She (part II)

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She

Part II

When I was seven and my brother was only four, when our father was still with us, we lived in a farmhouse in a rural town down the south where there was a pond near our backyard. It’s where my father liked to go fishing and brought us along so we could swim and play together.

    I was a good swimmer for my age, but my brother was too young and too scared to learn. So one day, when our parents left us alone, I put him in an old, wooden washtub and dragged that tub wading into the shallow of that pond…

    with my brother sitting cross-legged inside and howling with fear.

    No, no. Let me out. The splashes scared him, but I coaxed him to calm down while pushing the tub afloat toward the middle of the pond where the water was deep and dense mats of water hyacinths floated in thick purple clusters, a good hiding spot from all eyes. Promise me you’ll help me if I fall into water. He pleaded with me, his eyes brimming with tears. But then I shook my head and whispered back to him,

    I can’t. She already promised me I will see her face only if I see someone dying.

    He was too naive to understand what I meant. But his screams started after he’d immediately found the water was leaking into the tub. The day before, I’d gone to play in the attic and found that tub. It had been left at one dark corner, covered with dust and cobwebs among other no longer used items. A tingle ran through my spine when I found that the bottom of that tubs had cracks and small holes all over. So, I dragged it down and just waited for the right moment. 

    Help me. Help me please. Through his shrieks and screams I kept swimming in a circle around the sinking tub, eyes watching my hysterical brother holding the tub for dear life while his small body was little by little submerging beneath the murky water, together with the tub. I felt goosebumps break out all over when his small face was barely above water, now turning ghost-white with pure terror. I was waiting to see him choke and begin to drown in the next instant. That sight enraptured me beyond any words.

    I could sense her sudden ominous and yet seductive presence coming so close to me. I closed my eyes envisioning her in her black cloak, gripping me into her embrace while spinning her macabre spell to turn my heart into an icy stone.

    Hail to Your Majesty of Death… 

   I kept greeting her in thrilled whispers as my brother was struggling for his life. 

    Then, once my eyes met some air bubbles rising to the surface my brother had disappeared under, I felt a tremendous force be released that shook off her dark and sinister power. Seized with sudden alarm, I stopped myself in time from lifting the veil from her face once and for all. My hands scrambled, fumbled and groped for my brother’s body under the murky water. I cried and cried in panic while calling him. Luckily, I was able to grab his hair and pulled him to the bank and saved him from drowning. Or to be exact, saved him from her.  

    Since that day to the last day of his life neither of us had brought up that incident ever again. It was possible that he forgot the whole thing since he was only four. But I’d never forgotten. I just pretended it had never happened.

     Then, one of the staff took a dark plastic bag from a wall cabinet. Once she unfolded and spread it out on his bed, I could tell it was a body bag. I had seen them bebfore in many scenes of crime movies. Next, the rest of the staff helped push and squeeze his body into that suffocating bag. When they zipped it up past his neck, the zipper got stuck around his swollen and enlarged cheeks. So, they had to press that disfigured head quite hard to get the zipper over his head without it becoming jammed.

    Ouch! I believe I heard his muffling voice again inside the airless body bag. So, I whispered to him to stay quiet like all decent dead persons.

    Hey, Miss Bossy, I never died before. So, how do I know how to behave like a dead person? He noisily protested.

   Today is your death day, baby. Show some respect to this most important day of your life besides your birth day. 

    Oh yeah, I wish my guests will care enough to sing Happy Death Day to me at my funeral. Hope mine is not dead boring like Uncle Toole’s funeral. He’d delivered his last joke before becoming quiet inside his bag as all decent dead ought to.

    I had to keep a straight face and not show a silly smile in front of the team. I had to conform to their fixed rules for feelings. Otherwise, they would wonder how cold-blooded I am for showing no sign of grief in front of my departed loved one. Hoping my brother was able to hear me through the infinite unknown that was now separating us, I said goodbye to him in my choking whisper. I will love you as always, baby.

   Yes, I loved him more than I could ever express, along with all the remorse I’d been holding over the years. We’d had only each other since my father left us for good and my mother brought us to New York. In my heart I’d never again thought of hurting him except for my one  fascination with death had manifested as an extreme, sick obsession. 

     At that time of the year, one of my classmates’ father had died. He was a police officer who had been shot in the line of duty. My mother brought me to his funeral where he was honoured by the whole community. During the burial ceremony in the town cemetery, I was acutely drawn to the sight of my friend and her mother in each other’s arms weeping like the world was going to end. Their grief moved all the guests, men and women alike, to tears. I’d never seen any funeral so overwhelmed with tears and heartbreak. Death and her mystery had begun to haunt me since that very day. 

    My friend’s father’s death transformed her into someone above and beyond all other people. Her sad eyes glazed over as she entered a secret realm where Her Majesty reigned, and her mind held one great mystery of death that’s still unknown to all. Oh, she was the only one wearing black to mourn her loved one, and thus appeared unique among those surrounding her whose outfits were in meaningless, ordinary colours. She was the centre of attention for all our teachers and neighbours. Everyone turned their head towards her. Oh, that’s her, the special one who just lost her father. They whispered in awe. But their eyes failed to notice me when I appeared by her side. To them I was a transparent object, untouched by the aura of death. And so, they simply overlooked me. 

    I became so obsessed with this thought that I soon was blinded by my jealousy. I even secretly hope that one of my relatives would suddenly drop dead so I would get the mystic aura of death like my classmate. But no one in my family died. 

    To satisfy my sick desire, I turned to my brother.  

    But I’d found at last minute that I just couldn’t do it. No matter how she tried over and over to lure me to throw open her face with my own hand, I turned my back on her for good. And so, we grew up together as close as a sister and brother could be.

    And now, it was she, herself, who was compelled to come into this room and reveal her face so I could see what death actually looked like.

    The team finally lifted up the bulky body bag and laid it on a gurney. One nurse’s aide raised the rails on the gurney to prevent the bag from rolling off while another unfolded a white sheet and spread it ove the entire gurney.

    What’s next? I asked them. They told me they would bring him down to the morgue in the hospital basement where his body would be kept until it was released for his funeral.

    That’s it? Is that how he ends up? I repeated absentmindedly, and they nodded.

     They wheeled the gurney out of the room as I followed in bleak silence into the busy hallway where a few more gurneys—similar to the one my brother was on—were coming and going past. The gurney with my brother was pushed aside to make way for other gurneys moving past. Then, it pushed onto an elevator. Some people in front of that elevator moved to make room for it. But most ignored its presence. 

     If you see those any sheet covered gurneys in a hospital hallway being wheeled past, I bet you would guess—as I would—that these gurneys are carrying foods to serve patients.

    You might be right, at least some of the time. They could possibly be all-purpose carts, available for carrying anything or anyone, in life or in death. It doesn’t matter what it brings—food or a dead body. So, best to leave each and every cart a mystery. Don’t lift its cover to see what’s underneath because you might demystify its mystery, only to become disappointed in finding how meaningless her face could be. 

 
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