The Kingdom of Stars and Glass by Shaun Thompson

‘I love that you’re concerned for me, Daddy, but I’m a big girl now,
and all grown up, so you can stop fussing.’

She is standing resolute and determined, although still protecting her
knee. It’s times such as these that all the father in me sees is the
child of old.  From a time before the pain. She’s come on so well
following the crash, not that she had suffered that much physically.
Her limp, the result of years of ignoring the conventional wisdom
surrounding the favouring of an injured leg, now barely noticeable. My
greatest concern had been for her emotional scars, and I had struggled
with whether or not to shield her from the memories of the night her
mother, Jess, had been snatched from us. I guess I must’ve done
something right because Sarah’s grown into the fearless, ambitious
woman I see before me.

‘You’re doing it again.’ She was grinning over the top of the suitcase
she was repacking. ‘You were here with me in the room, but now you’ve
got that anywhere-but-here look in your eyes.’

‘I’m sorry, kiddo, I was miles away, and for that…well you’d think
I’d know better. Here I am clawing  for a reason to make you stay; to
make you change your mind about this, and what is it costing me?
Nothing but the few precious moments we have remaining.’

‘It’s a gap year, Daddy.’ She stops packing and walks around her bed.
‘You do remember the importance of the gap year, don’t you? How you
relished the thought of your strong and confident daughter taking off
to see the world. This beautiful world you had called it.’ She places
her arms over my shoulders and I stare into her eyes.

‘Now that’s a dirty trick. If I remember right you were nine when I
uttered those ridiculous  words, and now you’re using them against
me.’ I hold her by her waist, and want to believe her confidence isn’t
misguided. Her eyes glisten as if on the point of being filled with
tears, and it gives her a captivating innocence that was the very
reason I had fallen so hopelessly in love with her mother. I pull her
to me and kiss her gently on her neck. ‘Go with my blessing,
Sweetheart, just know that I love you, and that wherever you go, I
shall be missing you, and Mum will be watching over you.’

‘I know.’ She smiles. ‘From the Kingdom of Stars and Glass, was how
you described it. It’s such a lovely way to remember her, knowing that
no matter where I find myself, I’ll never be out of her sight.’ She
leans away from me. ‘Come on. This is my last night at home and you
promised me Pizza and a movie. What’s on?’

I turn and head for the kitchen, and the newspaper with the cinema
listings, whilst blinking back the tears that would most certainly
have followed had Sarah not stemmed them with her optimism.

‘Let me grab the paper.’ I chime.

‘Oh no you don’t, mister.’ She almost runs, attempting to beat me to
the counter top. ‘You are not gonna make me suffer whatever mainstream
shit they’re doling out for the masses.’

‘Language!’ I  admonish her. She skips around my left hand side as I
had twisted to the right to intercept her. She grins an apology, and
holds the paper above the pedal bin with her foot poised to consign it
to the recycling.

‘Oh! So it’s a stand-off, is it?’ I feint a lunge and the paper drops
as she laughs and pulls  her phone from the back pocket of her jeans.

‘There’s a wonderful Art House film called…’

‘Oh Good God, No!’ I interrupt. ‘You can’t make me sit through one of
your faddy films. Not tonight.’ I drop to my knees, offering up my
hands clasped in prayer.

‘Oh for Heaven’s sake get up.’ She laughs. ‘It’s really not you, you
know. All this…’ She points to all of whatever it is I’m failing so
miserably at.  Resigned, I get to my feet as she returns to her phone.

‘There’s a truly beautiful film called…’

‘Called Bombay Rose.’ Again I stop her, only this time I’m holding two tickets.

She squeals with delight, running toward me and it’s a pleasure to be
almost knocked off my feet by the contagious passion with which she
does most things these days.

‘Oh thank you, Daddy.’ She hugs me close and then snatches the tickets
as if needing to confirm I’m not  teasing her. ‘You’re the best dad
ever.’’

——-

She is absolutely right about the movie. Animated, but such a great
story. The rich, colourful enjoyment of which only serves to make the
evening fly by far faster than I had hoped it would, and before I know
it we are stuffed full of pizza and reversing back onto the driveway.

‘Thank you for a wonderful time, Daddy.’ She leans over and kisses my cheek.

‘Thank you, Gorgeous. The film was beautiful, and it was great to see
you get lost within it.’

She smirks as she gets out of the car. ‘You were supposed to be
watching the film: not watching me watching the film.’

‘What time’s your flight?’ Pointless. I know exactly when I’ll be
watching her leave, but I need to continue the night just a little
longer.

’11:35 departure from Heathrow. Arrives Münster 14:50 our time.’ She
said, filling the kettle and flicking the switch. ‘Fancy a cuppa?’

‘I think I’m gonna have something a little stronger. Whisky?’ I walk
over to the drinks carousel and hear Sarah switching off the kettle.

‘Only if it’s that nice one,’ she says. ‘And stick a splash of coke in
it?’  I pour from the bottle of Balvenie Doublewood she’d bought for
me last Christmas. ‘What time do you think we’ll need to get on the
road?’

