It was weird how tears could sneak up on a person and surprise them. One minute I was fine, and the next my eyes were burning and my breath was hitching. It kept happening even weeks after I’d found Sabine Bellechance dying on her floor. And during the day of her funeral, the tears were definitely still there.
It was difficult to even remember what had happened after my possibly hallucinated meeting with the goddess of death and after Sabine had stopped breathing. I vaguely remember being surrounded by paramedics and people who were asking questions. I again wasn’t sure if I’d managed to answer any of them. Then the paramedics had found the body. I think that had been when Rem and mum had arrived. Rem had rushed straight to me and hugged me.
“She’s gone?” he’d asked quietly, and I’d managed a nod. He’d hugged me tighter, “I’m sorry.”
How long ago had that been? On the funeral day, it had only been a couple of weeks. Back then, the image of Sabine lying on the floor hadn’t yet been completely rinsed out of my retinas even by all the tears.
Sometimes I realise it’s still there, even when it has already faded quite a bit.
I looked in the mirror for the millionth time and adjusted my hair so that it covered my scars even better. My eyes were lined with mascara that would hopefully withstand all the tears that would no doubt fall, and my new black coat felt foreign on me. It was weird; usually I felt very comfortable in black. Then again, usually my friend hadn’t just died.
I suppressed a sob and turned away from the mirror. Patrick was already calling for me, telling me that we had to be going. I sighed and refused to cry in our bathroom. I had a feeling I’d be doing plenty of crying in the chapel anyway.
I stepped out of the bathroom and saw the sad faces of my family – and the rather confusedly glum face of Merrill, who wasn’t quite sure about what was going on. Rem smiled weakly at me, looking somewhat off because he was dressed so neatly and wearing shoes of all things. The last time he’d been wearing a suit had been at Faroffingtons’, where he’d freaked out. That too seemed like such a long time ago.
“Okay, you ready?” mum asked gently, as if I’d break if someone was being too loud.
I nodded, and together we got in the car and towards the final official goodbyes to Sabine.
The funeral chapel was built in modern Peteran style and looked very grey and white. The only spots of colour were the slightly blue-tinted windows and textiles, and the dark red velvet cloth that covered the small table where an urn rested. The place was empty aside from the staff when we arrived. It seemed that nobody besides us cared enough about the witch of Sunset Valley to lay her to rest. I thought about Sabine’s words about her friends and family having passed before her. I thought about Félix, even though I had no idea what he’d been like. I had already known that aside from my visits, Sabine had been lonely. But there, in the chapel, looking at the urn that now housed her cremated body, the weight of her loneliness really crashed down on me.
Mum, as if knowing what I was thinking at that moment, looked at me from her seat.
“You meant a lot to her,” she said quietly, but I heard it anyway.
I couldn’t find my voice, so I just nodded again.
The funeral was a quiet and short, but beautiful ceremony. I cried my eyes out, and so did mum. Merrill cried too, mostly because he was confused that his family was so upset about the metal jar in a strange little house. I remember some sweet words and music, but mostly I just remember the grief. It muddled all the words I heard and made the music laced with tears and empty sorrow. It was the first time I’d had to really face the death of someone I cared about. I didn’t know how to deal with it, I realised. Some part of me had thought that seeing the gunman and Villia die violently – hell, I was the one who had killed the gunman – would have desensitised me enough that I could be as cool and collected as one could be about death. But I’d been wrong. I felt weak and lost and hollow, and like my brain couldn’t really even begin to process Sabine being gone.
She’d been my friend. One minute she’d been there, and then next she was on the floor, looking more like a deflated doll than a human being. And now she was ashes in a box. It was just so… wrong.
The woman in front of us finally closed the book of prayer she had been reading mostly meaningless niceties from and then gently ushered us outside. It was getting dark, and the air was chilly for Sunset Valley standards. I thought about the last time I’d been out in the falling dark and stubborn chill and couldn’t help crying again. Sabine’s future gravestone got my tears all over it, but I was too much of a wreck to care.
“Hey,” said a quiet voice.
I wiped my eyes and turned to look at Min, who stood awkwardly a bit farther away, looking very pretty in her white funeral dress. She looked sadly at the gravestone and then at us.
“Um… sorry I’m late. I… wasn’t sure if I should even come here. I mean, I wasn’t really invited…”
“No one was,” Patrick said quietly, “It’s good to see you.”
