Monday, 30 March 2009 - 6:30 pm


This morning, everyone wanted to move on. I don’t blame them; that apartment building was a depressing place to be, and I know that Ben is only too aware of what lies on the floor above us. I suggested it to him and he agreed easily enough – a little too easily, perhaps.

When we were packing up, Sally came over and drew me aside. She said that she had gone back up to the apartment to see if there was anything that Ben might want. Photos, knickknacks, old family jewellery. It’s the sort of thing that I should have thought of, so I felt both grateful and as if I had failed him in some way. I want to say that I’ve been too busy sitting with him through his upset, but that feels like an excuse.

Sally gave me a little package and a note. She said that she had found the note in the bedroom next to Kim’s bed. Then she left me alone with it. When I looked at it, I saw why and went to show it to Ben. I knew it would upset him, but he needed to see it, with its shaky handwriting and tenuously offered answers.

I don’t know if there’s anyone left out there to find this. It seems like the whole world is dead or gone crazy.

Hugh has been gone for nearly a week. He was only supposed to be gone for a few hours, a day at the most. At first I thought he was just delayed; it’s been so long now that I don’t think he’s coming back. My husband and best friend is gone; I think he’s is dead. I would have gone after him, but the gangs tore through the streets below. I saw them kill a man in cold blood. I couldn’t take my baby out into that.

Please know that this isn’t what I wanted. I had no choice. My boy was starving and I couldn’t watch his pain any more. He wouldn’t stop crying and looking at me to make it better. I’d do anything for him. I’ve tried everything. I’ve given him my share of what we had, but it still wasn’t enough. I broke into the other apartments to find more food and water, but there was only so much to find and that all ran out too. It’s all gone now.

My baby was dying and the only thing I could do for him was to end his pain. Please forgive me, Jamie. I did it because I love you. God, forgive me for this; I don’t know what else to do. There’s nothing left and everyone is gone. It’s time for me to go too.

I’ll see you in Heaven, baby. I love you.

It made him cry again. The next thing I knew, he was howling in anger and had put a dent in the wall with his fist. He wouldn’t stop – he just kept hitting it until he was leaving bloody smears on the plasterboard and had made a couple of holes. I didn’t want to get in the way; I was going to let him vent until I saw the blood. Then I tried to catch at him, tried to stop him from beating his hands until they were broken.

He almost hit me. I saw it in his face, that wildness that reminded me of Thorpe when he was lost in his rage and pain. Instead, he grabbed me and slammed me against the wall. I looked him in the eye, trying to make a connection with him, trying to reach him.

“I know,” I told him. “I know. But you need to stop this.” It was all I could think of to say.

It was enough. I saw his fury falter, and then he let go of me and crossed the room so that he could slide heavily down to the floor. He put his head in his hands and it was quiet again.


I packed the note and the package that Sally gave me into my bag. I think Ben will want them eventually, so I’ll carry them for him for now. When I was done, I sat down where I was, giving him space.

It was a little while before he seemed calm enough for me to go to. I cleaned his hands up and wrapped his knuckles, wiped his face and helped him up. Then he hugged me so tight I thought one of us would break again. He was stony-faced and blank when we finally went out to join the rest of the group. There was something terribly defeated in the tramp of our boots down the stairs to the ground, and all of us stopped and looked back at it.

I’m not sure what we were looking for. I don’t know how many of us were wondering how many families had ended that way, how many had chosen a quick death over a long fading. I know that I was. And I was trying not to think about my dad.


Abruptly, Ben broke off to head back inside the building. I went to go after him, but he told me not to; he said he needed to do something alone. I didn’t know what else to do, so I stopped and stood with the others. After the door closed behind him, Matt came over to see if I was all right, and I felt like crying all over again. The only answer I could give him was a helpless shrug. I never knew Ben’s sister or her son, but I feel like I’m grieving for them anyway; that hollow ache inside reminds me of when my own sister died.

Ben was gone almost half an hour. We were all getting restless by then and Thorpe looked like he was thinking about going in there to see what was going on. He has been more patient than I had expected through all of this; he understands, I think. He sympathises, in his way.

When Ben finally opened the door, a coil of smoke escaped with him. His face was closed as he told us to move to the other side of the street, and we soon saw why. The smoke multiplied, escaping through any crevice it could find, and then it was backlit by flames. He had turned the whole building into their funeral pyre. The irony of a fireman setting such a blaze didn’t escape me, but I didn’t mention it.

Instead, I asked Sax to sing for us, for Kim and Jamie. And he did, his warm voice rolling out Amazing Grace as the flames ate their way up through the empty homes to where Ben’s family lay sleeping. We watched as it choked the sky with thick, black smoke, and moved further away as the building collapsed in on itself. There were only bones left when we turned our backs on it and left it behind.