Authors: Amy Huntley
Tags: #Social Issues, #Death, #Girls & Women, #Social Science, #Juvenile Fiction, #Dead, #General, #Family & Relationships, #Interpersonal relations, #Death; Grief; Bereavement, #Self-Help, #Schools, #Fiction, #Friendship, #School & Education, #Death & Dying, #Adolescence
There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself—
Not my-parents-told-me-to-be-home-by-twelve-and-it’s-two-o’clock-now dead. Just dead. Literally.
I can’t feel a body anymore. No hunger—not even a stomach. No fingers to wiggle, no feet to tap.
So I pretty much have to assume that I’m…gone?
No. I can’t be gone because I’m here.
I won’t say that I’ve “passed on” or “passed away.” I don’t remember passing anything on the way here. For that matter, I don’t remember dying, either. There’s some saying about people “dying of curiosity.” But I’m just curious about how I died.
Curious and…frightened. This place—wherever it is—surrounds me with vibrations. It just…
Loneliness and mystery hum through me. I feel like I just woke up in a dark room that has no clock. And even worse: no people. Where is everyone I knew when I was alive? Who are they, and do they miss me? What if I’m in hell? Maybe instead of fire and brimstone, hell is just the feeling of loneliness. I don’t remember much about being alive. I don’t even remember my name. But loneliness being hell? That much I remember.
Ahead I see a bright pinprick of light. It seems my only chance for company. The prospect of reaching that light has replaced the throbbing ache of loneliness with a quivering hope.
I attempt to move toward the light, but the space that is…
…cloaks me in thick, clinging darkness. It sticks to me like a disgustingly damp pair of jeans two sizes too small. I fight it out with
pushing against its boundaries, discovering I can get the bubble around me to expand if I try hard enough. But just as my space begins to grow, a cloud of loneliness surrounds me. I discover there’s a reason the dead are stuffed into cozy coffins and small urns. This large empty space I’ve created makes me feel even more isolated.
I stop pushing against the boundaries of
and it shrinks into a small bubble again. All the energy that is me beats
comfortably against the boundaries. Now that I am dead, I guess I have a soulbeat instead of a heartbeat.
Maybe some time passes. Maybe it doesn’t. Hard to tell in this place. But one way or the other, I discover the problem with small, safe places.
I can’t decide if my curiosity or my fear is the stronger emotion. And I don’t quite understand how I can be feeling both if I’m dead. They chase each other around, circulating and percolating in me. Haunting me.
How is that possible? I mean, if I’m the one who’s dead, how can something be haunting me? I’m supposed to be the one doing the haunting.
Finally, curiosity chases fear to the perimeter. It’s time to explore.
Not that there’s much to investigate. Just that bright pinprick of light.
I push against
and expand the bubble of my space again. This time I discover I can intensify my soulbeat until it fills the bubble’s space with energy. I ride the pulse of my soulbeat into the ever-expanding bubble as I approach the light.
It is a ring glowing in the dark. It shines against the midnight black of space like an X-ray. An image of a bracelet. What is it doing here?
As I get closer to the bracelet, I find myself floating right through the glowing circle of light. Photons scatter everywhere. I feel less lonely somehow with all this light swirling around me.
And because I can see now that there are more pinpricks of light.
They are little stars amid my dark existence, scattered across space at great distances. A spoon. A pair of socks, hair clips, pieces of paper, peas, a cell phone, keys, flowers, a handbag, a doll’s shoe. More and more. They are artifacts of a life.
I don’t know why, but they seem to link me to all the people I sense I should be with.
I find still more: beads, photographs, a ring, a baby’s rattle, and—how odd—a pair of underwear.
All these images are company at last.
But I need them to be closer together so I can spend time with all of them at once. Is there a way to click and drag them onto a desktop-sized space?
hasn’t picked up on the whole wireless concept yet, and I will have to go to the ends of the Universe to find all my companions. I’d better start now if—
My trip has already come to an abrupt halt. I’ve hit the next object. It’s a sweatshirt, and I can’t bear the idea of moving on and leaving it behind.
