This was the moment she’d been dreading. She received the news only yesterday but there was a crucial reason to be standing here so soon. Mental and emotional defences prepared like a warrior with her shield and sword at the ready. She looks up at the two-story house, once a place of comfort now a harbinger of despair. A small castle left abandoned by her sister. The tiny key she holds weighs heavy in both hand and heart. One shove of the shield forces that feeling away and she bravely steps towards the front door. On the other side, the soft pitter patter of paws on hardwood greets her ears. Shaky fingers slide the key into the lock. A strained gentle push on the cool wood slowly opens the door with a creak.
Sitting on the other side is a patient springer spaniel, Frost. He stands, tail wagging and tongue hanging free, looking at her with his ears raised in confusion.
“Hey buddy.” she says, trying to sound happy but failing.
Frost ignores her, tail still wagging, he bounds to the threshold. Eyes search frantically outside for his owner to no avail. Frost’s tail falls and his head lowers as he trots upstairs. Sad eyes watch the heartbroken dog.
With sword raised, one step through the barrier, she enters the fray. Everything looks the same yet feels completely different. Everywhere she moves a cloak of unease and emptiness clings to her skin.
Living room to the right, a space of countless joyous memories. Now the air is silent. A foggy no man’s land. Opposite stands a sturdy precious bookshelf where two women stare at her smiling. A photo from a time long passed. Her younger self and her sister, Amber, both blissfully ignorant of what was to come, a world overrun by disease and pain. She reaches out to touch the frame when suddenly the feeling of a gentle hand rests on her shoulder. She whips around; no one’s there. Just an empty room. The feeling lingers on her shoulder, a comforting ethereal hand. Looking back at the picture, she places her hand over the ghostly one. Nothing there but there’s a sense of connection with the presence. A bubble of peace. Her hand lowers and she drifts to the kitchen.
She gathers all of Frost’s necessities as fast as a cheetah. Sword slashing and shield bashing away the hurt that’s threatening to surface until everything is neatly placed in the car. Satisfied she grabs the lead and stands at the bottom of the stairs.
“Frost!” she yells.
“Come on boy! Time for a walk.” She calls again, yelling even louder.
Hesitant, she ascends.
“Frost?” she calls.
Wherever he is he’s not making a sound. With each step towards the top she silently prays. Don’t be in that room, please don’t be in Amber’s room.
A long hallway. All the doors are closed except one. Gathering courage, she marches forward. One shaky step at a time.
“Frost?” voice barely above a whisper.
Each step feels like a needle piercing the flesh. Invisible swords hack away at her inner shields.
She’s now standing in the doorway, trying her best to keep the emotional barrier in place. Inside, Frost lies on the end of the bed. He doesn’t move, just briefly glances towards her. His attention swiftly returns to staring at the pillows.
Still at the door, she tries coaxing him from the room.
“Come on Frost. Come on boy”.
Steeling herself, she steps out onto the battlefield.
The room feels delicate, almost as if any sharp movement would shatter even the air into millions of pieces. Every footfall strikes another fracture into the emotional barrier. The illusioned safety of the bed seems an eternity away. At last she perches on the edge next to Frost. Both rest their gaze on the same spot as if Amber would just appear, but she won’t. Her heart-warming presence will never again flood a room. A rough hand meets soft fur. The emotional defences can longer hold together as a tear slides down her cheek. Each new tear cracks the splintering shield and the barrier she’d built to protect herself crumbles into ruin. Everything she was holding back comes flooding out as she crashes onto Frost’s stomach, nuzzling her tear-soaked face into his fur.