Min nodded slowly. I walked over to her and wiped my eyes again. I realised that my mascara wasn’t quite as tearproof as the store had advertised. I smiled at Min and chuckled maybe a bit hysterically through my tears. Mostly because I realised again that Min really had been closer to Sabine than almost anyone else in the town. Just because she had visited her maybe two times in her life.
I must have looked so insensitive and rude, laughing at a funeral. But grief didn’t really play by any logical rules. I hugged Min tightly out of both gratitude and grief.
“Thanks for coming,” I said hoarsely, “I don’t think she’d have wanted to be alone.”
The following days went in a fog. A very empty, heavy fog that tasted like cardboard and loss. I found myself unable to get up in so many mornings. I didn’t want to go to school – or anywhere else for that matter. Mum and Patrick had to practically drag me to therapy. For a while I even stopped writing. Meanwhile, the rest of our family fell into a quiet melancholy.
Patrick found solace in his garden, once again. Mum seemed to be even more obsessed with keeping the house clean than before. Rem painted a series of paintings and went outside for walks. Though often I saw that he had ended up sitting on the swing outside, looking limp and lifeless.
We all tried to find some peace by making sure at least Merrill was happy. Even I was more than glad to have heated arguments concerning bedtime with him. The meeting with Kielo and Alvar was cancelled for now, and the argument with the fairies was left to the background even though I knew it was still bothering us all. I would have been angrier at myself for making my family even more troubled, but back then I couldn’t find the energy for that.
My head just felt so full, yet also so hollow. Sabine was gone. I’d thought I knew that death meant. But now I realised I didn’t know anything. What had happened to her? Was she going to be okay? Was she going to be anymore at all? I wanted to think that she was in a better place. That she’d see her son and all the friends who had gone before her. But I couldn’t know for sure.
One of the worst things was to know how alone she had been. That after all this time of me visiting her, she had still shut me out, denying that she was sick and dying. That in the end, all I could do was watch her go.
When I managed to drag myself to school, I found myself staring blankly at maths problems and even books without really finding the energy to do anything with them. The death of a family member was usually put in a category of events that were called force majeure, a superior force. Circumstances that no one could foresee or avoid, something that made it acceptable not to fulfil a contract – or in this case, show up to school. But apparently they thought Sabine wasn’t close enough to count. And maybe she wasn’t, in the end. Her death weighed me down like a… well, a superior force, something I couldn’t possibly combat, but as the days went by, I could also feel a spark of energy. A death was something that stopped, made life skip a beat. I felt like I had stopped, but I also felt a determination to move. To not let myself freeze completely.
Still, it wasn’t easy. My family, Min and Michel, Bree and Jace tried to help me through it. They talked with me, and sometimes I talked back. But most of the time I wanted to be alone. To sort out my thoughts.
Those were the times when I usually gravitated towards either the graveyard or Sabine’s house.
The week after Sabine’s funeral was a rainy one. It felt like the sky had been saving all its rain for the end of the spring. The rains came and went in quick succession, in harsh yet short showers. The streets were almost flooded, and the sound of on/off rain was constant white noise in our lives. I thought it was poor timing; it would have been better for the rain to fall during the funeral and not afterwards.
I splashed my way to the graveyard, casting a hateful glance at the Grim Reaper statue near the gates. Who put a statue of a Grim Reaper in a graveyard? It was cool, sure, but a graveyard didn’t exactly need any more reminders that death was near.
I stood at Sabine’s grave, trying to hold back tears. I was at a loss about what to do there. Should I talk to her? Talking to a stone with ashes underneath felt stupid and too sentimental. The whole graveyard felt stupid to me, then. This wasn’t where the memories were. This was just culture and habits, lifeless stones and corpses under the ground.
I decided to settle for her house.
It was still unchanged. Apparently Sunset Valley had a really slow and impractical system when it came to dead people’s property if there were no heirs or testaments to be found. I even still had the keys to the house. No one had asked me to give them back, and a part of me wanted to keep them. Just in case… what? I didn’t know.
I checked Sabine’s garden and saw that it was still vibrant and neat. A few weeds were shyly pushing their way among the flower bushes, and I plucked them out. I didn’t know why I bothered, but it just felt right. Or then it was a part of denial.
It was the rain that woke me up again. It got around my umbrella and seeped through my clothes. I shivered and reluctantly left the old house. I glanced at it over my shoulder like I always did when I had to leave. I didn’t imagine Sabine stepping out of the house. I was too reasonable for that. Or at least I wanted to think I was. The house looked much more sinister than it had before.
