‘Paint the Skies’ by Owen, Age 15

When I ask about where my mum went, the adults in the room exchange uncomfortable looks.

My grandpa bends down and puts his hands on his knees and he tells me, “She’s just gone over the border.” He gives me emotion-laden apologies and tells me that I won’t be seeing her again, voice cracking into pieces and turning away before he even finishes. My grandma gives me a tight hug as tears carve ravines down her already-wrinkled face.

I don’t believe that, though. Not really.

They might not see her, but I see her in the skies.

She’s painting her artwork, like the ones she kept pinned up on canvas in the garden to dry. She’s painting the sky, you know, turning the plain blues into the pinks and reds that she loved so much, swirling together to bid goodbye to the dawn.

She has a giant paintbrush, and spends so long up there, painting the sunrises and sunsets that she can only come down when I’m asleep, really! And when she does, she tucks me in real tight and kisses my forehead before going up and painting again.

You see, she has to paint the whole sky! When she crossed that border to get up there, the clouds snatched her up because of her talent.

I try to paint my own versions of her special skies, but it changes far too fast for me to get anywhere near. (Mum was always so much better than me. I would paint alongside her into my artbook, and it would go all over my fingers and even my face. Then I’d chase her around and try to get it onto her dress- and sometimes I’d fall over and she’d pick me up and spin me around to stop my tears.)

I see her in the ground, too. In the flowers that bloom between the cracks in the pavement, in the colourful petals that unfold despite the harsh conditions they must endure. In the same flowers that she would gingerly step over, then lift me up to avoid my clumsy feet stepping on them, laughing and smiling so brightly it was like the sun came out from behind a cloud.

She’s the waterlilies that I pass sometimes under the bridge on my way to school. She’s in the wind that kisses me on the cheeks when it’s windy- she’s the warm sunlight that illuminates our cat’s favourite spot on the windowsill, where it spends all its summer afternoons.

I just know it.

So, when the adults tell me my mum’s gone over the border, I know she hasn’t.

Not really. She’s still with me- and I hope that when I go over the border to join her, wherever it is, that I can paint the skies half as beautifully.