Karen had worn her sadness like a shroud since we lost baby Kyle. Sometimes, over the years it would lift, for a time and I’d see her smile and there she was, my girl, laughing in the sunshine again and it seemed like we’d be ok after all.
But slowly it would settle around her again, gradually, like dust that weighed her down and obscured her smile from me. I would find her time after time in Kyle’s little attic bedroom that we’d painted sky blue and sunshine yellow for him. Sad little shadow-Karen hunched on the bed while in my head, vibrant, glowing, radiant Karen danced around the room in dungarees, showing off her bump, brandishing her paintbrush.
We’d sit together a while and then I’d lead her, sadly back to the world again.
Suddenly, though she stopped visiting him, stopped mentioning him at all. It was as if he’d never existed. The photo of her Dad holding him, grinning proudly through his walrus moustache which had once held pride of place on the mantlepiece disappeared and, until six weeks ago, we never spoke of Kyle, my boy who’d left as unexpectedly as he’d come.
And then, one day, Karen was back. I walked through the door and she ran to me, took me in her arms she was my laughing and dancing girl again. I let myself be swept along in her excess of joy. She was talking, saying words that I couldn’t, at first, take in She was talking about Kyle again - for the first time in over a decade.
But something was wrong. She said she’d seen him that afternoon, that they’d stood together at the window together and watched the sparrows squabbling for crumbs, like they used to. How he was wearing his tiny trainers and his trousers with ducks on.
I listened for a moment and took her gently by the hand. Kyle would be twenty now, if he were here, I explained. And Karen was gone again. She said nothing, but the light flickered out. Over the next few weeks I knew she went up to his room, though she was always careful to be downstairs when I walked in through the door; flustered, guilty, defiant.
It was her sister who suggested that Karen went on holiday. Had a break for a while. Karen hadn’t wanted to, but Melanie insisted. When insisting didn’t work, she had forced her. Her husband Mike dragged my Karen screaming from the door of our little boy’s room and I stood there and watched them do it.
The house was silent. For the first time I went alone to his bedroom. I climbed the spiral staircase he had stumbled down on that last day of his little life and opened the door. The room was coated in a thick layer of dust that muted and saddened it. But there on the floor, a trail of tiny freshly-made footprints lead to the window, where the sparrows squabbled for crumbs.