In a room: a man, a woman, words on a screen.
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Two people enter the room, she leaning against him, he holding her close. Eyes downcast, they shuffle forward, faces pale, creased by grief. He guides her to sit on a cushion on the floor. She lets him. His mouth moves, uttering something, but words leached of life fall silent, like autumn leaves on a slow, eddying stream. She shakes her head, stilling him.
He sits at his desk next to the cushions and opens his laptop. A few clicks resolve the screen into a window full of words attached to pictures of people. He rubs his face, takes a few deep breaths, and types: They did their best, but today we lost her. Her body is at the hospital. We have returned home. We are locking the doors and disconnecting the phones. Finished, he lowers himself from the chair and sits on the cushion next to hers.
She sits, slumped forward, head down, long, black hair hiding her face. He puts his arm around her shoulder and pats her in what he hopes is a reassuring way. The loss of a child is something no parent should go through. We are so sorry for you. If there is anything you need, we are here for you. Her absolute stillness embarrasses—perhaps frightens—him. She was a beautiful child. You have our deepest condolences. He might not have been there. Keeping you in our prayers. Minds vacillate between lampshades full of moths banging against the light and red lasers piercing the night, a terrible focus that, flickering, is gone, and then not gone. She shudders, shrugs off his hand. It falls and lies twitching: a dying bird She will never truly be gone in his lap. so long as you love and remember her.
She pushes him away. He resists. Please guys She slaps him in the face a sloppy blow, bereft as it is of love, don’t do this. Don’t lock yourselves in. crushing his nose to one side and freeing blood. And then he’s on his feet, fury clenching and unclenching fists, words raging across lips. Let us help you. You need to be around other people. But she is not to be forgotten, a screaming, wailing banshee, eyes sunken, lips stretched thin, lost in the lust to hurt. He sees this, and in seeing, leaves.
We are so sorry. Wracking sobs steal her breath. If there is anything we can do, we’ll be right there. Don’t go. She gasps, struggles, surrenders. Her body curls over the table. Her back heaves, the strain and tears rendering her face puffy and red. She was, and will always be, in our hearts, the most beautiful She pauses, and sweet child who ever graced our family. Your loss is unimaginable. No one can know what as if listening, but not looking, not moving her head, perhaps remembering, and then continues crying. you are going through.
Just heard. Please call. You’re not answering. He enters, a wad of tissue jammed in his left nostril. He glances at the computer screen, reading, before slamming a bottle of whiskey and two glasses onto the table and plopping down across from her. Don’t do this. Don’t blame yourselves. You were She looks at him, looks at the whiskey, and barks out a single, mirthless laugh. Her face full of spite, she says something, maybe a question. He nods. the best parents. It’s not your fault. Always remember that. Pick up the phone. Let us help you. He pours their drinks, empties his in one, pours himself a second. She sips, half-lidded eyes following his hands, probing his face. You have our deepest sympathies.
Hearts, like knuckles, tough yet exposed, exposing.
He hurls his glass against the wall. It shatters above her head. She’s in a better place: “And the Lord said: Suffer the little children to come unto me.” She winces, drinks again. He stands. He kicks and punches the wall. Spittle flies as he yells soundless, impotent. She calls out, maybe to stop him, but he Why aren’t you answering? Please answer. doesn’t hear. Finally spent, he sits again, breathing hard. The pain in his hands is white, throbbing, fuzzy, distant. Tears caress his cheek. You can’t do this on your own. I know you hurt. She looks at the screen. I know the world is pain and you can’t imagine life without her, but you must go on. You can’t give up.
She touches his shoulder. He stills. He pulls her to him. They cling to each other as they lie down. That won’t bring her back. She doesn’t resist. They cry. Together. They fall asleep. I won’t It is night outside the window. presume to tell you what It is snowing. The world wheels oblivious. she would’ve wanted. I have no idea.
Only…she is awake. But I will tell you that I love you guys.
