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by Nod Ghosh

I’ve wanted to tell this story for sixty-eight years. I measure my days in analgesic doses now, as death hovers over my hospital bed. I have to tell someone what happened, though. It’s not something that can be left unsaid. Pull up a chair and listen.

Clifford was everything I’d never be. He had a head of golden curls, a gentle demeanour and athletic body. He could sing like an angel, and told stories about bears and tigers. I envied him. Everybody loved Clifford. He lived in the manor house at the end of our street. He had no brothers or sisters but had just about anything else a boy could want. And he had me.

Nudge me if I drift off, will you?

Imagine looking into a mirror, and seeing a fresher, brighter version of yourself. That’s what I saw whenever I looked at my young friend. A constant reminder of what I’d wanted to be.

Yes, you could say I was jealous, but I was also very fond of Clifford.

He loved me.

I was two years older than him, and he followed wherever I led.

I’d throw pebbles onto trains as they sped under the Rawdon Street Bridge. Clifford, hesitant at first, followed my lead, and a stream of gravel fell from his tiny fist. I had to lift him to the gaps in the railings, so he could reach. I always helped my friend.

You see I was kind to him, as kind as I could be.

Do you believe me?

There were the times we walked all the way to the airport. We’d lie on the grassy banks outside the perimeter and feel the rush of the jets as they thundered over us. At first, Clifford cried because he was scared. Later he asked me to take him back. So I did.

I took him to the Highborne graveyard and lied about how I’d seen a ghost behind the Allstone family crypt. Clifford was scared. And he was fascinated too. He wanted to see a ghost for himself.

But let me tell you about that day, because I must.

I took Clifford to Smarts Bridge. The river was rushing beneath us, swollen by recent rains. We wanted to feed the ducks. We’d got up extra early. I’d planned it so there wouldn’t be anyone else around.

I told him he’d be safe as I lowered him over the railings, told him he could do it because he was clever. I encouraged him to step out further, over the choppy grey-brown water.

For a second, he turned back, eyes aflame.

“Come with me,” he cried. I felt a little pity, but not enough. I leaned over, and slipped his flower-bud hand off the railing.

He hit the water and disappeared, his packet of bread left on the parapet.

I never saw him again.

They say sometimes bodies get washed out to sea, and the sea only returns them when she’s ready.

I’m still waiting for Clifford.

Nod Ghosh’s work features in various New Zealand and international publications. Nod is an associate editor for Flash Frontier, an Adventure in Short Fiction. Further details: http://www.nodghosh.com/about/