Mum: (sticking her head out of the back door) Daniel, are you out here?
Daniel: I’m reading. (He tilts the stack of papers to show her that it is his Star Wars film script that he has returned to)
Mum: Dad and I need to talk to you about something (her voice snaps in half) it’s about Jasmine.
Daniel: (with a throat that feels like selotape) OK.
Dad: (squeezing beside her into the half-opened doorway) inside, Danny Boy, OK?
(Daniel stands and lets his parents’ hands fold him back into the kitchen.* Everything is handled with care but Daniel does not yet know that this is not because they are afraid of breaking him but because they fear they have already broken something else. Someone else.)
Mum: (opening and closing her mouth without knowing how to start) Daniel, we- (she turns hopelessly to her husband who bulldozers his forehead with his knuckles.)
Dad: (with a voice that seems to have been diluted with helium) that was Auntie Cathleen on the phone. She, um, she told us –
Daniel: (Tapping the table in a pre-emptive attempt to remedy words as of yet unspoken) Please just tell me, if it’s about Jasmine then I want to know. It doesn’t make it any better if you tell me slowly.
Dad: (The truth comes like a whale surfacing and spouting) Jasmine killed herself, Danny, I’m sorry. Ryan knew, I’m sorry.
Daniel: What are you saying sorry for? It wasn’t your fault.
Dad: because I’m sad and I don’t know what else to say.
(The three hang a moment and then crease in upon each other like flat-packed furniture.)
*A SHORT NOTE:
Despite his love of science, Daniel still holds his love for make-believe, and it is this love that once led him to wonder whether walls remember the things they enclose. Sometimes he still wonders if buildings evaluate as well as hide the lives of their inhabitants.
• It is a big church, bigger than it could ever be guessed to be from the exterior. It is, in fact, bigger than normal today, as it houses half a village and yet still feels empty.
• The weather is made of patchwork and so the stained-glass-sunlight swirls intermittently in and out of the stones.
• Both density and fragility are present. In the weighty perfume of the flowers and in the people themselves.
• People creep into pews as though afraid of finding dark things hiding in them.
• There are lots of packets of tissues being waved around, passed between families of humans who have un-frozen enough to weep. Whether they weep for the girl or for their now-shadowed village is debateable. Perhaps they themselves do not know; perhaps they bought themselves tissues because they were planning to attend a funeral, not because they felt sad.
• The boy called Daniel is in the front pew with all the other speakers. They all pat him on the shoulder and tell him how brave he is.
• His parents sit behind him, they don’t see much of the church; there are too many other things sitting in their eyes.
• They do note, however, that their estranged neighbours must have left the funeral invitations where they dropped on the door mat. Neither the water-colour French family nor the rural Londoners have found their way under this canopy of handkerchiefs.
• The boy called Daniel doesn’t have cue cards or a prompt sheet, he doesn’t have tissues bulging out of his pockets, he doesn’t have a black shirt and tie. He has knuckles that crush in and out, in and out, in and out, in and out, in and out, in and out, in and out.
• His neck contorts beneath his face and the tears he isn’t crying can be read in the tendons that rise there.
• He thinks that church is an oddly designed space, too many people sat at the bottom and too many caves between the vaults that make the ceiling. The congregation congeals and fossilises beneath all that air.
• The vicar crosses his body like his fingers make shields and then crumples forwards. He reminds Daniel of a snowdrop, bowing to the Crucifix in his white and green robes.
• Daniel knows that he must stand momentarily.
• He counts the seconds down in sevens.
• He counts the seconds down in footsteps.
• He counts down the rustles of paper
• And the floor tiles to the lectern.
• And the number of un-bloomed heads on
• The coffin of his eternally un-bloomed sister.
Daniel: (unsure how much space to put between his voice and the microphone) I know I’m supposed to talk about Jasmine but I don’t know much about people and it turns out I don’t know much about my sister either. So I’m going to tell you the things I understand.
Daniel: (he coughs in order to remind his throat how to function and then can’t work out where to put his coughed-on hands.) Some facts about my sister that you probably know: My sister is called Jasmine. She is fourteen forever. She likes the colour turquoise and eating cornflakes at bedtime. She pushed herself out of our hall window.
Congregation: (subconsciously gasping and grasping at the order-of-service) Oh!
Daniel: Now she’s just a name and a box and some flowers.
