by Kevin Craig
2008 Winner: Adult
CHAPTER ONE: Tobias Reason
My mother was always losing things. She once lost my dead sister. She spent years looking for her, but by the time she had lost Deja she was far too gone to realize there’s no finding the dead. When you lose sight of them, they are gone forever.
I was ten years old when Deja died. She was the oldest Reason child—gifted, bright, and headstrong. She had just finished high school and was contemplating her next steps in life, pondering her choices.
Deja and her boyfriend, Mark, headed out west right after graduation, to discover the Rockies. She was obsessed with mountains. Deja did everything big. Her journey of discovery should have lasted the entire summer. I saw this journey as her way of putting space between herself and our overbearing mother, though the Himalayas are a hell of a lot bigger and a lot farther away. Had I been able to stow away in her Volkswagen Beetle, I would have. The thought of sharing a house with my mother and my younger sister, Annabel, for a whole summer scared me beyond words.
* * * *
There is something unmistakable about the knock on the door by an OPP constable delivering bad news. I didn’t know what it was, of course, until after I answered it. Having answered it, I will never forget it.
“Is your mother home?” the constable asked me. He was impossibly large. I craned my neck to look up at him. He stood like a statue, with a thick clipboard in one hand and his hat in the other. He’d used the clipboard to knock on the door. I knew a hand had not made that sound.
I hadn’t ever seen a police uniform up close. As I looked at him, with his walkie-talkie on his shoulder and his gun holstered at his side, I wrapped my arms around myself. I shivered, entranced by his thereness. Eventually, I pulled myself away from his stern look and raced to the living room to get my mother.
Our parents had always insisted we call them by name. I shook her arm to wake her from a reverie. She sat in front of the television, pretending to be glued to the soap opera playing out on the screen. She stared beyond the screen, though, lost inside her cosmic Maggie thoughts.
“What is it, Tobias?”
“There’s a policeman at the door, Maggie.”
Her eyebrows crinkled. She didn’t want to be bothered. The details of the real world constantly intruded upon her inner universe. She had no time for reality once she slipped into her imaginary world.
“Why would a police officer be at our door?”
“He’s here,” I insisted, amazed she would not run to see what he wanted. “Waiting for you.”
She stubbed her cigarette into the ashtray beside her and rose from her chair. I ran ahead of her, eager to find out why the police had shown up. I couldn’t think of any reason they would come other than to arrest someone.
“How can I help you, Officer?” she asked. Her fists were tight balls at her sides and she was lurching forward, ready to pounce.
She nodded and folded her arms.
“Ms. Margaret Reason?”
“Yes. Maggie. This is my house. I don’t know who else you would be expecting to be here.”
“Could I please have a word with you, Ms. Reason?”
“You are, sir. You are having many of them with me,” she said, unable to disguise the scowl of impatience on her face.
I worried she might get herself into trouble. Can you be arrested for being rude to the police?
The officer nodded his head in my direction and I knew immediately what he meant. I’d have to leave so they could have a conversation in private.
“Alone, ma’am, if you will.”
“Tobias is fine, Officer,” she said. “I’m not really in the mood for games. If you will let me know what you’re here for, I can—”
“I’m terribly sorry, ma’am, but I’m afraid I have some deeply unsettling news for you. Can we sit down? Somewhere private?” He looked at me again and seemed annoyed that I would not take the hint and leave them alone. But I wasn’t budging.
“What is your name?” she asked, not inviting him in any farther.
“I’m Constable Ryan Murphy, ma’am.” He held out his badge.
She inspected it longer than was necessary before looking back up into his face. “Constable Murphy, please let me know the nature of your visit. I’m not one to fiddle-faddle. And Tobias is not leaving my side. I would like the gist of your—”
“There’s been a vehicular incident, Ms. Reason. Your daughter,” he began, and looked down at his clipboard before continuing, “Miss Deja Reason. She was involved in the accident. Her Volkswagen Beetle was involved. The collision took place on King’s Highway 11, between Braintree and Richer, Manitoba.”
