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Short story by Roxanne. (ROBIN)

on Sat May 19, 2018 7:11 pm


Hi guys, here is the short story for anyone with any time to read. Please don't feel you need to offer great depths of critical analyses, a short sentence would even help. The format is a little odd after trying to change it on the forum. Any comments on anything at all would be a great help. I've never faired well with short stories in the past but felt compelled to write this one recently. Hope you enjoy it and see the light in it rather than the darkness - or enjoy the element of the two.

Thanks

Roxanne




Robin
By Roxanne Roberts


There isn’t a minute that doesn’t pass without me thinking about him taking his life.
Old memories are all that’s left now. There is no future that I can see or present moment to be in. There is only looking back, because Robin was with us then and I desperately need to hold on to that. I know these thoughts prevent me from living. It’s like I stopped breathing the second he did.

Has he found his peace?

I ignore the incessant ring of my phone until the answer machine gets it. I already know that it will be David, the worried ex-husband - the other grieving parent.
“Hi Jess, pick up. I know you’re in……I just want to say yet again that I know you are hurting, we all are, but no-one is to blame for what happened.”

Who is to blame if not his two parents? I answer him mentally.

Whose job was it to guide and protect him and ensure that he was happy?

Who carries the weight of his death and the coffin where he lies cold and still, but the ones who loved him most dearly, the people who failed him.

Seventeen years was all he could manage.

It drags you to hell while he goes to heaven, if you believe in such things. David didn’t before this. He used to be adamant that there was no God or Jesus or such things. “The bible is simply fiction,’ he’d say very matter-of-factly, like working in publishing warranted such knowledge. I was indifferent before, now I’m not without conviction.
I flick cigarette ash onto a dirty plate of uneaten food and wonder if David’s opinions have altered any since he did it?

I rub my aching forehead as the more hurtful questions taunt me:

Why didn’t I realise how desperate he was feeling?

Why did I not notice?

I could have saved him. I could have done something.

Another empty day greets me with a flood of emotion as cold as his hand when I held it for the last time. Nothing is changing. Life is not moving forwards.
“Time is a great healer,” the consultant told me. I bet he says those words to anyone suffering such loss and sorrow. He handed me a leaflet on how to deal with death from suicide, like a few well-constructed sentences would make everything better and stop my heart from bleeding all over the floor between us. They were kind words and actions, but he was young and naïve. He didn’t know how it felt to have your heart ripped out of your chest and waved in front of you.

“You didn’t fight hard enough!” I yell into the abyss, hoping his ether can hear me. It echoes back, almost like it’s from a separate entity, an unrecognisable voice escaping from the dry lips of the shadow of the woman I used to be.

Lost.

Broken.

Torn into terrible tiny pieces.

I grab my notebook, knowing that it’s that time of day when I need to write something, to get this pain out of my head, if not for just a brief second - perhaps long enough for me to go to the toilet or attempt to make a cup of tea. I pull back one of the linen curtains, feeling compelled to do it and a sprinkle of fabric dust lights up in the sun’s rays like thousands of tiny little orbs. I can’t remember the last time I looked out across the lawns of the vast grounds that surround my building or beyond to the distant city skyline where the sun sets over council blocks and modern offices. My eyes squint with the brightness and I cover them and suddenly I’m crying uncontrollably.

How many days have I had like this?

How many moons have turned the endless tide since the worst day of my entire existence?

It feels like time is no longer linear.

Through blurry eyes I see him. He lands on the ledge of the window, looking right in and at me. A little robin redbreast, so tiny, so delicate and fragile looking. There is something peculiar about the moment, like we are connecting, and I hear him tweak a sweet melody that stops me from thinking about anything other than this bird and his tune. A gentle tap on my door sends my heart rapidly pounding, breaking the meditation.

Is it Karen?

Is it Tuesday?

