aberfan

“Drive fast,” she said. “Just keep going faster.”

She knew that the car that she was sitting in was real, but she may as well have been looking at shadows in a mist. It had been months since she had lived in a solid world. Now she was trapped in the pain of the day that it changed.

She is getting her daughter ready for school. She has put her into a crisp, clean dress and brightly polished shoes, and is giving her hair a final brushing. “I mustn’t go to school, Mam. I’m poorly. I’ve got a tummy ache.”

“Now, then. Let’s have none of that. Off you go.”

She is ushering the girl out of the house, and keeping her in sight as she slouches along the street towards her waiting friends; they are huddled against the drizzle. “Come on, slowcoach,” they shout. “You’ll make us late.” When she reaches them, she waves goodbye, still unsmiling.

“I can’t keep on speeding up,” he said. “We’ll crash.”

“I know.”

He was staring straight ahead. “That means I have to die, too.”

“Yes.”

He turned to look into her eyes, then out across the valley to the hills in the distance. “Alright,” he said, and started the engine.

Her most vivid memories were of things that she had not seen. She saw them with her daughter’s eyes.

The classroom is dim, the pictures on the walls dull in the grey light. Outside, she can see the dark hillside trembling. She can feel the building shaking. Something terrible is going to happen.

She watches for the thousandth time as the glass shatters, and black slurry bursts through the windows, the door, and through the collapsing ceiling. It pours in until it fills every space with suffocating, gritty sludge.

The car shuddered and swayed, gathering speed as the road became steeper. Soon it would fail to hold a bend and would smash into a tree, or tumble down the sheer slopes onto the rocks at the valley bottom. A little more suffering, and then freedom.

She would be released from living endlessly through her daughter’s last moments. She would never again have to feel her struggling to breathe amongst that choking filth, or share in her naked, nameless fear.

Her child’s face would not be always in front of her, scrubbed and sulking on her way to school, or cold, pale and grimy as she lay on the chapel floor.

She reached out and touched his arm. “Slow down.” she said. “We have to stay.”

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5 thoughts on “The Shadow of Life

  1. Heartbreaking stuff Vic – powerfully written. I’m guessing that an event like Aberfan is at least in part the inspiration for this story? You’ve done a great job of portraying the pain of those who have to carry on in the face of despair and unspeakable loss. Great to see a new story from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Nik.
      Yes, during the remembrance for Aberfan this year, I heard two of the mothers tell the stories that I have combined here into one. It’s impossible to feel or convey what these women are living through, but I think that we have to try.
      All the best. Vic

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’ve done a fantastic job with the subject Vic. As you rightly said it’s impossible to convey what it must be like – I know with the piece I wrote on it I just tried to write with respect and I get the same feeling with this one.

        Liked by 1 person

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