His monotone voice cut into me as he methodically listed off the details of the accident. As the words left his mouth, they began to weigh Maggie down like bricks. First she hunched her shoulders and then sagged closer to the floor. Her composure crumbled as the officer continued to speak. I missed most of the words, but understood their meanings as they registered on Maggie’s face.
“…I regret to inform you that despite the concerted efforts of the paramedics on scene, they could not resuscitate your daughter.”
For the first time, I noticed how young the officer was. Though his voice remained cold—like steel—he was cracking. He swallowed too frequently and his eyes misted with un-fallen tears.
Maggie slowly collapsed to a cross-legged position on the front hall floor. She bent her head into her hands and her raven hair shrouded her face. She began to rock slowly back and forth in silence.
“Both Deja and the driver,” he continued, now making eye contact with me as he spoke. As if I was adult enough to hear the information. He referenced his clipboard again. “Mark Bennett. Both Deja and Mark Bennett were killed instantly. Their Volkswagen, travelling westbound, was hit head-on by an eastbound vehicle attempting to overtake a transport-trailer.”
He stopped, looked to Maggie and then looked back at me. He scowled as he wiped an errant tear, as though he were angry with himself for not keeping his façade of emotional detachment. Or angry with Maggie for not participating in the way he figured she should. I had begun to cry, but had not yet thought to wipe at the tears. Seeing him swipe at his own tears brought me back to myself. I wiped my face on the sleeve of my shirt.
“Ma’am. It took a while for the emergency vehicles to respond. There’s a long empty stretch of highway there and they were right in the middle of it. But be assured they did the best they could. They made every effort. Every effort. The road conditions were wet, but manageable. The fault of the collision rests on the other driver. Had he not—”
Maggie lifted her head and let out a wild, wailing moan, interrupting the officer mid-sentence. Her shrieks soon filled the cramped hallway and I fell into crying with her, my sides hitching uncontrollably as I tried to stop myself and hold it together.
Deja had been gone for only three days. After a lifelong desire to surround herself with mountains, she got only as far as the barren flatlands of Manitoba. For me, this deepened the sting of her death. She had longed for mountains and died in one of the flattest pieces of land on the globe before ever reaching them. Even at ten, the tragic irony in her death was not lost on me.
“Deja, love!” My mother looked up into the kitchen doorway as though her eyes were called there. She swiped wildly at her tears and smiled. The smile was incongruous below the black trails of mascara cascading down her cheeks. “Please. Tell this kind man that you’re fine. Deja, don’t you ever scare your mother like that. You beast! Tell this man he need not be here harassing us and trying to scare the living hell out of us on such a beautiful day.”
She rose, ran to the doorway, and reached into the empty space. She fell over herself to embrace the invisible apparition.
She ignored me. I tried to control myself, but seeing her reach for something that was not there sent my brain spinning. As hard as I tried to see Deja, she would not appear. I looked to the officer for help.
He took a few quick steps towards her and then stopped in his tracks. Perhaps he realized for the first time that he was in over his head. He was not quite back to his position at the door when Maggie turned on her heels and rushed him with her arms flailing, ready for battle.
She grabbed at the front of his uniform and pushed him out the front door and down the steps, screaming the whole time that her daughter was—“right there, you bastard. Right in front of your goddamned eyes.”
Though he was much bigger than my mother, his face contorted into a grisly mask of terror as she continued to barrel into him. In her fury, she overpowered him. Seeing his fear took my breath away. They tumbled to the ground and my stomach turned as though I were going to vomit. Knowing he was the only sane one of the two threw me into further despair.
In seconds he was on his back on our wet front lawn, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand so he could protect himself against the flailing blows with the other. His hat and clipboard lay scattered on the steps.
“You bastard,” Maggie screamed. She straddled him and pummelled him wherever her flying fists landed. “My daughter’s alive. She’s alive!”
“Ma’am, please.” He took advantage of the moment Maggie paused and he grabbed her wrists. He swung her around so quickly, I didn’t even see how it happened. He pinned her to the ground. “Please, ma’am. I’m going to let you go so we can both get up. I need you to cooperate. Please.”