I trudge to the calendar on the wall and scan the blurry numbers and days and stare up at the picture of a snowy terrain. I know that it’s not December because of the heat from the sun shining in through the window. “Jess?” my sister’s muffled voice calls from behind the door. It is Tuesday I realise, and I slide the bolts across to let her in.

She looks me up-and-down with concern, clutching two Tesco bags of shopping. “How are you feeling?” she asks, like she does every week. I shrug and turn back towards the sun light, noticing my notebook open I rush to it to flip the cover shut, not wanting Karen to see my words. “You’ve opened the curtains I see. That’s good. That’s progress,” she comments lightly as she spills the contents of the bags onto the counter top after clearing the plates and dirty mugs. “I saw David at the theatre last week. He’s worried about you.”

David at the theatre! It beggar’s belief. What show could he possibly want to see? It was like normal human emotions evaded him, even after his only son dying tragically.

She opens the fridge and steps back pulling a face at the smell that escapes from it from the old cheese and other unrecognisable vegetables that I’d not bothered eating. She slams the fridge shut and leans on the counter. “I’m calling the doctor to get you Sectioned unless I see a dramatic change by this time next week. Do you hear me?” she says using her bossy big sister tone, but I can detect a quiver of emotion in her words.

It’s easy for her to judge. She hasn’t lost any of her babies.

I would have argued with her about it, if there was any fight left in me, but I couldn’t feel a pinch. The thought of going to the hospital, back to where I’d had to say goodbye to Robin, where he took his first and final breath with me, is out of the question.

I stare at the oak tree, noticing that it’s greener than the last time I looked at it. “Are you listening to me?” she huffs with her hands on her wide hips.
“Yes,” I croak, unsure when I last used my voice to communicate with anyone properly. I don’t think I spoke at all during her last visit.

“I’m serious Jess. I don’t want to come here and, God forbid, find you hanging from your bloody dressing gown rope.” I stare at the thin string of material and question whether it would even hold my weight. Her forehead crinkles with deeper lines than usual and I see how stressed she is and I know that she means it.
I watch her turn the oven on and slide a cottage pie inside it. “I’ll run you a bath,” she calls as she walks through the hall towards the bathroom and my bedroom, where I’d given up trying to sleep.

Karen bathes me like I’m one of her kids and then watches me spoon the tasteless mince beef into my mouth and swallow it. My wet hair drips on the kitchen table that she has cleared and sprayed with lemon scented cleaning liquid. She uses a light tone, like she is purposefully making herself sound floaty, pretending that life isn’t drowning her too, as she tells me what my niece and nephew and her husband have been up to.

“I love you,” she blurts tearfully as she pulls her jacket on ready to leave. I realise how I’m the cause of her pain too and that’s like another sharp knife jabbing at me. “I meant what I said, Jess. I want to see changes next week or I will have no choice but to call the hospital.” I almost laugh wondering how the psychiatric ward will manage to accommodate me when they didn’t have room for Robin last year. Knowing my luck, they would save a bed for me.

I abandon the pie as soon as she’s gone and sit by the window looking down at the gardens. I know that she is right. I know that I need to somehow pull myself out of the huge black hole I’ve put myself in. On some level I want to be in it. I deserve to be. But I don’t want to hurt Karen and I don’t want to go anywhere near the hospital to be reminded of his slow painful death as the poison spread through his blood, damaging every organ before reaching his brain and killing him.

The robin redbreast lands on the stone window sill, distracting me from my endless thoughts. I watch the little bird sitting so still that I wonder if it is even real. The bird appears to be watching me again and I wonder if it’s the same little fellow that came before. It springs to a nearby branch but still looks directly at me, like it can see through my black veil of grief to the real me that I thought I’d buried with my boy.

