Sun, 29 March 2009 - 8:18 pm

Please don’t look

Ben’s asleep finally, so I have some time. Everything is quiet except for the pounding in my head. I want to sleep, but I need to get this down first. For me, for Ben, and for those we found yesterday.

 

We had no problems getting to the building, or getting inside – the door had been forced open before we arrived. There were marks on the doorframe where a knife had pried it open, and Ben’s expression darkened. He led the way to the side of the foyer, ignoring the immoveable lifts and going straight for the stairwell. We went up quickly and quietly, and when I glanced back at the others, I saw a few of them quietly carrying a weapon in hand as they climbed. Just in case.

On the fifth floor, we peeled off into the corridor. It was terribly silent, not a creak of shifting girders nor a whisper of wind caressing the building. There was no sign of anyone inside, which was a relief in one way, but Ben didn’t seem comforted by that thought.

We found the door to apartment 504 locked and unmarked. I think that was the high point of the day; whoever had broken in downstairs had not invaded this home. Ben had a key to it, attached to the keyring buried at the bottom of his pack. I remember the sound of it sliding into the lock, snicking into place more snugly than anything has for us in a long time.

I looked at the others and Matt was at my elbow, murmuring that they would look for somewhere to settle down, maybe look for some supplies. Sax nodded in agreement and the rest of them moved off down the corridor. Dillon hesitated until I reassured him, then went to catch up with the others. Ben was already inside by then, oblivious to what we were doing, but he’s a private person and I don’t think he would have wanted the whole group watching this. I wasn’t going to leave him on his own, of course, and closed the door behind us.

The place didn’t smell good. My stomach dropped a foot and roiled uncomfortably; I’m getting far too familiar with that gagging aroma. From the line of his shoulders, rolling defensively, I knew the Ben recognised it too. I offered to look so that he didn’t have to, but he shook his head and pressed on. The lounge area was neat and tidy, and completely unoccupied, so we peeled off to look in the other rooms.

 

It was me who found his nephew. I didn’t even know he had a nephew, but he does. He did.

I didn’t need to touch the body to know that it was dead; there was a little blue-grey hand visible and that was all I needed. I just closed the door and tried to stop Ben from going in. He took one look at my face and pushed me out of the way; he had to practically lift me away so he could get to the door. I begged him not to go in there but he wasn’t listening.

He was four years old, just starting to become a little person. Ben said his name was Jamie. There was a pillow over the boy’s head and that somehow made it all worse, bringing with it the awful thought that someone had smothered him. Ben took the pillow off, as if that might undo the terrible act, and I wasn’t fast enough to stop him. I know that the shrunken face we saw didn’t look anything like the child that he had known, and I wish he hadn’t seen it. We couldn’t even pretend that he was sleeping.

I didn’t know what to do; it was too easy to get distracted by the sight of that tiny form in its train-patterned pajamas. I touched Ben’s hand, but he shook me off, then pushed me out of the way so he could storm out. He was shouting for his sister, Kim, as if she might be hiding, as if she might answer him, and burst angrily into the other bedroom.

She was there, lying on the bed, the same colour as her son. The bottle of sleeping pills spilt out of her hand told the story of how she chose to die, curled up on her side and hunched as if wrapped around a great pain.

Ben wouldn’t stop shouting at her, as if she could still hear him. Asking her how the hell she could do that to her own child, how dare she do that, and why, of all things, why. When he looked like he would grab and shake her, I got in the way and pushed him back, but he didn’t stop yelling. He was just a child, she had no right, how could she, how could she.

He didn’t stop until his voice shredded at the edges and ran out of strength. I could feel him shaking and tears were choking up his breathing, and finally he went where I asked him to. I pulled him out of that room and away from the sight of his sister, and then he collapsed on me, clinging and crying.

 

The others had heard the commotion and came running. They stopped at the door and I waved them away, trying to assure them silently that there was nothing they could do. They didn’t come in, choosing not to intrude while I comforted Ben as best I could. I’m so grateful to them for giving him the space. They didn’t need to ask what was wrong; it was what all of us feared we would find when looking for our families.

It took a while for him to calm down. Eventually I managed to get him sitting on the couch and we talked. He told me about Kim and Jamie, and cried in a small, broken way. I cried too; who wouldn’t, watching him struggle like that and knowing that there isn’t any making it better. Knowing how what we found today has tainted his memories of his family, of a sibling and a nephew.

It was growing dark by the time he felt strong enough to leave the apartment. Before we left, we wiped our faces and I tried to tidy him up a little bit. To preserve his pride in front of the others; he wouldn’t want them to see him in such a mess. They had found us a couple of apartments downstairs that were comfortable and clean; and, more importantly, empty. They let us have one of the bedrooms and some privacy. I stayed with him; I didn’t quite dare leave him alone.

It was a rough night. Neither of us got any sleep, nor managed to make much sense of it. We cried until our heads hurt and forgot to eat. His emotions came in waves: anger and sorrow, frustration and despair. I spent all of today trying to get Ben to eat something or get some rest, and I only just succeeded in the latter of those. We’re going to use the kitchen here to make a hot meal when he wakes up.

I’m so tired now that I hardly know what to think. I feel wrung out, stepped on and sucked dry. I should get some sleep while I can, while he’s quiet. Even when he’s sleeping, I can see the tears on his cheeks.

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