Prompt – You have to notify a family of their loved one’s death.
“I’m so sorry. We did everything we could…”
Hearing those first three words, those regretful words, I simply shut down. Whatever else the doctor said was drowned out by the overwhelming sense of remorse. I might not have pulled the trigger, but it was my fault that my long-time friend was dead. For a single, fleeting moment, I didn’t believe what I was hearing until he took me to see his body.
“I can organise for someone to inform his family back home – “
“No, I’ll do it.”
I needed to do it. Telling them was the least I could do.
* * * * *
Full uniform. It was compulsory for any military officer that had decided to be a death notifier. The sky was dull grey with no sign of it clearing up soon. Clouds were frozen in place as if time really had stopped. Time stopping was of no use to me. If the universe or whatever higher power really wanted to help me, then time should have been reversed so I wouldn’t have to be stood here at all. I raised my hand to knock however I couldn’t. I couldn’t face them. I pulled at my stiff collar, desperately trying to loosen its strong grip around my throat. The uniform was restrictive in that moment, preventing me from doing my job.
My job should’ve meant that I died – not him. Shaking my head, I straightened out my uniform again. I had to do it. I had to tell them. I had to apologise for not doing my job.
I knocked. My knuckle hit the door three times. Each one felt like bullets shooting through my chest and stomach. No turning back now. Seconds passed. Was no one home? Just before I could turn away, a click from the door told me that I was still going to have to talk to them. A short, rotund woman with greying hair and a kind smile stood at the door.
“Billie? My God, I haven’t seen you in so long!”
She was happy to see me. That only made the job harder.
“Bill, is Simon with you?”
My mouth opened but no sound, no words, left my lips. I could feel my lip quivering. Keep calm. Compose yourself. But, how could I? Balls and chains prevented those heavy words from coming out. I could see the cogs turning behind her innocent blue eyes – they had the same huge, sorrowful, sapphire eyes – and now hers were filling with tears.
“Bill, where’s my Simon? Where’s my boy?” Her voice broke as she questioned me again.
Seeing her thoughts take her to that worst possible conclusion themselves only broke my aching heart more. Fragile as glass and now shattered into sharp fragments, my beaten heart remained caged in my chest. I had to say something, anything.
“I’m so sorry, Rose.” I choked out the words, “I’m so, so sorry.”
She shook her head desperately, fresh tears cascading down her paling cheeks.
“No, not my boy, not my Simon.” She cried, swaying on her feet.
As she collapsed to her knees, she continued to shake her head wildly, refusing to believe the conclusion that I couldn’t even say myself. Carefully, I knelt on the numbing stone step, in front of Rose, and wrapped my arms around her shaking body. We cried together. She had always been like a second mum to me. Seeing how rapidly her kind smile was wiped off her face and replaced with a look of pure woe and disbelief would have been enough to break anyone. I didn’t know how long we stayed like that but the next thing I knew, I heard the joyful giggles of children from behind us.
“Nana!” One voice exclaimed along with more footsteps, “Nana?”
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