“Ma?” he heard. It was his own mum talking, her voice so thick and low it was almost impossible to understand.
“I’m here, darling,” his grandma said, still holding his mum’s hand. “Conor’s here, too.”
“Is he?” his mum slurred, not opening her eyes.
His grandma looked at him in a way that told him to say something.
“I’m here, Mum,” he said.
His mum didn’t say anything, just reached out the hand closest to him.
Asking for him to take it.
Take it and not let go.
Here is the end of the tale, the monster said behind him.
“What do I do?” Conor whispered.
He felt the monster place its hands on his shoulders. Somehow they were small enough to feel like they were holding him up.
All you have to do is tell the truth, the monster said.
“I’m afraid to,” Conor said. He could see his grandma there in the dim light, leaning over her daughter. He could see his mum’s hand, still outstretched, her eyes still closed.
Of course you are afraid, the monster said, pushing him slowly forward. And yet you will still do it.
As the monster’s hands gently but firmly guided him towards his mum, Conor saw the clock on the wall above her bed. Somehow, it was already 11.46 p.m.
Twenty-one minutes before 12.07.
He wanted to ask the monster what was going to happen then, but he didn’t dare.
Because it felt like he knew.
If you speak the truth, the monster whispered in his ear, you will be able to face whatever comes.
And so Conor looked back down at his mum, at her outstretched hand. He could feel his throat choking again and his eyes watering.
It wasn’t the drowning of the nightmare, though. It was simpler, clearer.
Still just as hard.
He took his mother’s hand.
She opened her eyes, briefly, catching him there. Then she closed them again.
But she’d seen him.
And he knew it was here. He knew there really was no going back. That it was going to happen, whatever he wanted, whatever he felt.
And he also knew he was going to get through it.
It would be terrible. It would be beyond terrible.
But he’d survive.
And it was for this that the monster came. It must have been. Conor had needed it and his need had somehow called it. And it had come walking. Just for this moment.
“You’ll stay?” Conor whispered to the monster, barely able to speak. “You’ll stay until…”
I will stay, the monster said, its hands still on Conor’s shoulders. Now all you have to do is speak the truth.
And so Conor did.
He took in a breath.
And, at last, he spoke the final and total truth.
“I don’t want you to go,” he said, the tears dropping from his eyes, slowly at first, then spilling like a river.
“I know, my love,” his mother said, in her heavy voice. “I know.”
He could feel the monster, holding him up and letting him stand there.
“I don’t want you to go,” he said again.
And that was all he needed to say.
He leaned forward onto her bed and put his arm around her.
He knew it would come, and soon, maybe even this 12.07. The moment she would slip from his grasp, no matter how tightly he held on.
But not this moment, the monster whispered, still close. Not just yet.
Conor held tightly onto his mother.
And by doing so, he could finally let her go.