The last time I saw you, you were staring at me through the window. It was your bedroom window – that tiny pane of glass, barely large enough to frame your face, though your face was so small. You watched as our cart carried me away. Did you know, then, that it would be the last time either of us would see the other? I hope you didn’t. I’m sure you didn’t. What would you have thought of me if you had?
We did try to be good parents to you, you know. But I suppose, even when we had you with us, we didn’t take as good care of you as we should have done. There was always so much else to think about. We had your brothers to look after; I had my work, your mother her own responsibilities; we did our best.
And then this pestilence came, this plague, came as though God were visiting his own angel of death upon the city. You saw it all from your window, though I don’t think you understood what it was you were seeing – when the red crosses appeared one by one on our neighbours’ doors, when the carts came to carry their bodies away, you looked on but did not see, could not comprehend.
We stayed in our house, though those around us fled. Why did we stay? I don’t know, except that leaving would have meant leaving my work, abandoning our house for the squatters and thieves. We stayed, clutching our earthly possessions around us, thinking – hoping – that the locks on our doors might keep the plague out. We valued our riches more than our selves, trusted in our wealth just as the Bible forbids, and God punished us for it, didn’t He? Or rather, He punished you.
How long were you sick before we noticed, my child? How many days was the hand of the plague upon you before your mother, as she laid you in your bed, saw the blotches on your face? You began to cry as she called me in, sensing her fear but not knowing why. I tried to pretend to you that nothing was wrong, tucked you in, kissed you goodnight. We left the room. We locked the door.
You watched through the window as our cart drove us away. In the still night, I imagined I heard you tapping at the glass. Did you know we were leaving you forever? Or was it not until the morning, when you woke to an empty house and locked door, that you came to know we were not coming back for you?
I am sure you must blame us, but I hope that you at least understand. We were scared. I do not think there was anything more we could have done for you, and besides, we had your brothers to think about. We fled to protect our own lives from you, my sweet one, from the sickness you so innocently harboured. You were doomed from the start; for your brothers and for us, there was still hope.
I am in church now. Others around me are praying for the mercy of God, but it is not His forgiveness that I desire. I think only of your face at that window, and wonder if you have an answer to the question that wracks my conscious. If we met, now, in Heaven perhaps, what would you say if I asked it to you: what else could we have done, my child? What else?