After losing her brother, Emily has to recount the events of that traumatic day as she is interviewed for another television program.
WARNING Contains references to violence
Why did I agree to this? I think, as I push open the heavy doors that separate me from the people inside, who treat my opinion like the only one that matters. It’s nice. Somewhat nice. The slim opportunity to escape passed me by before I even realise it was there.
Silence fills the room as I step in. I attempt a shy smile at the dozen media technicians inside. A few smile back before they all resume their business with a blatant avoidance of me. They avoid looking at me, avoid murmuring about me, avoid talking at all. But they all know me. They all know my face. I’m famous, but not in the way anyone would want to be remembered.
Justine Kerridge is the only person with their attention set on me. She is one of the most well-known journalists in the country. Everyone knows her face from the television, her books, and the billboards reminding us to tune in at six o’clock every weekday. But to me, after days of being hounded by the media, she’s just another journalist that treats me like I matter, for as long as my story was in the news.
She stands between two plush armchairs, a big smile plastered on her face. It’s the same smile I’ve seen from everyone, a touch of sympathy and a touch of empathy hidden in the pearly whites. Though this time, I’m not sure whether the smile is to reassure me or to prepare her for when the cameras are switched on and we go live.
“Emily!” she beams, sounding exactly how she does through the tv screen. “Welcome, thank you so much for being here. I’m sure the past few days have been very tiring and stressful for you. I’m so glad you managed to squeeze us in.”
Shrugging, I simply smile back. This wasn’t much of a choice for me. An agent had caught me by email in the hours after the incident and her kind words soothed me into agreeing. From everything I’d seen of Justine in the media, I was expecting an all-encompassing hug when she greeted me. One that overwhelms the senses with floral perfume and a blanket of hair in your face. Instead, she shook my hand and motions me towards the opposite chair as a producer calls places.
I sit with an arrow straight back and my eyes focusing on the nude shoes Justine is wearing. Just waiting until the first question so I can get this over with.
“So, Emily, tell me. What do you remember about that tragic day?”
Whenever Brayden asked me to join him for a walk, I rarely ever refused. Especially not when it was a day as perfect as that day. The sun shone brightly, but a light breeze kept it cool. We were still fairly new to the city and I loved to explore, to relieve myself of that creeping sense of unfamiliarity. Every walk, we would take a new route, going down this road and turning down that one, with only the hope that we wouldn’t get so lost that our phones couldn’t save us.
Today, Brayden was leading the way. It wasn’t a new route, but a direct line to the town centre. The cafés were bustling with people savouring the good weather, the smell of freshly baked bread hung in the air, and children ran around with their friends without a care in the world. I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face. This city was so much more of a community than our previous one, where neighbours would avoid each other as much as possible.
“Hey, Em,” Brayden said, stealing my attention from the playing children. “I forgot to get money out for tonight. Can you wait over there for a sec while I get some?”
“Really?” I groaned. “Why can’t I just come with you? It’s not like I’m banned from the bank.”
“Just do it. Listen to your older brother for once.”
I huffed, but it was not worth the argument that he was only twenty-four minutes older. Not this time at least. Nothing was going to ruin the good mood I was in. The empty bench Brayden pointed me towards was by a garden box, blooming with flowers of all shapes and colours. It was on the edge of the hustle and bustle, but still allowed me to watch the square and soak in the good energy.
A small group of kids played hopscotch by the bench. Each studied me intently before one by one going back to their game. This town was perfect. Hopefully, we would be staying here for a long time. Longer than the previous place. It was peaceful and happy, just how I liked it.
Until the peace broke.
A gunshot echoed across the square.
A loud bang.
Then another and another, piercing through air. They never seemed to stop. But I couldn’t count how many went off. I was frozen in my seat, white fingers clutching the wooden batons. Everyone else screamed in fright and went running. In a flash of an eye, the children playing were scooped up by their parents to hide in side streets and empty buildings. But I couldn’t move. Couldn’t force any of my muscles to move even an inch.
I couldn’t leave without Brayden. I wouldn’t.
Sirens rang out as police cars raced past me into the square. Ambulances were not far behind. The gunshots were less frequent now, strategically aimed. Bodies littered the cobblestones of the square. Some without movement, others trying to drag themselves away. Stress and panic alarmed within me, clanging against the edges of my mind. I couldn’t see whether Brayden was among the fallen.
“Miss!” A police officer ran towards me. “Miss, you need to get out of here.”
“But… My brother.” I pointed towards the square. It was a weak gesture, filled with fear and fright. Something in me wasn’t connecting between my stress and my actions. My thoughts were running a million miles an hour, but my body was stuck in slow motion.
“Please, Miss. It isn’t safe here.” The officer was hiding his distress well, trying to remove me from the scene while his eyes jumped around the square. “I promise we’ll find your brother once this is over, but you need to leave.”
What he said made sense. I didn’t want it to make sense. I wanted to find Brayden, run home, and lock the doors to keep us safe. My hand dropped. Another two gunshots resounded, and the glass of a window shattered.
The officer was right. It was best for me to leave. Brayden had probably already left the area to find me. He was probably in tunnel vision mode to make sure I was safe.
Everything would be alright.
“…but it wasn’t.”
I pause. To the production team, it’s for dramatic effect. I can almost hear the intense music that they would overlay in post-production. But for me, the pause is to hold back the breathy catches in my throat that threaten tears.
“He wasn’t there. I didn’t know if he had made it out or if he was one of those bodies lying dead in the square. I ran back home to Mum. She’d been watching on the news. It was the longest hour of my life. We ran to the hospital to see if Brayden was there, and…”
A lump forms in my throat, nearly suffocating me. Everything was still so vivid in my mind. I just wanted to forget it all.
“…and there he was. He was being wheeled in on a stretcher as we pulled in. There were so many gunshots and he just looked… he looked paralysed, but I knew he wasn’t. From one look at him, Mum and I knew he was gone. The police stopped us from running to him. They refused to let us anywhere near. I couldn’t understand why.”
I stop. Tremors run through my fingers and my heart is beating so fast that I could hear it in my ears. I didn’t dare to look up at Justine. If I try to look at her, there’s no doubt I would burst into tears. Justine leans forward to rest a hand over mine and I want nothing more than to pull away. I shouldn’t have agreed to this interview. This is my pain. Not a cheap story to share with the world.
“I’m so sorry, Emily. But I have just one last thing to ask you.” Her voice is soft and gentle, fine-tuned to sympathise and sooth. If I storm out, I would be the pathetic bad guy and she would be the generous hero. I know the question that was coming. It’s the obvious one that everyone asks me.
I’m already shaking my head.
“Before the attack, did you know that your brother was going to do this?”
Jadzia Kearnan is a third-year creative writing and French student, who dreams of being both a published author and a primary French teacher, so she can continue the two things she loves: storytelling and language learning. From her piece, Jadzia hopes that it will get people to open their minds and think about the current world that we live in and the future beyond. In lockdown, she has also discovered a passion for sewing and dressmaking, especially 1950s inspired pieces.
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org