“Can I tell you a story?” I whisper.
“I don’t understand why you’re doing this.”
He looks so confused, and for a moment I feel sad for him, until I realise how tired I am and how much weight is pressing down on my chest.
“They told me my grandpa was dying when I was four years old. My parents took me to the hospital so he could see me one last time—not so I could see him. They didn’t think I would remember him. But I do. I remember him taking my hand in his. I felt so small when he did that. My tiny palm rested between his wrinkled hands and he smiled a smile that shocked everyone in the room. Missing teeth and all. They hadn’t seen him look so happy in weeks.
He took longer than they thought he would to die. Right after it happened my Mum wouldn’t let me out of her sight. She would always say,
‘Hold onto my hand bubba.’
I don’t think she let go of me once right after it happened. She was always smiling when she was around me, but when she put me to bed I could see her frown. I could hear her muffled sobs through two bedroom doors. She didn’t hide it from me. She thought I was too young to remember.
I was 10 when my baby brother was born. He was given my Grandpas name, the name of a man who had already worn it out through years of life. My Dad told me that I was a wonderful big sister, because whenever he cried I could calm him down. I would let him hold my pinkie and he would look up at me with eyes so wide with admiration that I could never take my parents complaints seriously.
‘Why can’t we keep him quiet?’
‘He’s such a difficult baby.’
I was so proud of myself.
After my brother died my parents became scales. My Dad withdrew as my Mum became weirdly positive. I had to sit in the middle.
Mum liked me around, but I wouldn’t let her clutch at my hand like she did when I was younger. I think she thought that being near me would make her happy again. The thing is I could never make her happy. I couldn’t even distract her. She knew her positivity was a mask.
My Dad stayed far away from me. That didn’t start until he caught himself smiling a few weeks after it happened. He laughed at one of my jokes. Once he realised what he was doing I think he decided he didn’t deserve to be happy. Now we never occupy the same room at the same time.
He avoided me like he avoided happiness, like I was happiness, and my Mum clung to me without realising what she was doing. Can you imagine that?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Stop it, this isn’t funny.”
“I can’t be this anymore. I’m not an antidote to your sadness.”