By JP Sanders
It was cold, as it, of course, always is.
The boys were both full of colds and grouchy and were dragging things out, not getting into their coats and shoes, finding if only then to lose their hats, scarves and gloves, having an impromptu tug of war competition with said scarves, which led to both of them falling over, banged heads and a refusal from their mum to kiss them better until they’d learned to behave themselves properly.
Well eventually, we managed to get everyone to the car. I’d deliberately not brought the balloons into the house earlier, as I knew that once the boys saw them, that would be that. So I’d hidden them in the boot. I had the marker pen we’d get the boys to write their names on them within my coat pocket.
James wrote his name in neat, tidy letters.
Tom started writing, ‘Thomas,’ but then, seeing that his brother was done, he stopped at ‘Thom.’
“Very nice,” said Ruth. “Your handwriting’s definitely coming along nicely, isn’t it? The both of you.”
“I like writing Js,” said James, “because there is a J in James.”
“Why isn’t there a J in Thomas?” asked Thomas.
Ruth kissed the top of his head and explained, “Because then your name’d be Jomas,” which made us all laugh – as we walked towards the grave.
I turned and looked behind me rapidly.
My wife and Tom.
A look on his face I had no need to be told was grief.
And the balloon he had been holding flying away.
“You made me!” screamed Tom, trying to stamp on his brother’s foot – but James was too quick for him, and in any case, Ruth now yanked his hand back and smacked him. “No!”
“Oi! Pack it in!” I said.
“I told you to hold on to it!” said Ruth.
“Yes it did go, didn’t it!” snapped Ruth – I thought but did not say, with more anger than was helpful it was necessary. It was just a fucking balloon. Only if course it wasn’t.
“How am I going to send my love to Helen now?” Tom said piteously – pathetically – before sneezing a big snotty sneeze. “She won’t know I love her too!”
And then we stood, as we did every year, in front of the grave of our firstborn child, who had died on the day she was born, some twelve winters ago. The grave was neat and well tended, as we paid somebody to do this for us. It was colder now.
Much to James’s disgust, we had, of course, let Tom write his name on the remaining balloon – “my balloon,” insisted James – and none of us remarked upon the fact that he spelled it ‘Jomas.’
We then all held the balloon together and let it go, skywards.
To carry its tidings wherever the wind would blow.
And our love.
JP Sanders is a writer based in London.