Starting Over

The world seems to have ended when Tom's father dies in the middle of his AS exams. He struggles to cope with life, with coping all alone.

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5. Planning ...

'Well at least that’s over and done with' Mel said as we sat on the sofa together later that night. The minister had left about half an hour ago and Doreen had gone home after washing the cups. For most of the night the minister had gone through the service and talked about what I wanted and how I was feeling. I was now feeling quite spaced out. Here I was, just 17 and having to organise the funeral of my father. I knew that he'd tried to talk about it during the last year, but to be honest whenever he did I shut my ears. Even towards the end when it was obvious, even to me, that he wasn't going to last long I still wouldn't listen. It was as though I was closing that side off, refusing to accept the inevitable. The minister was patient and sympathetic towards me. She'd known my family for years and seemed very sad that he'd died. She talked warmly about him and his contribution to local life. Tears of joy tinged with sadness cascaded down my cheeks. At times I thought I saw a tear in her eye but I may have imagined it. All the way through Mel sat at my side holding my hand proffering tissues when I needed them, hugging me when the tears came in huge gulps and kissing me gently at times when the despair overcame me completely.

Eventually small things came through my addled mind, things that I must have heard him say, things that I had hidden from my sight in the far dark regions of my mind. Finding one brought another tearful session, a painful reminder of a conversation I didn't want to remember. At one point I'd stormed from the room fists clenched. I felt as though she was making me go over memories I wanted to forget, trying to extract from me details and events so personal that they were just for me and me alone. They left me in my bedroom for ages. I paced around occasionally picking up an item. I remember throwing a ball at the wall repeatedly in frustration, each time a little harder, each time the imaginary wound in my mind gaped open, red raw.

Eventually the inevitable happened and the ball hit something on my bedside table sending it crashing to the floor. The sound of glass breaking brought me back to the moment. I bent down and picked the object up. it was a photo frame, frowning I picked it up and a shard of glass pierced my fingers, scarlet red blood appearing and dripping down the frame. Holding my bloody hand away I glance down at the broken glass, now resplendent with streaks of red. Through the cracked glass I saw the picture of my dad, Mel and I on holiday in Filey, his smiling face looked up at me. The tears flooded out of my eyes and dripped onto the blood on the photo making it run across the surface. 

The door opened and I saw Mel stood there hands on her hips.

'What the hell do you think you're doing John?' she spat at me. 

She stopped dead in her tracks though and looked down at me. I looked up into her face. She left the room quickly and moments later reappeared with the toilet roll. Kneeling in front of me she took hold of my bloody hand and pressed tissue into the open wound. I yelled as she pressed on hard.

'Serve you right, you damned idiot. What the hell are you doing? That woman downstairs is trying to help you, trying to give your father the send-off he deserves. You're not helping yourself or him acting this way. Christ John, you can be a real w*nker at times.'

'Oh f*uck off then' I said angry again, she really didn't understand what was the problem.

She slapped my face hard. I felt the pain across my cheek and balled my fists anger coursing through my veins like adrenalin clouding my judgement.

'Don't you dare John; you know you'll come off worse. What's up with you?' she said angrily

I felt my body slump. Even in anger I never could hit Mel but she couldn't see it was so distressing. She still had a father, still had a mother and family life. What did I have left to live for?

'Look John. You need to do this, I know I isn't pleasant but she only wants you to put your mark on this funeral. It's the last thing you can do for him you know. If you're going to fall apart then don't do it just now. Wait and get through this. In the future you'll look back and really regret that you didn't do him or you justice' Mel said tenderly continuing to hold my hand, stemming the flow of blood.

Looking at her again thinking how she'd come to my aid, I felt so grateful. She didn't need to be doing this for me; she could just have left me. She smiled back at me.

'Come on John, let’s get this sorted and then go and finish this', she stated leading me into the bathroom where she dressed the wound with some bandages she'd found in a redundant first aid kit.

