Pale walls, uncomfortable chairs, stiff sheets. The smell of disinfectant overpoweringly strong, trying to cover the traces of death and decay. The humming of the machine, the beeping, the flick of the switch.
She looked down at the body in front of her, wondering if its soul was still hiding somewhere inside, or whether it had left, leaving behind an empty shell. Hollow, like the chocolate eggs now lining the shelves for Easter. Easter, the time of birth and new life. Ironic really.
The little girl on her lap started to fidget, calling for mama; one podgy fist rubbing a leaking eye, one small thumb occupying a down-turned mouth. "Mama's gone Lilly" she heard herself saying. She looked down again at the corpse lying in front of her. Mama's gone.
Hours went by, or so it seemed, and the girl and her sister remained there. Sitting. Hoping. "Mama wake up soon?" Anya-May sighed and held the little girl close. "No Lilly, Mama is dead. Mama won't wake up". She picked up the confused child and, with a final glance over her shoulder, exited the room. They were in their own world as they left the hospital. To passers-by they could have just been two siblings walking along in a daze; the elder trying to comfort the younger. Anya headed towards the beach, not wanting to arrive home to an empty house and have to face the truth. They would never see their mother again.
She skipped along beside him, her hand disappearing in his. They stopped at the ice cream stand, buying two strawberry cones, and one chocolate one for her…with added sprinkles. Her favourite. They sat down on the bench, and she giggled when she saw how far Mama was behind them. Mama would pretend to be annoyed, she knew, but would soon forgive them when she saw the treat they had for her. Strawberry cones were her favourite.
At last the familiar figure sat down beside her, tickling her under the chin and asking why they had left her behind. She laid her hand on her Mama's bump, squealing with joy when her future brother or sister kicked her hand. "Mama! It kicked, it kicked!" She sat there swinging her legs and licking her ice cream tenderly, making sure she didn't lose a drop of it to the floor below. She loved these days, out at the beach with her mama and papa. She couldn't wait until the baby came…she would be able to share her dolls with it, and would have someone to play hide and seek with when it was raining. After all her mama and papa weren't very good at that game…
"Why did Mama go? Did she not want to see us anymore?" Lilly climbed into the bath, sending great heaps of bubbles all over her sister. "Why didn't she stay for a bit longer?"
"You can't choose when you die Lilly. It just…happens. She had served her purpose in life…it was her time to go". She poured water over the young girl's head, careful not to get any in her eyes. "Of course she still wanted to see us, and she still will. She will always be looking after us."
"Always. She is our…Guardian Angel. If you ever want to talk to her, she will be right there. Even if you can't see her."
The little girl giggled when her sister blew bubbles at her, and responded by splashing her with water. She loved bath time. "Where do people go when they die?"
Anya smiled as she washed Lilly's hair. "Well, an Angel comes and collects them, and they go up to Heaven."
"It's a beautiful place, up in the clouds. You can ride around all day on big white horses eating candyfloss. Everyone is friends with everyone else, and everyone is happy all the time" Anya grinned as she saw the little girl's eyes light up.
"Horses? Candyfloss? Mama's going to be having fun isn't she! Maybe she'll have so much fun she'll forget about me and not visit me…" Her little eyes started to water at the thought.
Anya scooped her out of the bath and began to dry her off. "No Lills, Mama will never forget about you. How could she forget about her beautiful little girl? No…she will always remember you, and always be there for you."
"Promise." She dressed her sister in her pyjamas, warm from being over the radiator, and sat her down in the bedroom they currently shared. She hunted down the hairdryer, and settled herself down behind Lilly to complete the last task needed before she could be put to bed. She loved the feel of the little girl's hair between her fingers, silky to the touch, turning from dark brown to bright blonde as the water left it. She so wished to have her sister's hair rather than her own thin black hair.
