Time was the healer of all wounds, or so they said. If only there could be enough of it.
Vanessa often found herself staring at the stars without realising what she was doing. She would catch herself in the act, her mind wandering off to that bizarre place that human minds tend to wander when they goggle at something so immense they cannot attempt to understand it all. To some people, the night sky conjoured images of wonder, as they traced the shapes with their fingers that their ancestors had once used to guide themselves home. Others looked up at the stars and marvelled at the thought of planets somewhere out there that might, just possibly, be home to some equally amazed alien being who too was looking up at the stars in delight. And some, like Vanessa, used the sky to remind them of just how small they really were.
The stars were an ocean of sparkling grief. If she stared at them for long enough, Vanessa was sure that she could begin to connect them together to form the shape of her father’s face. That was how she knew that time had not yet got around to healing her.
Vanessa’s father had lived a long life, it was true, if not a very exciting one. In his eighty years he had never once stepped foot outside of his country of birth. He had never flown, he had never sailed, he had never learned to swim or drive a car or turn on a computer. The list of modern behaviours or appliances that he had never mastered that other people his age had been using for half of their lives was practically endless. He had always holidayed in the same resort, which he had always complained about. He had always shopped at the same supermarket, even when it had stopped selling that bread he had really liked. He had always requested the same grey socks for his birthday and he had never worn the ones with the white stripe she had bought him out of the desire to gift something slightly different.
Despite being a plain and simple man, with tastes that he had stubbornly clung to for most of his life, he had still been Vanessa’s father. Five years on from his death and she had still not discovered how to handle things without his presence. Five years on, and all she had for guidance was a jumble of stars that vaguely resembled the shape of a face.
‘It’s not unusual,’ her friends would tell her when they saw her – if they saw her. ‘Grief is hard. Everybody struggles with it in their own ways. The great secret to life is that we are all pretending we can handle it.’
That did not solve Vanessa’s problem. In fact, it served to escalate it. Now she could only imagine that everyone else felt as miserable and pathetic as she did, the difference being that they could plaster a fake smile onto their faces and pretend that there was still something about life left to enjoy. Knowing that did not bring her father back, nor did it remove him from her fidgety mind.
There was something missing from her life. It had been missing ever since he had died. It was not a poor holiday resort on the south coast or a supermarket that did not stock the correct bread or a pair of boring grey socks. When her father had left the mortal world to make that dodgy pattern in the night sky, some of her strength had gone with him.
To Vanessa, time was nothing more than a cruel mistress. It had been five years and every single day had been almost impossible. At first, the weeks had passed without her even knowing it, and what had been impossible had been to keep track of time, to wash and clean her teeth and remember to eat. After a few months of his passing, time had slowed down to a near halt. It had whipped up a hurricane of pain that blew around her every minute of every day. How other people could deal with their pain, squash it down or rid themselves of it altogether, was beyond her.
There was one other reason for her to look up at the stars. Mankind had been doing it since they had first formed semi-coherent thoughts. The stars made it look like anything might be possible. If Vanessa could see her father again, then perhaps everything could be fixed and she could return to being the woman she had been before her father had died. They gave her brief moments of hope.
Then her eyes returned to the ground and she realised that all she had left was time.