“I’ll kill you. Let go. I dare you.” She would not relent. “Tobias. Go call David. Deja. Please show this officer that you’re fine. Show him.”
Constable Murphy held both of Maggie’s wrists with one hand while he wrestled out his handcuffs.
“Ms. Reason. I’m only putting these cuffs on you for my own safety. And yours. I’m terribly sorry to have to do this. I know how badly you must—”
“Shut the hell up. It sounds to me like you’re deviating from the script, Mr. Despite Concerted Efforts. Mr. Vehicular Incident. Acknowledge my daughter, you bastard. She’s as real as the stupid look on your face. And right in front of you.”
She struggled constantly under his weight, but now that he had regained control of the situation, she wouldn’t get the upper hand again. The handcuffs snapped into position, and the officer jumped up off Maggie in one swift motion.
I stood on the top step of the front porch, unable to move. I knew I had to call David, but her insistence that Deja was in the kitchen had scared me so badly I froze in my tracks. And my mind had gone blank, anyway. I could not remember my own father’s phone number.
“I need backup at 623 Eagle Drive. Officer 4906,” he said into the walkie-talkie on his shoulder. There was a static reply before he continued. “I’m going to need an ambulance.”
Maggie still sat on the front lawn and we were waiting for the ambulance when my father, David Reason, came tearing into the driveway in his pick-up.
The truck barely stopped when David was out of it, making a beeline for Maggie. She was back to her rocking cross-legged position, with her hair covering her face. Her cuffed hands were in her lap. She had stopped yelling and crying, but ten feet away from me the storm of aggression and chaos still swirled about her like a whirling dervish.
“What the hell is happening here?” David asked the officer. “Why in the name of God is my wife in handcuffs? Handcuffs! You better have a damn good reason for doing this at such a time. What the hell is your problem? What’s your badge number?”
He spoke fast and furious as he made his way to Maggie, not waiting for any of his questions to be answered.
“I’m sorry, sir. She became violent. It was the only way I could subdue her. I’m following procedure.”
“Maggie. I’m here.” He fell to his knees on the grass in front of her. Only then did he cry. “I came as soon as I could. They came to my door too, sweetie.”
He embraced Maggie and began to rock with her. I finally found the ability to move. I made my way to join them.
“Tobias. Oh my God, Tobias.” He opened one arm to invite me into their embrace.
I ran and buried my face in his shoulder, felt the warmth of his skin and that reassuring scent of Old Spice and cigarettes.
I cried hard, but knew I was safe for the first time since answering the knock on the door. I held tight and tried to forget about Deja’s death and her ghost in our kitchen.
“Tobias. Your sister is in the car. Could you go get her? Go get Annabel, please.”
I turned toward the car. The neighbours stood on their porches gawking at us. David hated that about our neighbourhood. This wasn’t the first Reasons episode caught by the prying eyes of neighbours on their porches. Nor did I think this would be the last.
I ran to the car to be with Annabel. Her white face was glued to the window. Her pallor was more ghostlike than Deja’s could ever be. I only had time to open the door before the ambulance pulled into the driveway beside us.
* * * *
Even as the ambulance attendants struggled to get Maggie strapped into the gurney for the ride to the hospital, she screamed her defiance.
“My daughter is alive,” she told the attendant. He held her down while the other one tightened the leather strap that secured her to the gurney. “I spoke to her. She’s in the house. In my kitchen. Don’t listen to that man. I don’t know why he’s here or why he’s doing this to me, but you have to believe me. He’s telling lies. I’m not in shock. My daughter is perfectly fine, thank you very much.”
“Ma’am, please,” the young attendant pleaded. “We’ll take you to the hospital and they will medicate—”
“I don’t need medication. I need for somebody to believe—”
“Ma’am. Please,” he said again. They rolled the gurney to the ambulance.
David turned to look at me. “Take your sister inside,” he said. His eyes were cold steel. They left no room for argument, but I couldn’t help myself. I did not want to go into that house. Not without an adult, anyway.
