little of the pain. With Evan gone, who could she talk to now?