Millie looked up, and glanced across the aisle to where several of her family's friends were seated. She knew none of them personally, but they had come to pay their respects none-the-less. They sat upright, listening rapturously to the minister's sermon. Millie heard nothing- a monotonous drone buzzed in her ears, constant, never ceasing.
The large church was packed. Such tragic circumstances had brought friends and acquaintances from the woodwork. They stood sobbing into handkerchiefs, all overcome with grief- all except Millie.
She could feel her husband next to her, but took no comfort in his presence. His body was racked with huge, silent sobs. She had never seen him cry before. He was her strength, her pillar, her solid ground- and he was crumbling. She tottered precariously on the edge of total breakdown, almost wishing she could simply fall. Fall into that vast abyss of nothingness. And stay there.
She didn't look at the minister. In order to look at the minister, she would have to look at the altar. She couldn't. She couldn't look up; couldn't lift her pale eyes to see the flowers, the candles, and the two white coffins, side by side. So tiny, and almost quaint. Each edged delicately in gold.
On the smaller of the coffins, a multitude of brightly coloured toys lay, bold against the snowy whiteness. On the other, a single toy- a doll.
The doll was beautiful. Handcrafted somewhere in Asia. Its large, glassy eyes stared blankly ahead at the congregation, unseeing. Its dark curls clustered neatly around its porcelain face. It was dressed, appropriately, in black.
Millie almost laughed in spite of herself. How she envied that doll. It sat upon the coffin- no emotion, no tears, and no gaping wide hole in its heart- growing wider with every word of the minister's sermon.
Suddenly everyone around her stood up. She followed suite, placing her hand on the wooden rail in front for support. It was ice cold to her touch. She clutched at it as her vision momentarily blackened. She had been unable to eat this morning, and all day yesterday.
Beside her, James stopped crying. She turned to look at him, her blue eyes empty and her young face lined with tiredness. His hazel eyes stared back, rimmed in red, and swollen. A silent moment of understanding passed between them- a statement of grief, and the two turned around again.
The mourners began to proceed outside. The coffins were carried out and past the weeping congregation. They filled out row by row, all teary eyed and heartily upset. Millie walked behind the coffins. James was helping to carry one. Her black heels clicked upon the wooden floor beneath her feet as she followed her closest friends and family out of the church, and into the graveyard.
The burial was swift, due to the weather. The rain bucketed merrily onto the mourners. It was as if the sky knew, Millie mused. It was laughing at her. Taunting her. Making the ground cold and hard for her poor children. They would lie all alone in the ground…
No, she thought suddenly, panic-stricken. No. Her babies couldn't lie in the earth. They needed her. The coffins were being lowered. No. She launched herself forwards and landed just before the open grave.
"No!" she wailed, salty rivets of pain streaming down her pale cheeks. "No! Please… don't take my babies! They don't… they can't… my babies… my children… Anna… Wake up! Annie! No! My baby girl- she's not… Phillip! My sweet little angel…No! No! No!"
She was still screaming as they dragged her away from the grave, her blonde hair straggly and wild and her face swollen with tears. James lifted her from the ground, his own grief forgotten, and enveloped her in his arms, rocking back and forth in the wind. She began to choke on her tears; but her sobs and hacking coughs were lost to the howl of the wind and the rain.
She clung to James, feeling his warmth against her soaked body. She tried to whisper to him, tried to tell him. But he couldn't hear her above the wind. She fainted, and crumbled to the ground.
Several hours later, in the home of one of the many mourners, a middle-aged woman transferred steaming hot water into a series of mismatched mugs. She handed one- green with yellow stripes- to the minister.
"What are we going to do with her?" she muttered loudly, shaking her head in a show of pity.
"It is a matter of time… I'm afraid…Millie will…"
On the other side of the house, a door slammed. Millie stepped outside, her hair being whipped over her face, and began to walk.