“Are you sure you’re ready to do this love?” Ian turned Milly towards him and looked into her sad, sad eyes.
“Yup, It’s been three weeks, I need to get it done.” Sylvie was gone, horribly, pointlessly gone. The funeral had been searing and Milly knew the empty space would never be filled. Nobody else in the whole world had spent nights at Uni talking with her until the sun came up, nobody had calmed her down when she had to do a recital in front of the Dean and nobody else knew how she had really felt about Martin.
They left the house and walked the half mile to Sylvie’s flat in silence, well not really Sylvie’s flat any more that was the whole point. When Mr and Mrs Wright had asked if she would go and empty the place how could she refuse? They were still absolutely immobilised by what had happened. Bad enough to lose your child but to lose your child to a violent, senseless, unsolved murder, well they would never recover, nobody would.
It was horrible, ghastly. Going up the stairs to the red front door Milly’s legs turned to jelly and by the time they had reached the second landing her hands were shaking so violently Ian had to take the key from her and turn it in the lock. The curtains in the flat were drawn closed. There was evidence of the police activity in the space here and there. The investigation hadn’t brought any answers only an invasion of privacy and more misery piled onto the shock and disbelief. There had been the offer of counselling and a police liaison officer but none of it helped, nothing changed the fact that Sylvie was gone, cruelly and unbelievably and forever.
Taking a deep breath Milly squared her shoulders and stepped over to snatch back the curtains and then without allowing time for thought to wheedle its way into her resolve she pulled at the bed and stuffed all the bedding into the black bin bag Ian held out. They turned out the drawers and wardrobe, they emptied the kitchen cabinets, the food would all go in the bin, Okay it was dried or tinned or in packets, but they were Sylvie’s packets, it was Sylvie’s pasta, Sylvie’s soup. This was unbearably painful.
They took down the pictures and worst of all emptied her bathroom cabinet, which was so personal, it brought her within reach but beyond reaching. “What do you want to do with it all now?” Ian tried to sound caring but in truth this had all been too much for him as well and he wanted it over and done.
“I’m chucking all the perishables, her books and stuff are going to her mum and dad and her clothes are all to be cleaned and then to the charity shop.”
“Don’t you want any of it then, for yourself?”
“Oh Ian, I just don’t know. I want Sylvie not Sylvie’s stuff.”
His arms went around her and she buried her head in his woolly jumper and just let the tears come now. “I think I would like to have something, just a thing I can look at later and say, that was Sylvie’s, but I don’t know what.”
“What about jewellery, or one of her bags?”
“No, not jewellery, our tastes were different and anyway I wouldn’t feel right wearing any of her stuff. Not her bags either they’re not permanent enough. Oh, I don’t know her mum and dad said take anything but it just doesn’t feel right.”
They stood and looked around the denuded space, sad and empty and already forgetting its last tenant. “What about one of her pictures?”
“Hmm, yes maybe. Or, I know she bought a mirror, the last chat we had she said she had bought a mirror and she was hating it because it made her look like the Bride of Dracula. At the time it made me laugh because she was so lovely. Yes, where did you put it?”
“Nope, haven’t seen a mirror, just those prints, a couple of woven hangings and a terracotta lizardy thing.”
“But there must be, the last time she spoke to me, she definitely said she had bought a mirror and she thought the flat must be damp because it had some spots forming on it.”
“Oh, well if it was damaged maybe she got rid.”
“No, she can’t have she didn’t have time, it was that day. Well you know, the day the police came. It must be here, let’s just go through the pile again.” Now she couldn’t find it Milly knew it was the mirror she wanted, the thing she must have to remember her friend.
“It’s not here, I’ve had all the bags out, I’ve looked everywhere. You must be confused. It was an awful day you know it wouldn’t be surprising if you’d got mixed up. There is no mirror, Sylvie didn’t have one.”
Milly’s brow crinkled in a deep frown, she had been so sure, she had revisited their last conversation so many times, it had all been about the mirror, well nearly all, could she really have got it so very mixed up. She looked up at Ian and shrugged as more tears drenched her cheeks. “Oh god, Ian how will we ever get over all of this?”
“I know love but we just have to, she was lovely and special and it’s awful but she would want us to remember her happy and alive wouldn’t she?”
“I suppose so but it is so weird I would have sworn I was right about the mirror. She said she bought it down in the market.”
“Tell you what, how about tomorrow we go down there and look at the stalls, the way she used to do and we’ll try and remember her the way she was and maybe we’ll feel better. You know what, I don’t think you need to have a thing to remember her by anyway, she is part of your history and will always be there part of your life. Let’s get this stuff out, lock up and go and have a drink. Okay.” She gave him a wan smile and they finished the awful task.…
The sun was trying to break through, not very successfully but at least it was trying, Milly decided to take it as a sign things were improving as she walked down to meet Ian. She was still not sure this was good idea. How do you decide what is right and wrong in a situation so unthinkable, the sort of thing which happens to other people. Well no not even that, it happens in films or books but in real life your best friend isn’t found battered to death with horrible injuries and dumped in an alley just hours after you’d sat and drunk a bottle of wine and laughed about the what ifs and the might have beens.
The crowd was fairly light and they moved easily along the rows of stalls, old books, old tools, old clothes it was a bit depressing actually and eventually they agreed a far better way to spend the time would be having a pint in the pub beside the river and so turning down the side road they passed where the smallest stalls were. Antiques, plates, pictures, lace, Sylvie. Milly gave a gasp, really more of a minor scream, and spun around knocking into an old woman who tutted and huffed as she went along the road limping theatrically.
