A roll of paper is nestled amongst the withered flowers that lie there, and it flutters like the incandescent tip of a candle in the breeze. I feel unexplainably compelled to read it – suddenly my lateness seems irrelevant to me. Curiously I lift it from the ground and allow it to unfurl in my hand. It is a letter, so I begin to read.
I stop. This is private. It was not meant for my eyes. I think vaguely about how it is funny that we immediately have a desire to do something when we know we’re not supposed to, and with this thought in mind, I continue.
‘There was a wild rabbit in the garden today, and it reminded me of you: the way it bounded happily through the grass, playful, carefree. The more I watched the more I could see you in its place. Your wisdom was there behind its bright black eyes. Your curiosity about the world around you danced in its twitching ears. Your laughter shimmered behind its quivering whiskers. It started when I approached it, almost darting off to become invisible amongst the grass. I said, “come on, I’m not that bad.” It reminded me of what I used to say to you.’
The sudden drop in temperature is as if a ghost has come to read with me, to hold the letter gently in his silent, invisible gaze. I notice that my hands are trembling.
‘When you first got ill you were tense and cautious all the time. Like the rabbit, you saw everything as a potential threat, and the slightest disturbance would send you into a flurry of panic.
“It’s not that bad,” I used to say to you when you were having one of your episodes. I regret it, because now I know it was that bad. I have so many regrets I never realised I had until you weren’t here anymore. I regret dismissing your pains by saying you were overthinking. I regret smiling and telling everyone you were fine. I regret not being there when you needed me because I had a life to live, a life I would now give up to have yours back any day. Before you got ill, I regret telling you to do this, do that, don’t do that, don’t climb that tree because you’ll fall. I limited you from living your life to the fullest before it slipped away, and I regret it. I tried to protect you from all the physical dangers in the world – don’t run on the stairs because you might hurt yourself; don’t cross busy roads because you might get hit – but I forgot about the invisible dangers that were equally present.’
As I read, pure-white snowflakes begin to fall around me, marking the paper with wet patches like teardrops. Their silent pattering as they settle is exactly how I imagine the beating of angel wings to sound. A few delicate, feathery crystals land softly on my eyelashes, forcing me to squint so that the sunlight that catches them splinters into a kaleidoscopic prism of iridescence.
‘I regret not saying, “I love you,” enough, before and during your illness.
The rabbit slipped away, and I said, “come back.” Come back Tom. You’ve made your point now. I’ve realised the mistakes I’ve made and I’ll try to be a better mum when I welcome you back with open arms. But then I remember you’re not coming back. I can weep and beg and plead my life away, but your soul was too beautiful for a world this flawed, and you’ve slipped off to where you belong.
I look up, my eyes wet with snow. Little star shaped crystals have settled on every surface, transforming the graveyard into a magical, pearl-coated landscape and making each headstone glitter brilliantly, especially the one that reads:
Tom Joseph Thatcher
I can feel Tom all around – his presence lingers on the air, and he is in every flake that twirls and flutters down from the heavens like feathers loosened from an angel wing. But most of all he is in the wild rabbit that darts out from behind the grave and bounds playfully into the heavenly snow. Free.