The Promise, by Pat O’Rourke
What a night Danny.
Incredible. Unbearable tension. The best college-going 1500-metre runners all gathered in one stadium.
I carried your memory from the changing room to the track. I felt your presence. Visions of your cheeky smile lifted me when the contest was at its fiercest.
You helped me during that dash down the home straight with barely a millisecond separating the top three.
The crowd’s screams reached a crescendo when the bell sounded for the last lap. I heard your voice cheering me on.
Faster, faster, faster.
My rivals, perched on my shoulder, busted a gut to burn me off over the last 100 metres. Their breath stuck to my neck. Somehow, I summoned that extra strength from deep inside.
I felt a pair of hands pushing me forward. Your hands Danny. Your spirit soared above me, restocking my adrenaline reserves, propelling me to the tape, just ahead of my nearest competitor.
Oh yesssssssssss! I’m on a rollercoaster now and I can’t get off. My head is spinning. Applause rains down on me from the stands. My eardrums are bursting.
I wish you could have been there in person, Danny.
All these years later I still get the panic attacks. Sometimes I think it’s a lost cause. I’ve dreamt up fifty different ways that evening might have ended but reality always wins out.
When I close my eyes I hear the ambulance. Mam and Dad are locked in an embrace on the livingroom floor; Mam’s screams echo through the January night. Dad, looking as if he’s fighting with her, tries to shush her but he can’t. Can’t stop her shaking.
Her make-up weaves uneven patterns all over her face.
Your face turned purple. A trickle of blood slid from your forehead and rested on your chin. I wanted to wipe it with the sleeve of my Batman t-shirt but Dad wouldn’t let me. He shielded me from your lifeless body. I cried louder than I ever cried before, much louder than anytime I fell off my bike.
When the ambulance man placed a grey blanket over your head, I knew you were never coming back.
How I’d love you to appear in front of me tonight, sit on the edge of my bed, whisper my name. Congratulate me for keeping the promise.
I’m still yearning to say a proper goodbye, to say sorry.
Before I’d let you go back, I’d raise you up high, hold you ever so tightly.
It wouldn’t be like the last time.
My arms were thin back then, but I was only seven, four years older than you. This time I’d lift you up properly, and Danny, I wouldn’t let you fall from the top stair to the bottom.
Pat O’Rourke, a former journalist/editor, is a member of the Inkslingers’ Writing Group based at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin. He has had short stories published in the group’s anthologies, and particularly enjoys writing Flash Fiction.