"Off to bed with you now Lills, we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow." The next day was to be their mother's funeral. It was going to be a quiet affair, as they only lived in a small village. The vicar and his wife had been kind enough to arrange everything for them, only turning to them every now and then for their advice on hymns and flowers. Anya was thankful for that, as she knew she would not have been able to cope if she had had to do it for herself. She sighed as she thought of the ordeal they would be put through the next day. She had only been to a funeral once before; an old teacher of hers who had died peacefully in her sleep one night. She collapsed on the sofa, and tried to prepare herself for the next day. She had it all planned; the funeral was at 11am, and everyone would gather at the Parish Hall afterwards for food and to celebrate her mother's life. She hoped to escape after a short while, and the two of them would head home to pack up their belongings…they were to move to the city the next day.
She had been distraught when she heard the news that they would have to move away. She had hoped they would be allowed to stay where they were, after all Anya was fully able to look after Lilly. However, she was only 17 and so Lilly would have had to be taken into care, as she wouldn't be allowed to look after her. Instead, they had to move away, to leave their home and to head into the unknown to start a new life…with their father. Their father who had left them five years ago, just before Lilly was born.
Although she didn't like the thought of leaving the countryside, she wasn't too worried about moving to the city. She had lived there before her parents had separated, so she was sure she would get used to it again. However, she would miss being able to go for walks through the woods, sailing across the lake in the summer, to get to the island in the middle. She would miss being able to disappear for hours, taking her art stuff and just sitting; painting a portrait of anything that caught her eye. Most of all, however, she would miss her friends. She would miss Ellie's craziness, and Jack's sense of humour. Moya's ability to "predict the future", and Greg's teasing. True, she could write to them and phone them every now and then, but it wouldn't be the same. She was used to seeing them every day…and now she wouldn't see them at all.
And then there was her father. She hadn't seen him in five years, and had not heard from him since then either. They had been extremely close, he had been her idol…and yet she had no idea what he would be like. Would he have changed? Did he actually want them to live with him? Did he have a new family? These questions and more had kept her thoughts occupied since she had heard the news. But she was just being silly…it would all be fine…right?
She ran away as he counted to 20; the perfect hiding place in mind. She had been planning it for ages, but Papa had been busy so she had had to wait. She ran down the hallway, trying not to make too much noise, and hid behind the new coat stand they had just bought. Her Papa's big black coat was hanging on it, so she could easily disappear behind it. She held her breath as he stopped counting and started to look for her; trying to stifle a squeal when he walked past. He was so bad at this game! He would walk around the house calling out her name, looking behind doors and under the beds. It would take him ages to find her, even if she was in the most obvious of hiding places. Mama was worse though; she didn't even try. She would call out her name for a while; standing in the middle of each room and looking round…and then leave and move onto the next. She didn't like playing with Mama; it was too boring.
She heard the familiar footsteps heading her way again, and suddenly the coat moved, exposing her to her finder. Two strong hands grabbed her waist, and she was pulled off her feet, being spun around in the air. Father and daughter collapsed on the floor in fits of giggles, their love for each other filling the entire house.
The front door opened, and in walked Mama. She took one look at the state of the house and started yelling. She was tired, fed up. Why did she always have come home to a messy house? She hung her coat up and went straight to their bedroom, hands on the base of her spine, saying she needed to lie down. Their fun for the day was over.
The vicar stood at the front of the church, next to the coffin. He looked around at the congregation, not surprised by how many had turned up. All had loved Beth, her kindly nature and her willingness to help others had made her very popular in the village. He cleared his throat and began.
"We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Beth Pankhurst…"
The funeral was a very short affair, with a couple of hymns, and readings from Anya-May and some of her mother's friends. Almost the whole village had turned up, and the Parish Hall was full after. Anya stood in the corner with Lilly, thanking people for their kindness and being told over and over how sorry everyone was for their loss. She couldn't take it anymore. While nobody was looking, she crept out of the door with Lilly, feeling guilty about sneaking out of her own mother's celebration. She had much more important things to do than stand around listening to the latest gossip and catching sympathetic looks that were being thrown their way.
They made their way slowly home, their solemn outfits looking strangely out of place against the backdrop of brilliant emerald grass and multi-coloured flowers. The birds in the trees were singing at their most beautiful, as if paying their own tribute to Beth. Anya found herself smiling, and looked fondly down at Lilly; walking along with her thumb in her mouth, her ponytails wonky, and kicking the stones along the way. She hadn't the heart to tell her not to scuff her new shoes.