“But, David,” I began, “she said Deja’s in there. In the kitchen. I don’t wanna go—”
“Tobias. Now. Take your sister in the house and wait for me there.”
He was too ruffled to show me mercy. I took Annabel’s hand and we entered the house. As the screen door slammed behind us, my heart rose a little in my throat. I averted my gaze from the kitchen as I escorted Annabel into the living room.
* * * *
Maggie was not afraid to argue with the doctors who medicated her despite—or because of—her stance that Deja was alive and well. She was not in shock, she did not need to dull the pain…her daughter was fine. Perfectly fine, thank you very much.
She still held up a front five days later as we prepared for the funeral. Deja’s body had been flown back to Ontario. Maggie made note that it was Deja’s first ever plane ride. I couldn’t comprehend why this would thrill her. If Maggie believed Deja were in the house, safe from harm and chatting non-stop, how could she also believe her body was on a plane?
How could she possibly work the two things into the same delusion? Mental illness is a baffling thing—capable of putting my sister in two places at once without so much as a skipped beat from Maggie.
I wish I could say Maggie only became crazy after Deja’s accident. But I would be lying. Maggie was crazy long before our Deja died. Deja’s death just helped shape the new direction Maggie’s illness would take. With Deja walking around the house whispering into her ear, she was pretty much free to be as crazy as crazy gets. What was once only a mild craziness had instantly skyrocketed into something of Olympic proportions.
* * * *
David temporarily moved back into our house to get Maggie through the initial trauma and I had hoped, Deja’s funeral. I watched him with a skitterish panic, though, knowing he would soon bolt and leave Annabel and me alone with her. At the same time, his continued presence in the house would only prove to be too volatile. He and Maggie could not live under the same roof. That had already been proven.
Our parents divorced three years earlier, when my father decided he had enough. He ran from us like we were on fire—I suppose Maggie was. Her illness has always been like a brushfire, consuming her and everything around her with a fury when least expected. I remember the Bits & Bites commercial where this big-headed cartoon man in a hammock would reach into his bag and spread out his findings in the palm of his hand. He said something like, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” That was Maggie. The cartoon man was always happily surprised to see what he got. I, on the other hand, was constantly on edge whenever I walked into our house. I did not like surprises. Not when discovering them meant my life was about to be thrown into turmoil.
On the morning of the funeral, David made himself scarce after he fed Annabel and me a breakfast of French toast and orange juice. He decided it would be best if he got ready at his condo so we wouldn’t have to fight for bathroom time in our house.
After he arranged for a town car to pick us up and deliver us to the funeral, he left me in charge of making sure we were ready when it arrived.
First I made sure Annabel was ready. For her, the whole thing was a lovely opportunity to play dress-up. At six, she was thrilled to wear a pretty dress and shiny new shoes. Why would it matter that the occasion was also the burial of her older sister? She was devastated, of course, but she also really liked wearing dresses. I guess that’s the way six-year-olds process things.
Once Annabel was dressed and sitting in the living room in front of the television, I went upstairs to awaken Maggie.
“Maggie,” I said into her blinds-blackened room. “Maggie, you have to wake up. We have to get ready for the funeral.”
“Go away, Tobias.” She pulled a pillow over her head as I opened the blinds to allow the sun to pour into the room. “I’m not going to any goddamned funeral. You know as well as I do that Deja is okay. I don’t know why you people insist on playing this charade.”
It was always you people with Maggie, as though the whole world were against her. The whole world was other. I sat on the end of the bed, dejected.
“Deja? Tell your brother, please. Tell him you’re fine.”
The hair on the back of my neck bristled, as it had regularly since the morning we had learned of Deja’s death. I allowed for a pause, as though I half expected Deja to reply. I was at the point where I really didn’t know what to think.
“You know damn well he’ll listen. Yes you do. Tell him so we can end this charade once and for all.”
“Maggie. Please. Her body came on the plane. She died in a car accident and—”
“—and blah, blah, blah,” she said. “I heard it all. I don’t need a rundown of the events. What I need is for you fucking people to open your eyes and see that Deja is right there in front of you. Get out of my room, Tobias. I’m not going. I refuse to take part in this.”
