"Jack, your dad, he died today..."
Six words, ones he had not expected to hear upon just returning home early from school. Those six simple words crept around Jacks bedroom, leaving him confused, and upset.
"But...what about the toy shop tomorrow?"
"I'm so sorry honey, but that won't be happening this year."
Jacks lip began to tremble; he began to cry softly as his mother held him. Kathy rested her cheek on the top of Jacks head and allowed tears to escape her eye, rolling down and eventually landing in Jacks dark brown hair. They sat for hours, unaware of the time passing. Kathy explained to Jack that his father had been unwell for a long time, and that she and he had been preparing for this for a while.
"We're going to go and stay at grandma and granddads for a couple of days" she said, "you should pack your bag with some toys and things, I'll pack your clothes later."
"Ok, do you remember what we were doing last year, with the Christmas tree?" Jack wiped away tears and attempted a weak smile, thinking back to their previous Christmas.
"The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay, and the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day..."
The radio station Kathy had tuned into had played non-stop Christmas songs for the entire day, and while she was preparing a buffet-style tea for the three of them, the boys were busy decorating the Christmas tree that stood in their front room.
"Wanna do the baubles or the tinsel?" Charlie said to Jack, "Or how about I do everything and make you watch like the evil person I am?" Jack laughed and Charlie smiled down at him. He gave Jack a cheeky little wink, and then started picking brightly colored baubles from their packaging.
"Baubles, please" Jack said, taking the one Charlie had been holding and placing it neatly on the tree.
"Okie dokie" said Charlie, and they set to work. At no point did Jack ever suspect something might have been wrong, Charlie was hiding it well. So was Kathy, who hadn't spoken much since Jack got in from school. Nothing about their expression or manner however, could have told Jack that Charlie had only hours earlier been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was given no longer than a year, yet he still put on a brave face, for Jack.
The next morning, at around 8:00am, Kathy woke Jack. Her eyes were dark from crying late into the night and Jack hugged her tightly.
"We're going to head off to grandma and granddads soon, they've just arrived and are waiting downstairs" Kathy said.
"How long are we going to stay at theirs?" Jack asked. Kathy shook her head.
"I'm not sure, the funeral is on Thursday, so we'll probably stay there through the weekend and come back here on Monday, we'll get back early so you don't have to miss any school next week."
"But I don't want to go to school."
"You'll be off school this week, and besides, it'll be good to get your mind off it. Ok?"
"Ok." Jacks eyes narrowed as he thought about coming home from school, and not having a dad.
"Come on then, up you get, let's go down and see grandma and granddad." Kathy stood up and allowed Jack to stand, and then they both walked downstairs together.
"Don't worry, about a thing, because every little thing, is gonna be all right..."
Jack sat in the back seat of his grandparent's car; a Black Renault Clio, as they sped down the motorway towards their house. Kathy sat with him in the back seat, quietly looking out of her window. There wasn't much conversation during the car ride. Even Jack- his head buzzing with questions- remained silent. He looked out of his window, out to the world, and saw in his reflection the face of his dad. Jack smiled; Charlie smiled back, and then disappeared.
Eventually, they arrived at Jacks grandparents house, other friends and family members were already there; aunty Emily- Charlie's sister, uncle Robert- Emily's husband, their children- Max and Oscar, and uncle Lewis- a close family friend whom Jack called uncle out of respect.
"Rise up this mornin', smiled with the risin' sun..."
The next two days dragged by slowly. Jack stayed mainly downstairs with the family, watching old video tapes on the living room television; Paddington Bear, The Raggy Dolls, Tots TV, among others. If he ever did venture up into his room, he would sit and write small poems for his dad. He had won numerous gold stars at school for his writing. He loved reading and often wrote little stories and poems to amuse himself. Although he usually enjoyed writing, he felt that right now he was doing it simply to keep his mind occupied.
I woke up this morning,
and I felt really sad.
My daddy was good,
he was never bad.
I feel really upset,
he had to go away.
I wish he was here,
that he could stay.
I hope that sometime,
I'll see him again.
With sun in the sky,
keeping back the rain.
By Jack Harwell, age 9 and a half.
"Three little birds, pitch on my doorstep..."
The day of the funeral arrived, and a definite air of melancholy hung low over everyone's shoulders. Kathy sat next to Jack in the living room, where he was watching another old video tape in silence.
"Jack, it's time honey." His eyes welled up, and Kathy held him in her arms, whispering soothing things to him, all the while struggling to hold back tears. Soon after, they were all on their way to the cemetery to bury Charlie. Jack sat in the back seat of the Renault Clio. Only now, with the road stretched out before him, could the reality of life really hit home. His dad was gone; and he was never going to see him again.
"Singin' sweet songs, of melodies pure and true..."
Jack had found his dads iPod in the glove compartment of the car; his dad having spent a lot of time driving his grandparents around in the Clio. He sat listening to the songs that his dad had enjoyed on his long drives. The car pulled into a long country lane that led directly to St. Johns Cemetery.
Jack thought back to his last birthday, his dad had hired a magician to come and perform for Jack and his school friends. They all knew that it was simply Charlie in disguise, but Jack still enjoyed every part of the show all the same. Charlie performed card tricks, pulled several large coins from behind kid's ears; he even pulled his hand from its socket and dropped it into the crowd of children sat around him. Everyone threw it around, not wanting to hold it, yet laughing all the time. Jack had never laughed so hard. He found himself completely caught up in the magic.
But no more. No more coin tricks, card tricks, no more yearly visits to Toys R Us to pick out his Christmas presents. No more. He continued to listen to the music on his dad's iPod as one song faded and another began.
"Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again..."
A bitter winter snow lay upon the tops of the gravestones. Kathy opened the car door and got out. Jacks granddad opened his door and Jack got out slowly, turning off the iPod and dropping it back onto the seat. They all stood together, each of them wondering how tomorrow could ever bring them any happiness at all. The short answer was it couldn't, not without Charlie there.
"Dear Santa Clause, for Christmas this year I don't want any presents, I just want my dad back...