She was good at making speeches. Not me.
I raise my head slowly, my surroundings shifting back into focus. Right. I get up from my seat, clutching the wrinkled sheet of stationery that I had wrung over and over again in my palms. I walk up to the podium and stare into the sea of black.
“Thank you all for coming,” I say, keeping my voice low and steady. I smooth out all the creases and wrinkles of the paper, squinting at the spots of smudged ink. “Mila was…”
I trail off, my throat closing in on me. I had practiced this speech the night before in front of the mirror. My voice had wobbled later, a full minute later, at the part about the turtles. But now, it seems that all that matters is the word “was.” Because it means that really, truly, Mila is gone. The kind of gone that means forever, not the temporary, I’ll-be-back-in-thirty-minutes gone.
So I do what Mila would never do in the middle of making a speech. I flee.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and talk to her?”
“Because she wants to be left alone. She needs to be left alone. We’re suffocating her.”
Mama and Papa's voices resonate through the walls. I hug my pillow tightly to my chest, resting my knees against my chin. It’s true that I want to be left alone. The only person I do want to see is Mila, but I saw her earlier already, carefully being levered into the Earth.
I want to see her alive. I want to see her running into our room at this very second, screaming “Gotcha!” and cackling the mischievous cackle she always did when she knew she’d pulled off something phenomenal.
Only Mila would never pull a prank like this. There were two things, she always said, that one should never joke about: pregnancy and death. One involves life: the beginning of a single breath that continues on to become a hundred breaths, then a thousand, and then thousands and thousands of breaths. Mila had told me once that if we lived up to eighty years old, we would have breathed a total of 672,768,000 breaths.
The other involves a finality so ultimate and eventual that death can obviously never be a one-liner or a punchline. It’s inevitable. Something everyone will face. That’s why Mila used to say, one should never pull a prank involving either of the two.