I pulled the covers off her and ripped the pillow from her grip, leaving her exposed to the light. Like a poked lion, she screamed her displeasure. But she also sat up in bed. I walked a fine line with Maggie. She would refuse and refuse and refuse, but as long as I persisted, she would eventually bend to my will. Knowing her threshold is what saved me. Though she always made things more difficult than they needed to be, she eventually came around. Sooner or later she’d surrender and become pliable like Plasticine. Instead of continuing the fight, she merely sat there and allowed the rest of the day to happen to her.
I walked to the closet door and grabbed the black dress David had chosen the night before. He’d left it hanging on the doorknob, ready for her to slip into. I spread it across the bed.
“David wants you to wear this one,” I said, physically taking her hand and placing it on the dress. Connection. She needed these little connections to bring her down from the sky, like a balloon needs a string to prevent it from floating away. Touching the dress, she would realize its existence, and hopefully, put it on.
“I will wear the dress I want to wear.” She returned the black one to the closet and stepped farther inside. She rattled through the clothes on the rack, shoving dress after dress aside in her search for something unsullied by David’s demands. “David is not going to choose my dress, Tobias. David is a bastard. Correction, the bastard. The day I wear clothes he picks out for me is the day I rot in hell. And you can quote me on that one.”
“We need to get ready. We only have an hour.” I sighed.
“This one will be fine.” She pulled out a white dress with a pink floral print. “It’s summer. I will not be roasting in the sun in black. In black that David picked out for me! If we’re gonna do this thing, I’m doing it my way.”
She held it out at arm’s length, clearly pleased.
It was the worst possible dress for the occasion. That’s the reason she chose it. But David’s only explicit demand was that I get her to her daughter’s funeral. If he had wanted more from her, he should have stuck around and taken care of things himself.
I left her to her dress and went to my bedroom to change into the new suit David had bought for me the day before—my very first suit.
When I returned to her room, tie in hand, she was dressed but sitting on the edge of her bed, staring off into limitless space.
“Get me my cigarettes, darling.” She skipped a beat and took me in with her gaze. She smiled. “Aren’t you the handsome little prince? They’re in the bathroom, beside the sink.”
“Maggie. You have to get ready. We have to leave now. Please.”
“Get me my goddamned motherfucking cigarettes, Tobias, before I lose my mind.”
I hurried into the bathroom and retrieved them.
She was half-way through her first cigarette when I began to apply her makeup. I had watched her do it a thousand times. I thought it would be just like putting on cream. But when I started to do it, I found it so weird. Her face began to change colour as I smeared the brown cream around. I was creating a clown. She allowed me to do this without uttering a word.
When I finished smearing her face with cover-up and rouge, Maggie took over. She placed her cigarette in the divot of the ashtray, picked up a lipstick, and opened it. She drew the red tongue of lipstick out of the gold casing with a little twist of her wrist. I loved to watch her. It was the one singularly non-insane event that was all Maggie, all sanity and reason. She seemed more together and in control while applying her lipstick than she did doing anything else in the world.
“Kleenex,” she demanded after she slathered her top lip with waxy red and puckered her lips together. She absently waved her hand, like a surgeon in an operating theatre, and waited for me to deposit the tissue into it. As I did, I anticipated the next step.
She placed the Kleenex, folded lengthwise, between her lips and pressed down. She released her lips and handed me the Kleenex with a near perfect representation of her lips emblazoned on it. I unfolded it and brought it up to my face. This had become a ritual years earlier—one of my fondest memories. Bringing my lips to the tissue was as good as a kiss, was like a weak substitute for the love she either refused or didn’t know how to show me. And dropping the tissue into the wastebasket beside her dresser—allowing it to silently flutter to the bottom—brought me back to reality.
The reality with Maggie was that kisses could neither be bought nor sold in our household. She knew, though, that the Kleenex kiss was important to me. Her consent to these paper kisses was clear in the way she allowed the ritual to continue. Otherwise, she would have put a stop to it from the get-go, calling it a silly childish nonsense.
