Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Party Guest

She stepped uncertainly into the ballroom, smiling shyly as bystanders turned to regard the newcomer with mild curiosity. She wasn’t the outgoing sort who could easily jump into conversation with complete strangers at such a large and crowded function, so she stayed by her parents, with whom she’d arrived, until she felt confident to leave their side and mingle with other guests.

As the evening progressed, her confidence grew and she wandered freely throughout the many rooms of the spacious mansion. Some she merely passed through, perhaps exchanging a word or a smile, sometimes even unheeded by the busily chattering occupants. In other rooms she lingered with new acquaintances and, over laughs and shared interests their initial rapport developed into friendship. In small giggling bands they’d roam the house filled with so many guests from all walks of life, dropping some people off here and picking others up there like a virtual bus offering room to room service.

She hadn’t been at the party long – certainly not long enough to have tasted each dish in the magnificent feast nor inspected each artwork gracing the walls – when she became aware of a dull and persistent pain. Her head began throbbing with a migraine that grew continuously worse despite the medication and distraction she employed to ameliorate it. However, not wanting to complain or spoil anyone else’s night, she endured the pain as best she could. She continued to talk, to laugh, to enjoy the revels the host had provided, and very few of the other guests at the party noticed anything more than a brief grimace of pain on her face when she thought no-one was looking.

The night wore on, but alas, despite the otherwise wonderful time she’d been having, the pain grew too much for her to endure. Her parents begged her to stay, promising unimagined delights yet to come that would banish her torment. Seeing the distress the prospect of her retiring early caused, she relented and agreed to stay longer. She excused herself and promised to return soon, smiling fondly at how happy she’d made everyone she cared for, by concealing the extent of her distress, and her true intentions.

Slipping upstairs, she wandered about the living quarters opening this door and that until she found a beautiful room to soothe her ailing body, and a soft, warm bed to lull her to sleep. Gratefully snuggling under the covers, she closed her eyes and her breathing slowed. Her last thought before she floated gently into oblivion was of happiness because finally, after such a long night of endurance and pretence, her pain was seeping away.

When the other guests realised she’d gone, they were sad and regretful. They’d enjoyed their conversations with her and wished she would return to grace them with her smile, her knowledge, her humour and her kindness again. For some, the food tasted like ash and the drink like vinegar without her there to share in it. The music was tuneless, the conversation dull, and suddenly remaining at the party until its end seemed not a delight, but a chore.

But the swirling human currents of such large gatherings soon brought these downhearted guests into contact with other people who had met her in different rooms, chatted with her on other topics. And through the sharing of fond remembrances and recollections they came to realise how many facets this enigmatic party guest had, all of which she never displayed to any one person. Though all who met her that night wished she’d stayed longer at the party, they came to understand, by piecing together the clues each person offered, that she could not remain at peace if she stayed.

Through understanding came the consolation that, after all, the party would soon end and everyone would have to leave. Eventually they’d all wander sleepily up to the guest rooms their host had prepared, glad to place their tired heads upon the pillows and rest their aching feet. And in the morning, when sleep had cured a magnitude of woes and the bright sun streamed through the opened curtains, they’d all be together again.

Sunday, 3 May 2009


I’m sorry, Internet. It seems dreadfully self-indulgent of me to still be sad and crying more than a month after she died. The truth is, my honest self-assessment is that I’m coping with her death and how it came about, but in the times when I’m alone, the times when mundane tasks leave my mind free to wander, self-punishingly, back to painful reflections, the grief and bitter regret return.

It is self-indulgent. After all, nothing will bring her back. And, disaffected Catholic though I am, I still believe she has found peace and contentment in a so-called ‘better place’; how could I wish her back in a world in which she suffered more than she could bear?

But the regrets will always be there like scars on my soul.

I should have been flying to her wedding, not her funeral.