My Son’s Smile
The one thing that I remember about John, above all else, is his smile. But even now I have started to forget. His memory is but a whisper now, it runs away from me, hiding in the depths of my mind.
There are many, many reasons why I write this. I do not wish to re live those moments, that day, only the smile. I wish to remember John and even when I am old and frail, I want his memory to be fresh as Spring flowers in my mind.
I will say one thing before I throw myself into the raging, torrential memories of that day. It is that a father should die before his son, I should have died before John.
Rain hummed its solemn drum beat on the windows, making strange patterns on the transparent surface. Tea slowly boiled and I pottered about, humming a tune as I prepared breakfast.
It was John’s first day of work. I won’t say that I felt something ominous hanging in the air. I didn’t. I won’t say that my instincts told me not to go with him. They didn’t.
We sat down, slowly eating our bacon and eggs and sipping brilliantly reinvigorating tea. My wife fussed over John’s suit, fawning over every little ruffle or minute path of dust which adorned it.
Some people say that things happen for a reason. Then why, why did John get on that train? Why did he – just why?
I smiled at him, my usual – ‘she’s just trying to help.’ He nodded and smiled back. I know it’s a cliché, I know, but his smile really did brighten the room, as if all the colours had stepped up a shade.
It instantly put me at ease and I finished my breakfast quickly. I hurriedly sorted out my suit and grabbed my briefcase, casting a ‘where did all that time go?’ glance at my watch.
“John, I’d hurry up or we’ll be late for the train!”
And not a day passes when I haven’t wished that we were late.
He rushed out of the kitchen, suddenly creating a thousand new wrinkles. He brushed his hair offhandedly, mind totally elsewhere. My wife raised an eyebrow, stepping forward to flatten the myriad of furrows in his clothes.
I had bought his watch only yesterday. It had a dark leather strap and the numbers were written in gold engraved numerals. It had cost a small fortune but I didn’t mind. It’s one of the few material memories I have left.
“Mum, I’ve really got to go.”
“You’re first day of work...” she sighed, and it said all the words she hadn’t. John was no longer her little baby boy.
The walk to the station was quick and uneventful, filled with silences that were crammed with meaning. I will say now that I didn’t feel...anything. There was no hidden instinct that told me not to go on the train. Every day, I’ve looked back on these memories, searching for something ... anything that I could’ve done. I’ve searched for warning signs and hidden messages, for whisperings in the wind. There was nothing, it was just John’s first day of work.
I was just as excited as he was and as I clamped my Oyster Card down on the reader, turned to him and asked “nervous?” I certainly was.
“Not really dad, don’t worry. Everything’ll be O.K.” He smiled and all the unsettled emotions within me were quelled. No reason to worry, none at all I told myself.
We got on the train and sat, staring quietly at the map and counting down ten stops. I looked across the carriage and a man smiled at me.
It was the strangest thing, that smile. It was filled with bitterness and rage but most of all, with hate. It tears me apart that I, I can remember his smile over my own son’s.
John was looking at his watch when it happened. When all the hell was let loose, when flame licked at me.
I heard shouts when it happened and I smelled the smoke. I could feel blood leaving me from a hundred cuts. Thousands of shards of glass clattering like an instrument on the ground. I was blind.
It had been like the roar of a million lions, the trumpet of a thousand elephants. It rang in my ears like the church bells to heaven.
In the boiling pot of emotions that swelled within me, fear was first and foremost. It drowned out my thoughts and forced my eyes to see.
Smoke, it curled and twisted like a spectre in the air. Limbs were splayed like autumn leaves across the carriage. Screams and grunts of pain shattered my mind.
And then. And then my eyes fell on my son. The world slowed down and suddenly, I felt clarity. It is a strange thing to say but just for a couple of second, no thought other than one entered my head.
It was the image of his smile. It was gone as quickly as it had come and the bloody reality pressed itself on my shoulders.
My son croaked something incomprehensible. His eyes closed. I felt nothing. I couldn’t. If I had, I might have never recovered. It was as if all the emotions had tried to force the door at the same time and none had got through.
I was vaguely aware of falling to my knees. I remember reaching forward and touching his forehead. I remember slowly unclasping his watch, a single crack on its near pristine surface.
I remember the nothingness of it all, the lack of...anything that possessed me.
I remember his smile.
I remember my sons smile.