‘You may as well drink a blend if you’re going to ruin it with a
mixer.’ I scoff, savouring the rich flavour for a moment before
telling her she needs to check-in at 8:30, so a 6:30 start should be
fine.

‘But we’re only an hour from the airport.’ She objects.

‘That’s as maybe but I’m not going to rush when we can just leave a
bit earlier.’

‘But two hours…’

I don’t know if it’s the thought of her going, or the thought of her
leaving me on my own, but I snap before I can stop myself. ‘I’m not
going to risk another accident by speeding just so you can have a
lie-in.’

I have never blamed her mother for the accident, but speed was a
factor in the crash and devastation visited upon our family.  Sarah
drains the last of her drink.

‘That’s good.’ She says, but there’s now an edge to her voice.

‘Let’s call it,’ I offer, taking the glass from her. ‘You get yourself
to bed. I’ll see to these.’  I kiss the top of her head. ‘Good night,
Baby.’

‘Good night, Daddy.  I Love you, too.’ She replies to the unspoken,
and I curse myself, watching her reflection off the kitchen window as
her bedroom door closes.

I washed and dried the two tumblers and stared at myself in the glass.
I had managed to spoil what was, up until then, a beautiful evening.

‘You’re a real charm sometimes, aren’t you?’I whisper, but my
reflection offers me nothing but a taste of regret.

——-

The flight  lands on schedule, and the drive through the unfamiliar
landscape passes with an unnerving lack of clarity: My mind constantly
wanders from Sarah to her mother, who was never further from me than
was the tip of my thumb to the thin gold band that grounds my sorrow
to this day.

The driver makes repeated glances in the rear-view mirror and the
awkward silence becomes unbearable. I ask him to pull over and he
brakes far too suddenly, possibly wondering if I’m going to be sick
again. I get out, shutting the door and then getting into the front of
the vehicle. He looks aghast, and I feel as sorry for him as he
probably does for me.

——-

Lead Investigator Guido Maier of their serious crimes squad meets me
as we pull up outside the Düsseldorf police headquarters.

‘Herr Collier.’ He does not smile. Instead I watch his top teeth
worrying his bottom lip before he continues. ‘I wish we did not have
to meet under these…’ He pauses, struggling to find the word that
best describes this desperately sad situation.

‘I thank you for arranging for your man to pick me up from the
airport’ I hold out my hand.

‘It is the least I could do.’ He replies. ‘ I have a daughter the same
age as…’

‘When can I see my daughter?’ I ask, sparing him any further tension.
‘It’s my understanding that you need a positive ID before…before I
can arrange repatriation of…’ He catches me as I can no longer fight
the pain, and I collapse to a crouch. Pushing my hands against my
face, I want to scream. I want to cry out but a voice, barely a
whisper, is telling me no. To get up because our baby needs me. I
drive the flesh of my palms hard against my tightly closed eyes.

‘You don’t need to do this until you are ready, Sir’

‘Daniel.’ I take a deep breath. ‘My name’s Daniel,’ I wipe my eyes
with the heel of my hands again as Maier passes me a neatly folded
handkerchief. ‘And I’d like to see my daughter now.’

‘Of course, but we are not yet certain…’

‘You were certain enough to call me here, a week after my daughter
left the UK. She should’ve met up with her friend and have been in the
Med by now. I think we both know you’ve made no mistake.’

‘Then allow me to drive you to the hospital.’ He looks over to the
driver of the BMW who nods and gets out of the vehicle, and we are
soon pulling out into the early evening traffic.

‘Where did you find Sarah?’ I ask. His gloved hands grip the wheel a
little tighter.

‘She was found in a…in a lock-up, I’m sorry to have to tell you. In
the back of a small industrial unit in Ibbenbüren.’

The thought of my girl’s body being left in such a place fights
against the peace I’m struggling to find. ‘Where the hell is that?’ I
ask. ‘And what made you look there in the first place?’

‘It was more a stroke of luck, actually. A dog walker had seen
something suspicious and called it in. Funny really.’

‘Funny? What about this is funny?’ I ask with surprising calm. His
eyes give it away.

‘No. I didn’t mean…I’m sorry. I meant it was strange the way the
lady told us of the whereabouts of…the disturbance.’ He stares at me
as if waiting for permission to continue. I open both hands, waiting
for whatever he might offer. It wasn’t lost on me that this policeman
had come very much prepared for the unpleasant job he had been handed,
as a second handkerchief was soon being crushed in his hand ‘You see,
she used what three words. Strange really.  I’ve never had recourse to
use it before, although it is incredibly accurate.’

I am staring at him, unable to really care about what is funny or
strange to the German Police. I am however aware that there is still a
tiny part of me that is hoping they might be wrong about the poor
girl’s body they’ve found.

‘What three words.’ He repeats glancing from the road to me.

‘What three words?’ I ask.

