The Orwell Youth Prize 2015 Winner – Year group 9, 10, 11
The piercing chimes of the church bell resonated in the air, coinciding with the end of an emotional service for the late Elizabeth Adamson.
The small congregation made slow progress away from the cemetery. Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Sofia, kept her eyes firmly on her feet as strangers passed by murmuring condolences. She clasped her hands with a grip so tight that a slight tremble began to travel gradually up her arms.
After the congregation cleared, Sofia stretched her neck to catch a glimpse of her Uncle Jules, who was sat peacefully under a tree. She grabbed her mother, Celia, by the wrist, but she remained obliviously stationary. Everything around Celia was a distracted observation, for it burdened her greatly that what she had sacrificed so much to keep a secret had been revealed nonetheless through an act of ignorance – she believed.
Refusing to be infected by the overwhelming pain so distinct in her mother’s eyes, Sophia ran towards Jules, leaving Celia standing solemnly by the grave.
The atmosphere had been somewhat familiar; a sense of déjà vu struck Sofia.
“I’ve only ever seen mummy like this once before.” She wondered if Jules was the same.
But she looked at him, and saw only guilt.
“It’s affected her worst.”
Sofia rested her head on her uncle’s shoulder, thoughtfully gazing up at the branches of the blossoming hawthorn tree wavering above her.
“Did she do something really wrong to deserve all this?”
For the first time in two years, Celia and Jules were actually enjoying each other’s company. They were in deep conversation about a multitude of topics. The most abundant had been their current careers: Jules’ career as an artist; Celia’s professional career as a professor, and her personal career as a mother; but Celia did not suspect there was one they both shared.
“I’ve known mother longer than you!” Celia continued, burst into sarcastic laughter. Unimpressed, Jules forced a slight grin.
His mind was elsewhere.
“Mother understands we have busy careers, right?” asked Jules. Celia immediately dismissed the sudden change of tone and continued laughing.
“Thank goodness, too. Otherwise –”
“We’ve created a career of lying that she doesn’t understand. And in doing so we’ve created a barrier between a mother and her own children!” Jules persevered. “She doesn’t deserve this. Jonathon doesn’t deserve this.”
Celia remained calm and obstinate despite the mild look of rage in her brother’s eyes. “So it’s our career – our job. It’s necessary. Anyway, I thought we’d agreed not to mention him.”
“Who? Our brother? You know…the guy who was brutally murdered…the guy mother thinks is still happily prancing around treating sick people here and there when his condition is – oh I dunno – slightly worse than that of his patients?!” Jules scoffed. “Don’t you remember the frustration of being kept from the truth that was three days overdue? Days!”
Celia interrupted immediately, her mouth twisting with rage. “Exactly! I don’t want that pain inflicting on mother! That despicable human being who’s responsible for Jonathon’s death still walks this earth. Until I know that mother can be given closure for the death of her own son, I won’t allow any word of this to her. Jonathon is well.”
She spoke with a downward finality; preventing further discussion for the rest of the journey.
Elizabeth had missed her children profoundly. It comforted her that she was now sat opposite her son, reminiscing about his childhood days. These cheerful mutters drew Celia away from the kitchen where she had been preparing appetizers.
“And Jonathon?” Elizabeth asked curiously, sipping from her glass.
“He was hilarious! I miss him so much, God rest him.”
Oh no. Jules saw the utmost pain in his mother’s eyes and felt a sinking sensation in his stomach, realising with increasing unease what he had accidently said. Unaware, Celia strolled into the room. It took one squinted glance for her to realise. Every bone in her body became rigid with nervous tension as she stared at him in disbelief. The exchanged look of horror between Celia and Jules evolved into a fixed stare of bewilderment.
Unable to form any more words, Elizabeth took a deep breath and rose from her seat. Her eyes appeared dry, yet a tear rolled down her cheek, which began to droop. She staggered towards a panicking Celia, suddenly falling into her arms.
The wine glass slipped from Elizabeth’s hands onto the ivory carpet, which had now been stained with a crimson wash.
“She’s never lazy or greedy and she’s never lied and –”
Never had the joys of innocence suddenly become so apparent to Jules and he wished Sofia could stay this way. Or was it simply because he wished what she had said was true? Nevertheless, she had asked a question in which the answer would lead her far from her naive ideals, far from the perfection of childhood. And during brief interludes of clarity, Sofia had decided herself to explore a world Jules believed was not beyond her capability.
“Maybe there’s just so much I don’t know and I just want to understand.”
“Sophia, sometimes the truth is the last thing we need to know.” Jules’ severe expression relaxed. “Tragedy’s knocked on our family’s door twice now. No. He broke in the first time and didn’t even have to knock the second time; Celia saw him skipping from five miles in the distance, opened the door, welcomed him with open arms and offered him a cup of tea. And cookies.”
Sofia dropped her head in confusion. She did not understand why he had to be so patronisingly oblique. For all her naivety, all she wanted was a sincere, genuine explanation – one that actually answered her specific question. It may have been his way of coming to terms with reality, but it certainly wasn’t her’s.
“How did grandmamma…”
Exhaling gently, Jules harshly rubbed his face. “She simply lost the will to live.”
“Someone exposed a lie.”