Dancing on the edge of my consciousness was a memory. A memory of my mother. I could almost smell the musky scent of her perfume and the sweet sound of laughter tinkling through the house, the picture was so clear. Then silence erupted, flowing through my life like burning hot lava. A memory then floated into my mind, a memory of my life after her death. Of Al, who I could now see looking in to the water under the bridge. Pouring her heart in to my waiting ears. I still love Al, I always will.
I felt like I was flying, like a free bird, like an eagle. The memory came back to me and for the first time it didn’t hurt, my mother had died in a car accident a month ago. Her car had come off Eagles Bridge when another car slammed into it. I’d always wanted to fly. My motorbike turned the corner and I sped up along the straight, my eyes closed, wind on my face………….. then the squealing of brakes and nothing.
“Can you hear me mate?” A voice came in and out of the dark.
“…be ok…motorbike…didn’t see.” Another voice came in and sounded panicky. I opened my eyes; all I could see was white fluffy clouds. A blurry face moved into my sight. “Am I dead?” I tried to say but my mouth hurt too much. The face moved,
“You’re going to be okay mate; you came off your motorbike.” Then sirens lulled me to sleep.
The next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital bed and a doctor was standing over me.
“You’re a very lucky lad you know” he said. “You have 62 stitches, a broken hip, and a couple of broken ribs. If you had been hit by that car any harder you wouldn’t have survived.” It was a lot to take in.
“What happened?” I asked
“You didn’t slow down at an intersection and you were hit by a four wheel drive.” It seemed weird, I could feel hardly any pain, yet I had several broken bones.
“By the way mate, what’s your name and age? You came in a few days ago and you didn’t have any ID on you, someone at home must be very worried about you.”
“I’m James Anderson and I’m 16 and no one will be worried, dad is away for the weekend in Canberra on some business trip,” I said.
“What about mum?” he asked.
“My mother died last month.” I replied shortly. The doctor looked sympathetic. After checking a few things he left. I looked around the room. It was fairly average, white, with touches of light blue around the edges. There was a window on one wall and I could hear the traffic down below on the road. A glass door led into another part of the ward and I could see a girl reading a teen magazine while doctors looked at the plaster on her leg. A thick white bandage was wrapped around my ribs and a large bandage covered my hip where the bones were pinned together. Numerous cuts were stitched together with black thread. I could not believe how bad my timing was, dad was away again and there was no one at home, although, what better way to spend the holidays? Boredom would have overcome me at one stage or another. The girl looked up from reading and glanced in my direction. She smiled and rolled her eyes at the doctor who was now inspecting a cut on her shoulder. A big red gash flawed her pristine white skin. I smiled back. I saw her flinch as the doctor, clad in rubber gloves prodded the shoulder. “Bloody doctors,” she mouthed. I nodded. I heard her say something to her mother when the doctors left. She nodded and helped her with her crutches over towards the glass door.
“Would you like some company?” The girl said, “I have nothing better to do so I thought I’d come over and say hello. I’m Al by the way.”
“I’m James. What happened to you?” I asked as she sat down on the chair by my bed. Her mother smiled and left.
“I was fighting with my step dad,” she whispered. Making sure her mum couldn’t hear, “and I was pushed off the balcony but I told mum that I crashed my motorbike.” She turned around to see if her mum was watching. She wasn’t. “What did you do to yourself?” I laughed.
“I actually did crash my motorbike. I didn’t slow down at an intersection and I was hit by a four wheel drive.” Al laughed.
“That’s funny. I do love my bike though.”
“If you don’t mind, why were you fighting with your step dad?” As soon as I had asked I regretted it.
“I’m sorry I was being nosey, you don’t have to answer that,” I said, quickly, going red. She smiled.
“That’s okay. He’s an idiot, always picking on me, he can’t handle the fact that I’m growing up and know he’s not for real. He was having another go at me about a week ago, he just came into my room and started yelling at me, he’s such a creep, I ignored him and went out onto the balcony, and he followed and pushed me. I fell two stories and he just left me!” Anger poured out of her mouth. “Sometimes mum is just so stupid, she will see I’m hurt and believe the stupid made up stories that I tell her. She is so clueless!” she hit the bed in frustration. I winced.
“Oh god, I’m so sorry!” Al started apologising.
“It’s okay.” I reassured her. She laughed.
“Here I am pouring my heart out to a complete stranger. I’m sorry; you must think I’m really weird.” I shook my head.
“No. I know exactly how you feel; my father is like that, he doesn’t care about anyone except himself and he has no idea that I am here, he left me on my own and went to Canberra for business.” Al looked understanding.