“Hi Robin,” I whisper too softly. I realise the irony of this bird being named Robin, the same name I gave my baby boy seventeen years ago as I cradled him through his first night of living. I laugh aloud. It’s a laugh I don’t recognise, a frightening cackle lacking joy.
I think of my baby’s strong grip and how he stared at me closely all through his younger years, like there was something about me he was trying to fathom. Our eyes were mirror images: pale blue with specks of green in the centre of the iris. And when he was older, our eyes expressed the same pain from the infliction I’d handed down to him through genes and some through learning. Nature and nurture joined forces to ensure his suffering from birth.
Tears blur my eyes again. I need to stop feeling. I want to be completely numb. I write a bullet-point list in a slightly organised fashion, the process reminding me of my teaching days, although my handwriting is a messy scrawl of barely readable ink.

• Jump from the roof
• Stop eating and drinking
• Hanging
• Take tablets (if I can find enough to do the job properly without leaving the building)

I stare at the dressing gown screwed up on the floor in front of the washing machine, eyeing the thin strip of material and imagining it looped around my neck tightening. I dismiss jumping from the roof because I don’t like heights. I debate the second option and cross that off too, fearing it being too slow and painful. I want something quick, something easy to do. The forth bullet makes me think about Robin with his face and hands all bloated from the ethylene glycol and the anti-dote trying to fight against it. I cover my eyes like that will somehow erase the image engraved in my brain.

He’d obviously had a list like this too, a thoroughly researched one.

I scribble across the list so hard that the nib of the pen rips through the paper. I open the window and feel the rush of fresh air pinch my face. It’s colder than I expect it. I glance down trying to gauge how far the drop is, but I decide it’s not far enough to cause instant death. I’d probably survive and be physically impaired as well as mentally. No, that’s not the way out of this.

The tweet of a bird catches my attention and I spot the little robin back on the branch opposite. “It’s looking at me,” I gasp. “You’re looking at me, aren’t you?” I ask it, like its tiny beak might provide an audible answer. Christ, I doubt I’d even be that surprised if it did. The bird chirrups a beautiful melody that breaks through even the depths of my torturous guilt. Can a robin sound sorrowful?

“What do you want little chap?” I ask it and find myself using that familiar mothering tone I’d used so often with my Robin. The bird flies towards me so quickly that it startles me, and I wince and cover my face with my arms, like this tiny little beautiful creature is going to hurt me. When I relax them back down, I see the bird is right next to me on the window sill. “What do you want?” I wonder aloud. He responds with this little cheery tune, like he understands and is answering in his own foreign language. “Food I guess?” and I stand expecting the little fellow to titter away, but he stays still and fearless of my movement. I rummage for a crust of stale bread, noticing the blue mouldy crumbs lacing the bottom of the tin. “Do you want this?” I ask, crumbling up a crust and sprinkling it on the ledge. The robin’s only movement is to retrieve the bread and I watch him in utter fascination.
His little soul’s instinct is survival.

After he’s finished, he flutters back to the tree and then vanishes from view and I find myself hovering by the window, wanting him to return, hoping he will need me to feed him again or sing that lovely tune that sounds so heavenly. I stare up at the clouds looking whiter than white with the sun bursting through them in strobes and I wonder if there is something else - somewhere else we go to after living. I pick up my notebook and pen and jot a few sentences about my visit from robin and as I write it on the page, I realise how it sounds and place my finger over the ‘a’ at the beginning of the sentence so that it reads:

Robin visited me today. Such a beautiful soul. He’s gone now but I hope I’ll see him again.

I glance around the empty branches of the oak tree, trying to spot him, to see that he is still around. But there is no sign of him now. He has gone back to his nest or wherever he came from. I close the window sadly and close my book. I don’t want to think about how to end things until tomorrow now. I’ve done enough thinking today. Lying down on the sofa, I pull the blanket across my legs, trying to get some sleep. I find myself praying that something will be different about tomorrow, like it had been today with the visit from the little bird.

The sound of tapping wakes me and I listen to it before I open my eyes. At first, I’m distracted by the tidal wave I experience every single morning. The instant fear and dread, the wave of anxiety that tightens my stomach muscles, the flood of emotion and grave depression as I remember what’s happened and that he has gone. Sleep even fails to provide respite because he is often in my dreams, like my mind wants me to be tormented every second that I breathe.

