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Helena stood still for several seconds facing the door to Benjamin’s room, hesitating to open it. She had played this moment in her head so many times and had thought of every possible outcome, but she still felt as though she was about to enter the room completely unprepared. But then again, how could someone possibly prepare for the moment they would say goodbye for good to a close family member that they had always loved with all their heart? Helena didn’t want to say goodbye, but she knew that she had to. She let out a deep sigh and knocked softly on the door, which was answered by silence. Helena carefully turned the door knob and stepped into the room. There she saw Benjamin sitting on the floor and making a pencil drawing on a sheet of paper. Once he noticed Helena, he looked at her with child-like enthusiasm.
‘Mummy!’ he cried out, smiling.
It always hurt when Benjamin called her that, but this time it hurt Helena even more than she could ever imagine. Fighting back tears, she put a seemingly authentic smile on her face. Had any other relatives been there, they would all say the same thing they always said: ‘She has her nan’s smile!’ And then they’d also show her the same two photos Helena had seen a thousand times before. Helena had to admit that the resemblance with her deceased grandmother Justine was indeed uncanny. And it wasn’t just her smile, but Helena also had the same black hair, the same cheekbones and the same jawline as her grandmother. She didn’t necessarily mind that she resembled Justine so much, but she didn’t appreciate other people constantly comparing her to that woman. Helena might have never known her, but she did know that her grandmother had turned a blind eye too many times to her husband’s countless wrongdoings. With the same smile that she had when she had gone into the room, Helena directed her gaze at Benjamin.
‘Hey there!’ she said softly before sitting down on the floor, opposite Benjamin, ‘How are you doing? Have you been keeping busy?’
Benjamin nodded cheerfully.
‘Bruno was here today,’ he replied.
‘I know,’ Helena responded calmly, ‘So what did you two do today?’
‘We talked again. About my past.’
Helena lowered her gaze, put her lips together and looked up to Benjamin again.
‘And what exactly did you talk about with him?’ she asked.
Benjamin responded by putting his index finger on his lips and whispered: ‘Ssshhh. That’s a secret. Bruno trusts me. He’s my friend.’
‘Bruno is your psychologist,’ Helena corrected him.
‘And why can’t a psychologist also be a friend?’ Benjamin argued.
Helena stayed quiet for a bit.
‘Okay, so he’s your friend. But it’s not because Bruno can’t say anything about your sessions to other people that you’re not allowed to either. Do you really not want to talk about it?’
Benjamin ignored the request and looked down to resume working on his drawing. Helena sighed. She looked around in her handbag and took out a chocolate muffin.
‘Look what I’ve got for you,’ she said, making Benjamin look up with curiosity and smile with that child-like enthusiasm of his, ‘I bet this’ll taste better than the food they serve here,’ Helena continued before giving the muffin to Benjamin.
It should feel nice to see him become so happy over something so small, but how could she enjoy his happiness when she knew that this would be the last time she ever got to see that smile? Helena truly wished that things were different, that she could still take care of Benjamin for a very long time, but that would be cruel towards him. Much more cruel than saying goodbye for good without Benjamin even realising that he would never see her again.
‘What’s that you’re working on?’ Helena asked, pointing at the sheet of paper in front of Benjamin’s feet. When the latter refused to answer again, Helena calmly took the paper into her hands and saw a drawing of little boy crawled up on the floor, covered by a big, ominous shadow. The shadow appeared to be that of an adult man, who was about to hit the boy with his flat hand. The silhouette of the hand covered the entire face of the child, who looked up terrified. Benjamin’s drawing skills had always been impressive. Even when he was very little, people told him that he would go on to become the next Rembrandt or Van Gogh. Obviously, those were painters and not drawers, and there styles were totally different, but that was apparently not important to those uncultured peasants. Helena looked up from the drawing to Benjamin, who avoided any eye contact.
‘That boy in the drawing, that’s you, right?’ she asked him.
