I stare at the picture. I’ve never seen it before, although I now remember the moment. How appropriate I should stumble across it today of all days.
Was that the last moment of innocence? I try to look back further, to remember what life had been like before the picture was taken; the last photo they ever took of me. It’s a minor miracle those who came for me didn’t destroy it and, looking back, the fact that they allowed me to keep Paulie was even more amazing.
Paulie…I glance at the shoe box in the corner of the room, my vision going blurry.
Within a day after I’d drawn that picture my world had changed beyond recognition. No more parents, no more photos and no more painting. Whisked away without an explanation, unable to understand why my mammy wasn’t there to comfort me, or my father to put me on his shoulders and play horse with me. I never had a room of my own after that day. I’d had nothing I could call my own. The toys I was sometimes allowed to play with, the clothes they made me wear, all belonged to other kids; kids who were somehow better than me; kids who did get to ask for Christmas presents and have birthday parties.
But Paulie stayed with me. Curled up on my thin pillow every night, unless it was cold. Then he’d snuggle under the covers to keep my feet warm. Paulie who licked away my tears as understanding dawned and I realised my parents would never come back—that I was stuck with these people who were only in it for the money.
An all too familiar anger surges up in me before I squash it down again. I won’t give them anymore of my time, my emotions. They’ve taken enough—all of my childhood. They’re not getting the rest of my life too; I won’t allow them to dominate my thoughts and actions.
Fourteen years have passed since that picture was taken. Fourteen long years filled with fear, hunger and sometimes pain. The first ten years I waited for a miracle; the last four I just counted down until the day I would turn eighteen and be able to leave. Fourteen years during which Paulie kept me grounded—alive.
Two weeks ago I packed whatever meagre possessions I had. When I stood by the door they pushed a shoebox into my hands—the same box now sitting in the corner of the first room I’m not forced to share. I had no intention of opening the box, couldn’t imagine I’d find anything I would want to see in there. Today the choice was taken out of my hands.
I sigh and walk across the room and pick up the box. “Thank you my friend, for staying with me until I was safe. Thank you for keeping me warm and never allowing me to feel all alone.” I glance at the photo again and the other documents I found when I emptied the box. “Thank you for making sure I have something to cling to, even now you’re gone.”
I’m so glad I managed to do a flash again after last week’s hiatus. This wonderful picture was suggested by Theo Fenraven and, as always, more stories based on the same image can be found on the Monday Flash Fics Page on Facebook. Make sure to read them since they’re wonderful J