There were some things that Aliyah learned to live with, Neha’s death was one of them. She hadn’t shared it – the dying – with anyone else. She led everyone to believe that her death had been instant and painless. Especially the parents. Some consolation in the tragedy.
‘Creep, my love, why don’t you photograph me?’
Creep took many photos. Creep had seen a lot of bodies. They were always scarred and twisted because all bodies, excepting those of new-born babies, are scarred and twisted. His models were dirty. Creep liked bohemian grit, the real, as he called it. He liked the street-rats best. He savoured dirt.
I was somewhere I had no business being, doing something that I shouldn’t, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I had just sprayed some swastikas on my father’s shiny new headstone, and was two letters into a nice double-underlined “BURN IN HELL, NAZI” when I saw her.
Her flowing white dress fairly glowed in the full moon’s light. Her skin and hair were so dark, the way she walked so light and graceful, that my first thought was “ghost”. But disembodied spirits don’t usually carry duffel bags, or pause their spectral wanderings to shift the straps awkwardly. Having more to fear from the living than the dead, I swung behind dad’s elaborate (now slightly moreso) stone, and hid.
He found her sitting in a tree. Her legs dangled over the edge, her dusty feet kicking back and forth. It had taken him a while to find her. It wasn’t as simple as it usually was. Each hourglass of life came with coordinates, of course. The tiny numbers ascribed on the bottom gave approximate locations. It wasn’t a perfect system. Humans weren’t as predictable as, say, ants. Things had gotten tricky when they domesticated the horse, for example. It had gotten worse with the engine. Obviously airplanes had kicked things into gear. But the hourglass makers, those bright-eyed creatures, were quick to adjust. They usually got it in the ballpark.
I have no friends but the words talk to me. They don’t say what I read, they say something else.
When I was young I read what I heard. I was diagnosed as being dyslexic but I ignored everyone and concentrated on listening to the words. I hid in that diagnosis for many years.
Sometimes the words make me smile, sometimes they make me cry but most of all they make me curious.
From outside the coffee shop across the road, Julia watches Charlie Miller leave the diner. It starts to snow again and if she narrows her vision to exclude all else, she can almost believe that she is looking at an idyllic scene. Snowflakes drift softly through the golden glow emanating from the diner window. Waitresses move about inside with coffee pots, amid the chattering, happy diners. Charlie Miller, in jeans and cowboy boots, plaid flannel shirt poking out from a nondescript brown jacket, completes this perfect portrait of nostalgic Americana. But then he pauses outside the diner and crosses his arms in a tight knot across his chest. He stares straight ahead, as if he is viewing hell. The image of blood and clotted brain-matter leaps up before her eyes. She stuffs it back into the box too small to hold it, only to wait for the demented jack-in-the-box to spring again.