Today, the anniversary.
1,725 days missing.
Tidy the shoes. Polish the kettle.
Man outside, lurking. I know who he is Ė his type, at any rate.
Dust the shelves. Rearrange the ornaments.
The manís shout, inevitable, through the kitchen window. ĎHow are you coping, Mrs Dickson? Five years on. Tell us what itís been like for you.í
Shut the window. Stack the dishes. Sweep the floor.
Barricade the door against the emotion-feeding zombies, hungry for more, tearing at your flesh, sucking at your bones.
Push away the fear that engulfs your soul, carving a dark chasm into which all things fall, and fail ever to emerge.
Contain the fury so ever-present you are afraid you may spontaneously combust from the heat of its flickering flame.
Remember always to keep your arms folded over your chest when you walk to the shops, holding in your guts so they donít disgorge themselves all over the pavement, a violent, bloody mess.
Wonder again if it was puppies that he used. Or kittens? Thatís what they do, isnít it? Children, so tender-hearted, lured by the promise of innocent little faces nuzzling into the palm of their hand, trusting them to care.
See in your dreams her pale face at the top of the spiral staircase, towards which you run as fast as you can with clunking steps but which, as soon as you reach the top, is inexplicably nowhere to be seen.
Return to the route trodden so often, seeking the stray hair slide, bent piece of grass, tell-tale strip of fabric caught upon a branch.
Bottle up the howl that threatens to fling itself from your throat, anywhere, in the supermarket, in the queue at the post office, betraying the fact that you have now, officially, gone mad.
Know that guilt, after everything, is what remains, lapping at the edges of your consciousness like an oceanís inescapable tide.
You could have saved her.
You should have been there.
You were ten minutes late, having your hair done.
She always wanted a puppy.
Or a kitten.
You didnít want it ruining the furniture. Peeing on the carpet. Tearing up the grass.
How are you feeling, Mrs Dickson?
Our zombies, they need to know.
Hoover the stairs. Make your bed, careful to tighten the corners. Put on your hat. Check that the man outside got bored and didnít hang around. Head towards the route that leads past the school, into the meadow, through the woods and towards the reservoir, thinking last nightís rain might have dislodged something you missed before. Button coat, fold arms over chest, making sure your guts, fury, fear and howl are all safely in place, with no visible leaks.
At the end of the road, bump into Tom and his young daughter from next door. She has a pretty smile, and no longer asks me where Tilly is.
Fine, thanks, I say. Yes, indeed, a lovely day for a stroll.††