Archive for category death
Death is inescapable. Or so Bruin Bailey thought.
Heavy breathing, the scent of wild mushrooms, being dragged over roots.
Being buried alive.
These things he remembers.
Or was he alive?
You’d think it was so easy to tell, right? You’re either breathing or you’re not breathing. But, no.
When you hear things like “Shit, you killed him” while someone is stuffing you in a cold dirt hole and you can’t move or scream, but you can hear and feel, well, then the line is a bit blurred.
So, here’s what happened. We smoked a little weed, we rolled a few houses. It was Halloween. We were high off the prospect of being seniors, graduation and all the freedom that comes from not needing to get up at six in the morning and spend every day in the same smelly rooms with worn out teachers that forgot how to smile.
Freedom. In a few months it would be ours.
Oh, another important point. Anise Foster was a witch.
What? I’m not calling names. She was proud of it.
When we’d get bored at lunch, we’d invite her over and pretend to be interested in all the shit she’d spout off about the cycles of the seasons and oh, yeah, especially around Halloween how she’d get all excited about the “veil” between the physical and spiritual world being thin so you could communicate with the dead. She even told us her mother left a place at the table for her dead dad. Ashley snickered too loud at that and Anise got up and left.
I saw her later at the lockers and felt bad. She looked sad.
“Hey,” I said. “You believe all that stuff that you told us, or is that just your mom’s religion?”
She looked at me then. Really looked at me for the first time and I realized how amazing her eyes were. Perfect gray circles in milky skin. I don’t think anyone has ever really looked at me before her because it was so intense I had to look away.
“This is the time things go beneath the ground. They wait to be resurrected. Winter is about death, about dying. It is not about religion.”
“Okay, all right,” I tried to be cool, even though her words had sent a chill from the tip of my tail bone to my hairline. It didn’t help when she added the words, “I’m sorry, Bruin.”
So, getting back to Halloween. Graveyards are seriously not the place to get high on Halloween and try to contact the dead because “the veil is thin”.
The ground was hard, freezing. I was feeling too good to care as I stared up at a fat, glowing moon with one star to keep it company. Lots of clouds around the sky bowl. Noises that I didn’t even care to try and figure out.
The bunch of morons that I hung out with chanting and calling out things like, “Hey, we want to see a ghost tonight.”
Someone pulled out a knife and drew a pentagram on a tree. This is where things went totally wrong.
Not because a demon showed up or anything. Just because I got pissed. Irrationally, drug induced kind of pissed. What did the tree ever do to Evan Martinez?
“Dude, you can’t just cut up a tree. What’s wrong with you? It’s alive.” Upon reflection, I realize this was Anise Foster’s influence on me.
His girlfriend called me some names and everyone laughed.
“You’re an idiot,” were my last words before a wicked, sharp, hot sensation filled my stomach.
Fast forward to: “Dude, you killed him.”
Lots of panic. The morons dragging my body through the woods to softer ground. The moon really was fat.
Dirt flew at me from all directions. It covered me slowly at first, building up until the organic smell became smothering. Until darkness blocked out the moonlight and I realized I wasn’t breathing. But I was something because I could still think.
I heard her words again, “Winter is about death. This is the time things go below ground and wait to be resurrected.” I silently wished she would put a place at her table for me.
And I knew that come spring, I would push up through the dirt like some giant freak crocus and Evan Martinez was going to pay.
Shaw Martin sat in his stuffy college Calc 101 class, staring in horror at the inside of his wrist. He traced the spidery, indigo lines that ran up his pasty arm. Why hadn’t he noticed them before? God, they were terrifying. Well, not the veins themselves, but the thought of them. Carrying blood round and round our body, through our heart, pumping it back out. Jesus, what a chore, huh? How does the whole thing not go terribly wrong?
Terribly wrong. Shaw suddenly felt trapped. His sandy curls grew dark with sweat. People began to glance at him as he tried, unsuccessfully, to quietly gather his belongings and make his way to the door.
“Sorry,” he whispered to the gawkers. “So sorry.”
Four days later, he had almost gotten used to ignoring the veins when the bones started making themselves known. He went and got his eyes checked. Something had to be terribly wrong.
