The Great Lie

The girl could remember the exact second she died. She was surprised only by how unremarkable it was. There was no last gasp, no panic, no fear, no life flashing before her eyes. One moment she was aware of the icy snow beneath her body. The next moment she wasn’t. It was all rather anticlimactic, to say the least.

She gazed around the room at the gathering. She knew all the faces. Mostly. She admired everyone’s commitment to wearing black. Very mourning of them, she thought.

She drifted towards the dining room, moving through clusters of people as they talked in hushed tones, whispering of the horror and lamenting the tragedy. She considered the table of food where most of the visitors had congregated. There was enough to feed everyone three times over. There was a pot roast from Mrs. Leggat who lived down the road, a pie she assumed was from Mrs. Thompson, made from the apples she grew in her yard, and the hideous ambrosia salad that Mrs. Nolan insisted on bringing to every barbeque and picnic day she was invited to. The girl leaned down to take in the aroma of a large bowl of trifle made by her aunt, and was stunned when she couldn’t smell a thing. Probably because I no longer breath, she thought. The man had taken that from her too.

She didn’t know why he chose he. Why he decided to end her life on that frigid Wednesday morning. She didn’t recognise him. She had never seen him in town, or at school or any of the other places she regularly visited on her daily errands. She remembered her astonishment when the blade first entered her body. The shock cancelling out the pain. She remembered the sound. It was like those stupid slasher movies her brother liked to watch. A weird, squelching noise that was almost comical. She remembered how easily the metal sliced through her skin as if she were made of butter, and her utter amazement when her pinkie finger soared through the air, separated from her hand as she tried to protect herself from the blows. She’s not exactly sure how many times he thrust the knife into her flesh. But she knew it was a lot. It seemed to only go on for seconds. But she knew it was longer. At some point she had turned over, dragging herself across the frozen ground. This was her undoing. Though to be fair, she was undone from the moment he fixed on her. When his blade tore through her spinal cord, it was all over. The only thing left for her to do was die. She supposed she should be angry with the man. Angry that her life was cut short. That she would never live out her dreams. Never go to college or travel the world. Never marry or have her own children. Angry that she was so viciously ripped from this world and left in a crumpled, discard heap as if her existence meant nothing. But for some reason, she wasn’t. She didn’t feel anything for the man. Not at thing, she thought.

The girl drifted into the living room, following the sound of a shattering plate. Her mother was on all fours, trying to pick up the ragged pieces of broken crockery as people huddled around her. She watch her mother sag to the carpet in complete desolation. When a guttural cry rent through the air, it caught everyone off guard. The girl’s brother rushed to their mother’s side, wrapping her in his arms, and gently guiding her to the couch. They sat, holding one another, lost in their mutual suffering, as everyone else shuffled awkwardly and stared at their feet. The girl knew she should feel something. She should feel sorrow, or empathy. She should want to reach out to her mother, to her brother, and comfort them. But she didn’t feel any of those things. She just stood and watched. Like everyone else.

She wondered if this was what being dead was like. Feeling, well, dead. No sadness, or the kind of hate she knew should fill her stilled heart. Empty of not just blood, but of everything that once made her human.

The girl shrugged her shoulders and turned away from the tormented scene before her and drifted towards the stairs. In her room she sat on the edge of her bed and was startled to see her reflection in the mirror. She was wearing the same dress she died in. But there were no tears or grisly stains. It was clean and pressed, just like it was the day she slipped it over her head. She’d worn it to impress the new boy at school. He was tall, and cute and smiled at her on his first day, making a point of asking her name. He had made her pulse race and her palms sweat, and she was fairly certain she had done the same for him. It seemed particularly unlucky that he never got to see her in that dress. It hung so well on her, sitting just-right on her youthful curves. She wondered if the boy was sad that she died. That they never got the chance to go on a date, or make out behind the softball shed. She wondered if he cared.

She rested her head on her pillow and stared up at the tiny glow-in-the-dark stars strewn across the ceiling. They were a gift from her father, the day before he disappeared into the night. He’d spent all afternoon meticulously sticking each one into place, creating a plastic galaxy, and telling her they would always light her way. When he left and never came home, she considered taking them down. But she worried that he’d be heartbroken that she removed the last remnants of his love. The girl wondered where her father was. She didn’t see him amongst the black clad crowd milling around the food table trying not to talk of murder. She wondered if he even knew that she had died. That she was dead. Dead, she thought. The word sounded ridiculous to her.

As the girl lay there listening to the murmur of voices floating up the stairs from below, she found herself considering life’s great question. Or in her case, death’s. Is this all there is? Why didn’t she see that bright light she’d always heard about? Why wasn’t she raised up on the wings of angels to rest in the bosom of the Almighty as promised at Sunday service. Why was she not sitting on a cloud sipping tea with her grandmother, or playing cards with her grandfather, or throwing a ball for Reggie, the one and only dog she was ever allowed to have. Is this it? she thought. Were there billions of other ghosts spread across the globe, trapped in their own isolated worlds? Watching everything, and feeling nothing. What if this was her eternity? Always there. Silent. Separate. Alone.

The girl stood at the window and watched as the people started to leave. One by one they hugged her mother and brother, promising they’d be there for them, that they were just a phone call away, knowing everyone understood it was only platitudes; the things people say at the end of a wake, because they don’t know what else to say. As quietness finally descended upon the house, she drifted down the stairs and sat on a wooden stool in the corner of the kitchen, watching  her mother and brother pack up the leftovers and stack them in the fridge. Tomorrow she would watch them reheat and eat a meal of pie and roast. The next day they would finish the potato salad and the trifle. Eventually they would put what remained of the food in the trash. Her mother would go back to work. Her brother back to college. She would watch them drift apart under the strain of their grief. Her mother would grow old, sad and lonely, her heartbreak too much to bear. Then one day, there would be another wake, more food, and more mourners dressed in black. Her brother would finally pack up her room, carefully removing the tiny stars from her ceiling, one by one. He’d paint over the marks they left behind, cursing their father while swallowing back tears. Her brother’s wife would help him sell the furniture and select the nick knacks he’d like to keep. That photo of the family in ugly Christmas sweaters. The one with his mum before his prom. The one with his long, dead sister, just days before a mad man stabbed her thirty-eight times and left her in a pool of blood, on a mound of snow by the side of the road.

She would watch as the house was sold, and a new family moved in. Another young girl would decorate her room with pictures of a Korean pop band. She would watch as that girl grew up and moved on to start a life of her own. Her bedroom would briefly become a home office, then a gym, before the parents decided to downsize and put the house on the market. Then, another family would move in. Then another. And another.

All the time the girl was there, watching everything and feeling nothing. Knowing that it was all a lie. All the stories she had ever been told about heaven, were just that. Stories. There was nothing beyond death. No afterlife. No paradise. No better place. Just an eternity of solitude. Of endless emptiness.

The girl should have been angry. But she wasn’t.

© Amy Hutton 2020