Whistles in the Wind

“It’s what we call dying. Have you heard that word before?”


Whistles in the wind, leaves golden-red dancing whisked up, up and away, day to night and night to day, there’s an elephant in the garden, you won’t believe it, there is, I’m telling you! Quick, get up, don’t miss him. He might even let you kiss him. Boo, he’s gone, gone to put his glasses on. Come on, let’s get you dressed, pants socks vest; which trousers do you like best? And down we go. Twill sofa cushions, sit still won’t you darling. I have something to tell you.

“You’ve been coming to see me for a while, now, Liam. How are you feeling?”

No, it’s not about the elephant. Yes, I’ll make sure he doesn’t disappear again. Why does he wear glasses? Well, all the better to see you with! You’re four now, aren’t you darling. Four and one quarter, that’s right. Which makes you almost a grown-up. Big feet, big shoes, mind your Ps and Qs. We can have breakfast in a second, hold on.

“Ah, you’ve been dreaming! We all have dreams, that’s perfectly natural. Are these dreams happy or sad?”

Sometimes, grown-ups have to explain things that are difficult to understand. So I want you to really listen to what I’m going to say, okay poppet?

Stop it, not again. But if not now then when? Eight, nine, ten, ready or not, here it comes.

“I understand. It’s not nice when we have sad dreams, is it? Can you tell me what you see and hear when you’re dreaming?”

You know I love you very much. Kiss, kiss, hold you tight. Face flushed then drained, empty and pained, white. Everything’s going to be all right, I promise. Today, Mummy found out she’s poorly. Not like a tummy bug, no darling, more alarming. Ears ringing, church bells silent but singing, low morose and sorrow bringing in the day that turns to night too soon, dark sky no moon, black.

“Don’t worry, Liam, it can be hard to talk about. It’s okay if you want to rest for a bit. Would you like that?”

Into half-sleep seeps memory of white tiles, brown seats, black clothes, weeping. Then gone.

The problem is with Mummy’s body. Do you remember last week when you fell and hurt your knee? Swelled up like a bumble bee, tee-hee. Well, something similar is happening to Mummy, except her body is overreacting. What does that mean? Well, it means reacting too much … twill cushion soft to touch, hard to grasp … like if I burned down the house when you broke a glass, that would be overreacting.

Heels against marble, words garbled, big cross, sorry sorry sorry for your loss. Panic, calm, not calm but nothing, not one thing that matters, pitter-patter feet on carpet, come on through there’s toast for you what about a juice?

Mummy’s body is fighting so hard to get better that it’s getting very tired. What that means is one day, it won’t have any energy left. Pooped, knackered, cream-crackered. When that happens, Mummy won’t be here anymore. No, I’m not going anywhere, not to a specific place. It’s what we call dying. Have you heard that word before?

“Have you had this dream before? Or is it the first time?”


Lights up. The doors fling open. It’s the church. It always is.

Silence. Eerie, artificial. When was the last time you heard genuine silence? Exactly. But that’s how it sounds.

The four pallbearers are wearing their Sunday best. Nice of them to take the trouble. They all look exactly the same: faces ashen, without a hint of expression. I suppose the tailor was all out of grief. Their polished shoes tap against the tiles like a ticking clock. Tick, tock, tick, tock.

Someone has placed nice candles in the alcoves on each wall. It almost feels like Christmas, all soft and warm. The coffin is a deep mahogany. Its brushed gold hinges flicker with the miniature flames.

Everyone is dressed in black and white, like they’re supposed to be. They look like piano keys. The women are wearing hats, some with veils; the men are sitting next to them. A pair of shoulders heaves here, an arm wraps itself around them there. It’s all the same.

The old man is at the front, holding on to the lectern for dear life. I can make out his features. His skin is wrinkled, his hair wispy and white. He has a large nose. I would say he looks frail and tired, as if he’s only just recovered from a nasty cold. There are papers on the lectern. Illegible, of course, but he’ll read from them soon enough.

It feels as if the coffin has barely moved. The pallbearers’ legs are in motion but they’re still a way away. The aisle is growing longer somehow. I hope they’re being paid by the hour. In the pews, people lift white flags of surrender to bloodshot eyes, admitting defeat for the thousandth time.

The organ sounds, deep and powerful. The pipes shudder as the air is forced out of them.

“Dearly beloved,” the old man begins. You don’t want to hear all of it, do you? “We are gathered here today …”

Thank God. Damn, I suppose I shouldn’t say that in a church. But then again this isn’t really a church. It’s the church. The one where it always happens and never happened. And I’m not really here. I was there, but not here.

