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Still Life

By Jacqueline Hodnett  

It was raining heavily the day Angela Downing boarded the 2.45 pm train from Dublin to Cork. She stared out the window at the grey skies. It seemed fitting, somehow, that the weather should mirror what happened one year earlier to this day. It seemed even longer than a lifetime...

"Mind if I sit here?"

A man's voice interrupted her thoughts. Yes she minded. The whole carriage was free. There was something about this man that made her feel uncomfortable and comfortable at the same time. She found herself nodding politely.

"No, I don't mind."

He took a sketch pad and pencil from a large green canvas bag. An artist, she thought skeptically. What did they know about life? They only drew images and impressions. How could they know anything about pain, the pain that had been tearing her apart since she lost him. The train started. The Journey began.

It wasn't a long time after when he handed her the sketches. They were both of her.

"I never said you could do these," she said, feeling intimidated.

"You never said I couldn't, Angela." His voice was low but firm.

"How on earth do you know my name?" She asked in utter amazement.

"It's on the silver bracelet on your right wrist." He smiled. She smiled back.

It had been a long time since Angela Downing had smiled. She looked at the sketches. They were an excellent likeness and almost identical. Yet there was something different about them. She scanned them both until she realised.

"This one." She looked again, "This one makes me look ten years younger."

"No, Angela," he paused. "This portrays how you looked before the event that has caused you this intense sadness. Has it been ten years?"

"Just one," she stopped, remembering. "Just one," she echoed.

The waiter came with a trolley and as she sipped the hot tea she spoke. "It was this day last year they took my baby from my stomach. He lived for seven minutes. When I woke up he was dead."

He stared at her intently. It wasn't a look of sympathy. She couldn't have borne that.

"A part of me died too." It was a whisper. It was a cry for help. There were no tears.

"Your husband, why isn't he a part of this? Why are you on your own?"

She fingered her gold band.

"Because he blames himself. He's carrying so much guilt it's weighing him down. There were complications. He thinks if he had come home earlier or driven to the hospital faster, Peter might have been saved. There's no medical evidence to prove that but he won't listen. I've had to be strong for him, getting on with our lives, trying hard for another baby but it hasn't worked. I'm not pregnant."

"How can it work, Angela?" His voice was soft, melodic. "How can it work when there's no room for another life inside you? Peter still possesses every inch of you. Why haven't you been able to let go of him?"

She was still for a while.

"I think I never have been able to let go of him because I feel that he was never really mine in the first place. Apart from a scrap of paper and a headstone there's no real evidence that he existed at all. My husband was so devastated that he wouldn't allow any photographs not even of the tiny white coffin. You don't know how often I wished I'd had strength to fight him since then."

She sighed. It hung in the air.

"So let's recreate him," he said simply.

Angela looked stunned.

"How?" She mouthed the word slowly.

"Use me Angela, let me draw him like I drew you, like I've drawn you. Tell me everything about him, the length of his body, the shape of his head, any physical feature you can remember, but more than that, much more than that. Tell me about his energy when he was growing inside you, the way he used to kick for instance. Tell me about Peter when he was alive. Let me capture his spirit."

Angela felt a rush of excitement.

"Please trust me, I really can help you." There wasn't a hint of doubt in his voice.

"I do trust you." She spoke from her heart.

"It's time for a rebirth," he said, "Peter's and yours."

So she told him everything down to every last detail she could remember and she remembered so well. She erupted like a volcano from the core of her being and with this eruption came the feelings she had suppressed for so long.

She had been so afraid to express them, afraid that if she did, they would control her. Now with this man in the late afternoon she realised that by retaining her emotion it had controlled her without her knowing it. His pencil stormed the page quickly like lighting. He was her channel. He was completely open to her and when he was finished her baby looked back at his mother from the page.

The train came to a halt but the journey was not over. She had not yet reached her destination.

"Will you come with me to say goodbye?" She asked. "He's here. We moved to Dublin after Peter. Too many memories."

"I'll come if you still need me," he replied.

"I need you", she answered. "How can I ever thank you, this drawing is beautiful. I really feel his presence. Now he's mine to let go of. I want you to be a part of it."

"I already am." He replied.

The graveyard was deserted. She lay on his grave with the drawing and Angela Downing cried. Loud cries that came from deep within her. She rocked her body to and fro, saying his name over and over murmuring her goodbyes between her convulsions. Through her tears she saw a glimpse of sun behind the clouds after the torrential rain. A glimmer of hope. She knew then she was going to be all right. She had let go of Peter, her son.

When she was spent she turned to him.

"Will I ever see you again?" she inquired.

"There's no reason why you should, you know that."

She did.

He took her hand.

"Goodbye Angela. You will always be with me. You and Peter."

She watched him as he walked away. She didn't even know his name. Maybe it was because she didn't need to. It wasn't important. He was an artist. He drew images and impressions. He drew life.

  Jackie Hodnett is from Cork.
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