I know it should make me feel warm, but its stark white glow fills me with longing. A sense of missing something—more intense than any feeling I’ve yet had—pounds through me. And suddenly I know I wasn’t meant to be here alone. I know I expected to find Gabriel waiting for me.
But who is Gabriel?
M NOT SURE WHY
this sweatshirt fascinates me so much. Maybe it’s the missing smell. I sense that the most important thing about this sweatshirt is supposed to be its scent, but there aren’t any smells in
I want to put the sweatshirt on, but I’ve got no body here in
I try to remember what it felt like to have a body, and I imagine myself pulling warm fabric over my head….
And then suddenly everything changes. Knowledge—not just some strange half memory—rips through me, scattering me across space and darkness, through nothingness and shadow. I am propelled toward harsh light. The sound of voices swells as I come closer and closer to them.
Metal chairs scrape across linoleum, adding an unharmonious musical accompaniment to the voices. Flickering specks of me hover, dancing in the air, and then unite into something not quite solid yet more substantial than I have been. I have a misty almost-form.
I’m back in the world.
In a classroom. An art classroom. I recognize myself, standing at a sink a few feet away. I’m trying to get red paint off my hands. I remember this moment—junior year, second-hour art class. A sense of joy at being back in the real world courses like blood through my almost-being, but it’s strangely mixed with anger: I know that I’m about to discover that the sweatshirt is missing.
And then I know so much more. Suddenly I’m drowning in memories that take on half shapes. They fill me with panic as I founder around in them.
I know my name: Madison Stanton. I remember my mother, her deep red hair; my father, tall and playful, with a baritone that rumbles comfortingly; my house and its smell of eucalyptus; school; teachers; my best friend, Sandra; my older sister, Kristen; my pet cat, Cozy; and—oh, God—Gabriel. Gabriel whose sweatshirt I am about to lose. All these memories threaten to pull me under a tide of grief and loss.
It is the sound of my own laughter that acts as a life jacket. I float up out of the memories to focus on this
moment, on myself standing at that sink. I’m laughing with Sandra. I can’t remember what about, though. I’m tempted to move closer.
But first I need to go rescue the sweatshirt. It’s about to be stolen. And I know by whom. I left it on the back of a chair—so I wouldn’t get paint on it—over on the other side of the partition that divides the room. If I can get to the sweatshirt before Dana does, maybe I can keep her from stealing it.
I try to move toward the partition but have trouble figuring out how to do it. I don’t quite have a body, so the physics of movement as I’m used to it on Earth just isn’t happening. But I’m also not merely a collection of light particles the way I’ve gotten used to being back in
. Great. How many different states of existence can there be?
I have to figure out how to use some bizarre combination of floating and running to move. Just as I reach the partition, though, I bounce backward. Rubber-band style. The elastic that holds me to my real self over at the sink has stretched too thin. I go shooting backward almost all the way to the real me over at the sink, who’s still busy laughing. What’s the matter with her? Or should I say “me”? How am I supposed to refer to the living, breathing Maddy Stanton? “Her” seems so not “me.” And yet, she’s not me. She doesn’t even seem to sense that I’m here. And how am I supposed to let her know she’s being clueless about what Dana’s doing
on the other side of the wall?
I try again to reach Dana, to stop her from stealing the sweatshirt. No luck. The living Maddy pulls me up short once again, only this time I get too close to her. She exerts some kind of magnetic pull on me. And then instantly I
The water suddenly gets too hot on my hands. “Aiya!” I shriek, reaching to adjust the temperature.
Sandra turns the water off. Ever the conservationist. “You’re not Lady Macbeth trying to wash bloody sins off your hands, you know.”
So Sandra. Thirty seconds ago, we were laughing about the way her calc teacher got a piece of toilet paper stuck in the waist of her skirt, then came to class and taught half the hour without ever realizing it was there. Now Sandra’s making obscure references to Shakespearean tragedies.
She hands me the roll of paper towels sitting on the counter, flicking water in my face at the same time. “Thanks,” I say, rolling my eyes.
“Sorry,” she says, grinning.
