The schoolyard was empty. Arah and Jessie sat on its fringes with their blazers between themselves and the cold, damp grass. Vaguely, they saw their classmates through the windows, moving in and out of view like characters on a TV screen. They were laughing.
The clouds drew together, preparing to decant their sorrows on the world and Arah thought how easy it would be to burst open right there and then and be finished with it all. She already felt as immaterial as a ghost. Maybe after, she’d feel just as light.
“They say it feels like drowning,” said Jessie. It was a question.
Arah’s gaze was fixed on the sky. The frozen wire fence pressed into her back chilling her through her thin, white shirt. It was a reminder that there were still at least some things she could feel.
“No. I don’t think so. Not for me, at least,” she answered after a while, in a flat, quiet tone. “It’s more like being caught in torrential rain. The downpour comes without warning and suddenly you’re gasping for air and tearing through the storm trying to find shelter. The water gets in your mouth every time you inhale, but you’re still breathing. The problem is, the rain’s coming down so heavy that no one can really see you. You’re just a shadow in the storm and no one can see you struggling. And you are struggling, you really are. Fat drops of water bruise your skin and the wind rips right through you. It’s not the lack of air that kills you in the end. It’s the cold – the bitter, unforgiving cold. You freeze to death before anyone can reach you.”
Jessie watched her with glassy eyes. She hadn’t understood before. She removed her black, woolen gloves and turned, folding Arah’s icy hands in her own. Jessie felt a rope wrap around her stomach as she realised Arah’s eyes were empty.
“I can see you Arah,” she whispered. It was all she could think to say. She pulled Arah into her arms. “I can see you. I’m here, and I hope I’m not too late.”