Back when my mother was still alive, she only ever wore one color: white. She said that it made her feel free and it reminded her of her wedding day, which she claimed was the single happiest day of her life. I remember when I was younger I used to go in and look at her closet and just stare at the whiteness. Each dress looked like it was made from clouds and I remember bragging to other kids that that was what my mother wore—Clouds. What bull shit.
When she committed suicide, I was nine and Hadley was fourteen. She hanged herself from the banister between nine-thirty and ten on a Monday morning leaving behind a single note that said “I will now die,” on the floor beneath the staircase where the deed was done.
The first to notice anything odd was our neighbor, a woman named Mrs. Bauer who was driving home from the super market around ten when she thought she saw a ghost. “It was white and it was moving,” she said to the police, “It scared me out of my wits because I once knew a woman who started seeing ghosts and died three months later. I was worried the same thing might be happening to me.” Mrs. Bauer had been too terrified to stop the car, so she drove all the way home, took a sleeping pill and went to bed. When she woke up again, my mother had already been discovered and Mrs. Bauer heard what had happened from her husband.
Others that had glimpsed the white told other stories. Everyone reasoning it was something else. Some figured it must’ve been some new gardening technique, others thought it was sheets airing out. But no one thought to check just in case they were wrong. That’s why it was my brother and I who discovered her, around three o’clock on a Monday afternoon.
My brother’s school ended routinely at two fifteen at which point he would walk over to the elementary school and wait for me to get out at two thirty five. From there we would customarily walk home together, and our mother would be at home waiting for us to ask about our days and give us a snack before we began our homework. That day, my brother and I proceeded as usual; we came to the intersection in front of the school, turned right, walked on past this fountain (my brother diverted his eyes) and then after three more blocks we took a left and crossed the street to our house. After passing the sign post in front of the Wilkinson’s lawn, my brother and I would race to our door and it was fair because although he was older, his backpack was heavier. Hadley always won. But that day, after sprinting ahead of me and going up the steps to our house he stopped. Seeing my brother at a standstill I pumped my legs even faster, eager to get ahead, but only once I was next to him did I see what had stopped him. Scattered across the lawn and hanging from the windows and bushes and trees were all of mother’s white garments; slightly wrinkled, but still pristine, rippling in the breeze.
I wrinkled my nose. “What the hell are mom’s clothes doing on the lawn?”
“Don’t say hell, Llewy.” Hadley scolded.
“Fine. What the heck are mom’s clothes doing on the lawn?”
“I don’t know. Something’s not right. Stay right there.”
The hair on my skin crawled, sending a silent chill through my body. They didn’t look like clouds. There was something so eerie about the white clothing all laid out, all shapeless and bodiless and empty.
Frowning, Hadley walked up to the door. He knocked three times. No one answered. “Hello?” he called. “Mom?” He knocked again.
“Hadley. I think we should call Dad,” I said.
“Don’t be stupid. Dad would kill us if we made him come home from work because you were too scared to go in the house.”
“I’m not scared. You’re the one that’s scared. You’re standing in front of the door. Why don’t you just open it?”
“I am opening it right now. Don’t be such a dick.” He said that, but he waited a few more seconds before reaching for the handle. Cautiously my brother turned the knob and pushed. It was unlocked. He looked back at me before sticking his head in. “Hello—?” Suddenly his voice fell and he stepped back outside, closing the door quietly behind him. His mouth hung open and his eyes were wide, staring in an out of focus sort of way. He kind of fell into the railing and stumbled down the steps, collapsing to his knees at the bottom where he let out this horrific, half-scream half-sob, and vomited in the grass. I stood by in fascination as my brother, keeled over and screamed over and over again. His voice was high and piercing, tearing the air into jagged pieces.
I didn’t move, but pretty soon the entire neighborhood had crowded around our yard. Echoes of “What happened?” bounced around the crowd until Mr. Edgewood, a self-important banker, opened the front door and saw what had made my brother scream. When Mr. Edgewood reemerged he was pale, but managed to say. “She’s dead. Somebody had better call Archie.”
The whole world jumped to life around me, but I remained still staring at my brother who lay on the ground sobbing. A couple people tried to help him up, but he wildly flailed his arms swatting them away. Someone tried to come up to me too, offering to take me away from the scene, at which point I dashed towards my brother and clung onto his shirt as tightly as I could, resting my cheek on his hot and damp back. He continued to sob, but didn’t push me away. When my father arrived with some policemen, he walked straight past the two of us huddled on the pavement and walked directly into the house. He let out a strangled moan, before stepping outside and sitting on the steps, pulling his hair back with his hands. Someone offered him a bottle of whiskey, which he accepted gratefully and sat there suckling at the bottle like an overgrown baby while the policemen cut my mother down and covered her in a blanket.
Eventually someone moved us into a neighbor’s house where we were given hot beverages and warm blankets. I don’t remember much from that night, other than the fact that the entire time I held onto my brother. I had his shirt bundled tightly in my fist and I refused to separate myself from him so we were squeezed into a twin bed together. The whole time he kept on shivering, while I lay next to him trying to imagine what he’d seen. I never saw her corpse, but my brother told me later on that when he’d opened the door, my mother was hung by the throat from the banister and she was stark naked. Her face had turned all purple and blotchy, but her eyes remained wide open staring down at him, resembling those of some mutilated dummy.
My brother didn’t sleep at all that night, but at some point I got really tired and drifted off and slept through until morning.