The old man gestures to another, younger this time, who rises from the pews and shuffles past the other guests to join him. The two shake hands behind the lectern. That image holds still for a few seconds, then suddenly the old man is gone, like the VHS tape has skipped and there’s no way to see where he went.

I hate this part.

“There was one summer afternoon, not long ago. Liam was at the back of the garden, looking for blackberries by the shed. When he’d filled his bag, he turned and ran towards the patio. He could see me, and he was laughing. Then, suddenly, he fell. He came into the kitchen in floods of tears. The bag had split, the blackberries were scattered across the lawn. His mum almost fell down the stairs herself when she heard him crying. But then she did what she was so good at: she took one look at Liam and … laughed. She kept laughing as she swept him up off the ground, swung him round and told him how silly he was until he started laughing, too. That was how she did things … when we gave her tears, she swapped them for joy.”

He’s not done.

“We can’t touch a memory. We can’t hold the past. But her voice and her laugh will live with me forever.”

The pallbearers walk the coffin back to the entrance. It hovers on their shoulders, directly beneath a chandelier that hangs from the ceiling. The golden hinges are aflame, casting the rest of the church into murky shadow. Slowly, tile by tile, their light begins to creep along the aisle. Two silhouettes appear: a child clings to the outline of the younger man who spoke.

The child reaches towards the coffin. His father grips him tight as it starts moving slowly towards the door, until the last of the golden hinges disappears. The child’s desperate hand softens, turning first limp, then into an open palm. He waves goodbye to her.



“You’ve been coming to see me for a while, now, Liam. How are you feeling?”

“Not bad, I suppose.”

“That’s good. How’s work?”

“Not bad, I suppose.”

Emails, phone calls, no time for repose. Door closed, head down. Big frown.

“When you first visited, you mentioned you were overly stressed. ‘Burnt-out’ was the phrase you used, I think. Has that feeling changed at all?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Could you explain?”


Name: Liam Dennis

Age: Eleven

Wednesday 19th September

Sally has asked me to keep a diary because moving to a boarding school can be difficult. Sally is the school nurse. She said some boys find it hard to be separated from their parents but I didn’t tell her about Mum. I just cried when I got back to my room. I didn’t tell Dad when I spoke to him on the phone either.

Thursday 20th September

The boys in my form seem nice. They all play football like me. Our form teacher is Mrs Field. She teaches English and always starts the day by asking someone what they’re looking forward to. Today she picked a boy called James and he didn’t know what to say so he shouted “lunch!” and everyone laughed.

Friday 14th October

Fridays here aren’t like Fridays back home because we still have lessons on a Saturday, so it’s not really the weekend. We’ve got a football match though. Dad’s coming to watch.

Monday 11th November

In English today, we had to pretend to be a soldier during World War I. We were writing to our family to tell them what life in the trenches was like and to say we’d be back home soon, hopefully, if we won the war.

I wrote about a young soldier who had left school early to join the army. He was really homesick and wanted to leave. He was scared of dying, so every time a bullet whizzed over the trenches he would curl into a ball on the floor, but the officer would shout at him and say he was a coward. He was awful at shooting because he didn’t want to kill anyone. He shot high into the sky on purpose to make sure he missed the enemy but because so much was happening around him, no one noticed. He was writing to his Mum. He said he wanted everything to be back to normal and that he missed her. The war would be over soon and they could have lunch in the garden like they used to and he could finish school.

Mrs Field walked round the class and leaned over people’s shoulders to see what they were writing and give them ideas. When she got to me, I suddenly felt really nervous and covered the page with my hands. I didn’t want anyone to read my work. Luckily, Mrs Field kept walking without saying anything. When I took my hands off the paper, all the words had smudged. I started to cry and ran to the toilets. I stayed there until the bell went for break time, and when I came out Mrs Field was waiting for me with Sally.

Tuesday 12th November

I wonder how it felt when Mum died. When I was younger I asked the therapist how he thought it felt. I can’t remember what he said.

Can dying hurt? I dream about it quite often. Not me, but Mum. She’s lying in the hospital bed and one of the nurses is reading me a children’s book. I can’t hear the words but I know there’s a voice.

When I wake up, I want to speak to someone about the dream, but we don’t share bedrooms here.

Monday 19th January

Today, Sally asked me if I was angry with Mum. It’s the first time someone has asked me that.

Before we went back home for Christmas, I had been feeling poorly so I went to get some medicine. Sally asked whether I was excited to see my Mum and Dad and I couldn’t hold it in. So she knows, now. I asked her not to tell anyone and she said “not a soul.” That made me smile.

She said it would be perfectly normal for me to be angry with Mum. I asked why. She said that grief can make us act in weird ways. When something unfair happens and there’s no one or thing to be angry at, we sometimes take it out on the ones we love. I hadn’t thought of it like that. Dad never mentioned it.

