Suppose you’re a child whose dog dies.
Since you’re a child, you don’t know it yet,
but you are at a crossroads of life.
Some cry for a day or a week, but soon respond to sympathy
— love and new bones can help to ease a child’s pain away.
Others are stoic, while a few will play on the loss to get their own way.
I was a child in whom death delved deep,
who wept and raged at the unexpected injustice of mortality —
yet, not understanding how it came to be, refused the kiss of empathy
and tried to weave a spell to bring my Prince to life again.
I failed, leaving a terror of endings clinging to me,
their reinforcements creeping through closed curtains
when I tried to sleep.
At night I heard the reaper, as with scythe in hand he climbed the stairs,
creaking to let me know he was approaching,
I’d hear him chuckle on the landing,
his evil joke jolting me from tears to fear.
He had no need to whisper names;
he was there to kill my parents in their bed.
I’d straighten my twisted nightdress and tiptoe to their room,
waking them with some weak excuse; I couldn’t sleep, I felt unwell.
Several times a week I saved them from the scarlet sweep of his blade
by crawling between the sheets and staying by their side.
Beneath my horror, I was a warrior with soulful weapons
honed to stab a prick of guilt
and teeth to show my quivering bravery;
although the reaper liked to play with me, he feared my wrath;
he always slunk away from me.
I think my mother had an inkling,
and did her best to make me well again,
but when daylight came, I pushed her away with a grin,
thinking it would be unkind to tell the terrifying truth
of the danger that one night
I might not wake in time,
and she would die.
Sometimes I think the responsibility
was too great for a child to take,
but when all’s said and done
she lived to see eighty.
©Jane Paterson Basil