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Amy

by Elizabeth 

Posted: 16 April 2005
Word Count: 1208
Summary: A sad story based on a real experience


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When you died, I was the one who volunteered to sort through your possessions and bag them up, ready for the Oxfam volunteers to collect them. You had left a message, telling whoever found you that, as you had no family who would want the things, you would like them to be of some use to someone, and would it be possible for them to be passed on to a Charity?
Such a polite little note: almost embarrassed to be asking a favour, but, at the same time, wanting to be of some help to someone, even after your death. How strange, yet typical of you, to think of such a thing in those last moments, when you must have been in such pain;feeling such despair.

You had always been such a private person in life: maybe I volunteered for the task because I thought that I would find out more about who you were,or rather, had been, from the things which you had left behind?

I suppose I felt a little bit guilty at first, invading your closely guarded privacy, but I knew that it had to be done: your room had to be cleared, ready for the next occupant, and I couldn't bear the idea that everything would just be thrown into a skip or disposed of in some, equally impersonal, way.
I wanted your last wishes to be fulfilled: you had never asked me to do anything for you whilst you were alive; I wanted to make up for all the things I had never done for you now you were dead.

I had brought several cartons from the supermarket, and some black bags as well, not really sure how much there would be, or how long it would take to do it. The Warden had warned me that it might be upsetting, but I had reassured her, saying that we had never really been that close, and that, as someone had to do it, I felt that it was better that it wasn't a total stranger. She was relieved, I think: she would have felt obliged to do it herself, otherwise, I'm sure, and she was always so very, very busy.

I don't think she even knew your name until you died: then, of course,it became well known across the Campus. As "the dead girl", you were quite a talking point: ironic, when you had been so anonymous before.



You didn't have much to sort: a few bits of jewellery, some clothes, CDs and videotapes, lots of books-you always loved to read, didn't you?
"Always had your nose in a book," as my old Granny would have said. You were so careful with your books: you never folded the corners of the pages over to keep the place; you wouldn't break the spines, scribble notes in the margins or accidentally drop a book into the bath. Books were too precious to you. They seemed to be everywhere in the room: on the shelves, by the bed, under the bed, even on top of the wardrobe. You had read so much: it was almost as if you knew that your life wouldn't be a long one, so you crammed in as much as you could whilst you still had the time.

In a drawer, I found the usual bank statements and bills; there was also a box filled with ticket stubs from cinema visits and plays you had seen: did you keep them as a reminder, because you never could see the point of buying an expensive programme? Did looking at these bits of paper help you to remember the excitement, the atmosphere? The place? The people? Even the sounds and the smells?

I wondered what to do with the box: no use sending it to Oxfam. I thought about keeping it myself, but these things held no memories for me, as they obviously had done for you.There was no point in holding onto them, so I consigned them, albeit rather sadly, to the black bag that was to go in the skip.






I wish that I could ask you why you had kept these things, but it's too late now. You will never wear the clothes you ironed and folded so carefully before storing them in your wardrobe or chest of drawers.
You always prided yourself on buying your things from Charity shops instead of in the High Street, and you always said that you thought you looked more "interesting" as a result: certainly, you had eclectic, not to say, eccentric tastes. Picking up the purple crushed velvet shirt you loved so much, I could remember, so vividly, the first time I saw you wear it:a New Year's Eve party( you called it "Hogmanay")...special, because it was Millenium Eve, and everyone was caught up in the strange excitement of the dawning of what might be a new Era...but amidst all the laughing and dancing and cheering and shouting,I remember you sitting, melancholy and alone in a corner of the room, as if you knew thatyou would never be a part of this new century .

When I asked you why you looked so sad, you seemed embarrassed, sorry that your gloomy appearance was spoiling my fun. You tried to join in with the jollity, but even caught up amongst the thronging crowds of dancing revellers, you seemed set apart, somehow.
A solitary, lonely figure, lost in your own thoughts, dreaming your own dreams.

I'd put your books into the boxes first, then your clothes on top.
Finally, the CDs and videos: such an eclectic mixture, once again.
The Stones, Rachmaninov, the Seventh Seal, Brief Encounter: all of these telling me things about you,what you had enjoyed; who you were.

But it was too late.
You were gone, and I could never really know you, or understand why you were so very,very sad and alone.

I sealed the boxes, wrote "To be collected" carefully in large letters on the sides, and was about to leave the room, when I noticed a small package on the window sill.

It was a pile of photographs, tied together by a thin, rainbow coloured ribbon.
In them, I saw you: much younger, but unmistakeable. You were laughing, in all of them. Some were just of you, in various poses, in different places. Some showed you with a man and a woman: your parents, I guessed. There were snapshots showing you and your family at Christmas: beside the tree, at dinner; on holidays, in the park, in your garden, or your bedroom.
You looked so different in them: so happy, so much an important part of other people's lives. On the back of one photo, showing your parents gazing lovingly into one anothers' eyes, you had written: Anniversary, 1997: the last picture. And I realised why you were so unhappy and so alone.

