The Grieve Live Reading held last Friday 29th August in Newcastle, NSW, was a great success. In addition to the shortlist of 23 pieces, we also enjoyed two musical items courtesy of the Hunter Singers and Catherine Mahony who wrote a piece especially for the evening.
I was long-listed for the Australia-wide Grieve Writing Competition, and my short story, June’s Death – an excerpt from my unpublished memoir See No Evil: story of a war child – was published in Grieve: stories and poems for Grief Awareness Month 2014.
The events of that fateful day are seared into my memory. My sister, ten-year-old June, developed a raging fever one night. At seven, I couldn’t understand how ill she was.
The next morning, June sat bolt upright, pulling the blanket off me with her abrupt movement. She muttered strange, garbled words and I sat up too, suddenly afraid. Beads of perspiration stood upon her brow, and she seemed unaware of me. Staring straight ahead with a glassy gaze and unseeing eyes, she kept muttering through parched lips.
I slid out of bed and ran to my mother. ‘June’s looking strange, and I can’t understand her.’
My parents rushed to June and spoke to her. She lay on her back, her eyes darting all over. What was happening to my sister? I’d never witnessed her so helpless and so sick.
Mum fell to her knees at the bedside and stormed heaven with her prayers. She pressed a crucifix to my sister’s lips and kept repeating, ‘Merciful Mother, have mercy on her.’
Mum’s face turned pale. Her lips moved in prayer. Dad remained strangely quiet, watching June who appeared relaxed. We gathered around. Moments later, she gave a few gasps, her head rolled to one side and she who but a mere twenty-four hours ago bounded with fun, life and energy, now lay still and silent.
I froze at the sight of my sister, so young, so active, stretched out on the bed.
Dad placed a small hand mirror against June’s face. His Adam’s apple slid up and down. With a look of anguish, he left the room.
His gloom rolled towards us like a damp fog, and plunged us into despair. Mum shut the door and hastened to June.
My sister stared at us, but the light had gone out of her eyes. After attempting to close her eyes without success, Mum placed a coin on June’s eyelids until they remained closed of their own accord. She kissed her forehead and told us to do the same. Then she fell on her knees beside her.
The hand of grief gripped me, giving a choking, stifling sensation. A lump stuck in my throat. I stole away and threw myself upon my bed, shaking with sobs. A solemn stillness prevailed. The room grew dark, as if a black cloud had passed over the sun.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around, trying to distinguish, through my tears, the figure standing behind me.
‘Don’t cry,’ my brother Bertie whispered. ‘June’s in heaven, you know.’
His words of sympathy only caused me to break into more frenzied sobbing. He did his best to console me, but to no avail. Totally lost, I couldn’t survive without June, my constant companion. At nights, I had shared her blanket, her bed and her bodily warmth.
Days passed. Desolation greeted me from every direction. I curled up in bed like a wounded animal and sought solace in slumber.
Overwhelmed, I lost part of my childhood.