After getting home I took a hot shower to warm myself up and tried to relax. If I had been smart, I would have started writing again, poured all my thoughts and grief into words. I knew even back then that it would have helped, but I was too tired to really follow through with the idea. So my head just kept buzzing as if some of the rain had snuck into my brain.
“Son of a bitch,” I muttered and swung my legs over the edge of the bed. I was tired, but I needed to move. To do something. I wanted to be alone but I felt like I would go crazy if I was. Before I knew it, my restless feet had taken me to Rem’s room.
He was drawing and looked mostly calm. There was a slight frown on his face, but it could have also been because he was drawing something that frowned. He had the tendency to unconsciously imitate the expressions of the things he drew or painted. Sometimes I found it funny. Now I wished I could.
“Hey,” I said, “Sorry to bother you. I just… wanted to talk.”
About what, I had no idea. At that moment I just hoped that some words – any words – would come.
Rem put his pencils down and straightened his back.
“Sure,” he said, “About Sabine?”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you about her. Or you, more like,” he said, “How are you holding up?”
Everyone had asked me that at least once a day lately. I sighed.
“Sure you are. And I’m okay with our issues with the fair folk.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Okay, fine. I feel like I’m stuck.”
“Grief is sticky.”
“That just sounds weird.”
“But it’s true.”
Yeah. It really was. Grief was like tar, sticky and heavy and difficult to wash away. Impossible, really. But maybe it would fade with time. I hoped so. It had worked before that.
“Do you wanna talk about Sabine?” Rem asked, yellow eyes studying me with compassionate sadness.
“I just want… her to be okay,” I said, “And… well, for her to be back would be nice too. But mostly I wish she’s happy.”
“I think she is,” Rem said, “She had you, in the end. And now she maybe has all the people who have gone before her.”
It sounded reassuring, if I would have just let it reassure me. I sighed again.
“I saw her die,” I managed to say, “I was there when… when she went. And it all just… ended.”
“Yeah. I know. I’m sorry.”
“I guess I want… some kind of sign that it really was okay. That we can… that she was really ready to go.”
“She had already lived for long,” Rem said, “I-“
“Hey, what’s going on here?” asked Patrick, and I choked on my breath and tears that were about to fall again. Patrick was carrying Mer, who looked surprisingly calm considering it was his bedtime and he had no doubt would have wanted to play for at least hours more even though he was getting tired.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Patrick went on, “I have to put this little guy to sleep. Do you two want some hot chocolate?”
His eyes lingered on me, and I could feel his worry crash over me. I twisted my mouth into a smile.
“I… yeah. Sure.”
“I want hot chocolate too!” Mer said, and Patrick laughed.
“You already got a cup right before you brushed your teeth. Remember?”
“That was long ago!”
Rem laughed too. For a moment I too felt almost like I was ready to laugh again. To start moving. Almost.
The movement began a few days later. When the grief felt less like a knife and more like a series of needles in my chest. I decided to visit Sabine’s house again. I wasn’t sure why I tortured myself with it. Maybe it was some foolish hope that the pieces would somehow fall into place there. Or maybe it was just basic human masochism that made people seek out places that hurt them.
This time something pulled me inside the house. Maybe it was just the rain that still hadn’t left Sunset Valley alone; I didn’t want to shiver all the way home. And a part of me wanted to know if the house was still intact. If someone had already started emptying it. I put aside my umbrella and turned the key in the lock.
The house was dark and devoid of life. Sabine’s books gathered dust on the cute old shelves, and the fake flowers on her coffee table looked a bit dusty too. I tried not to look at the spot where Sabine had been when she had died. I hurried past it and then upstairs. I could almost hear Sabine playing contrabass, or snoring softly after a long day of battling whatever illness she had had.
I almost ran into the contrabass that stood in the middle of Sabine’s bedroom like an intruder. Sabine’s bed was neatly made and everything seemed to be in order. The place still hadn’t been emptied. I wondered when Sunset Valley’s officials would start with the house.
I sat down and listened to the rain that drummed the old roof. What was I doing here, really? Was I looking for something? Was I really so sentimental or desperate that I was hoping for Sabine to suddenly walk in?
The tears fell again. They were always so sneaky.
I cried for what felt like half an hour. It was like all the older relatives I hadn’t really had in my life had been distilled into Sabine. My biological grandparents who had never been around. Grandma Brandi and Grandma Lórccan, who were awesome but who were back in Twinbrook and would probably also soon get sick and pass on. The thought made me cry even harder.