I tied the pictures back together, and I put them into my bag.
I would ask the Warden if she knew where you were to be buried, or where your ashes were being scattered, as I thought that these pictures should be with you, wherever you were going.
Snapshots to remind you of a time when you had been a happy girl, rather than a sad one.






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Comments by other Members



Account Closed at 21:06 on 17 April 2005  Report this post
Hi Elizabeth,
A very touching story, well told. I couldn't quite make out the age of the person who'd died. I'm presuming she was in some kind of care home/hospice but I'm not convinced she was elderly. Yet with bank statements etc, she was not a child either.

"Anniversary, 1997: the last picture. And I realised why you were so unhappy and so alone. " I didn't get this - what happened to her parents? Also I'd have liked to have known what she died of.(morbid curiousity?!)

Poignant.

Elspeth


Dee at 21:13 on 17 April 2005  Report this post
Elizabeth, this is a very moving tale Ė and extremely well written - but Iím not so sure itís a story. Itís a snapshot, a moment in the life of the narrator, part of a larger storyÖ

Having said that, I enjoyed reading it very much.

Dee


Flashy at 21:14 on 17 April 2005  Report this post
A very controlled slow paced reflective piece of writing, it may take several reads to get it's full worth.I will try and get back to it.

Nice work.

Alan

Harry at 05:58 on 18 April 2005  Report this post
Hi Elizabeth,

This is powerful and moving stuff that is very well written.

I agree with Dee about the completeness of the story, but am looking forward to reading more of your work.

Best regards

Harry



Becca at 08:59 on 18 April 2005  Report this post
Hi Elizabeth,
this was so very sad. I had the girl as a student somewhere who'd lost both parents and then just gave up. I think as Dee says, 'storifying' it more would notch it up a level, maybe with some dialogue between the warden and the MC? That way you could show the sort of casualness of her death, or something else about it.
If this is a real experience of yours, it could well be difficult to manipulate the material into a story, sometimes it can take a long time before you're ready to 'let it go' a bit.
Becca.

scoops at 10:57 on 18 April 2005  Report this post
Elizabeth, This is a very moving read and as the mum of a teenager I read it with sadness and anxiety:-(

I think the problem with it as a piece of fiction is that it boils down to a series of ruminations from the heart with few insights that take us to the girl's core. Who is the narrator? Why did they share exchanges? What has brought her here to bag up the detritus of the girl's life? Where are the parents? Just by giving us that information we would get a sense of where the girl fitted in other people's lives even if the point of the story is that the narrator, like others around the dead girl, had no sense of her inner life. I'm also not sure if the ending is really a resolution: it seems more like cop-out, adding sentiment to pathos instead of finding an answer to the question that is imprinted on the whole narrative, which is about the meaning of life and why some people are estranged from their own existences.

That said, I was gripped by it because it touched a chord, and the depth of feeling in the writing is tangible:-) It's worth going back to. Shyama.

mabel at 08:19 on 25 May 2005  Report this post


Elizabeth.

I was very moved by this, more so for the narrator than for the girl who died.
Fabulously poignant and haunting, I especially loved ;

..but amidst all the laughing and dancing and cheering and shouting,I remember you sitting, melancholy and alone in a corner of the room, as if you knew thatyou would never be a part of this new century .

You portray her ' otherness ' with a tenderness that makes me want to know a lot more about her.

Is it set in America ? Just the word ' carton ' jumped out.

Agree that some dialogue would give it a new dimension, ideally explain al little more how the narrator and the girl met.

Are you writing any more ?

Mabel







mabel at 08:20 on 25 May 2005  Report this post


Elizabeth.

I was very moved by this, more so for the narrator than for the girl who died.
Fabulously poignant and haunting, I especially loved ;

..but amidst all the laughing and dancing and cheering and shouting,I remember you sitting, melancholy and alone in a corner of the room, as if you knew thatyou would never be a part of this new century .

You portray her ' otherness ' with a tenderness that makes me want to know a lot more about her.

Is it set in America ? Just the word ' carton ' jumped out.

Agree that some dialogue would give it a new dimension, ideally explain al little more how the narrator and the girl met.

Are you writing any more ?

Mabel







grinch at 08:46 on 28 June 2005  Report this post
Hi Elizabeth.

I enjoyed this piece very much, the pace was perfect. I agree with the other comments about who she was and her age. just a little simple information can go a long way. That said, i like the mystery surrounding the reason for her sadness, i think this works well.

Richard.


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