The sounds of the crowd behind me fade into a quiet ringing as my vision goes foggy and I fall to my knees, starting down at the glass underneath me.
Out of the corner of my eyes I can see the attacked building, burning still with firefighters still battling the flames. On the other side I see my wife’s studio. It doesn’t look damaged from the outside but I know on the inside her paintings are probably scattered across the floor, torn by the fallen glass from some window with stakes of wood littering the floor.
I start to howl as I imagine her broken, fallen body on the floor. So alone and cold, no warm blood flowing under her skin.
A corpse with no soul inside to make it breath or move.
I feel a pair of hands grabbing me under the arms and pulling me to my feet. At first I fight against them but as the despair takes me, I surrender to the hands.
“Sir, we need you to identify the body,” the person tells me and I want to scream at them to leave me alone, but I don’t.
This will be my last chance to look upon the face of my wife and no matter what gruesome sight might await me, I’m not prepared to pass up the opportunity.
The officer leads me over to the sidewalk where an ambulance is parked. They paramedics are running around frantically, as if they’re looking for someone to help, but I notice that there are only three or so injured people seated on the sidewalk.
I’m guided towards the back of the van where a single body lies under a white sheet. There’s no blood, no markings on it at all. It’s as if the person is sleeping, but I know that it’s not possible.
I steel myself as they pull back the sheet and even clamp my eyes shut tightly. My hands ball into fists as I take deep breaths, not wanting to open my eyes and see the sight that awaits me.
The officer lays his hand on my shoulder.
“Sir, I know this is hard, but we need to identify the body.”
Nodding, I slowly open my eyes.
Danielle looks at peace, one hand beside her face and the other resting on her chest. Her eyes are open and glassy, staring into the distance.
There’s no sign of harm except for a trickle of blood running down her temple and a scratch or two on her palm.
She looks perfectly beautiful lying there. It’s as if at any moment she’ll start to stir and sit up.
Without thinking, I move to her side and take hold of her palm, closing my eyes again so I can relish every moment of our last goodbye. Her hand’s cold and limp, nothing like the lovely woman I kissed just hours ago. I’ve never seen a dead person before and I never want to again. It serves as a reminder that our bodies are but a vessel without a promise.
I open my eyes again, blinking back the tears and turn to the officer.
“This is Danielle Charles. She’s my wife.”
The officer scribbles down in his notebook, nodding slowly.
“Mister Charles, we are very sorry for the loss of your wife.”
“Do you mind if I just sit here a while?” I ask, clamping on tighter to her hand.
The officer looks torn.
“Sir, it’s not safe here at the moment. The terrorists got out without any witnesses. They could be anywhere.”
“What if they weren’t the usual terrorists outside the city?” I ask. “Maybe it’s someone on the inside.”
The officer doesn’t look surprised at the suggestion.
“It’s a possibility, Sir. With the way things are going, nothing is a surprise anymore.”
“What’s your name?” I ask politely. He looks around my age, thirty or so. He has short sandy blonde hair and a stocky figure that reminds me of my father. Although he appears a hard man, he also gives off the impression of a kind person. Again, like my father.
“Carl,” he replies. “Carl Moser. I guess I can give you a few more minutes, but then I have to ask you to leave.”
I want to argue for more time, but I decide against it.
When Carl leaves I drop down inside the van and run my fingers over Danielle’s hand.
“I’m sorry this happened to you,” I whisper to her, chocking a little on the returning tears. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you from this evil.”
I want to wrap my hands around the throats of the men and women who did this to my wife and squeeze the life out of them, just like they stole hers.
I lean down closer to her face, expecting those beautiful blue eyes that captured my heart.
“Even in death you are a beautiful specimen. What does your soul look like, my dear? In a place where beauty has no limits I’m sure you’re a prize-winner.”
The tears are falling at a steady pace now and I quickly wipe my dripping nose on my arm. The pain in chest is raw and painful, but somehow I get the idea that I haven’t fully experienced the real pain. Mentally and physically, I think I’m waiting for one I can collapse onto our bed, clinging to the scent of her that I know will one day fade away from me, trying to savour each memory.
Not caring about others, I lie down beside her, resting my forehead against her. I know if people were to see they would think it to be gross, but I’m not throwing away these precious seconds because of others.
I run my finger over her forehead. I’m guessing she got hit in the temple, the perfect spot to be hit if you wanted to die. I can just imagine her, rushing desperately towards the door, only to have a piece of wood fall from nowhere and…
I squeeze my eyes tightly shut and try to block out the horrible thoughts.
Reaching out gently, I slowly close her eyes, putting her body to an eternal sleep. I kiss the back of her hand and slowly and carefully lie it on her chest.
Sitting up, I take one final look at her. She looks so peaceful and delicate. I can only wish I could wind back the clock and spend so much more time with her. Time is the silent enemy, ticking away the seconds of our life and we never know when it’s going to come to an end.
Wiping my nose again, I slowly pull the sheet over her head again and shakily stand to my feet.
Looking around, feeling empty to the world, I notice just how chaotic it is.
The people’s faces are etched with fear as they struggle against the forces retaining them. I wonder what it is they want to do if they were to break through. There’s no one around to blame for the attack.
Feeling anger and sorrow boiling under my skin, I kiss my palm and press it on Danielle’s forehead.
