The whispered numbers echoed a little.

She couldn’t believe that he was gone.

74 years her brother had known her.

She had been born when her brother was six.

She had always been the runt, the tag-along, the ragtag, the pain in the ass.

And now here she was, alone, at her brother’s casket.

For he was gone.

The normality, the everydayness of death, was not so, when it was you and yours.

Her whole sense of the world had tipped. Her brother had been the one constant in her turbulent life, and even though she was old now, too, it didn’t lessen the vagaries of her brain, the vicious invaders that she kept at bay with unwieldy medications.

Medications her doctor was telling her would need to be changed due to her advancing years.

Soon she wouldn’t have these little recipes for normality, these pills she likened to magic beans, enabling her to scale up the beanstalk and lay waste to the big bad giant of mental illness, what they called her disability, and what she steadfastly thought of, and spoke of, as madness.

If it hadn’t been for Charles, Charlie to most, but always Charles to his kid sister, she would never have been diagnosed as bipolar, never medicated.

She would have forever been on that frightening ocean of uncertain reality, of brilliant, effervescent highs and lows that opened up the maw of desolation, so overwhelming there seemed to be no other escape from it then to end the life it was infecting.

People said it was evil and against the gift of God to commit suicide. But in the grips of that awful darkness, it seemed like the only positive response, like amputating an infected limb.

She had been driven to attempt to take her life at various times in her skittered life.

She called it skittered, because that’s how it felt, like a stone thrown up by a tire on a metal road.

Or a small creature skittering to safety from a larger predator.

Really, that’s how she had been for all those years.

Like prey.

She had been running from ghastly and untenable grief, frightening images and feelings in her mind that she could barely describe. And, often as not, they had her running straight into real physical dangers in the world she shared with other humans.

She was obviously one of the weak, trailing behind the herd and easy pickings for predators.

That’s when her mind snapped shut. She was 74 and had no need to go back down that grim rabbit hole to the past.

She had, disturbingly, detected unkind responses in her mind to some of the #MeToo movement. She would catch herself comparing abuse for abuse, rape for rape.

She had to stomp on that uncharitable part of herself.

She had once heard that it was women who primarily performed female circumcision and wondered how much the build up of resentment and sheer envy went into that brutal act.

The questions of…

“Why should they be spared when I wasn’t?”

“Why should they complain when I had much worse?”

“What do they know of suffering?”

…taken to their ugly, logical conclusion.

How it must be handed down from generation to generation of women. Gathered and guarded in silence, the bitterness against the young, those who escaped. She could see it breaking the solidarity that each generation should feel for the next, like a wave against a rock.

She hated those uncharitable thoughts when they reared their heads in her brain.

There was personal madness, and then there were purely reprehensible thoughts.

When they were in her mind and occluded her view of life, she felt like a seething mass of negativity. Surely she hadn’t deserved to live such a long life if thoughts like this still surfaced in her mind?

And then, just like that, she was back there.

Back when she was young and in attempting to silence the misery and the madness, had drunk too much and found herself frightened and in the company of strangers.

All she could do was repeat her brother’s phone number and hope that he would save her from herself.

He always came.

Her Charles.

Her saviour.

And now they were here, in this quiet chapel,

She was whispering the numbers,

From all those years ago,

And they just echoed back a little,

She was all alone.

For he was gone.

Quite gone.