* * * *
“You’ve got 20/25 vision.”
“Yeah, but I’m not seeing things right.” Shaw tried to look the doctor in the eye, but kept getting distracted by the sight of his bones.
“No. Too clear.”
Shaw watched, fascinated as the bones gripped a pen and notepad.
He left with a reference to a psychiatrist.
It rained that evening which only made the air thicker. Footsteps followed him as he trudged to Scales & Suds on campus. He could hear shoes squeak on the wet concrete right behind him but he didn’t dare turn around. Slipping inside, he pressed himself against the wall and glanced back out the door. Thankfully, they were gone.
What’s going on? He tried to think but the others were so loud, trying to talk over the music. It beat in rhythm with his pulse. Distraction.
Shaw stood at the bar waiting for his order, feeling the crush and bump of the crowd and beginning to shake. Something had to be terribly wrong. A stiff shoulder pressed up against him. He glanced. Stared. The human body really was fascinating. Humerus. Clavical. Shaw squinted. Hmm.
“How’d you break your collar bone?” Shaw asked, trying to start a conversation.
The guy stared hard at Shaw. “What the fuck, man?” he finally said. “How do you know that?”
Luckily, the waitress came out and handed Shaw his Styrofoam box of greasy fried cod and fries with a smile.
“Freak,” the guy threw at him.
He thanked her and hurried back outside. It was drizzling again.
Two days later, he was still at the park, soaked and sipping cold coffee someone had left beside their car. He had tried to go back to the little cracker box house his parents left him, but the squeaky shoes had followed him. He heard them on the kitchen linoleum and ducked out without locking the door. Why bother? They were already inside.
His gift. To see inside human bodies. Inside was a tree with branches and organs growing on the branches. There were two kidneys, like giant lima beans , two lungs like overgrown fish gills-filling and deflating, filling and deflating, intestines and the heart. Pump pump squish pump pump squish.
“Your heart is beautiful,” he said to a lady pushing her toddler on a swing.
The police came and he finally got to see a doctor that understood him.
“So, you have x-ray vision,” Dr. Mulligan said. She didn’t laugh. In fact, she nodded and looked very serious, a wrinkle forming between her brows, like Shaw’s mother used to do.
“Yes, exactly. I can’t see inside the skull though. Why do you think that is?”
“Shaw, let’s talk about your parents.”
“They died fourteen months ago. Both of them on Highway 65. It was an accident.”
“Yes. I know, Shaw. And that’s a very difficult thing, to lose your parents. You’ve been doing very well, though.” She flipped through her notes. “Attending college. I’m sure they would be very proud of you.”
“They wanted me to be a doctor.”
“And what do you want to do?”
“Well, I do want to help people.” He glanced at her to see if he could trust her with his secret. She nodded, her chin resting on the bones of her hand. “Okay. I want to be a super hero. I’ve wanted to be a super hero since I was nine. I’ve designed a cape and everything.”
“I see,” she said and stared at Shaw for a moment longer. “Okay then. I’m going to write you a prescription, Shaw, for a medicine called Haldol. It is very important that you take it every day.”
“Will it help me to become more of a super hero?”
“Well,” she said, seeming to weigh something and then sighed. “No, Shaw. It will help you to stay in society, to be a part of it and to have a more normal life.”
Did it ever stop raining in this town? Shaw came to a corner, where a homeless guy was sitting under a garbage bag, a brown cardboard mush of a sign clutched in the bones of his hand. The sky groaned and lit up.
“You all right, Kid?”
“I don’t know,” Shaw answered. “I’m not sure. I think something must be terribly wrong.”
“Ha,” he groaned like the sky. “You’re the smartest person I’ve met yet. Have a seat, Kid.”
“All right.” Shaw said, lowering himself onto the wet sidewalk. Water rushed by in the gutter, fell from the sky, cleansed the world.
He reached a wet hand in his jacket and took the first pill.
(Warning: mature subject matter)
It’s not her fault. She wasn’t born with the ability to see things as they are. Her world is small and skewed, complete with a turnstile and ticket price that no one can afford, a glittery fantasy in the background. If only I hadn’t fallen for her, maybe I’d still be alive.
