It’s not uncommon, apparently, for the newly bereaved to hear the voices of their dead. All the counsellors said so.
I’m not sure how much it helps, though, to know that. Does it really make anyone feel better, to think that there are lots of other people going crazy right along with them?
My friend Karen certainly didn’t seem to take much comfort from the idea. People were only trying to be kind, we both knew that, but there’s very little anyone can say in this kind of situation. They told her not to blame herself, but that was easier said than done. They told her that Hannah hadn’t suffered, but what kind of compensation is that supposed to be?
They usually finished by reminding her that her own daughter was still alive, but that just made it even worse.
Her little girl was alive. Mine was dead. My Hannah, my sweetheart, my little Pippi Longstocking who would never grow up.
Of course Karen was glad that her daughter survived. But that didn’t make it all right, did it? It didn’t make it okay. It was never going to be okay.
It was her turn to drive and she’d been speeding, distracted, worrying about getting home in time to clean up before her new boyfriend came round. The other driver was drunk. You can ask what if, and cry if only — and she did, frequently — but it doesn’t matter. Fault, blame, regret — it doesn’t change anything.
Well, maybe some things. The new boyfriend doesn’t come round any more.
She hasn’t left the house in days, now — just sits at the kitchen table, where we used to help the girls with their homework. She talks to Hannah a lot; crying, apologising, promising to make it up to her.
I tell her that’s pointless, that it’s not doing any good, but I know I’m not helping much, either.
The last time she did go out, she went to the chemist. To lots of chemists, because they don’t let you buy too many packets of paracetamol in one go any more.
She plays with the boxes, stacking them tidily on top of one another and then knocking them over. Very metaphorical, I tell her.
Of course, I know what she’s planning long before she starts crushing handfuls of the pills into two tall tumblers of banana-flavoured milkshake, but I don’t bother trying to talk her out of it. What’s the point? She’s not going to listen to me, whatever I say.
After all, she can’t really hear the dead.
Her daughter’s lying on the sofa, staring blankly at the television screen while cartoon characters chitter merrily away to each other. I watch Karen hand her the glass and tell her to drink it all up, then I turn around and smile reassuringly at my sweetheart. She’s been so very lonely lately.
‘Don’t worry, Hannah,’ I say. ‘We’ll both have someone to talk to, soon.’
Michelle Ann King lives in Essex, England, and is a writer of speculative, crime, and horror fiction. Her work has appeared in over a hundred different venues, including Strange Horizons, Interzone, Black Static, and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. Her favourite writers include Stephen King, Tana French, and Terry Pratchett. She has published two short story collections, available from Amazon and other online retailers in ebook and paperback format. Full details and links can be found at www.transientcactus.co.uk