Benjamin hesitated a little, looked at Helena and nodded.
‘And that shadow, whose is it?’ she wanted to know next.
Benjamin refused to answer yet again, but when Helena made it clear that she wouldn’t give up, he eventually surrendered.
‘Daddy’s,’ he replied without another word, confirming Helena’s strong suspicions.
A painful and empathetic smile appeared on Helena’s face.
‘You know he can’t hurt you anymore, right?’ she said as she tried to reassure him, ‘He hasn’t been able to for a long time.’
‘I still have dreams about daddy sometimes,’ Benjamin said.
Helena said nothing for a few seconds.
‘What does he do in your dreams?’ she asked.
‘He hurts me… Beats me, kicks me, calls me names, locks me up in the wardrobe… Things like that. You’re sure daddy doesn’t know I’m here, right mummy? I don’t want him to come find me and hurt me again.’
Helena stroked Benjamin’s cheek. She let her thumb glide softly along the scar that his father gave him.
‘Your father can’t hurt you anymore. I promise,’ she replied quietly.
This had to stop. Helena knew it was time.
‘You look tired. Don’t you want to lie down?’ she asked.
Benjamin nodded, after which she walked him to his bed. After she had tucked him in, Helena looked at him and their eyes met one last time. It hurt so much, but it simply had to be done.
‘Let me just shake up your pillow,’ she said before taking Benjamin’s pillow from under his head.
Helena kept fiddling with the cushion for seconds to buy herself some time. Although she had played this exact moment hundreds of times before her visit to Benjamin, it still felt very different now that she was actually with him. She didn’t want to say goodbye to Benjamin at all. She didn’t want this to be their final conversation. She didn’t want this to be the last time that she had ever brought him a chocolate muffin. She didn’t want any of it, but she had to. Helena squeezed the pillow hard in an attempt to suppress her sorrow, but in vain. It did not take long before a tear rolled down her cheek and reached her trembling lower lip.
Of course, Helena’s sadness did not go unnoticed and soon Benjamin reacted concerned: ‘What’s wrong, mummy?’
That last ‘mummy’ of his was the last straw for Helena, who decided in a split second that it was really time now. Sobbing, she forcefully pushed the pillow onto Benjamin’s face, preventing him from breathing. Benjamin panicked and floundered hard, trying to escape. Helena felt Benjamin grab her wrist and try to push it away, but he was too weak. With tears in her eyes, Helena tried not to focus too much on Benjamin’s muffled screams coming from under the pillow. The noise slowly ebbed away and died out after a minute as Benjamin’s resistance had also gradually crumbled. In order to be sure that Benjamin had indeed drawn his last breath, Helena continued to push the cushion against his face for another minute. Once she had lifted the pillow, she was confronted with the shocking facial expression of Benjamin, who had passed away with his eyes and mouth wide open. Deeply hurt by what she had just done, Helena used her thumb and index finger to close Benjamin’s eyelids and stroked the few grey hairs he still had on his head, and kissed his wrinkled forehead.
‘Sweet dreams, daddy,’ she whispered.
Helena put the pillow back under her fathers head, making it appear as though he had died of natural causes. She truly wished that it hadn’t needed to be her, that the doctors could have just released him from his suffering, like she had begged them so many times. Unfortunately, that was against the law, which states that Benjamin had to verbally give permission to being euthanised, during a lucid moment. However, such a lucid moment had never come since his arrival at the psychiatric institution, and so Benjamin was forced to relive his traumatic childhood day in, day out. It caused Helena too much pain to see her dad suffer so greatly. He constantly mistook her for her grandmother, who had been gone for years, and feared that his biological father might come back to abuse him again, even though he had been dead for a long time as well. If the doctors could not perform euthanasia, it had to be Helena who had to carry out the most difficult task of her life. At least her father had found peace now. She looked at his face one last time and started to cry again. While tears poured down her cheeks, she lay next to her dad and embraced his body for the last time.