After Life

For the More Than This competition.

Emma's best friend has died. She longs to understand what happened, but a letter asks more questions than it answers.


1. Anything is better



  I sink to the floor, the letter crumpled in my hand. Warm tears stream down my face but I barely notice them. I am numb, I am empty and I must be so selfish, so selfish, but the only thing I can even begin to feel is anger – anger at myself, anger at the world, anger at her and everything that happened.

  It’s the anger making the tears spill over, I tell myself. Just the anger.


  The news is everywhere the next day. The school corridors buzz intermittently with half-truths and wild rumours that fade out as I walk pass and intensify when I’ve gone past. The letter is scrunched up somewhere in my room. I don’t know where. I hurled it at a wall last night and didn’t bother looking for it after.

  The words are all ingrained in my head anyway.

  Dear Emma,

  It feels weird sitting down to write a letter. Really weird. I’d normally just text you (even now my eyes keep darting over to my phone) but I won’t. I have to do this properly, I guess.

  I just feel like you deserve a proper explanation.

  I walk upstairs to my locker room with my jaw set. I don’t want them to see me getting all emotional. I don’t want their false sympathy, their pity, the empty, meaningless apologies. It’s not me they should be apologising to, and it’s too late for Kira now.

  I’ll begin at the beginning – stupid phrase that, isn’t it? You always begin at the beginning, whether it’s actually the beginning or it’s just your beginning. In all honesty, I’m not too sure if I’m going from the start or not, but I suppose I’m getting off the point. I know I am. It’s just not an easy letter to write I guess.

  The thing is, I’ve been depressed for a while. There, I said it.

  The moment I go through the doorway, all conversation stops, and all eyes turn on me. I keep my head down and try to stop my hands from shaking but I can’t do it and I can’t even open my locker and they won’t stop shaking, why won’t they stop shaking?

  It’s not anyone’s fault that I got like this. It’s just me. My head’s all screwed up. God only knows why, but I’m a bit of a mess – well, more than just a bit of a mess if you’re reading this.

  Everyone is still staring at me. I can feel their eyes burning holes in the back of my neck. There’s a boa constrictor wrapping himself around my chest and squeezing and squeezing. My breath is coming too quickly and I can’t breathe and all I can think is that I have to get out of here.

  There were things that didn’t help. I know that much. People didn’t really like me, did they? And that’s not their fault so don’t go blaming them. It’s just the way things were. God, I’m talking in the past tense now. It’s the way things are, I should say. I’m an odd-bod, and there’s no point denying it.

  I turn and run from the room. I can’t stay in here with the people pretending they care when they’re the reason she’s dead. They’re nothing more than murderers.

  I suppose that’s my fault again. Most things are, really. There’s no one I can blame for this apart from myself.

  If you’re reading this, then it all got too much. I couldn’t handle it and I ended it.

  My eyes burn and I try to swallow the tears, but there’s a lump in my throat and the tears spill over.

  I’m sorry, Emma. I can’t really see you missing me but you’ll blame yourself. You can’t blame yourself, Em. It’s not your fault, I promise. You helped me a lot, really you did. It’s not your fault that I couldn’t take it anymore.

  “Emma? Oh Emma, come with me.”

  I look up into the face of Miss Hughes, my form tutor. I can’t speak so I just nod and follow her to her office.

  I don’t want you to be sad, either. You’re the only person who might be, and I just want you to know that I think this is for the best. My life is going nowhere. I’m not clever like you. I’m not a likeable person. If you’re one and not the other, that’s fine. But if there’s nothing good about you then what hope is there?

  “Sit down, Emma. Do you want a drink of anything?”

  I still can’t talk, so I shake my head. Miss Hughes sits down behind her desk and takes her glasses off, and tucks a strand of her short blonde hair behind her ear. For a moment she doesn’t say anything, she just looks down at a pile of paperwork with a sad look in her eyes.

  See, what I’m hoping is that there’s something better out there. Something more than school and exams and loneliness. I just feel like something’s missing, you know? There has to be something bigger and better than all of this. I think some people can find it in their lives, and maybe some people are born with it, but for me I just don’t think I’ll ever find it. I don’t think I really have a purpose.

  “It’s my fault.”

  Miss Hughes looks at me in astonishment. “What?”

  “It’s my fault,” I say again, my voice cracking.

  “Oh Emma, it’s not your fault at all. It’s no one’s fault, not Kira’s, not yours, not anyone’s. You can’t blame yourself for this,” she says, “you’ll drive yourself insane.”

  I shake my head at her. “No but it is. It is. She wrote....” My voice falters for a moment, but I breathe deeply and force myself to carry on. “She wrote a letter, see. She wrote me a letter.”

  Miss Hughes pauses, the news sinking in. “And what did she say? Did she say it was your fault?”

  “No, she didn’t, but she-“ I stop again, the words getting stuck in my throat. “She wrote this whole letter, right? And she explains everything in it, absolutely everything. But she didn’t tell anyone how she felt. She didn’t feel like she had anyone to turn to. Don’t you get it? I was her friend. I was supposed to be the person she could talk to but she couldn’t talk to me. She couldn’t talk to me!”

  The last paragraph comes into my head unbidden, and I really start crying then.

  I’ve been like this for a long time, Em. A really long time. But now I won’t have to feel so empty. I’m moving on to something better. It has to be better. Anything would be better than this.

  “Emma, you must listen to me. You were not the problem. It wasn't that she couldn't talk to you, it was just that she couldn't really talk to anyone. You were her friend, you said so yourself, and that was the best thing you could have been. She knew you cared about her, Emma. She knew."

  Neither of us speak for a moment. I study my nails, the chipped nail varnish, the rough edges where I've bitten them, and I know Miss Hughes is watching. My breathing is under control, and my hands aren't trembling nearly as much as they were before.

  "I don't know about you, Emma, but I'm not religious in the slightest. I don't believe in a higher power, and I don't think that something like this could be the will of any god. But whether you believe in it or not, there's something comforting about thinking that she is in a better place. It won't make you miss her any less. Nothing can do that. But will it make things a little easier to bear, thinking that she's happy and at peace now? Maybe."

  I'm nodding my head but I don't know if I agree. My doubts must show on my face because Miss Hughes smiles and sighs. "I don't know. I'm no philosopher. I'm not a counsellor or a psychologist, but I do know one thing. Things will get better, Emma, I promise."

  She looks as though she has more to say, but a bell rings, signalling the beginning of lessons - and truth be told, I'm relieved. 

  "I have a class now, I'm afraid, but come and see me anytime, okay?"

  I nod and stand up to leave. I walk out of the office into the bustling corridor, and looking at the people milling about, chatting and laughing, I realise that nothing has changed for them. They are carrying on as normal.

  Kira may be gone, but that doesn't mean I should just cut myself off. I don't think she would have wanted that.

  Life has to go on.


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