'They're out of date, but it won't kill you,' she said when she'd finished. A little red blood was seeping through the bandage but on the whole it was as good as it could be. I sat on the edge of the bath whilst she finished tying the knot. 

'OK john, ready for this?' Mel asked.

I nodded and smiled. Mel smiled back and leant down and kissed my cheek wiping the dried tears from them. Standing up I looked at my image in the mirror. I looked in a real state. Leaning over the sink I splashed water on my face and Mel passed me a towel. Looking again I saw my eyes were still looking as if someone had hit me but at least I looked better.

I went downstairs and apologised to Doreen and the minister. They smiled at me and made murmurs that it was OK. The rest of the evening went as well as I suppose it could have done. I started to remember little things that he'd asked for. The hymn he wanted sung, the music he'd chosen for the service and the last song he wanted playing. My dad had always been into music. I’d been brought up listening to seventies prog rock from the likes of Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes. It was music that thrilled me. I had little time for the pop music that my friends listened to. We'd gone to concerts all around the country watching bands that he thought I'd like or he wanted to see. We'd done Live 8, High Voltage but the highlight for us was seeing Genesis reform and play in the UK. I remembered the tears in his eyes when they had played Carpet Crawl at the end of the set, how he had hugged me as we sang along to the song. 

He was a big fan of Billy Bragg and had taken me repeatedly to see him play whenever he was near. I'd even been bought a Stagg guitar like Billy played for good results in my SATs Encouraging me to play he'd listened to my painful attempts to master the tunes and even put up with my off tune singing. I knew he'd made a request for me to play at his funeral. 'Anything by Billy, John' he'd asked. That had been days ago as he struggled to stay awake amidst the powerful painkillers, his face contorted in pain. 

I told the what he'd said. I saw Doreen start to cry as I mentioned it and the minister raise an eyebrow at the thought. After a short discussion they realised I was determined to go ahead with it. The rest was a bit of a blur to be honest. Doreen stepped in and made some of the decisions for me about where and what would happen. Eventually the minister got me talking about my day and then I couldn't stop. I told her lots of little things about us, the time we'd gone camping in the lakes and forgotten the tent and had to come all the way home again. The concerts he'd taken me to and the fun we'd had, those wonderful holidays in Filey which Em invariably had been part of. The walks along the Brigg looking at rock pools. It was sad to think that we would never ever do that. You don't just lose a person when your father dies you lose a friend and a way of life. I wondered how I would cope.

Mel and I sat together for a while afterwards. I realised I was still holding her hand. I leant back on the settee and she put her head on my chest.

'You sure you can sing something, it's going to be traumatic enough' she asked tentatively stroking my leg absentmindedly.

'Well I want to try, it was one of the last coherent things he ever said to me,' I replied. 

'do you know what you're playing?' 

'Mmm, you know his favourite was always Saturday Boy, but I have another song in mind' I said

'Which one?' she asked.

I told her and she hugged me tight.

'Are you sure?' she said concerned

I nodded and smiled

'It's the only one really' I said

We sat again thinking both I think lost in our own thoughts and worlds. It was a while before either of moved.

'Come on John, time for bed' Mel eventually said.

Reluctantly I got up and followed Mel up the stairs. I disappeared into my bedroom feeling tired. I stripped off and got between the sheets. I switched out the light but quickly put it back on. Thoughts of the previous night flooded back and I scanned the room looking for their return. I jumped slightly as the door opened. Mel breezed in wearing my old t-shirt. She pulled back the sheets and clambered in the bed beside me.

'What?' I exclaimed moving to the other side of the bed

'Well if you have nightmares, I'll be here for you' she said, 'don't worry your virtue is safe with me. I just want to sleep,'

She switched off the light and put her head on my chest. I held my breath as she snuggled to the side of my body. She might be OK with being with me but my body was reacting in a different way.

'It's OK Tom, just sleep' she said kissing me lightly, 'I won't take offence'

She fell asleep quickly and I soon heard her lightly snoring.

I lay awake for a while not daring to move lest she misconstrued my intentions. Eventually I managed to fall asleep.

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