When Julie is nine years old, it gets to be the winter. And it's the kind of winter where the darkness is all the time, and not just outside. The darkness is everywhere, all around everything, and in the spirit and the bones and the blood of things. All the sounds are dark, all the silences are dark. And it's dark inside Julie, too. And she imagines this darkness inside her and she can picture it and she can feel how big and important it is and she knows that it didn't even start off small.
And Julie realises that this dark winter is the time she'll die. And so this is what she thinks about every day. And it doesn't go away. And Julie lies in her bed at night, in her dark room during this dark winter and, quite often, she brings her hands up to her face and her hands look frighteningly big. And Julie tells herself that this is happening because her brain is preparing for death by disconnecting from her body. And her body knows it and her brain knows it and Julie knows it. She just absolutely knows it. And she decides not to take deep breaths because she'll jinx it. So she breathes small, shallow breaths that make her lips feel fuzzy.
And Julie doesn't tell anybody apart from God.
And, during this winter, where everything all around is too dark, and where car journeys feel like a flu-dream, and the characters in tv cartoons look like they're silent-screaming from a million miles away, Julie finds that she can walk just outside of herself. And while she's doing this, she looks closely at her mother and her brother and her sister, and her teachers and her friends and her non-friends. She looks really closely, even though her body feels far away from all of their bodies. And she doesn't tell anyone that she's going to die but she wants and also doesn't want them to know.
And sometimes, during very quiet indeed times, Julie sees a picture in her own head. And in the picture, there are two things happening at once. And one half of the picture is of herself in the hospital just before the moment of her death, and the other half is of her mother at home thinking about Julie in the hospital just before the moment of her death. And these two halves of the picture flit between each other quite slowly, back and forth and back and forth and Julie feels the feelings of the picture until it's so palpable that she can't bear it anymore. So she snaps herself out of it by doing a jerky movement. But then the picture seeps into her mind again and again and again until somebody interrupts her or until the phone rings.
And Julie doesn't tell anybody, apart from God.
And, during this winter, where everything all around is too dark and her body is a cold, delicate temple of symptoms, and where all the things that happen and all the things that are said are definitely an omen, Julie sometimes walks into a room where her mother is crying. And Julie can see the bulging, grief-filled veins on her mother's head, full of stubborn, tenacious blood. And Julie stays very still and quiet and she watches and listens. And she wonders if the blood in those veins on her mother's head is travelling to her heart or away from it. And she thinks about her mother's heart, her actual, real life heart; about what it might feel like to touch that heart, about what the heart might do if Julie shouted at it, about whether or not the heart is going to be ok. And then she hears her own heart, beating in her ears, like a drum wrapped in a dirty blanket. And Julie thinks that she can hear her heart whispering to her, any day now, any day now, any day now.
And Julie remembers to not breathe deeply. Because of jinxing it.
And sometimes, at school, after a whole morning of shallow breathing and prodding at her body to check for clues and thinking about dying in hospital, Julie has to go and sit by the sink with a helper. And when this happens, Julie doesn't want to talk to the helper. So she talks to God instead. Not out loud though. And she's careful not to ask God for too much because she's been told to be careful what you wish for which means omens.
And, during this winter, where everything all around is too dark, and her thumbs are cracked and bleeding from nerves, and where visits to the doctor end in sentences like, but, Julie you really don't look like you're dying, Julie dies. Right on her own doorstep. With a cup of milk in her hand. And it's such a surprise. Even though she knew it was going to happen. She just stops breathing. Just like that. Just as she's about to knock on her own front door to be let back in after going over the road to borrow some milk from a neighbour. And after she completely stops breathing, Julie thinks, oh, it's now.
And she doesn't even think about God.
And then some seconds pass.
And then she collapses.
And then it hurts.
And then it's real.
And then it's terrifying.
And then the door opens.
And then, Julie has one of those moments when she feels a new feeling for the first time, even though she's died. But the feeling isn't just one thing, it's an awful amount of things. And a deep, wild sound like a bellow comes out of Julie's mouth from inside her body and the sound is terrific and frightening and has other sounds attached to it. And Julie's arms shake from the vibrations of it all and she's lifted up from the ground and carried in soft arms to a soft chair and laid down gently on her trembling back. And a cool hand is pressed to her face which is a very hot face for someone who's just died, and a pair of strong, friendly thumbs wipe away Julie's sticky tears. And then eight, careful fingers team up with the thumbs to make a pair of grown-up hands, and the hands travel down the back of Julie's little neck to her pointy shoulder blades. And the grown-up hands gently push Julie onto her side. And the sweet smelling arms that the hands belong to wrap themselves around Julie's shivering bones and start to push and pull and push and pull, slowly and without too much fuss. And a sound that says, shhhh comes out of the mouth of this human rocking chair and the slow, tired, heartbroken voice of her mother whispers into Julie's bright red ear, what are we going to do with you, hmmm?