What? You don’t think the dead can talk? You’ll see. The world is nothing like you think. Because you’re looking through the same damn filter as her—life. Her name is Lola.
Lola was given her name by a mother who was fond of whimsy and ignorant of 20th century literature. Lola struggled from whimsy like a butterfly, all wet and sticky with new wings to try out. When she turned eighteen, she did just that. She flew. She changed her name to Ekaterina because she liked the idea of being difficult, a struggle for the tongue and mouth. I refused to call her anything but Lola but I paid for that dearly.
This is how she gained a wide berth in life. Like those hoarders who pile things around themselves; newspapers, canned peaches, fat and feral cats. She piled tragedy of her own making. She was the fire that danced within the paper, burning anyone attracted to her flame.
Where did I meet her you ask? Where do you think a girl named Lola with hips that could charm a snake would hang out? Don’t judge me. I was newly divorced. I just wanted a girl to look at me again with something other than distain. I used my full week’s paycheck that night to keep her in the private room. I don’t know what she saw in me, but she agreed to a real date that night.
Our first date happened on a rainy Wednesday, with one of those sunsets that looks like somebody drizzled hot caramel all over the sky. She was soft and pliable, legs like vices. I remember staring up at that sunset–flesh pressed in wet sand while those hips made perfect warm circles—thinking I could die right then a happy man.
I didn’t know then I would die a very, very unhappy man.
By our fifth date, Lola had another life growing inside that tan belly of hers. She said it was mine and we talked about the nursery. I could smell the lemon yellow paint she picked out for the walls, so boy or girl…our baby would wake every morning to a bright sunshiny world. A world full of light and hope and promise.
She seemed surprised when her belly grew taught over the round life. She stopped eating anything but celery sticks and lemons. Her routines grew more and more dangerous, hanging upside-down and sliding toward the ground like she wanted to crack her own skull open.
On a Saturday night at two in the morning, that’s exactly what she did. The hospital lights were so bright. The doctor’s voices, the machines. So loud. The blood, so red.
Flowers everywhere the next morning. God, the smell was suffocating, all sweet, sticky…like a funeral. Of course, it was a funeral. Our baby was dead. Jarred from Lola’s body from the impact and thrown in some hospital disposal unit. Her tears were real, pooling in the dark crevices under her eyes. I fingered a creamy white petal from a close boquet, not knowing how to express my sadness, feeling like a stranger at my own child’s funeral.
The card was just a card, but to me it was the final blow that shattered my delusion that she would ever be mine. ‘Wishing you a speedy recovery, Katerina. Get back to us soon. Love, Giovonni.’
I plucked it from its plastic stake and tore it into tiny pieces. I stuck my face into hers; the rage, the sorrow, everything piling up and collapsing in that one moment like an avalanche of the soul. “Who are you? I loved you!” I screamed.
My own spit shining on her pale cheeks, she answered, “I never asked to be loved.”
I admit. It was a stupid thing to do. We were ten stories up and the goddamned window would have held if a psycho adrenelin rage wasn’t behind the force thrown against it. For one brief second I was free of her. The silence of pavement against brain was heaven.
Then I was back. Standing in her hospital room, attached to her with some kind of damn emotional bungee cord.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been attached to this beautiful, tragic creature. I lost track of the nights she spent throwing herself into one hell after another, not with abandon, but with the confidence of a martyr.
She’s right. I see that now. She never asked to be loved.
Maria Vega kneels before her husband’s grave, burning herbs in a rusted coffee can. As an offering, baskets full of his favorite food and sugarcane whiskey line his grave.
The night air is sharp and drastically cooler, though the pungent odor of fresh marigolds still hangs heavy around her. Maria slips on a wool rebozo and pulls a blanket over her littlest one, who’s already fallen asleep on her mat. The child stirs briefly as a loud group of tourists—sloshed on tequila—stumble too close, knocking into the decorated arch over her husband’s grave. It wobbles. One slurs an apology before snickering and shushing the others. In the flash of wide-eyed tourists’ cameras, Maria sighs and resumes her prayers. A bell rings at the entrance of the graveyard. It’s a call to the spirits. She wonders if her husband can hear them.