“I’ll make them pay for this, Danielle. I’ll make sure of it.”
With that, I turn away, taking deep breaths to stop my tears. There will be plenty of time to mourn for my beloved, but I have a job to do.
I need to tell Rose.
Due to the attack in the city, the students are assembled in one big hall that usually holds the rollcalls and end of the year productions. Here the children are to wait until the all clear is given by authorities and they can go home.
This has never happened in our city so as I walk through the groups of children, I can see how unorganised everything is. Instead of staying seated and keeping quiet, they’re gathered into groups and talking loudly. Some are laughing, but others are clearly struck with fear.
The teachers run around everywhere, trying to get order somehow but aren’t doing a very good job.
I search for a familiar face, trying to find anyone that can help me find Rose.
I recognize one of her teachers, a lady Danielle and I sat down with for our parents and teacher meeting. Moving quickly, I seize her arm.
“Miss? My name is Jonathan Charles and I’m looking for my daughter.”
She looks hot and flustered, stressed to the max. Usually she looks professional with not a hair out of place, but the humidity of the building, even with the doors and windows open, have taken a told on her. Her hair bun has gone wonky with strands falling out all over the place and her light blue blouse has come untuck from her skirt. Usually she’s wearing high heels but upon looking down, I see she’s switched to barefoot. Probably the smartest idea in the given situation.
I quickly scan her nametag, trying to remember her name.
“Hello, Mister Charles,” she breathlessly brushes the hair from her face. She’s out of breath and far too old to be in such a situation.
“Do you need a glass of water?” I ask with concern, momentarily forgetting Rose. “Do you need to go outside?”
“Oh I can’t leave, dear,” she laughs without amusement. “I have to keep order.”
She scans the hall and frowns. We both agree that her plan isn’t going very well.
“Please, Miss Rivers, I need to find Rose.”
“Ah yes,” she nods and peers around, brow furrowed. “I thought I saw her in one of the back corners with a group of friends. I’d offer to take you to her, but I need to get some sort of order.”
Before I can say anything else, she disappears in the crowd.
Shoving kids aside, I hurry my way through the mass, trying to reach one of the corners. I think, and I’m sure the teachers and many other parents would agree, that they’ll have to come up with a new plan. A child could go missing and they wouldn’t even notice.
I eventually make it to the first corner and search each child’s face. When I don’t find Rose, I start to ask the students.
“Do any of you know Rose Charles? I need to find her.”
Most of them ignore more and some don’t even hear me, but those that do don’t know her or don’t know where she is.
Starting to panic, I make my way towards the next corner.
I eventually find Rose seated with a few of her friends, some I recognize but don’t remember their names. When she sees me moving towards her, concern flickers behind her eyes and she quickly stands up.
“Daddy?” she asks, her voice trembling slightly.
I close the space between us and pull her against me tightly, pressing her forehead against my chest and holding her as tight as I can.
“Dad, what’s wrong? Why are you here?”
“We need to go,” I tell her as we pull away, resting my hand on her cheek. “Say goodbye and grab your stuff.”
“Have you been crying?” she asks and I can see the fear rising in her. I rarely cry, the last time being when we watched the old classic Lion King. She knows it takes a lot to get a tear out of me, or a break in my demeanour, but I can’t tell her here.
“Not hear, Sweetie,” I tell her. “Please just grab your stuff.”
We don’t bother telling the teachers we’re leaving. They’ll figure it out one way or another and I can’t be bothered trying to catch one while they’re dashing around.
Rose stops asking questions and sits quietly in the car, resting her head on the window, as I drive us home.
“Did you hear about the attack?” I ask carefully and she nods.
“They made an announcement over the speakers and we were all ushered into that horrible hall. They need a better plan.”
“Agreed,” I smile slightly, but the smile soon disappears. I can feel the tears rising in me again, but I give them no mind.
When we get home, I follow Rose into the house. She makes her way to the kitchen, dumping her schoolbag in the corner and takes a seat at the table. I follow slowly behind, my feet dragging slightly. I’m not prepared to tell her she’s lost her mother, but I know it’s my responsibility as a father to be strong for both of us.
Rose sits patiently, watching me carefully, worry etched over her face.
“Why are we here?” she eventually asks, resting her hands on the table and staring at me intently. “And where’s mum? Shouldn’t we have picked her up to?”
I don’t want to be blunt, but I know no other way.
“She’s dead, Rose.”
Horror is reflected over her face and she falls back against her chair. I see the emotions flickering at rapid pace.
Denial, horror, sadness, worry.
“What happened?” she manages to ask, chocking a little as tears start to fall down her cheeks.
“They attacked the building across from the gallery,” I explain, trying my best to keep a calm voice. “The shockwaves from the explosion caused the second of the floor of the gallery to collapse a little. Your mother.. she was hit on the head.”
Rose’s hands fly to her face and she starts to sob, uncontrollable and painful sobs that cause me to cry again.
I stumble from my chair and make my way towards her, reaching out to her.
She collapses against my chest, wrapping her arms tightly around my neck and pressing her face into my neck.
“Why?” she cries. “Why mum?”
“I don’t know,” I cry and press my cheek against her head. “Bad things happen for no reason.”
This only makes Rose cry harder and louder, clutching me even tighter. My cries join in with hers and we stay like that, for how long I don’t know.