‘Yes! What three words. It’s a method of geolocation designed by three
friends. Brits, I think. So they would stop getting lost at festivals
or something. Every three metre square of the Earth’s surface has been
given a unique set of three words. These three words are far simpler
for people to remember than longitude and latitude coordinates, or GPS
coordinates with Lord knows how many digits, and through their app you
can…’He stops what is perilously close to becoming a lecture. ‘Sorry,
but in this instance those three words lead us straight to your
daughter’

We drove on with the sentence hanging in the air like a curse, until I
asked him what they were. He looks confused.

‘The three words that helped you find our daughter.’ I ask with
growing curiosity. ‘What were they?

‘I wrote it down,’ He paused, carefully considering how he might
continue. ‘For such ordinary words, they seemed to have been given a
kind of special importance. Do you understand?’ He was almost talking
to himself. ‘ I wrote it down, but needn’t have bothered. They are
quite possibly burnt into my mind.’ He looks at me, possibly wondering
if he’s given this moment too big a build-up.  He turns back to the
road and in almost a whisper he tells me.

I feel the blood drain from my face as it rushes to my core; to my heart.

——-

Maier had called ahead, advising the hospital of our imminent arrival,
and having parked close to a side entrance, a uniformed officer and
the duty physician met us and escorted us down a bleak corridor to the
viewing room.

The large glass window, with its curtains fully opened, reveals a
small room containing nothing but a single gurney, on top of which lay
a sheet-covered body. The physician sighs, as if he has somewhere else
he’d rather be, and he enters the room, allowing the door to slam shut
behind him. This leaves me and Maier standing in an atmosphere of
pensive preparation.

‘Are you ready…Daniel? He asks.

‘I’m here to confirm the identity of my little girl,’ I said.  ‘And
I’m not going to do it through a window, so if it’s all the same to
you, I would like to let my daughter know she’s not alone.’

He looks at me for a moment and nods. ‘Please follow me.’

The chill in the room strikes me as being as much of a sadness as my
purpose, and as the physician begins to object to my presence Maier
closes the door but then places the flat of his hand on the man’s
chest. In his own language he makes it very clear that there is
nothing untoward going on, and the physician backs away.  I take his
place by Sarah’s side.

‘It’s okay, Baby. I’m here,’ I am kneeling beside her, both of my
hands holding the edge of the trolley. ‘And thanks to your wonderful
mum, this kind man has found you for me.’ The tears come and I make no
effort to stop them. Maier lifts the sheet and once again I am looking
at the face that had made bearable the intense pain of losing her
mother. ‘I’ve come to take you home.’

I stand and lean over her, placing the lightest of kisses upon her
forehead, and as I go to stand one of my tears falls, landing on the
corner of her eye. I choke back a cry as I gently wipe away what has
become her tear. I force myself to stand. Inhaling deeply I turn to
the policeman.

‘What else do we need to do, Sir? So that we can get out from under
your feet.’ Wiping my face, I can see that he’s also struggling with
the appalling task.

‘I’ve taken the liberty of provisionally arranging for the transport
of your daughter.’ He wipes his cheeks. ‘ Please forgive the
presumption of ID before your confirmation.’

‘In our own ways we both knew she was my daughter.’ I said, but I can
see that something else is troubling him.

‘If you’ll just follow me, there is…some paperwork, I’m afraid.’ I
feel the visceral tug of this gentle man’s embarrassment and I tell
him it’s fine. Everything’s going to be fine.

As we swap the chill of the viewing room for the warmth of the
corridor his hand touches my elbow.

‘Forgive my asking but how did you know?’ His face shows a curiosity
that I imagine is a constant of this officer’s life. ‘What made you so
sure?’

I take stock of the implications of what I’m about to say. ‘When you
told me the three-word location where our daughter’s body was
discovered I knew, with absolute certainty, that you’d found our
Sarah.’  Maier slowly shakes his head.  ‘You see, when she lost her
mother at just six years old…I mean…what do you tell a six year
old? I had to give her something to try to ease her pain,  so I told
her something that I hoped would help. I told her that her mum would
always be watching out for her. That she’d never be alone. From that
moment on she has lived with the constant comfort of knowing, with no
doubt in her mindl, that her mother was watching out for her from the
Kingdom of Stars and Glass.’

It is Maier’s turn to pail. ‘Kingdom. Stars. Glass.’ He stares into
the middle distance. ‘How can…?’ I raise an open hand to silence
him.

‘It pays not to seek all the answers,’ I point to the corridor,
suggesting we move on. ‘Or what is there left to marvel at? There’s
enough pain here to last me a lifetime, but my late wife has kept my
promise to our daughter, and that will be a great comfort’  My thumb
touches my wedding ring as I look over my shoulder to the viewing
window. The curtains are now closed and the reflection off the glass
offers me nothing but the taste of regret.

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

About the Author:

Shaun Thompson is a Norfolk (UK) based writer. He lives on
the east coast with his wife. Having previously studied in Visual Arts
at the Norwich School of Art & Design, he has since switched his
artistic direction to writing.

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