“Yep. My mums the same. She goes off on supposed business trips with the latest boyfriend or husband. I can’t believe she married this one. What does your mum do?” she asked. That same question had been asked twice now in the last fifteen minutes. It took awhile for me to answer.
“She died. About a month ago, in a car accident.” Memories flooded back in. The rain, dad coming home late smelling of whisky and the police coming to tell us that mum was dead. A tear escaped my eye and trailed down my cheek. Al noticed and covered my hand with hers.
“I won’t pretend I know exactly how you feel, but you can talk to me, we could be a great team, the lost and forgotten.” I laughed. She had a charm that was impossible to dismiss. We kept talking for a while, about everything from ourselves and families to likes and dislikes. Eventually I grew so tired that I fell asleep while she talked about her crazy kitten.
Weeks past and finally I was allowed to leave the hospital. When I arrived home the house was cold and empty. A note was stuck to the fridge door. It read “I’m off to Perth for a week, dad.” No explanation. No date. I rang Al because I needed to talk to someone, just to fill the silence. I poured out my feelings to her, about how it felt coming home to an empty house and how lonely I was.
“You’re my best friend James,” she said. Her words meant a lot to me, it meant I wasn’t alone in the world anymore.
“I need to visit my mother’s grave,” I said. “I don’t know why but I need to go there, will you come with me?”
Thirty minutes later we were standing beside the place my mother was buried. There were fresh flowers put there by friends, the marble headstone was inscribed with her name and date of birth and death. Then, underneath there was the poem I had written for her.
Mother give me wings to fly.
Give me strength to live.
Give me focus for work.
Give me love for you and love for others.
Mother let me fly above your world.
Let me be the eagle you love to watch.
Let me soar on the wind around you.
Mother let me sing you to sleep.
Help me be the one that helps you.
Let me save you from your sorrows.
Let me fly above to guide you.
Mother help me lead your way.
Let me be your guidance.
Mother let me be your mind.
To me you are the only one.
You are my life, you are my soul.
Mother let me be your son.
“That’s beautiful!” Al whispered. A cold breeze made her shiver; I took off my jacket and gave it to her, it made me sad that someone could hurt something so precious. I looked at her properly, Scuffed sandshoes, torn blue jeans and a faded top, her hair was pale blonde and tied back in a loose ponytail, her eyes were a clear green and her skin was pale but her cheeks were red with cold. I limped towards her, leaning on one of my crutches and wrapped my arms around her slim form; I felt a need to protect her, I needed her to protect me too, from myself. She pressed her freezing nose into my neck, her warm breath tickled slightly.
“It means a lot to me that you care,” she said. “I want you to hold me forever.” I would have except that it was starting to get dark and we were both shivering uncontrollably.
“We should get back home,” I said as we broke apart. The cold was making my hip ache. Before saying anything Al leaned over and kissed me briefly. I realised that I cared for her more than I had ever cared for anyone else before, not that there was anyone else in my life to care about. My first and only kiss came from Al that day, in front of my mother’s grave. I look back now and know that mum was happy for me. Happy for us.
The doctors told me not to drive with my extensive injuries but I didn’t listen. Instead I drove Al and I home. Looking back now I think it probably looked quite funny, the pair of us on crutches crossing the graveyard together. She had gotten her cast removed but she still needed the support. On the trip home we were stopped, due to an accident on the main highway. Glass littered the road and ambulances drove away from the scene, their sirens blaring. It brought back the memory of the night my mother died, the rain, police and my father returning home drunk with a bruise above his eye and his car smashed to pieces. Something in my brain suddenly clicked. My father’s favourite pub was two blocks west after crossing Eagle’s bridge and my mother’s dance studio was also on the west side of the bridge, both of my parents had taken the same route home. One made it home drunk, the other died. I felt the blood from my face drain away. Al put her hand on my shoulder.
“Are you ok?” she asked. “You’ve gone really white and you’re shaking.” I looked at her, tears streaming down my face.
“I know who killed my mother.” Six simple words which scared me witless. She looked puzzled.
“Who? And why suddenly now?” I looked ahead at the crash scene in front of me.
“My father, it just all clicked.” I put my head in my hands. What was I going to do? My life had just been torn in half. Al was silent, but then she touched my hand.
“Don’t forget, you will always have me.” I had lost my mother, my father and the few friends I had before the accident, but I never lost Al. I lost myself, and in doing that she lost me.
I don’t know how I did it but I got us both home in one piece. I dropped Al home and then faced my own empty home. I walked in the door and noticed my father sitting in the living room, a beer in his hand. He looked up from the TV and noticed my crutches.