She rises and walks I want to help you. Please, to the wall of photos. She lifts one from its hook if you read this, and studies it’s three smiling faces, call me. Her lips curve into a smile. She flings the photo like a Frisbee, as if she were in a park on a warm, summer day; as if she were playing with her child and her husband I will keep trying to call you. You are was standing nearby. The whole thing—picture and frame—cracks against the wall, leaving loved more than you know. I don’t want a faint impression. Plastic breaks but doesn’t shatter, denying her satisfaction. to lose you, too. She yanks another from the wall and hurls it across the room. It, too, Your mother called and told us the news. I am so sorry. Wish I could be there for you. fails to smash, though a piece of frame tinkles against a glass on the table. We love you.
Again and again We all love you. she tries, now screaming as she does, her mouth a black circle framed in faded pink, and as the last bits of plastic Does anyone know their address? Maybe someone can go check on them? and, yes, even glass, settle to the floor, she is clawing at her hair, ripping strands I tried to find it, but not even the embassy free, wailing something, knows their home address. perhaps a name. Then he is Any ideas? there, grappling her from behind. And though she struggles There’s got to be an emergency number we can call. to free herself, what she has become—what her face shows—is something from which none return. We love you. Tell us where you are. She knows this. In grief, humanity binds, blinds.
There’s nothing any of us can say He wrestles her to the floor to erase the pain, pinning the howling, nothing anyone can do. convulsing body beneath him. But please don’t forget how much He shouts. She almost frees we care about you two. herself, her face ragged, his livid red, but then, suddenly, her body goes slack. He rolls off her. She will always be gone, but you are both still with us.
They lay again for a long time, Don’t forget that. both of them crying, becoming still, crying again. Don’t leave us. They whisper to each other—at least, it looks as if they are Love. whispering.
They nod, agreeing. Love yourselves.
He leaves. Love is all. She sits at the table and But we don’t know their address. And can anyone of us speak the language? pours them both drinks. I can. Someone’s got to have their address. She takes hers in one swallow and refills her glass. Come on, people…
He enters, carrying a bottle of pills, looks at his computer, the messages scrolling down. Jesus loves you. He sits across from her Shut up! Now is not and sets the bottle the time for that. on the table between We’re trying to help them. them. He raises his Maybe we can’t. glass and None of us even knows where they are. then drains it. She refills his glass. We never even knew them well enough to know that Maybe the nod he gives her is simple thing. thanks.
What does that Their eyes lock on the say about little plastic bottle. us? After some And you think time, he opens it and we can help them? spills its contents Asshole, across the tabletop, the oval capsules wobbling over the hard surface.
He takes another drink this is not the time. before scooping up a dozen pills and palming them into his mouth. Another drink of whiskey helps them down. She, on the other hand, You’re being totally rude proselytizing picks them up one at a time, placing each one on her tongue and then swallowing it with a sip of whiskey. right now. Ten times she repeats the sacrament. Keep it in your pants and help us out here.
When they do meet each other’s eyes, it’s almost by accident, and the faint lines of awkward smiles flick across their wrecked faces. Shut up all of you!
As the sky outside the window I can’t believe anyone would be so changes from black to indigo, and the flakes of snow crass as to do this now. can been as falling, soft gray shadows, she lays her head on the table and goes to sleep. What kind of fucked up people are you? Seeing this, he pushes himself to his feet and stumbles to the corner where a stack of blankets beneath the window. You’re so right. When I have problems, I don’t want other people talking about theirs. He arranges one across her shoulders. He takes I know them very well, thank you. one for himself, pulling it up over himself as he lays down next to her, his eyes closed even before You’re all crazy. his head rests against the floor. So They don’t want our help. Can’t you see that? the window lightens and I know someone this room, where only a glowing screen seems to move, darkens and fades from view. who might speak the language. Maybe they can help us. I’ll call them. I’ll let you know how it goes soon. You've got to be kidding. There's no way we can help them. They don't want our help. Shut up! Jerk! Go away! Please, everyone calm down. They need us. They're out there, alone, and hurting. Keep that in mind. Does anyone know if that guy found help yet? He said he'd be back soon.