Word-ants crawl, black, over the dazzling white paper.
‘I am sorry to inform you the results of your recent tests confirm…’
My guts twist. Sun and sky blur into fog.
No surprise, but confirmation makes it so…final. Not that it matters. No-one will miss me. My neighbourhood’s changed – new families moving in all the time. I don’t know anyone now. And no-one knows me.
“Rhona!” A child’s voice shrills through the buzzing in my ears.
Coincidence. She can’t mean me. I close my eyes. Lean back on the bench. I’m not here.
“Wake up, Rhona.” She’s puffing with the exertion of climbing the hill. “You’re not really asleep.”
“Yes, I am. Please go away.”
“You’re not snuffling. You always snuffle when you’re asleep.”
How does she know?
I open my eyes.
A mass of dreadlocks. Green, yellow, and black dungarees, folded up, revealing bare ankles. Dancing brown eyes that tease the edges of my memory, though I know we’ve never met before.
“That’s better.” She grins. “Oh. You’ve dropped your letter.” She stoops, retrieves it, and thrusts it back into my hand. “Are you dying?”
Her question slices through the multi-syllable medical jargon like a scalpel. “Yes.” Saying it aloud pinpoints my swirling fears into one tangible reality.
“Yay.” She jumps up and down, dreadlock ropes bouncing with her.
Are kids always brutal? “That’s not very nice.”
“But it’s wonderful. Next time, you’ll be ten, like me.”
“I’m sure you’re a big girl, and very grown-up, but you can’t be more than – what, six years old?”
“Life number ten, silly. You’re on nine. I’m on ten. We keep leapfrogging each other. But soon we’ll be the same. Both on ten.”
Another life after this one? It’s crazy talk. Just a kid’s imagination working overtime. But my shoulders lighten.
“What’s my name?” Her eyes plead.
“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
Her eyes fill with tears. Her lip trembles. She turns away, head drooping, feet dragging.
I ache to comfort her. “Please, don’t go, Katie.”
She whirls round and hurtles into my arms, burying her tears in my shoulder. I scrunch the letter into my pocket and hug her back. Her dreadlocks tickle my chin.
“Katie?” Realisation dawns. “That’s your name. I remember!”
She wriggles free. All smiles, she grabs my wrinkled hand and pulls me up. “Come on. Mummy’s waiting for us at the bottom.”
“She says, if you’re the girl I’m going to marry one day, you’d best come home for tea first.” She hands me my walking stick.
Who needs a stick when you’ve been offered forever-love? I prop it against the bench. “Race you down the hill to her?”
“Can you?” She glances at the slope and eyes me doubtfully.
“Watch me.” I hesitate. It is a long way down.
Her tiny hand slips into mine. “I’ll look after you.”
In a minute, we’ll be flying…
Into the sunlight.