“Where have you been? I told you not to get into trouble, but it seems that you can’t handle that. I got a call from the hospital when I was in Perth, Stupid. You are banned from using you’re bike now.” He was drunk as always. He threw his empty bottle at me, but I was used to it and ducked. I limped off to my bedroom. I don’t hate my father now I have forgiven him but I just don’t feel anything for him either. I hurt all over so I dug around in the bag of medical supplies the doctor had given me, retrieving the pain killers. Within twenty minutes I was asleep.
A full day passed without me rising from my bed, my father left again on yet another trip across the country, I only rose early the next evening when I heard a knock on the door, I could hear by the frantic knocking and the occasional sob that it was Al. Getting up was the hard part. I desperately wanted to but I was so stiff that it made it almost impossible. Finally I hobbled to the door, tripping twice on beer bottles. I was shocked to find Al hysterical with blood dripping down her face from a cut on her head and a bleeding nose.
“Al!” I gasped. “What happened?” I lead her into the kitchen and sat her down on a chair, she was sobbing so hard she couldn’t talk. I grabbed a box of tissues and a wet cloth and tried to stem the flow of blood, it took a few minutes for her to answer.
“My step father,” she choked and couldn’t go on.
“What did he do?” I asked, determined to find the answer.
“He hit me,” she said. “First just with his fist and then with a china plate.” I was shocked, how could someone hate her so much that they wanted to harm her, I did my best to comfort her but there was nothing I could do, we both had alcoholic fathers or step fathers. By the time she had calmed down it was eight p.m. Her eyes looked up at me; they were bottomless pits of sadness, rimmed with red from crying and blue from bruises, trails of mascara coloured her pale cheeks, her fringe was caked with blood, a face full of contrast. I guess at the time I knew that I had to get her out of the situation. It almost scared me that she was like me in many ways. She looked so tired, I still remember her face, the picture was not one I could ever forget.
“What?” she asked. I realised I had been staring.
“I’m sorry. I was just looking at your face, you’re a mess.” I hoped my words would not offend her.
“Why don’t you take a hot shower and then we can talk, there are clean towels in the cupboard.” I showed her were the bathroom was. While she was in the shower I tried to clean up the house a bit, I collected up the beer bottles and old newspapers; each bend to the floor was painful, by the time I had thrown out the last blood soaked tissue and empty beer can Al had reappeared. She had washed away the blood and mascara leaving her face plain and free, she didn’t need makeup to be beautiful, she was naturally, even bruising couldn’t hide it. Another tear escaped her eye.
“No one has ever cared for me the way you have.” She said. I sat down and motioned for her to do the same.
“What exactly happened today?” I chose my words carefully. Al breathed in deeply.
“I was in my room just reading and I dropped the book on the floor. My stepfather walked in and yelled at me for making a noise and waking my mother, he then hit me, making my nose bleed. So I ran through to the kitchen and he followed, then he picked up a plate off the bench and through it at me, I didn’t duck fast enough.” More tears streamed down my face. I guess I knew the rest. Al and I had a connection of some sort, both of us had abusive parents but her case was so much stronger than mine. I felt I needed to ask her one more question.
“I know it’s hard and painful but what else has he done?” the question seemed to frighten her, but she told me anyway, she seemed to open up to me.
“What ever I do isn’t good enough for him, I try to keep out of his way as much as possible but if I don’t go straight home from school he gets really aggressive, he once kicked me in the ribs because I was ten minutes late. After realising that he was so violent I learnt some self defence, when he went to punch me another time I defended and blocked his fist, little did I know it would make things worse because he picked up the nearest thing to hand which happened to be my hockey stick and started beating me over the back with it. The week after I quit hockey and returned the stick to the school. Since that day even watching the game makes me cringe.” I was horror stricken. To this day I still don’t understand how someone could hurt Al. Even though in the end I hurt her more than you can imagine. She continued talking.
“Everyday he comes home late from the pub and takes it all out on me. I am so scared of him!” The descriptions were graphic; I didn’t know what to do. I had no experience with things like that. I didn’t know how to help her. We kept talking about her life; about the things that her stepfather had done and about her dreams and then she mentioned that she wanted to fly.
“Wow.” I said. “That’s the same with me; I’ve always wanted to fly. Not in a plane or anything, just me, I wish I had wings.” Saying it out loud sounded weird but Al agreed with me.
“Yes I just want to be free, but I have pretty much given up hope with this life. Nothing’s going right and everything’s such a mess. I don’t know what to do. I can’t live but I’m afraid of death, if I die I’m afraid that no one will miss me, and no one will remember me the way I want to be remembered.” She started sobbing again. I realise now that although she cried so hard when she let out her deepest secrets Al was strong. When she lost me she cried for days on end, but she pulled herself together in the end, I admire that quality in her, I guess because I never had it.