With her lipstick on, she mouthed, “Voilà!” into the mirror, raised her eyebrows at her reflection, and picked up her cigarette. As she pulled it away from her mouth the filter was newly aflame with the burning red of her lipstick. She raised her face to the ceiling and expelled thick blue-yellow smoke. “Come and let me put that tie on you, Tobias.”
I scooched between her and the dresser, the tie in hand.
“Face the mirror. Turn around, turn around.” She twirled her hand above my head as though she were spinning a marionette.
“Why this way?” I asked, looking to her reflection for an answer.
“It’s just easier this way. I don’t know why.” She placed the tie around my neck, pulled my shirt collar up, and folded it back down to conceal the tie beneath it. Then she reached in front of my neck and knotted the tie. It happened so fast, like watching a magic trick. One second it sat there like a scarf and the next it was knotted to the throat and pointing perfectly south. I was mesmerized.
“One day I’ll teach you how to do it,” she said, after seeing the look on my face. She smiled and held my gaze. In that special way she had of killing a moment, though, she added, “God knows David never will.”
Maggie moved in closer and looked at our faces side by side in the mirror. If she thought anything, it did not register in her expression. She merely took in the reflection and let out a sigh.
“Can we go now?” I asked, trying not to sound too desperate. I had fallen out of her spell and come back to the realization that we were on a mission. “Annabel’s downstairs waiting for us. David’s going to be wondering where we are.”
“I need to go shopping,” she said. “It’s far too nice a day to waste it in ceremony, Tobias. I’m sure Deja would love to have a girl’s day out. We can go to the beach, go shopping. I know Annabel would enjoy a good—”
“Annabel’s downstairs, Maggie. Waiting to go to Deja’s funeral. Deja is in a coffin. I’ll call David, Mom. I swear I will. Please.” I often reverted to Mom when begging for reason.
She stood, picked up her clutch purse, and walked to the door in a huff.
“Fine. Fine. Fine. We’ll go. But she’s alive, goddammit. Deja, please. For the love of God,” she moaned into the ceiling. “Why don’t you talk some sense into your brother? Why do you punish me like this? You bad, bad girl.”
But again Deja made no response.
“She hasn’t spoken to me yet today, Toby. Not a single word.”
* * * *
As we walked into the church, the walls closed in on me and squeezed my esophagus. It held its breath and I began to suffocate. I was certain the entire building was devoid of any spiritual presence. It was hollow and far too vast to offer any sense of comfort. The statuary looked down on us as we made our way up the middle aisle to our seats in the front row, both literally and figuratively. Their sinister eyes penetrated my skin and quietly cast judgment upon me. I held Annabel’s hand. She was oblivious to the stifling atmosphere that swallowed us. She was more interested in making sure our fellow mourners saw her in her dress.
Maggie and David were in front of us. David had waited for us on the front steps of the church and raced to our car as it pulled up to the curb. The farther up the aisle we went, the more Maggie leaned on David and the slower the two of them moved. She quietly cried at first, but soon her sobs filled the hollow silence of the vast church. The only other sounds were those of fellow mourners nervously clearing their throats.
Once we were seated, I noticed the casket sitting at the front of the church. Its pure whiteness shone like a beacon in the gloom. From the second I set eyes on the box, I couldn’t see another single thing in all the world. Deja, my sister, was inside. She was in my heart, screaming and scratching to exist. Scratching to continue being. A rope of memory—stronger than anything I had ever felt in my life—connected me to that box. In my mind, she drank from the backyard hose, chased me up the old crab-apple tree, taught me how to tie my shoelaces. These moments were still alive in me, but also gone for ever and about to be put into the ground with her. A barrage of flashbacks assaulted me. Deja, Deja, Deja, I said in my head, over and over again, like a mantra. It would not bring her back.
My mother buried her head in David’s shoulder for the entire service, coming up for air every few minutes only long enough to send a great wailing scream into the rafters and startle the rest of the assembly. The tension of those people behind us tore at me, like a string pulled taut to the point of snapping.
