By: Hannah Acutt

St Anne's Diocesan College

I was not always like this. My pictures used to be colourful; full of life and light – the things of a normal and happy childhood. But slowly the light leaked out of these pictures, and the darkness rushed in, settling easily into my shredded soul. It was as though the shredding and tearing had opened up spaces that had previously been closed because my soul had been whole; as though the darkness were trying to inhabit what the light no longer could. And it made perfect sense; would your pictures not be like this if your mother was dead?

It was not a shock. She had cancer, in her stomach; it happened over a long period of time. But that did not ease the agony at all; when she finally gave in, the pain to my heart was just as twisting and pointed as if she had died suddenly during the night. The facts were exactly the same, and the difference of time does not change the outcome – she was dead, and would never be coming back.

The day I heard the news, I was in my bedroom. It was one of those strange days, where the clouds are neither grey nor white, and the sun casts everything in a vivid, alien glow. Using my coloured pencils, I was busy drawing the tree that stands outside my window. Strong and gnarled, it was a beautiful tree, and in this light it was positively otherworldly. It was my mother's favourite kind of picture – colourful and bright. Softly the door was opened, and my parents said that we needed to talk about something. They sat on my bed, and I turned to face them in my desk chair. I could see they were both uneasy – my father was blinking so rapidly I thought he might injure his eyeballs, and my mother was nervously twisting her curly brown hair around her finger. I looked at them expectantly, never even imagining the words that were shortly to come out of my mother's mouth.

My mother suddenly looked me straight in the eye, and was calm when she told me about the tumour that had latched itself onto her colon like a life-sucking leech. Those words had not even fully sunk in yet before she told me that there was not much hope that they could remove the tumour; that she would probably die. In that moment, the floor fell out beneath my feet and my heart with it. I screamed to the heavens, clawing at my shirt like I could get to my heart to stop it from hurting so much. But I couldn't. With those first hot, thick tears, all of the joy left my body.

It was about two years before her statement was made true. The day of her funeral, I threw all of my coloured pencils out the window. There was no space in my heart for colour any more. Grey and black were the colours I now used – and not only in my pictures. I didn't want to see or hear anything that reminded me of her, and that included the colourful pencils and pretty pictures.

So I began to draw the Pictures.

They were dark and withered, black like newly-spilled ink and shrunken like my soul. They showed the bleeding of my heart; they bared the shreds that were left of it.

Now I am but a ghost. A grey ghost. My friends left me long ago to be on my own, claiming that I was too morbid to be around and that I drifted through my life as though it was not only my mother who was dead, but me, too. But that's how I want it; I don't need other people. They only try to help me, and I don't want help. Even though I ache all over from the loss of her, at least I know that this way I won't be able to forget her. Nobody understands that if I move on, I will leave her behind.

I think about this while I walk home. Icy rain spits in my face and the wind screams in my ears, chilling me to my bones. When I get to the house, I shrug off my anorak and trudge up the stairs, my school books cradled in my arms. I open the door with my elbow and drop the books wearily onto my desk. Then, I see the box. It sits on the windowsill, brown cardboard and very old. Looking around me, I wonder why my father put it there. Curious, I open the box. Inside are dozens of old photos, yellow and a bit curled-up on the edges. I pick up the photo that is on the top of one of the piles, and my heart immediately starts to bleed through its bandages again: it is my mother. She is maybe fifteen, happy and alive. I pick up the next one: she sits with my father in a restaurant. I pick the next one up, and the next, and the next; they are all of my mother. But it is the last one that is the one that makes my heart ache the most. She sits underneath the tree that stands in front of my window, with me as a baby in her arms. Sunbeams play over her face, and she smiles contentedly down at me.

I cry.

I cry about all the things that I will never do with my mother; I cry about the memories that are just not enough and, while I cry, I can feel how the grey and black begin to leak out of my body. Suddenly, I grab all my pictures that are dark and colourless, and rub them out quickly and desperately. Grabbing picture after picture, I rub out all the darkness and the sorrow; I rub out the grey, the black and all the things that are not good. I grab the last picture on my shelf, and am about to rub it out, when I notice that there is actually colour in this one. Surprised, I look more closely at the picture and see that it is my picture of the tree – the one I drew on the day my mother told me about the cancer. It was the last colourful picture I drew. Smiling faintly through my tears, I pin the picture up on my wall. I can see now why she loved these kinds of pictures so much. She loved them because they help you to see the goodness in the world, and they heal your heart like only love can.

Sinking tiredly into my chair, I look out the window. The rain has retreated and only a faint wind remains to make the tree sway gently. The sun shines down softly through its leaves, and imagining my mother sitting under its branches, I smile with real happiness for the first time in years. Tomorrow I will buy new coloured pencils, for my mother.