Of Love and Death – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 1

book 1

“She died in childbirth. The doctors assured us that that kind of thing never happened anymore. That it went out with the plague and small pox. But before Sila had even come into this world I knew. The contractions were severe and erratic and the midwife and the nurses looked fearful even before Ola was fully dilated. I couldn’t look at them, I just focused on Ola. She needed me so much, I could see it in her eyes. It wasn’t pain. It was fear. She knew but she wouldn’t say it, I’m sure so as not to scare me. She was like that. Even in her darkest hour she was thinking of me. Our eyes were locked together the whole time. With her hand in mine she cried and I choked back tears. It wasn’t long before she strained so much that they had to hold her down. And all the while as she thrashed and screamed she stared at me. Her grip was so strong on my hand. I could feel the life in her surge and I knew she would make it. Then her hand just stopped squeezing mine. Just like that her eyes changed. She was still staring at me and I at her. Both of us lost in each other. I knew that she was gone but I was afraid to look away or even blink in case she came back. But tears filled my eyes and I felt the warmth of them roll down my cheeks and fall from my chin. And then my eyes blinked by themselves and our bond was broken. She was dead. My love and my whole world was dead and there nothing I could do about it. The nurses rushed to get Sila out and tried to push me away but I was rooted to that blank linoleum floor. I wasn’t there at all though. I was with Ola inside myself, sailing away to nowhere. To somewhere so cold and meaningless that I felt as if I too had slipped away from life itself. And then I heard her. A whimper of a cry. And as a nurse smoothed her palm down over Ola’s face and shut her beautiful eyes forever another nurse’s hand rested on my shoulder. When I turned around she was holding Sila in her arms. She was so tiny. She wriggled and kicked and squeaked and when I looked down at her I loved her at once. When that nurse handed my daughter to me and I was launched back into life. My legs tried go from under me but as I was about to crumble my baby looked into my eyes and I found the strength that Ola had always possessed. Then and there I wept with all the power that every love has ever known sown into one great swathe of joy and pain. I was a father.

The funeral was held on a cold day. I remember my family standing around me and Ola’s family alongside them. Ola’s father was a mountain of a man and he stood in place of my own father when it came time for the others leave the graveside. We stood there a long time, silent, together, while the crowd thinned and then left only the two of us. Then he rested his hand on my shoulder. Standing there looking down at her coffin in the grave was like watching her die all over again. All I could feel was that by even just acknowledging that she was gone, let alone accept it, was a gross, mortal betrayal. And it was like her father knew it. I could feel it in the way that he squeezed my shoulder. He never said a word and yet he spoke to me in a way that is beyond language. I swear it would have killed me to bury her if he hadn’t been there for me. I could feel death breathing on my neck until his hand reached up to me. But little Sila needed me. More than ever I had to stand strong against my own weakness and wear my pain, for my child. I didn’t know what I was going to do, how I was going to live. I wasn’t numb but I wished I was. I didn’t want to live that agony. I didn’t want to breathe. I didn’t want. I just was. Like some shell that had nothing inside it.

All I had to do to strengthen myself was think of Sila. She was so vulnerable. So innocent. Afraid that I would explode from the hurt if I let any other feelings in, my need to protect her was the only thing that I allowed myself to feel. Anything more was just too dangerous. Ola’s mother and father moved in with us to look after Sila for the first few months. I admit that I was unable to care for her fully in that time but one night Wieslaw sat me down and told me a story about a fire he had fought when he first joined the brigade. He never, ever spoke about his work. Not even once. So when he sat forward with his elbows on his knees, stared at the floor between his feet and then spoke the gravity of the moment struck my like a brick.

“I was only twenty three. My boss had told me what to do and I was prepared in myself for horrors that I knew would come. But it was only a month before one particular call came in. It was the dead of night in winter. We thought it would be a quiet night but when Big Jakub took the call I saw his face and I knew. He was a hard, hard man, son and all the blood drained from his face. It scared me. He put the phone down and reached up and pressed the alarm bell. The whole shop erupted as everyone got ready but I just stood there and he saw that I had seen him. He just shook his head and turned away to get into his gear.

We pulled up at the house minutes later. It was close by but because it was made of wood it was already swallowed by fire. Flames were coming out of the every window but there were still screams coming from inside. Even before we got out of the truck we could hear screams, the only time in thirty years that that ever happened to me. You never hear screams when a house is engulfed, son. You just don’t. Unable to enter the house we stood stranded in the garden but we started the hoses of course and struggled under the weight of the water. Then I saw them. I thought I was seeing something like shadows but I knew. I could see them in the flames. Just little children. Trapped. Surrounded.

I ran at them and Jakub grabbed me. I punched him but he took the blow as if he was a brick wall and shook me. I struggled and kicked and screamed at him but he had a death grip on me and when I finally looked into his eyes I saw his own pain reflected back at me. “I know,” is all he said. Son, it fucking chilled my blood, that night. I have never been the same man since and I think about it nearly every day, because when I got home that night and my wife and child lay sleeping, their bodies still but alive, I knew. I knew what life is worth. I had watched death dance in that fire and laugh at us who are still breathing. It jeered us while we stood there helpless and it knew that we could see it. It showed itself to us and because it did and because I still had my family when I got home I was more grateful then any living man. I still am. Please, son, know that this life is worth all the agony a man can suffer for the ones he loves and for himself. Do not feed the creature that stalks us all. Fight it, son. Fight it and never stop fighting it. Never give into your pain.”

Then he stood and wiped his face and walked away to leave me think. He didn’t look back as he left the room and when the door closed and I was by myself I didn’t feel alone anymore. I could feel Sila in the next room. I could feel her heart and soul ticking like a little clock and I felt our bond. It was amazing. I had gone from the farthest edge of life to its very centre that night. I knew how fortunate I was to have her to love and provide for. I was a father. A man. I was alive. I owed it to Sila and to Ola to stand up and make a life for my child. I owed it to my family of two to be everything she needed, that day and every day thereafter. I vowed to my wife that I would serve our child and ensure her safety and wellbeing all the days of my life from that day forth.

The following morning I asked Wieslaw to take Bozena home. He didn’t say a word. He just nodded and took his wife’s arm and led her to the bedroom where they packed and promptly returned. She kissed my cheek and he hugged me like bear. And then they left.

I walked to Sila’s crib and lifted her to me. She smelled like milk and she wriggled as I tucked he in to my chest then, in just a few seconds she fell asleep. I walked around the house holding her and enjoyed her company, not thinking about anything until she woke up and again looked into my eyes.

“I love you, Sila. I’ll always be here for you. Don’t you ever worry, Daddy loves you.”

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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