I told her I didn’t think I was angry at Mum, but now I’m not sure. Why did her body get tired? Why couldn’t she just keep fighting? Pooped, knackered, cream-crackered. Why did she have to joke about it?

Tuesday 20th January

I had a new dream last night. I was in a church. I don’t want to write about it.

Monday 20th April

I was at home with Dad for the last two weeks for the Easter holiday. I saw my old friends a lot and played loads of football. Dad had to work during the day but I didn’t mind.

Before I went back, we went to the park to fly a kite. It had been ages since we last went and Dad said the wind was perfect for it.

The park was busy but we found a quiet spot away from the trees and got the kite ready together. I remembered being much younger when my only job was holding the kite down. When the wind blew, I used to get scared and hold it down so tight that Mum and Dad couldn’t get the rods in. I couldn’t bear the thought of it being blown away.

Dad was right, the wind was perfect. The kite flew really high, then dived suddenly like a bird. I could almost hear its song, or the wind, or Dad whistling beside me.

After a while we went to a café and ordered hot chocolates. Dad asked if I remembered a time we had visited this park with my uncle and cousins when I was very young, two or three years old. When I said no, he described the day so clearly that I thought it was coming back to me. I could see the outlines of our bodies on the grass, but when I looked for my cousins’ faces, they were blank. Dad said we sometimes create memories from the stories people tell us, so it’s hard to know what a real memory is and what we’ve pieced together. It means memories can change over time, because our brains keep adding to what they remember as we grow up and experience new feelings. That’s why it can be helpful to keep things as reminders, real things, like photos or books or rings, things that can’t change.

You remember your Mum died at Easter, don’t you? He reached into his coat pocket and took out a fountain pen. This was your Mum’s. She used it to sign your birth certificate. I want you to have it so you can remember that moment, even though you were only a few hours old.


“And do you think work is the only reason you’re feeling this way?”

“Hard to say.”

“Could you try?”


“I don’t ever feel rested.”

Looking at my bloodshot eyes, bags beneath, coffee-stained teeth, you’d never have guessed it.

“So, you’re having trouble with your sleep?”

“That’s not it. I sleep fine. Eight hours, sometimes nine. It’s just when I wake up, I feel more tired than the night before.”

“Do you mind if I ask a few questions about your night-time routine?”

“Of course.”

“Do you drink?”

“Not really.”

“What does that mean?”

“Twice a week.”

“And screens?”

“Well, I try to read, but …”

“I see.”

This goes on until half past three. I sit in my chair, blank stare, reply when I must, smell of old clothes and certificates on the wall and photo frames and dust.

“And your father’s passing?”

Thanks for asking.

“What about it?”

“Well, it would be perfectly normal …”

Heard this before.

“… if you were finding it difficult to cope with the loss of your father. When is the funeral?”

“In a week.”

“Will you speak?”


Hello, everyone. Thanks for coming.

What I’ve written is for Dad and for me. I hope you don’t mind listening. It feels far too early for any of this, but perhaps that’s how it’s meant to feel.

Dad –  

For all the times I changed the subject, I’m sorry. For all the silences I enforced, the words I left behind, the memories I decided to lose. The phone calls when I spoke about the news. It wasn’t for me to choose which parts of her remain. You knew whether she liked the rain. I don’t.

What of her was yours is yours forever. We’re in this together, that’s what you said. Sat on my bed, ruffled my hair, told me we’re a team and this will bring us closer. Let’s show her how strong we are. Yes, we’re keeping her car. You’re my star.

For all the conversations you had with the voice in your head. I was the only person you could speak to and the only one you couldn’t. I know I shouldn’t, you’d tell me not to, but you’re gone now, too, so I’ll say it: that was my fault.

We spoke sometimes, didn’t we? Portugal where I bobbed like a cork in the sea, only it was a pool, you soaking wet as I smiled like a fool, no idea how close I was to the reason we’re here today. That is to say, you saved me more than once. And I can hear you saying I saved you too.

I wrote this with her pen, Dad. I thought that would make you smile. I wondered for a while if I should use one of yours instead. But the voice in my head said no, and it sounded like you. So I listened.

Day to night and night to day, your memories have kept her alive. Whistles in the wind don’t fall silent when we hide. I can hear her, louder than before.

My heart swells when I think of us three. Like a bumble-bee, tee-hee.

About Will Dennis

Will lives in South East London, England, not far from where he grew up. He writes prose that is often short, sometimes longer.

Will lives in South East London, England, not far from where he grew up. He writes prose that is often short, sometimes longer.

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