Heavy rain splattered against the window. Soon after, the impregnable sounds of thunder were heard before a sharp bright flash lit up the dark room.  A man sat opposite the window, staring vacantly at the raindrops as they ran rivulets down the glass. In his hands he clutched onto a wallet, open to the picture he had put in there lovingly around five years ago. He glanced down at it, watching a tear fall and splash on the picture. He rubbed it gently with his thumb as more tears landed. Putting the wallet back in his pocket, the man leant back and closed his eyes. In the space of several hours his life had been ground to a halt. Everything seemed to be moving slowly as if it wasn’t real. But at the same time he felt helpless, unable to do anything and unable to stop the events that were happening right in front of his eyes. If only he could go back and change everything, for the burden of his regrets was heavy on his shoulders.  The guilt was tearing up his soul. If only he could go back…

The phone rang loudly, breaking the stillness of the room. The man slowly reached for his phone, glancing briefly at the caller id before he answered.

“John” he stated emotionlessly. His brother.

“Oh Jesus, I’m so sorry. Mum just told me the news. I’m coming over now.  Do you need me to bring anything?”

“No. You don’t need to bother yourself”

“Michael, I’m your brother. I’ll do anything you want. Just don’t shut me out” John sounded strained and Michael acknowledged it wasn’t just him who was suffering.

“Fine” Michael hung up and returned the phone. He got to his feet, stretching his cramped muscles. He surveyed his surroundings, his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He was in his living room but it didn’t feel like the haven it used to be. A place that he relaxed in, watched television in, laughed and shared memories was now cold and dead. Michael felt suffocated, as if the walls were closing in on him. And in some ways they were as the nostalgia and pain was making it difficult to breathe. Michael headed into the kitchen. Here was slightly better and Michael inhaled and exhaled several times to compose himself. He sat down again, this time at the dinner table. He closed his eyes, forcing his mind to shut down and not reminisce any more. There were only so many trips down memory lane he could cope with. But already his mind was there, dragging up the past.

Dust motes hung in the air as the sunlight burst into the room. The kitchen, with its bright yellow wallpaper, already encouraged a positive atmosphere but the good weather outside made it even better. The boy sitting at the table didn’t seem to agree, his head in his hands as he stared forlornly at the table. Michael entered the room and sat down next to the boy. He smiled in amusement. The boy ignored his presence and continued to scowl at himself. Michael reached over and ruffled the boy’s thick blonde locks. His response was to frown even more.

“What’s wrong with you, young’un?” Michael said cheerily, taking a quick sip of the boy’s glass of fruit juice.

“Can’t you guess?” a voice said from the other side of the kitchen. Michael glanced across at his wife as she walked towards him, holding two plates in her hands. She grinned at Michael and he returned the gesture with a wink.

“Hmm. Certainly is a toughie. I suppose he won’t want breakfast so I best have his share” Michael said loudly, waiting for his son’s reaction. It didn’t take long.

“No no, I want breakfast!” he said, taking his elbows off the table so his mother could put a place in front of him. She complied, before offering the other plate to Michael. He accepted, taking one large bite of toast before drawing his attention back to his son.

“I don’t suppose your sudden mood after a month and a half of bouncing off the walls has anything to do with school starting again today does it Sam?” Michael enquired, taking another bite. At ten years old, Sam was reaching the point in his education where things would get a little bit harder. This year he would be starting his SAT’s and clearly the prospect was troubling him. Michael didn’t have any doubt that Sam wouldn’t have any problem passing. He was a bright boy who worked hard. The main reason he was in a mood was the fact he would have to start working again after spending the summer holidays playing.

“No surely not. Our Sam always wants to learn. He would never moan about school” Julie exaggerated, sitting opposite Michael. She took a sip of coffee, watching Sam over the rim of her mug. He chewed on his toast, staring at his mother sullenly.

“I don’t want to go, it’s boring” Sam finally said. He looked pleadingly at his father and Michael shook his head slowly, knowing what was coming next.

“You aren’t missing the first day back. You’ll get assigned to your new classes so you need to be there. Now go put your shoes on and then your mother will take you to Nathan’s” Michael ordered, getting to his feet.

“You off now?” Julie asked as Michael walked towards her. He studied her face lovingly, becoming drawn into her beautiful brown eyes. The irises were full of life, excitement. Then, unable to contain himself any longer, Michael leaned in and connected his lips with hers. He kissed his wife passionately, pulling her in closer, enjoying the feel of her body against his. If only this moment could last forever, he thought, reluctant to end the embrace.

Michael opened his eyes and broke out of his daydream, the disappointment etched upon his face at the realization that it was all a dream. His vision blurred and his shoulders shuddered as the tears began to fall.

“No my love” he whispered in the darkness between the sobs, “I’m still here”.


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