Among the light of thousands of candles, three men stand behind a knot of swaying tourists and locals, watching the Dance of Old Men play out on a crude wooden stage. They are tall and lithe with pale skin that glows orange in the candle light.
“The bells, the flora, the food…it’s all meant to lead their dead back to them?”
“It is their way of conquering death?”
“To bring the living and the dead together for a night, maybe.”
“We can help them.”
“No.” The tallest one says. “Come, we will view the fishing men in their butterfly net rituals.”
Chickie sticks his sweaty face in front of the camera just as the flash goes off. He snorts at the tourist’s frustration. “Hey, I got a picture for you, lady!” He shoves a dirty hand between his own legs.
“Come on, Chickie, don’t ruin the fiesta!” His friends lock arms with him and drag him down the hill, through the graveyard laughing and singing loudly. Overturned candles, crushed petals and silent curses lay in their wake.
“Wait, wait…” Chickie says. “I gotta take a piss.” He sways, barely standing. The women and children around the graves look on in horror as his stream falls on one lit candle after another, extinguishing the flames with a hiss. “It’s like shootin’ ducks!” he yells to no one in particular. He’s mumbling to himself as his friends back into the shadows and disappear.
Maria Vega is staring up at him in disbelief, pan de muerto bread in one hand and the other covering the eyes of her eldest daughter. The three tall tourists have stopped and are surveying the scene. After Maria’s youngest starts to cry, one of them slides forward and bends down next to her. He lays a large hand on the wet dirt on her husband’s grave and begins to hum. Like some magic trick, the candles flicker back on and Maria feels a slight tremor beneath her. Satisfied, the tourist stands and returns to his party. They begin to argue.
Suddenly, Maria Vega screams.
The bones of her husband, Raul, push through the earth. She falls back, pulling her children with her and frantically crossing herself. Fruit and bread tumble from the baskets, candy skulls are crushed beneath real skeleton feet as it steps forward and brushes the earth from its shoulders. More screams fill the clear night air as people stumble and flee.
Chickie is standing there with his pants still unzipped and his mouth open, face to face with the inhabitant of the grave he just pissed on. “What in the hell…”
In the distance the ringing call to the spirits sounds. Raul Vega snaps off the middle finger of his left hand, steps forward and stabs Chickie in the eye. They both collapse in a heap.
Maria Vega faints and the last thing she sees, as her head hits the earth, is Raul’s bleached grin flickering in the candlelight.
Eloise liked to photograph the dead. She would hide in funeral home bathrooms until they were locked up for the night. She used a Polaroid camera because she could watch the faces reappear as if she were bringing them back from the dead. Life fading in instead of out.
This particular Tuesday evening, she fell asleep waiting in the bathroom closet and things were quiet when she awoke. No last footsteps, no doors closing. Just silence. She padded down the hall, slippered feet on thin, floral carpeting. Sallow lights clinging to the paneled walls, glowed faintly. Shadows followed Eloise, sliding along the floor behind her. She moved into the first room. Oh, the sweet scent of fresh sorrow. Carnations and roses, lillies and daisies, condolences and compassion in the shape of hearts and sprays and wreaths of grief. It made her dizzy. Eloise pressed her nose into a large snow white display of Gladiolas. This is what people did when you were loved. They filled the last space they would see you in with beautiful things, fragile things that would die, too. A reminder to press up against color and scent while it remained. Or maybe they just mask the smell of decay?
Eloise ran her hand along the casket. Pine maybe or walnut. Anyway, some tree was chopped up and reshaped, separated from its own life to serve as a last container for ours. Her fingers caressed the casket lining and then she peered in.
Only the top half of the casket was opened so she could see down to the woman’s folded hands with freshly polished nails. She wore a melon colored polyester suit and pearls, a cloud of white hair lost in the white silk lining. Her wrinkles were hardened, powdered and rouged; her lips painted coral. Eloise lifted her camera. The click and whirl of the photo being birthed interrupted the silence. She sat down on the floor, intermittently shaking the wet paper and checking it for signs of life.
The woman reappeared slowly in her hand—over-exposed from the close flash, glowing and blurred a bit, as if she had moved. Of course, Eloise knew it was only her hand that moved, but no one else knew that. In the photo, the woman was an angel taking flight. She could just see her picture now on the cover of the Statesville Times with the headline “Local Photographer Captures Soul of Dead Woman”. Satisfied, she slipped the photo into a leather pouch around her waist, thanked her politely and moved into the next room.