After the service, which was filled with words I neither fully heard nor understood, we filed out of the church and made our way to the adjacent graveyard. The hole in the ground was a hungry screaming maw, ready to digest my Deja forever. The mound of dirt beside it was covered over with bright green indoor/outdoor carpet. As though that would somehow trick us into believing there wasn’t just a pile of dirt under there waiting to be thrown on top of Deja, waiting to trap her underground forever.
Maggie fell onto the casket as they prepared to drop it into the ground. Something inside her fractured mind must have suddenly allowed her to see the truth. Though she had wailed inside the church, there was clearly a place within Maggie where Deja lived and breathed. She would not deny her life, Deja lived. But with the casket staring her in the face, a spray of red roses smothering its surface, it was no longer possible to continue the charade. These were solid signs of a reality she had been desperately avoiding.
Since Deja had decided not to speak to her that morning, this helped Maggie to somehow un-weave her web of madness long enough to accept the truth. Even if only for brief lucid moments. Deja was dead and she was about to be put in the ground. The evidence was right in front of her, inescapable.
Annabel, who had been holding my hand since we left the car, darted to Maggie’s side and tugged at her arm. She sobbed wildly, her sides hitching with every gasped breath she struggled to take.
“Get her away from me, Tobias,” Maggie screeched, pushing Annabel back into my arms and returning to the casket. Annabel’s sobbing changed to keening wails. I kneeled down to console her as David rushed to remove Maggie from the casket.
I was about to be alone with Annabel. I don’t know how I hadn’t realized this before. Deja had carried some of the burden of raising her, but with her gone I would be utterly alone.
The sea of near-strangers looked on as Maggie shrieked at David to let her go. All of my parents’ friends had remained close with David after the divorce and steered well away from Maggie’s door. My memories of them were faded, but they all looked vaguely familiar. They were the ghosts of our past life, standing graveside to give David support and to take in the scene Maggie was sure to give them. And she, of course, did not let them down.
After those few moments of chaos, Maggie seemed to give in to the inevitable. The casket slowly lowered into the ground. Maggie threw the first handful of dirt into the hole. The loud twang of pebbles hitting metal rang in my ears like death itself. I will never forget that unsettling skittering sound. For some reason I thought the casket would have been made of wood.
Annabel pulled herself away from me and peered down into the hole as the dirt rattled off the top of the casket. She tossed the second handful of dirt, and turned to smile at me as the sound was repeated. David mechanically tossed the next pile into the hole.
As I threw in the last handful of soil and we prepared to walk away from the graveside, Maggie took another turn for the worse. She shrieked and pulled at her hair, then slowly melted to the ground in a puddle of obscene floral print on white. David picked her up and held her close to him. Her collapsed legs made her appear like a marionette, incapable of staying erect on her own.
It was David who smiled and shook hands and accepted condolences on Maggie’s behalf as she slept on the couch at the reception following the funeral. And whether he wanted me to know or not, he crawled into bed with her after he thought Annabel and I were in our rooms for the night.
That was Deja, done. Her life was over as quickly as it had begun. But to my mother, she would remain very much alive—depending on the day—for the next couple of years. My mother became so convincing in her conversations with Deja, I came close to accepting her world over the correct one. Deja remained very much a presence in our house, taking precedence over Annabel and me—right up to the day she stopped talking and faded quietly away.
Maggie still looked for her afterwards, still demanded that she show herself. And she continued to revert to that mad woman on the front-hall floor fighting with an OPP officer twice her size, insisting her daughter was alive and well.
She’d tear the house apart, one room at a time, begging Deja to show herself. She frequently beseeched her to say anything, to let her know she was still okay. I think it troubled Maggie that Deja hadn’t quite made it to those mountains. I would have done anything to get her ghost there, if only to appease Maggie’s tortured mind.
About this Story
This story is available on Amazon. This novel was originally published by Musa Publishing. The publisher has since closed its doors. It has since been republished by the author.