Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #2028884
Compulsion drives us to do bad things, but what defines a bad thing?
|Esyah glanced over the black and white dress as best as she could with the bathroom's small mirror. To her surprise, the dress popped against her cocoa hued skin and gave just the right about of substance to her wiry frame. Smoothing out a couple delinquent folds, she grabbed the black clutch resting on the counter and raced out the door. She needed to oversee some last minute details before the party began, and every second of that 90 minute period counted. Taking short but rapid strides, she made her way to the university's ballroom.|
Each step drew Esyah's thoughts inward. She still dreamt of Melinda’s body sprawled on the floor, foot propped up by the edge of the sand-colored shower stall. At first, Esyah thought her roommate had just passed out from drinking (as opposed to Esyah's typical Saturday night activity of working at the mall). The sight of a Drano bottle under the towel bar made her reconsider.
"Melinda?" she called out. "Melinda, are you alright?"
Her roommate remained on the floor, and the silence resumed its grip on their tiny apartment. Trembling, Esyah stepped closer to Melinda and felt for a pulse. Her skin was still a little warm, but that's all Esyah felt. Yanking her hand away, she half crab walked/half stumbled out of the bathroom. Once in the hallway connecting the bathroom to the bedroom area, she fumbled for the cell phone resting at the bottom of her purse. It took three tries to dial 911, and she wedged the hand holding the phone between her face and the wall to keeping from dropping it.
"University police department, what's your emergency?" the humming baritone voice answered.
"My roommate...my roommate is dead," Esyah stuttered.
After that, the campus police arrived at the apartment. They summoned a forensics team from the county sheriff's office and moved Esyah to the living room. They asked her a few questions about Melinda and how to contact her family. After a few minutes, Esyah found herself leading one of the officer's to Melinda's half of the bedroom. The officer used Melinda's phone to call her parents while Esyah walked to her side of the room. When the call ended, the officer set the phone on Melinda's desk.
"Do you have another place you can stay tonight?"
Esyah shrugged. "I'll see if my friend Julia has space."
From there, it took almost an hour for her to call Julia, pack a bag and get her toiletries (which involved a bit of coordination with the forensics team). She stayed in the apartment long enough to watch the coroner roll her friend's bagged body to the parking lot, where a police van waited.
The next few days passed in a blur. Esyah managed to get time off from work and zoned out during her classes. With all this time on her hands, she contemplated Melinda. They were never the best of friends, but Esyah considered her to be a good roommate. Despite her golden blond hair and green eyes, Melinda did not have a guy on her arm at all times. In fact, Melinda spent much of her time at the apartment or the library. In the times they did talk, Melinda asked all the questions and retreated if Esyah tried to get any information from her. All Esyah managed to learn about her roommate was that she was an only child, loved cats and did a lot of autism research (even though her major was political science). This lack of knowledge weighed on her mind. When it was revealed that Melinda's death was a suicide, Julia asked why Melinda would want to kill herself.
"Frankly," Esyah told her, "I don't know."
The day after Esyah vocalized her ignorance, Melinda's parents came to the university to pick up her belongings. Esyah decided to go back to the apartment to greet them and assist in any way she could. The arrival surprised Esyah, as the people who walked through the door looked like older versions of human rights activists Esyah studied in one of her early courses. Shaking off her surprise, she ushered them into the rather tight space and showed them to Melinda's side of the room. Over the course of three hours, the three of them folded clothes, cleaned out her desk and corralled Melinda's toiletries. It was a quiet affair, although Melinda's mother burst into tears a couple times if one of them uncovered a more sentimental item. It was toward the end of the time when Esyah opened the narrow drawer under the desk top. When she pulled open the drawer, she found a crisp manila envelope with the word "Will" scrawled out in big blue letters.
"What is this?" Esyah asked.
Melinda's parents looked up, and their eyes widened.
"I thought she was kidding," her father whispered.
With most of the cleaning done, the three of them migrated to the living room. Esyah opened the envelope and spread the papers on the coffee table. Though a brief suicide note had been found in the shower stall, the envelope contained more detailed information, including a Moleskine notebook. Other items included a typed set of instructions; financial papers indicating a transfer of money from one fund to a high yield CD; and several collages plastered on sheets of scrapbooking paper. Esyah glanced over the collages, noting the weird mix of foofy colored drinks in martini glasses and Gap dresses. Esyah looked at one of the dresses and realized it was one currently available at her place of work.