The rain kept hitting the roof even when I forced myself to get up. I tried to wipe my tears, and my eyes fell on Sabine’s letters that were still neatly piled onto the edge of her desk. They were what had started all this. Well, started my friendship with Sabine. Without them, Sabine would have probably died all alone.
I almost brushed the edge of one of the faded envelopes with my fingertips, but froze when I saw a piece of paper sticking out from behind a stack of wooden, decorative boxes. I frowned, and my curiosity took over.
I took the folded paper into my hand and stared at what was written on it.
To Marilynn Farley
-anyone else: hands off!
I smiled and laughed a teary laugh. I opened the note.
Thank you for sticking with me. You made this old lady smile so much more than she otherwise would have in the last years of her life.
Also if I’m dead when you find this, then get rid of my letters so that the bureaucrats won’t get their hands on them.
I chuckled. Then I laughed. I laughed until my throat was raw and I was smiling from ear to ear. It was a grief-laugh that didn’t make any sense, but it was also a happy one. When I finally got my wits about me again, I took out my phone and made a call.
“Min? I need you here. At Sabine’s.”
Min came running through the rain in ten minutes.
“What the heck is going on here?” she said as soon as she reached me. She was out of breath, so she must have really been sprinting all the way here.
I sat on Sabine’s porch, the pile of letters next to me. I had managed to wipe my tears away, though I still must have looked like a panda bear. I bit my lip and looked at Min.
“Thanks for coming,” I said, “You’re awesome.”
I told her about the note and about Sabine’s last request. I nodded towards the letters.
“So I… I figured you should be there too,” I managed to say even though my voice started to waver again, “You were there when we found these, after all. And I… I don’t want to do this alone.”
Min was quiet for a moment. And then she nodded like the awesome friend she was.
“Okay. Let’s do it. I know just the place. Though we need to wait ‘till the rain stops.”
And that was it; no questions, no “why were you in her house”s. Just Min being there for me. We sat on the porch until the shower was over again and the sky cleared as if nothing had happened. Then we started moving.
Min’s “just the place” was a good one. An empty beach far out of the town centre. There were no swimmers around, and the whole beach looked so empty and clean. Almost like a fresh patch of half-done world that might someday be filled. It was peaceful and bright in the sunlight.
The only thing there to spoil the beach’s natural state was a fire pit and a couple of folding chairs around it. It was perfect.
I was one of those people who always carried around a lighter even though I didn’t smoke. Twinbrook’s wet, chilly winters had been quick to freeze bike locks, so having fire handy was a habit almost everyone there shared. It had stuck even after we had moved to the sunny and warm Valley. I set the letters onto the firewood and lit them. We sat down and watched the paper curling up and blackening. Something in my chest shifted, like my life wanted to really start moving again. The grief-tar was still on my shoulders, but something had changed.
“You know, I’m still curious about what was in those letters,” Min said, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“Well, they’re gone now.”
“Yeah, I know. I wouldn’t have looked anyway.”
Min smiled at me.
“You did a good thing. I’m sure Sabine’s happy, wherever she is.”
I nodded, not trusting my voice.
“Thanks for letting me be there,” Min added, “Are you okay?”
I nodded again.
“I will be,” I whispered, “I think this was just what I needed.”
“You never know where the closure’s hiding. Where the healing starts, I mean,” Min said, “After my mum died, I… I was so broken until I started wearing mum’s hair accessories. I wore them for months before I finally stopped, and I realised that I felt better. It was… it’s impossible to heal from it, but I think it at least started there.”
“And once it starts, it’ll get easier. At least it did for me.”
I felt so pathetic, then. Here I was being so broken about an old lady I had known for a couple of years, while Min had had to deal with much more devastating losses.
She seemed to sense my thoughts, because she poked me in the shoulder.
“Hey, don’t start comparing losses here! This isn’t a competition. Of course you have the right to grieve!”
I managed to smile.
“Thanks, Min. You’re awesome.”
We left the fire to fade and got up. I knew we should be going home before our folks got too worried. Before we left, Min hugged me, and I hugged her back. In that moment, I felt my life getting unstuck again. The pain remained, but I knew it would get easier. And I could believe that – wherever she was – Sabine really was happy.
Author’s Note: So I thought that I’d have plenty of time to write SimLit during Easter Break. Ha. Funny. Yeah, no. I’ve been super busy and I feel like all my schoolwork is again crashing down on me. But at some point I had to take a little break from working so I wouldn’t go insane and wrote a bit. Or in this story’s case, edited an already written chapter. So it’s something, at least.
I hope you guys enjoy and have a lovely spring!