This one smelled like disinfectant and damp air conditioning. Where were the flowers? The white marble casket was set up against velvet drapes, open and empty. Eloise looked around the dark room and then climbed up into the casket. Her head pressed into a tiny square pillow, the white quilting cocooning her as she placed her camera on her chest and folded her hands. It was quite comfortable. She lifted her camera, positioned it above her own face and took a picture. As she sat there shaking the photo and waiting, a series of beeps caught her attention. Someone had just turned off the security alarm. She froze. Was it morning already?
The door opened and the lights flickered on. The sound of a vacuum suddenly filled the room. Well, Eloise thought, she would just lay there until the cleaning lady moved on to the next room and then slip out. Being dead was not as peaceful as she thought it would be.
The in and out roar of the vacuum, coming closer and moving away, was a bit soothing. She began to relax, closing her eyes and holding her breath. She wondered if she could make her face as white as the lady’s in her last picture. She realized the vacuum was still running very close to her, but it was no longer moving. She opened her eyes. The cleaning lady was staring down at her and—when Eloise opened her eyes—she screamed and stumbled backwards, tripping over the vacuum and landing with a thump on her back. The plug had been pulled from the wall so they were now silent—the vacuum and the cleaning lady. Though, both the roaring and the screaming were still ringing in her ears.
Eloise climbed down carefully from the casket. She held her finger under the woman’s nose. No breath. She pressed an ear against her gray buttoned uniform. No heartbeat. The smell of outside air still clung to her skin. Eloise could almost see the sunshine in her hair. She lifted her camera and clicked. As the photo spit out, the woman suddenly gasped for air. Eloise jumped back, falling on her butt and then scrambling quickly to her feet. The woman coughed and then lay there, breathing. Just breathing, which sometimes is enough. Eloise shook the wet photo and watched it develop. She shook it harder to dry. Nothing. Just a bright white spot. Useless. She dropped it on the floor beside the woman and tiptoed out.
Two days later, she saw that photo again. It was on the front page of the Statesville Times with the headline “Maid Captures Ghost at Yates Funeral Home”.
Eloise shook her head in disbelief. “People will believe anything.”
(Pablo Picasso’s “Nude Woman in a Red Armchair”)
Lou is a girl. She paints angular ladies with red bee-stung lips, wild chocolate hair in the shape of Z’s with cherry or lemon highlights. They dry on metal racks in the pantry and then they are carefully wrapped and stored in the coat closet. They haunt her dream world, swaying their hips and laughing wildly. These things are Lou under the spell of starlight and anonymity.
In the sunlight Lou is pressed and varnished, placed at a sharp right angle in a square office.
Gene is a boy. A dreamer. He smokes peyote and gets visits from dead poets and painters. Only they are not dead. Somehow their space-time overlaps his. Sometimes he has to help someone off the refrigerator or out of the bath tub. Mostly Cummings and Picasso. Apparently when two dimensions of space-time merge, there is no accuracy involved.
In the sunlight Gene wears tight shoes and stares out of a sky rise window, pretending to crunch the buildings between his teeth like popcorn.
The space between Lou and Gene consists of a hallway and two doors. This space is breached when Gene collapses with an open, foamy mouth and a thump that pulls Lou from her dream world and then her warm bed.
Lou stares at Gene lying there like a chalk outline, seeing him for the first time. She pulls her oversized bathrobe closed and leans down, two strong fingers searching pale skin for a pulse.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
She wipes his mouth with a corner of her robe, touches his lips with a finger first and then her own lips. She presses softly against his flesh.
At another point in time, one that has obviously passed, this might have been pleasant.
She vaguely tries to remember if she’s supposed to blow or press first. Then she shrugs, stands and pushes on his door instead.
There are two men sitting there looking vaguely familiar and yet utterly alien in the paper-and-book-strewn apartment.
“He’s dead,” she informs them.
“I see,” they nod to each other.
“I’m alive, right?”
“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
“Huh,” she pokes at her cheek with her tongue. “E. E. Cummings, is it?”