“I’m not afraid of death.” I said. “Purely and simply because there is nothing left for me here. Death is another mystery to be discovered and why wait for a life that will never happen. My life will not happen until I die.” That pretty much summed up my feelings in four sentences. Al was exhausted after telling me some of what her life involved, she had relaxed more and wasn’t so jumpy. I made her a cup of tea but by the time I had come back from the kitchen she was asleep, I found a blanket and covered her with it, then went to bed myself.
I woke the next morning to the sound of crying, immediately I dashed out to the lounge room finding Al in tears yet again. The floor was strewn with tissues as if she had been crying all night. I sat down next to her and took her in my arms and let her sob into my shoulder. After a while she spoke, her voice thick with desperateness.
“Where am I meant to go?” she asked “I can’t stay here forever, your father will come back and make me go home.” Her eyes were deep green pools of sorrow. I wanted to say that we could run away together and live happily ever after but we both knew it wasn’t practical. What could I have done? I couldn’t tell her it would be alright because it wasn’t going to be. I took her by the shoulders and wiped the tears from her eyes with my thumb.
“I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do to make everything ok, I just don’t know.” I said. Al sighed.
“I know, I don’t know either. I just can’t go on the way I have been, and there is nothing I can do about it.” She stood up. “Well I guess I should make the most of being away from mum and my stepfather.” She padded along to the kitchen wiping the remaining tears from her eyes. I followed her confused, but she tried to be bright and happy. In the middle of breakfast the phone rang. The person on the other end was the last person in the world I wanted to talk to. My father.
“I want the house spotless when I come home tomorrow.” He said. “I’m bringing home someone and I want them to be treated with a bit of respect and I don’t want her to have to trip over your crutches or any beer bottles.” Her? My father was bringing home a woman only a month after his wife had been killed? This reminded me that it had been him in the first place.
“It was you.” I said. “It was you who killed mum; it was your car that day that pushed hers off the bridge, it was you when you were drunk that night and now you are bringing home a woman. You must like her and you must have known her for a while if you’re bringing her home, did you know her before mum died? Did you kill mum on purpose?” I was so angry that before he could answer I slammed down the receiver. I spent the next few minutes breathing heavily. I needed to get away, I went slowly back to the kitchen, Al was stacking the dishwasher.
“I need to get away,” I said “I need to go to Eagle’s bridge; I need to see the spot my mother died.” I frantically pulled on my shoes and scarf. It was cold outside and it looked like it was going to rain. Al followed me out the door and into the car.
“Who was on the phone? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“My father, I just need to go to the bridge.” I put the car in first and drove off. How could he betray mum and now have a girlfriend? How could he hurt me so much? The bridge emerged up ahead of me. Within a few seconds I was at the exact spot my mother’s car was pushed off the bridge. I could see the scratches in the paintwork and new metal to replace the twisted and broken guard rail; I rested my hand on the edge touching the cold surface, I couldn’t stand to hold it there; instead I reached out over the river and let my hand trail in the air. The first sign of a storm is when the wind drops down and the pressure in the air increases. The world around me went still. A drop of rain touched my outstretched hand. I looked into the sky. The wind suddenly started, whipping the clouds up into tall mountains. The storm hit with a clash of thunder and lightning flickered around me. A face appeared in the water, mums! Her voice called out to me and I knew what I needed to do. I stepped onto the edge of the railing, “I have always wanted to fly.” I shouted out to no one. “I have always wanted to have my own wings like an eagle.” The rain beat down on my head and I stepped off the edge and plunged down to the torrents of water, into my mothers waiting arms. All I could think of was flying; all I could hear was the wind whistling past my ears, all I could think of was that I was flying. My mother had finally given me wings.
Al left her stepfather and mother and moved in with a friend from the hospital. I was glad but also guilty about what I had done. Every day for a month she went to the spot on the bridge where both my mother and I had died, and she cried non-stop at my funeral. I liked my funeral. It was everything I had wanted it to be, my headstone was engraved with birds. Not many people came, mainly Al and my father with his girlfriend, a few doctors from the hospital which I had got to know and the headmaster from school but it was the way I liked it. I am so proud of Al; she started making paper cranes to keep herself busy. It took a long time but when she finished making 1000 of them she strung them up along the bridge. It brought tears to my eyes to see her cry, but at least she forgives me. I couldn’t live on earth. Now that I am dead I can watch over her and keep her safe and I never venture too far from her side. Even though Al can’t see me directly I know she can feel me, sometimes when she looks into the water underneath the bridge she can see my face, and sometimes she can see me flying up in the clouds. I am her guardian angel. With my own wings.