Daniel: Some facts about my sister that you probably don’t know: My sister is called Jasmine. She is more like a flower than we realised. She is also more like a star. Because when stars die they are so far away that we don’t notice until much later, when they stop appearing in our sky. Because it takes so long for the light to travel all this way that the stars we look at are not actually all still there. Jasmine is a star. She died a long time ago, but nobody saw because she’d gone such a long way away from us by then.
Daniel: When stars die they have three options: become a white dwarf, become a neutron star, or become a black hole.
So which is Jasmine?
The automatic response would be that she is a black hole and we can no longer see her, we just feel her effects as all the light and all the everything falls into her gravity. The truth is that this is not the case.
As a white dwarf or a neutron star, Jasmine would now just be a smaller denser version of what she was before which is perhaps true because it sometimes feels like Jasmine is now compacted into sharp and heavy pieces that we carry around with us.
Congregation: (shuffling in their seats) …
Daniel: (reeling his thoughts back from outer-space) Before I get carried away talking about stars and life-cycles and things that nobody else finds interesting and the fact that matter expelled from stars when they die can eventually accumulate into new star-forming nebulae, I think I need to tell you that the question ‘which is Jasmine?’ doesn’t have an answer.
Daniel: (beginning tentatively and gathering momentum as he goes) the thing is that, with stars, these are not actually options – there is no decision made – the fate is determined by the original mass of the star. And it’s hard to calculate the massiveness of my sister. And it’s stupid to try to find answers by looking at a book about space. The thing is that my sister might be like a star but she is not actually a star and so I run out of being able to talk about her. My sister is actually a dead girl in a box (he breathes with the ruffled congregation) and therefore she can’t be made to fit around science. She is too big for what I know and understand.
Some facts I probably don’t know about Jasmine: She doesn’t like Star Wars as much as she pretends to. She makes so many decisions based on me that she doesn’t know how to make decisions based on herself. She is like a place that you visited once when you were young and when you go back there its shrunken and lumpy and unfamiliar and you realise that you’ll never get back the full-size version but at the same time you’ll carry it around with you forever in your head.
A fact I do know about Jasmine: she wants to tread as lightly as she can when she leaves.
• The boy called Daniel is sat on his own at the kitchen table.
• The floorboards sing above his head; trying to distract him from his handiwork.
• It is raining; drops fall from his eyes into the paint pots.
• He’s finding it hard to ignore the way that they hang there but he knows that he hasn’t got enough spare hands to wipe himself clean.
• The local newspaper has been spread across the varnish oak veneer and a small part of him is occupied with the fact that local news is always much stupider than national news. He registers that a primary school have planted a tree and that an old woman has vanity published her memories of the war and that residents are campaigning to get road markings repainted. He struggles to see the significance of any of these stories and thinks instead that he could fill the space with far more important things.
• Dribbled paint disfigures the face of a WI member who’s raised £40 selling marmalade.
• Fear disfigures everything else. Gorgon-eyed photographs scrutinise his hands for blots.
• His thoughts keep over-lapping; Jasmine dominates only to be pushed away by panic which is, in return, pushed away by determination which is then dwarfed by Jasmine. Politicians debate territory inside his head and it’s hard to establish how he feels about any of them. He wishes they’d stop shouting and let him think about marmalade jars and August’s death.
• Daylight has receded like the tide when the beach beneath plateaus. The boy called Daniel doesn’t think it was all that long since the sun waited up this late.
• It’s not exactly dark; it’s just blue and the taps throw green shadows into the washing-up bowl in the sink.
• The forks regimented next to the kettle have monstrous silhouettes.
• Flies suicide bomb into the ceiling lamp.
• Daniel tilts his neck to the left to stretch away the anxiety that’s settled there, and perhaps to tip the top soil of his mind out of the way.
• His hands contain a miniature space ship which almost looks ready to depart. A corner of grey plastic remains and he scares it away with utmost caution.
• The way that Jasmine dealt with spiders.
• Maybe it is at this point that he decides, or maybe he’s known the spacecraft’s destination for a while now.
• Finished, he sets the model down on the tray designated for paint drying and carries the tray upstairs, across the choir of floorboards.
• He backs through the bedroom door and doesn’t look at the items he shares the space with. It’s a long thin room with a bed at one end and books around the door.
• They look sad in the gloaming – out of practice and out of time. Only half the spines are broken.
• The boy called Daniel sees only the bedside table on which the Apollo 12 is pedestalled.
• He leaves, locates his anti-bacterial hand gel, and shuts Jasmine’s door behind him.