Oh CrumbsBy: Kathryn Freeman
Twelve Years Ago
Abby clung onto her baby sister who was wriggling in her arms, trying to get down. Ellie didn’t understand that she was supposed to be quiet; she was only one. But still, Abby didn’t like it that Ellie was starting to make a noise and kick her feet. They were in a church, after all, and the priest was talking while everyone bowed their heads – a sea of black. Black suits, black coats, black hats. Outside there had even been black clouds. Abby hated black. She liked pink best, but she was told she couldn’t wear pink today. Not at Mum’s funeral. Abby had wanted to disagree – her mum would have let her wear pink, she was sure – but for once she’d kept quiet. A pity Ellie wasn’t doing the same.
‘Here, I’ll take her. You look after the others.’ Her dad leant across and pulled Ellie out of her arms. Sagging with relief – Ellie was quite heavy these days – thirteen-year-old Abby reached for the hands of her second and third youngest sisters, Holly who was three and Sally who was five. There was also Mandy, nearly nine, but she was too grown up to hold hands.
The priest droned on and even though it was her mum’s funeral, Abby wasn’t listening. The words were funny – and not in a make you laugh kind of way. Why didn’t the priest use words they could understand? And anyway, none of it would bring Mum back, would it? Unless she believed all that stuff about heaven. Abby wanted to, but she couldn’t see how that worked. She’d seen her mum take her last breath. Watched her face go deathly pale and her body still. Now she was in the coffin in front of them. How could she get from there and up to heaven? And even if she did, how could she come back down to see them?
At the thought of never seeing her mum again Abby started to cry. As the tears slid down her cheeks, Holly tugged at her hand.
‘Need to pee. Where’s Mum?’
Abby smothered a sob. ‘Can’t you hang on a minute?’
Holly shook her head, ringlets bouncing round her pretty face.
‘Okay.’ She prodded Mandy. ‘Hold Sally’s hand for me. I need to take Holly out for a pee.’
Mandy gave her the look. It meant she was cross, though Abby didn’t give a flying fig. She had enough on her plate. Ducking down she dragged Holly up the aisle, uncomfortably aware of heads turning to stare as they shuffled past. Once outside she pulled her sister round to the side of the church, behind a bush.
Holly pouted. ‘I want a toilet.’
‘I don’t know where they are. Just pull your pants down and do it here.’ She wasn’t sure if it was okay to pee in the grounds of the church but if there was a God, and if he was as good as people said, surely he wouldn’t mind. It was God’s fault they were here, anyway. He’d taken their mum away when he shouldn’t have done. Mums didn’t die when they still had children to look after. Mums hung around and became grandmums. So why had God decided to take her mum away? It wasn’t fair.
‘They’re wet now.’
Abby glanced down to find Holly had managed to aim most of her pee into her pants. Guiltily she kissed her cheek. ‘Sorry, I should have helped you. Here, let’s take them off and bin them. That way you won’t smell.’
‘But I want my pants,’ wailed Holly, her cheeks going pink. A sure sign she was going to start stomping her feet soon.
Abby felt like joining in. She didn’t want to be in this graveyard, sorting out her sister’s smelly wet pants. She didn’t want to be inside the church either, hearing stuff about how great her mum was. She knew that already. What she really wanted was for her mum to come and put her arms around her and tell her everything was going to be all right.
But she’d never feel her mum’s arms around her again.
Tears began to pour out of her eyes and Abby wiped them savagely with her hand.
Holly stared at her, her eyes growing round. ‘Take pants off now. Smelly.’ She held her nose and gave her a toothy grin.
The sight made Abby’s tears fall faster, though at least this time she was laughing, too.
By the time she’d sorted Holly out, people were coming out of the church and her mum was being carried in the coffin to a big black car. Abby knew what was going to happen next, because her dad had told her. Her mum was going to be burnt. They called it cremated, but they meant burnt.
She clutched at her stomach, suddenly feeling very sick. Grabbing Holly’s arm she pulled her out of the way and puked into the same bush.
‘Abby?’ Holly stared at her with wide, frightened eyes, tears once more slipping down her cheeks.
Quickly Abby wiped her mouth and plastered on a smile. ‘Come on. Let’s go and find Dad.’