How to save a life

My entry to the contest inspired by music. Inspired by 'How to save a life' by The Fray.


1. How to save a life

I sit, the paper crumpled in my hands, a hollow emptiness in the pit of my stomach. Gasps rip out of me, with no control. I can’t stop them, I can’t slow them. My hands begin to shake, and the gasps become sobs. I scrunch the paper in my left hand, screwing it up. My right hand flies to my mouth, slaps over it, trying to contain the cries. My whole body shudders with the effort of staying quiet. I can’t let anyone hear me. I can’t let them know. I can’t. This is her secret. Was.


“Are you okay?”

“Fine, yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“What happened to your wrist?”

“I… I was playing a game with my cat. She gets a bit violent.”


I could have seen this coming. I could have stopped it. I should have seen it. What kind of a friend am I? The sobs get louder, tearing out from between my lips. Tears run through the make-up on my face, black lines of mascara making tracks over my cheeks. I bring my knees up to my chin, tuck myself into a ball and just rock. I can’t do this without her. God… what have I done? I let her do this. I did nothing and everything all at the same time.


“You look lonely.”

“Erm… we’re in a room full of people. I’m just a bit tired.”

“Sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, you keep asking that but I’m fine.”


I went through exactly what she went through myself. I should have seen it coming. I know all the signs, and I know how she’d have been feeling. But then again, she’s the best actress I’ve ever seen. If she didn’t want us to know, we wouldn’t have. There were those times though, those cracks in the façade, when I saw real, deep sadness, that seemed to spiral right to her core. I saw it, and I asked, but I didn’t push hard enough. I didn’t want anyone to be hurting like I did, so I convinced myself she wasn’t. I told myself she really was fine. I fell for her act, hook, line and sinker, because I wanted to be fooled. I was an idiot. I bring my head back quickly, cracking it against the wall behind me. It feels good. It stops me hurting so much. I do it again. And again. And again. the tears dry up, the sobs become fewer, and my body stops shaking. I am fine. I am not falling apart without her. I am fine.


“What do you keep scribbling away at in that notebook?”

“Oh, nothing. I’m just writing. Working on a new story actually.”

“Ooh! Can I read it?”

“No! I… erm… I don’t want to show anyone until the idea’s fully formed.”


She cut her hair. Two weeks ago, she had long hair, and she chopped it all off. The times when I saw through her armour were becoming more and more frequent. It was almost like she wanted us to notice. Like she wanted someone to care enough to stop her, to talk to her. Whether she’d have listened or not I guess we’ll never know. She wanted us to notice, and we didn’t. She talked about death a lot more, but that was always just her. She always had a dark sense of humour. No one noticed that she was serious when she talked about dying, about why we were alive. Why we bothered. She was crying out for help, but we ignored her pleas. My eyes begin to prickle again, and tears spill from the lids. My body shakes once more with silent sobs as I realise she wanted us to stop her and we didn’t. We gave her the go-ahead. We let her do this.


“It’s boiling! I love summer.”

“I don’t.”

“Aren’t you hot in that jumper?”

“No. I’m fine.”


We were deliberately blind to her pain, because we wanted to be. It’s terrible to think of. My sobs turn into moans, then shouts. I call out, louder and louder in my guilt. In my grief. She is gone, and it is as good as my fault. Screams rip through my house as I haul myself from the floor, the paper still in my hand, and beat my fists against the wall. I ask her why, but she can’t hear me anymore. I tell her I would have stayed up with her that night, helped her. I’d have stopped her if she wanted me to. The words dissolve around me, and I feel trapped, walled in by the things I should have said. My door opens, and my parents run in, worried. My body shakes uncontrollably, sounds of raw pain echoing around. I slide down the wall, facing my parents, and curl up into a ball again. They ask questions, but I don’t hear them anymore. I hear nothing but her, nothing but the conversations I should have had, and the conversations we had instead. My mum prises the paper from my hand and reads, while I hug my knees, bury my head in my jeans to staunch the flow of tears. My hands are swollen and bruised from pounding on the wall. I clench them into fists, welcoming the pain. I may as well have her blood on my hands. My mother’s arms encircle me while Dad reads the note, and soon their arms form a protective barrier around me, stopping the voices reaching me. But I don’t want them to stop. I want to remember her forever.


“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She glances at the pavement in front of her house. “Yep. Bright and early for the maths exam.” She smiles at me. “Before you go, I have something to give you.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out a plain white envelope with my name printed on the front in gold pen. She takes a deep breath before handing it to me. “Read it tonight, just before you go to bed.”

“Can’t I read it earlier?” I ask, excitement spiking through me. I like receiving things. Especially surprise things.

“No. Promise you won’t read it until you go to bed?”

I fake sigh, making out that it’s a huge inconvenience. “Fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She wraps her arms around me and hugs me tight. She never hugs me. She never hugs anyone. “Goodbye,” she says.

I laugh a little. “I’m seeing you tomorrow, no need to be so dramatic.”

“I know, but we’re on study leave now, so it’s like we don’t go to the same school anymore. Pretend you’re never going to see me again.”

I giggle. “Okay.” I squeeze her tight, and say, seriously, “Goodbye, Emma. I’m going to miss you.”

“Me too. Goodbye Chessie. I love you.” She pulls back and goes inside her house, tears glistening on her cheeks.


“Goodbye,” I whisper into the night, the words caught by the net of my parents’ arms. “I’ll miss you.”

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