Shaking her head, she looked up at Melinda's parents. "Yes?"
"We can't...we can't deal with this. Can you...?"
"I'll go through these documents."
Approaching the ballroom, Esyah blinked and returned to the present day. Two muscular gentleman milled around the entrance to the ballroom, gray suits softening their imposing statures. A few more individuals in tuxedo shirts and vests ran between the ballroom and an outside setup preparing chafing dishes and plate stations. Looking at the workers, she could still see Melinda's instructions in Times New Roman: minimum $13 per hour. Esyah pasted on a smile and waved to them before heading inside.
Stepping into the ballroom, she took some time to soak in the scene. A project screen hung from the ceiling, currently displaying a single slide with the word "CELEBRATE" spanning the width of the screen. A deejay booth and control computer were set up in one corner of the room, and one of the techs tested the ceiling mounted projector not too far from the screen. The caterers set up a cocktail buffet along one side of the wall, the tablecloths arranged in rainbow order. Stepping over, Esyah saw little quote cards Julia had tucked between each chafing dish. She remembered when she first saw the quotes in the Moleskine. Don't mourn for a bigot, one read. I cannot change, so I will go, read another. Even with Julia's help, it had taken Esyah just over three weeks to assemble the quote cards.
When reading the Moleskine, Esyah found herself watching more than reading as the pieces fell into place. Though her parents were human rights activists, Melinda had been raised in a closed environment to ensure her safety. Her somewhat sheltered upbringing helped form a world view that ended up being antonymous to that of her parents. Though she knew a fair variety of people, Melinda's schools, activities and even neighbors helped build a threshold of intolerance, one that was tested during her time in high school. A friend of hers set her up with a guy who was gay and ended up leading her on for a few months. When the truth (along with the guy) came out, Melinda found herself unable to control the rage she felt toward her friend and was nearly expelled after a fight with the now ex-friend turned violent. Esyah wept as Melinda's life story took a turn for the worst, following her into the heart of darkness and shades of nothing but dark gray. This experience brought Melinda's subtle Asperger's to the forefront. Even with her parents trying to reassure her that they loved her no matter who she was, Melinda had stopped believing and held on long enough to gain control of her trust fund. Every last penny of that fund (and its dividends) went into tonight's celebration.
Esyah finished checking on the preparations and made her way to one of the bathrooms. Fifteen minutes remained until the start of the party, and she already saw people wandering outside. In the solitude of the bathroom, Esyah took the notebook out of the clutch and flipped to a random page.
“Do not blame yourself for this, as this is what I want. I know that with over six billion people on this planet that I won't be missed. There is nothing that will convince me otherwise. I'm doing this to ensure mankind does not have to bear the brunt of my loathing, as it is not fair to anyone. My distrust is my own, and the best way to resolve this is to remove myself from the equation. Since there is no way to heal me, I want to relish in the fact that I am no longer hear to burden you. I am no longer here to hurt you."
Reading the words, Esyah thought about who all was coming: members of the university's BDSM and GLBTQ organizations, students from the women's studies and humanities schools, scores of fine arts and music students and people who heard about the party through the grapevine. Julia had suggested advertising it as a party for the sake of partying, which had worked to an extent. Esyah had read the instructions, though, and knew she'd need to tell the crowd the truth. Putting the notebook away, she wondered how the crowd would react. Would they be elated like Melinda expected, or would they prove her wrong? There was only one way to find out.
Esyah glanced up from the notebook and spotted Julia near the entrance. Her friend opted for a black satin cocktail dress and strappy heels, allowing her to fit in no matter how everyone else dressed.
“Oh, hey,” Esyah greeted her friend.
“Ready to party?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
With that, Julia stepped over and placed her hand on Esyah’s shoulder.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Julia asked. “I can play hostess for the evening, if you need me to.”
Esyah shook her head. “I appreciate the offer and everything you did to help me get this set up. This is my duty, though. I need to see this through.”
“You really believe that?”
“Melinda had a will and specific instructions. Her parents asked me to do this. As much as it baffles me, I…I just feel that not doing this is not right.”
“I can understand that. What else would happen with the money, anyway?”
“Paying off my student loans? Charitable donations?”
“I could see that last one as a possibility.”
“Me, too, but I’d have to get permission from her parents. I admit I was too stunned to even think of getting their opinion on that, though.”