“Okay then.” She unleashes the knot on her robe and lets it slide to the floor. “Show me how to live forever.”
“Come, sit,” Picasso pats the red armchair beside him.
It is only a whisper, but the room explodes into pandemonium. The word is a hurricane. It sweeps a nurse out the door, blows another out of the corner, clutching a chart and her chest.
He opens his eyes suddenly, memories caught between fog and pain. There is a beep and a click in the sterilized space, the suddenly silent space…and then his mind explodes. Click BOOM!
He clutches his heart, his bearded mouth a cave full of unearthly groans and escalating screams. He watches them in slow motion: Helen’s eyes crinkle at the corners as a mother-smile ignites, brightens her face. Emma bathes in the love; cooing, waving chubby fingers, bubbling at the world.
Rage bubbles now, builds, escapes from the cave and threatens to burst his eardrums. Beyond the nurses hands with straps and needles, he sees them. He sees Helen’s throat open up with the first bullet, then her chest. Crimson flowers bloom and splatter his shirt. Her hand reaches for Emma as she falls backwards; falling, falling. “Emma!” Emma’s soft head blooms as he lifts himself from the chair, his heart shattering because he knows he is one second too late.
His next bout of awareness comes two days later. Men in suits and grim, sleep deprived faces file in to stare at him.
Questions begin slowly, carefully as if the words are probing his wounds. Do you know where you are? Do you remember anything from Friday, October 1st? Do you know your name?
His answer is a blank stare. His mind is simply white noise.
“That’s enough for now, Gentlemen,” a sympathetic voice breaks in.
“What is my name, please?”
The raspy voice startles the nurse checking his fluid bag. She trips backwards and then stoically pushes her fists into her pockets. “You don’t remember your name?”
Sighing, she glances back at the door. “It’s David. David Farah.” Her arms now cross. “Ring a bell?”
“No.” He runs a shaky hand over the sore flesh under a thin gown. “What happened to me?”
“What happened to you?” Her eyes round, then blink at the ceiling. Her mouth tightens. “You were shot. The bullet damaged your cardiac valve and your heart wall. We had to do emergency surgery. You have a new heart, Mr. Farah.” She bows her head and leaves. The men in suits file back in.
Now their eyes burn fiercely. Shock has crumbled under the weight of anger and injustice.
“So, names, Mr. Farah. We want names.” One of the angry men moves to stand over him. He smells like cloves and fear. “We know you weren’t acting alone in this. Thirty seven people died in that restaurant, you son of a bitch. Thirty seven people that included a…baby.” This last word is spit into his eye. Venom. He doesn’t blink because he is focusing on steadying the images and feelings rushing at him. An old fire, from another lifetime is nudging its way to the front. It is hate and faith and fear all rolled up into a singular, seething wound that is wearing the mask of a human soul. His silence is taken as being uncooperative. The angry man slams a hand down on his stitched up chest. The pain feeds the fire.
“They should have let you die. I would have let you die! The only reason they didn’t was because of god damned politics and lawsuits. They should have given you a pig’s heart you piece of shit.” One of the other suits pulls him away. Takes him outside.
“You mentioned the name Helen.” The third man’s jaw twitches.
“My wife, isn’t she my wife? She’s dead, isn’t she? Oh…and Emma.”
His eyes narrow. He pinches his nose between his eyes then motions for the others to follow him out. He comes back in alone, with a folder.
“Helen Brennan, along with her husband, Michael and their baby Emma were victims in the attack.” He folds his arms. “How were you acquainted? Was this a targeted attack on them?”
“I don’t understand,” he stutters. The line between lifetimes is blurring. The space that separates souls is disappearing. They stand facing each other as one. One body, two lifetimes. Grief swirls as a black storm within and around them.
Nurses, doctors and agents share the view, peering at the man signing his confession through the window, struggling with their own grief and confusion.
“Maybe we should tell him,” a nurse glances at an agent.
“Tell him what?”
“That he has Michael Brennan’s heart.”
“What good would that do?”
“Most people don’t know that the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Some people believe our soul is in our heart.”
David Farah turns to the window full of faces, lifts his hand in a thumbs-up salute and plunges the pen deep into his new heart.