We head back over to the table where we’ve left all our stuff. Time to put Gabe’s sweatshirt back on. It smells wonderful. Totally him. I’ve had it for two days. He left it at
my house on Sunday, and I’ve been making good use of it ever since. Yesterday he asked for it back. Uh-unh. No way. He’s not getting it back until it’s so dirty it absolutely has to be washed. No use keeping it after it’s lost the essential Essence of Gabriel.
It’s been a good few days. I’m thinking about raiding Gabe’s dirty laundry when I have to give this sweatshirt back.
But when Sandra and I return to the table, the sweatshirt isn’t there. My book bag is still sitting on the seat of the chair—exactly where I left it. The sweatshirt should be on the back of the same chair. I glance quickly at the other chairs around the table, but it’s not sitting on the back of any of them, either.
“What’s wrong?” Sandra asks as I start doing a weird version of Duck Duck Goose with all the chairs, sliding each out and checking to see if the sweatshirt has somehow migrated onto its seat.
“Gabe’s sweatshirt is missing,” I tell her. I’m not holding out a lot of hope that she’s going to sympathize with the true extent of this tragedy. She’s been teasing me for the past two days about how my obsession with the sweatshirt is my subconscious attempt to have sex with Gabe.
“It can’t be missing,” she says matter-of-factly. “It was on the back of the chair when we went to wash our hands.”
I’m cursing myself. I took off the sweatshirt so I wouldn’t
get paint on it. What’s a little paint, though, when the alternative is no sweatshirt at all? I’ve moved on to playing Duck Duck Goose with the other tables.
There’s only one explanation for what could have happened to it. Dana.
Suddenly I’m so angry that I’m afraid I might turn into Lady Macbeth with some bloody sins to wash off my hands after all.
Sandra sees how upset I am. She grabs me by the arm. “Hey, Maddy, it’ll turn up.”
“Dana took it. I’m sure she did. I don’t know whether to be mad that she’s trying to mess with me and Gabe, or creeped out by what she might be planning to do with it.”
“What do you mean, ‘do with it’? What can she do with it?”
I notice that Sandra isn’t trying to reassure me that Dana hasn’t taken it.
“What if she’s going to sleep in it or something?!”
“You mean like you do?”
Such. A. Cheap. Shot. “He’s
boyfriend,” I say defensively. I can’t even begin to express how horrified I am by the idea of Gabe’s ex sleeping in his sweatshirt. “She can’t get over the fact that they’ve broken up, and I’m sick of it.”
Sandra starts rubbing my arm. “Hey, calm down. She’s not going to sleep in it. She’s over Gabe.”
Hardly. She’s been a major pain ever since he dumped her and started dating me.
Sandra has known me since we were five. She can see what I’m thinking. That’s why it’s worth having a best friend. Saves on words. “Seriously,” she tells me, “this thing between the two of you, it’s about you and her, not about Gabe. She doesn’t want
back. She just wants to mess with you. It gives her satisfaction to make you miserable because you made her miserable when you started dating him.”
I give her my best skeptical look.
She steps back, flicks her brown curly hair over her shoulder. This is a sign she means serious business. The hands even go on her hips. She’s got one of those fragile, thin builds (and, yes, I’ve been envious of that ever since we were about ten and the differences in our body types became clear to me), but she can generate presence when she wants to be taken seriously. Like now. “What better way to upset you than to take something of Gabe’s from you? Then she gets to watch you go off.”
Sandra nods her head over toward where Dana is standing with some other girls. Dana’s smirking in a way that—if I’m honest—actually scares me. How can someone have the look of a jack-o’-lantern
a model all at once? “Look at her,” Sandra says. “She doesn’t have the sweatshirt, so she obviously hid it somewhere around here.”
“But where? That means I can find it.”
Sandra shakes her head at me. “Don’t give her the satisfaction. She’s watching you right now to see what you’re going to do. Come back after school or something and ask Mrs. Sinclair if you can look around for it then.”
The bell rings, and Sandra drags me toward the door.
Suddenly I am ripped away from myself, thrown back into the abyss…formless again, isolated in a place that just
There’s the sweatshirt, glowing mockingly at me, reminding me it’s no substitute for what’s really missing.