“Yeah. Well, looks like we’re committed to this party, then. Let’s get going.”
Julia stepped away and headed back to the main hall. For her part, Esyah stayed in the bathroom and stared at the notebook a little longer. With a sigh, she tucked the notebook in her purse and strode out of the bathroom to reach the main entrance. Hundreds of people gathered outside, chattering and twirling around in (semi)formal dresses. Many had dressed to the nines even though the dress code was left open at Melinda's request. That instruction prompted Esyah to take advantage of her employee discount to get the dress she was wearing. Taking a deep breath, she put on a game face before opening the doors.
"Come on in!" she hollered.
For a half hour, she managed to get lost in the party. She bobbed her head along to the eclectic mix of Blur and The Propellerheads while grabbing a couple spinach phyllo puffs. She heard a couple dozen guests coo over the plush cats incorporated into the decor. As the party warmed up, the screen displayed pictures of capoeira artists and smiling faces. Assessing the crowd, Esyah knew she needed to speak her piece before the crowd got too energized. Determined, she plowed through the crowds and went to the deejay.
"Can I borrow your mike?" she asked.
The deejay nodded. "Just don't take too long."
"I promise I won't."
Esyah nodded her thanks and went to stand in front of the screen. The deejay dropped the volume levels just above mute but left the faintest bass beats audible.
"Good evening, everyone," she started. "My name is Esyah Ortiz, and as host I'd like to thank you for joining me this evening.
"You're probably wondering why I would go all out for a party with no special reason. Well, there is actually is a reason. You may have heard about the untimely death of one of our fellow students, Melinda Pratt. This was actually her idea. The quotes you see around the buffet table and at some of the cocktail tables are all from her diary that she bequeathed to me upon her death. This party is her final wish is life, for the world to be a better place. She feels that her departure would be a relief to all of us, sparing us her distrust and pain. She is asking that you celebrate the demise of a bigot and to do so with great gusto. On that note, eat, drink and dance to your heart's content. This is what she would have wanted."
With that, Esyah spun her finger in the air, prompting the deejay to bring back the music at full volume. She sprinted out of the room and darted her eyes in search of an isolated area. In the background, she could hear the clacking of Julia’s heels as her friend tried to catch her. She just managed to find an open conference room with no windows and ducked in before Julia could find her.
She waited an hour before returning to the party. To her surprise, the crowd had thinned out a bit but was still cavorting. Walking the edges of the room, Esyah spotted groups of people gathered around the quote cards contemplating why Melinda would think her death would be a benefit. She stayed as much out of sight as she could to avoid anyone wanting to express any sort of opinion. At one point she made eye contact with Julia but stayed off to the sides. Julia did take the hint and continued entertaining the small group surrounding her. Grabbing a green apple soda, Esyah staked out a concealed space to observe the revelers.
"If you ask me, Melinda was mistaken."
Esyah blinked and looked for the source of the words. She found her former comparative politics professor standing next to her in a black suit.
"Doctor Urban," she greeted him. "Surprised to see you here."
He shrugged. "A number of faculty saw the signs and were rather curious about the party. Telling us the truth must have taken some serious intestinal fortitude."
"Maybe. I haven't seen much of the party since I did that."
"I suppose. So you read her diary?"
"Just what was in the envelope she had along with the instructions and funds for this party. This came from her trust fund. I enlisted her parents' help to get the money transferred over to me, even though it was in a CD that was only in her name. It was rather stressful."
"I can only imagine. Do you think she really believed what she wrote?"
"She never suggested anything either way, so I'm going with yes. It seems she had very few friends, if any, in her final years. I shouldn't be too surprised that she ended up so anti-social."
"What were your interactions with her? You knew her well enough, it seems."
"Not really," Esyah replied with a slight shake of her head. "I was her roommate, but she didn't tell me much about herself. She wanted to know about me."
Doctor Urban looked at her. "Maybe she wanted to see if she could trust you. Maybe she timed it now because she found someone she felt she could trust with her final wish."
"If she trusted me, then why didn't she come to me for help?"
"Perhaps she was hoping you would read between the lines."
Esyah swigged her soda. "Well, how the hell was I supposed to know that?"
"Most people never do, Esyah, at least not at first. Tell me. How well did you know her?"
At that, Esyah sighed, and a single tear slipped down her face. "I didn't know her, but I wish I had."