The tapping battles through and disrupts my usual thoughts of dismay. What is it? I wonder, opening my eyes and feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. I see that I’ve left the curtains open. In my dreary haste to end yet another painful and pointless day, I forgot to draw them, and there on the stone ledge is that little robin redbreast, tapping the window pane with the tip of his beak and a purpose.

I stare, and blink for what seems like an incredible amount of time. Am I dreaming? Is this delusion? Have I crossed a new milestone in my depression that even I don’t recognise? I raise my head and blink again. “Oh, he’s real Jess,” I tell myself. I sit up and place my feet down on the carpet, noticing that it’s looking dirty and that I can’t remember the last time it got hoovered. The bird taps the glass again. “Hello little one. Do you want more bread?” I shove my worn slippers on and drag my feet towards the humming fridge and the bread tin that sits on top of it. I look at the blue mouldy crumbs again and decide that I could do something about that today, in case it harms the robin redbreast.

I open the window as delicately as I can, which isn’t easy given its age and the several coats of sticky white gloss that coats the frame. The robin jumps back at the squeak of the hinges, but just a few centimetres away. “Watch you don’t fall little bird, it’s a long way down.” Then frown at the absurdity of what I am saying. He is a bird with wings. He can’t fall all the way down. His nature is to fly not fall.

The robin pecks away at the crumbs even allowing me to place down more with my fingertips just millimetres from his soft feathers. I stare at his red chest and wonder why he’s not red all over. “It’s like a bleeding heart,” I mumble, and the bird looks up and chirps a happy tune and I can’t help smiling. My cheeks ache like my skin has had to stretch un-naturally to achieve it because it’s been so long since I last smiled.

He flies back to the tree and stops and looks back and sings to me again and I notice how much light is flooding into the room and how blue the sky is behind him. I see that my book has slipped off the window seat landing open on the page with my bullet-point list of ways that I can end it, and I feel cross with myself and slap it shut. I decide instead to clean the bread tin, ready for Robin’s next feed.

I remember Karen’s warning as I’m clearing out the growing mould and I begin to worry about who would take care of Robin if I’m in hospital. I know he has come to me for a reason. It feels important. I don’t want to abandon him. I leave the window open, hoping Robin will come back soon. I want to see him again and hear his joyous tune. But hours later there is still no sign of him. I stare down at my pyjamas and consider getting dressed to go down to the gardens to see if I can find him. I decide against it several times until I find myself in front of my wardrobe pulling on jeans, realising that they now hang from my bottom and thighs when they used to fit quite tightly.

Once dressed, I splash water on my pale face and tie my hair back loosely. I am ready to go outside to find robin, knowing that he will be somewhere near. I slip on some pumps and feel my head going light. I think that it’s because I’ve not had any water, so I fetch a glass and gulp some by the sink and then slide the bolts across the door and open it. Stepping out I glare down the wide corridor. It looks longer than usual. I let the door close behind me and feel my heart quicken. My breathing becomes shallow and I feel dizzy like I might faint. My heart hammers so badly that I start to wonder if there is something wrong with it. I panic and rush back in, sliding the bolts with trembling hands, wondering if I’m locking people out or myself in.

I collapse on the window seat, surprised by myself. How long has it been since I was last outside? I shuffle over to the calendar and tear it down, trying to decipher what month it is, but then I feel more flustered. I glance out of the window for about the millionth time, desperate to see this little feathered friend of mine, waiting for him to come back so that I can feel how I felt yesterday again.