“What on earth is going on?” Ian was holding her arm now. “Bloody hell Milly you’re dead white what is the matter?”
“I saw her, Sylvie, just now I saw her.” He wrapped his arms around her tightly. “Hey, steady love. Take a deep breath, you know that’s not true. Come on sit on this bench.”
“No, I saw her, she was right behind me, you must have seen her. She was there, I saw her. Ian I saw her.”
“But you weren’t even looking at the road, Milly, you were looking at the stall.”
“Yes, exactly, the stall. I was looking at the mirror and I saw her reflected, standing right behind me, you must have seen her. Oh Ian she looked so sad and frightened. It can’t have been her can it? she’s gone.”
He led her away from the crowd who were now starting to stare and into a café where he bought them coffee. He sat holding her hand until the shaking stopped and the tears slowed. “It’s nothing to worry about love, we’ve all had a terrible time and it’s not something you can get over in a couple of weeks. Really, it was probably someone who looked a lot like her and because you want to see her so much your mind played a trick on you.”
“Do you think that’s it. Yes, I suppose it makes sense. I know, I do know she can’t have been there but it was just like her and she looked straight at me. In fact now I think about it I couldn’t really tell you what else or who else was there it was as if all there was, was Sylvie. You know what I think? I want to buy the mirror. I know, wipe that look of your face and don’t try and tell me not to, the more I think about it the more I really want it. Let’s drink this and then go back and see how much it is and if I can afford it I’m having that mirror.”
The ornate frame wasn’t anything to do with the ultra modern fittings in Milly’s flat but somehow the ancient metal and old amber glass fit the décor. It stood out, it didn’t shout and argue with the furnishings it rose above them and became a focal point, the focal point. She had hung it in the living room on the long wall opposite the settee and it settled in beautifully. It obviously wasn’t the same mirror Sylvie had bought, if indeed she had bought one which now seemed doubtful but it was tangled in the tale which seemed to be enough for now.
Ian was still not sure it had been the right thing to do but Milly insisted and didn’t even wrangle with the crazy looking little old woman who ran the stall. Twenty quid did seem cheap anyway, probably meant it was a crap Chinese import and they would see others like it at every flea market and country fair they went to, but for all that it looked good. He was still bothered though, the look on Milly’s face when she had thought she had seen Sylvie had scared the pants off him.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay tonight Milly?
“No, it’s fine I have to be off at five in the morning to get to Sheffield in time for rehearsals so it’s best if you go home. I’ll be okay honest.” She gave him a weak smile and stood waving as he left her. How could he know it was the last smile she would ever give him…
Deep into the night, so deep there was no sound from the road, no noise from the pub across the road and not even the constant companion of the television in the next flat. What had woken her then, Milly lay immobile, she didn’t remember dreaming but there was something, her skin prickled and she realised she was holding her breath. There it was on the edge of hearing a strange shushing, hushing. Goosebumps on her arms and a dry lump in her throat witnessed the nugget of fear but she slid out from the duvet and went through to the lounge. All seemed fine, the table lamp was glowing dimly, as it always did and the street lamp cast its orange glow through the curtains. The air though was filled with tension, there was something on the edge of knowing. There, it was there a faint sound in the corner, could it be a mouse, maybe. Possibly a big moth, in the corner, there in the dark. She moved forward, the mirror glowed in the gloom, the amber coloured glass seemed backlit it rippled and shone, she could see her reflection. How was it possible, she was on the other side of the room not even in front of the thing. As she moved closer the reflection moved and turned, it looked at her. It was Sylvie. “Ah, no it’s not you, it can’t be you.”
“Milly, come to me. I need you, I’m so lonely and afraid, come to me. You can help me, take me home. Milly come here.”
“Sylvie. Where are you. I’m dreaming, I know I am but where are you.”
“Come to me Milly, take me home.”
“How, what should I do? How can I help you?” The tears drenched her cheeks as Milly’s body shook and shivered in the dark dreaming room.”
“Just come to me, I need you to take me home.”
“I don’t know what to do Sylvie. Tell me what to do.”
“The window, go to the window. Open it, that’s right push it up as far as it will go. You can come to me now.” The cold air disturbed the cotton nightshirt moulding it to her body and ruffling her long blond hair as she turned back to the glowing glass on the wall.
“Come and get me Milly, take me with you. Yes, yes, now together take us to the window. Up on the ledge Milly, we can fly. You and me we can fly. Climb on the ledge, hold me close come and get me Milly.”
The crunch as the girl’s body hit the ground two floors below was sickening overlaid as it was by the tinkling of glass like breaking icicles…
The Coroner turned to address the court. He scanned the faces before him sympathetically, this was always hard. A young life snuffed out early, grieving parents, heartwrenched friends. He cleared his throat more to prepare them than for any real need. “This tragic case involves the death of a young girl in the prime of her life. There are several anomalies, firstly the absence of any note to her family or friends. Secondly the presence in many of the wounds of amber coloured glass which was not of the window panes and most disturbing of all the fact that the bones had shattered so completely as a result of the fall.” The quiet sobbing increased as he spoke, this was unbearably difficult for loved ones to hear. “However, it does appear that Ms Millicent Roberts was extremely distressed by the recent murder of her close friend and therefore we have reached the conclusion that she took her own life by leaping from the window of her flat. We believe she took this action as a result of the disturbed state of her mind at the time of her death and we therefore return a verdict of suicide whilst the balance of the mind was disturbed. It is unfortunate that despite a concerted effort by all involved with this case it has been impossible to trace the elderly woman seen in the street shortly after the event. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of the deceased”