It’s hours before I spot him. I’ve pulled out Dad’s old binoculars from the dusty box in my cupboard. I see him by the ornate bird bath, dunking his head in the water and shaking it off. I fear that he isn’t going to return to my window, that I’m never going to get to say goodbye or express how much joy he brought me. I won’t let that happen. Not again. If I can’t get down the corridor then I’m going out another way. I push open the stiff window as far as it will go and peer down without fear even though it’s high. Honestly, I’m not sure if I even care about the consequences at this point. I swing my leg over the ledge and pull myself out. I know that if I stretch enough that I can reach the thick branch and climb down the strong body of oak.
My fingers tingle as I grip the branch and pull myself across. I pant and take a moment to breathe and collect myself. My eyes are shut tight and when I open them I can see straight into my apartment, much like the little bird can. There is something dark and uninviting about the space and I wonder why such a loving being would ever want to visit me when it could be out flying and having adventures and experiencing other better things.

I don’t know how, but I navigate the enormity of the tree climb. It’s not until my feet land on the soft grass beneath it that I question how I’m going to get back up. I’ve not brought my door key. I’ve left my door bolted from the inside. There is only one way back in and that is to climb back up through the crisscross of branches. My knees almost buckle as I slowly edge towards the bird bath. The robin, as if sensing me, moves to a bush and I creep around to try and get close. But the robin moves again, edging away from me each time I get near. It flies back-and-forth like it’s moving me along, making me follow him and chase him around just like my Robin would have done as a child.

He finally lands on the ornate pillar of the grounds entrance, where on the road beyond cars speed by seeming so loud and frightening. I stop and look back towards the huge tree and my little window gaping wide open. I realise that I can’t safely climb back in through that way. I have no phone and no money. The robin cheeps and waits for me to get beside it. I’m so close that I can almost reach out and touch him. The little bird isn’t afraid. It fluttered out onto the street and I fear the commotion of the cars and the seeming chaos of life outside of the gate. But I want to follow him. I don’t want to stay back here on my own without him. This bird is connecting with me, I can feel it.

I glance back again, knowing that it’s too late to change what I have done now. I need to press on, get out through the gate and follow the little robin, perhaps head to my sister’s house. I weigh up how many streets away that is and keep moving forwards with the robin. As if he knows the way, he flutters along and I’m not sure if I am leading or following him, but I soon find myself standing on my sister’s doorstep, admiring her new paving and front lawn and I vaguely remember her telling me that they were getting it done. I ring the bell with robin sitting on the wall beside me.

Karen opens the door, her mouth ajar in shock. “What the…….Are you alright?” she asks in a panic. “Come in.” I look back at the robin, mentally telling him to wait for me, that I’ll hopefully see him again, that I’m grateful, but I know that I need to leave him to go inside. As the door shuts, I feel as if another opens bringing with it a fresh draft of clean air and I’m aware that I’m still breathing. I sit in her front bay window in the sun, sipping a cup of milky tea and keeping watch for the robin, but I know that he’s gone. He’s done what he needed to do and now he’s flown away up into the beautiful infinite skies, searching for his next adventure.

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Re: Short story by Roxanne. (ROBIN)

on Sat May 26, 2018 7:39 pm
Hi. Always scary to comment on this type of subject matter as I’ve no idea how close you are to the experience. Poignant story. The best bits are the writing about the robin in the notebook (wondering if somehow that could be your last line or if the revelation that her son was called robin could be at the end to strengthen ending?) also strong is the bit where you wonder is she going to fall from the tree accidentally and have people thinking she jumped? I’d make more of that - maybe a near miss helps her value her own life more?

Few other comments :
1. Some repeated words eg. Blurry, tapping
2. I’d cut the ‘I feel’ words at the start of sentences.
3. I’d suggest editing down a lot of the adverbs and adjectives- it feels a little overloaded in places.
4. I think if you cut the word count a bit it would strengthen it.

Hope that helps somewhere along the line. It’s a good piece.
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Re: Short story by Roxanne. (ROBIN)

on Thu May 31, 2018 11:11 am
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Sue.
I've just spent some time editing it with fresh eyes and I do feel it is much tighter for it.
Thank you for your helpful comments!
Roxanne. x
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Re: Short story by Roxanne. (ROBIN)

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