The most gruesome thing I’d ever seen was when I was twelve, and this girl jumped off an indoor ledge of the mall with bloodied, thick ropes tied around her knees, elbows, and neck, and she was already dead.
The gruesome part was that she looked like a marionette. Some people thought that was the beautiful part.
But the weirdest thing about it was what I’d probably repressed: we talked to this girl, my cousin Megan and I. We talked to Isabelle Quince before she died and before her face was stamped on every single newsletter for the next month or so.
SUICIDE OR MURDER? captioned everything.
I remembered it all in detail though. I couldn’t for the life of me remember how it’d made me feel then, I just remember how it does now.
And right now, I really, really hope that Megan’s thoughts don’t die off the minute she does, because there might not be an afterlife for those kinds of things.
“We need to visit Isabelle Quinces’ grave,” She’d told me all those years ago. “We need to get her flowers and we need to hope that her thoughts don’t die.”
I asked her why we needed to do that if we barely knew Isabelle Quince, why her thoughts dying off would matter to us.
And she said it was because of how people like us these days continued to plant endless theories and ideas we couldn’t prove within our tangent, as long as we couldn’t disprove it because it was at least something, and the existence of something was better than the existence of nothing, and that something will always be there to console us all.
She said, “That’s why no one can prove whether someone’s thoughts go somewhere after they die.” And then, “If there is someplace for it to go.”
So I hope Megan’s thoughts, those that worded my bits of childhood and juvenile pranks and escapades, I hope they don’t die off when she does. Because I’m looking at her now, and she doesn’t look so beautiful anymore. She’s seated on the hospital bed, bent over a photo album she was busying herself with before the surgery while everyone else in the room waited anxiously.
She’s staring at this one photo of the back of a girl in a lavender sweater, her arms up in a carefree movement, with the background of misty mountains from the time she visited the Appalachians. There was a fairly long description of sloppy handwriting at the side, handwriting I could remember to be Megan’s. She was staring at it like she was slowly losing sight of that memory, and she could. Because she’d forgotten me, too.
She’d forgotten how despite our age gap of six years, we made each other laugh until we cried, we’d talked forever about cheesecake or the suckiness of school or whatever trivial thing, and that we were once each other’s favorite person.
She’d forgotten that I was with her when her mom loved telling nighttime stories about the girl who played with puppets too much. It was a reversal of the story of Pinocchio where the girl tells so much of the truth that people saw her as crazy, the moral of the story being you can’t be crazy if it means you were happy or doing the right thing. The moral of the story was to tell the truth anyway.
I asked Megan why she hated it so much whenever her mom mentioned the story, because it was as good and thought-provoking as the classic, and Megan replied with, “My mom is crazy, Charlotte. That’s why.”
The girl who played with puppets too much, who dreamt of being one of the same, lied to become a puppet so she died a marionette.
Megan’s mom committed suicide six years ago.
And now, today, Megan was dying. Today, all the voices in the room blended together until I imagined it to be the way Megan’s mom was driven over the edge. I imagined every single inconsequential thought winking out of existence the way Megan had feared so uselessly five years ago, before we grew apart.
I imagined a place where I lost the chance to reconnect with her one last time so I stepped forward and –
“Megan,” Her father said, rushing over. “Megan, may I speak with you?”
I stepped back.
Megan closed the photo album in her lap, her hand bookmarking her place. “You don’t have to ask for my permission, Dad.”
Uncle Rob was ghost-white. I didn’t blame him. “Megan, about earlier, or all the other times before, I know we never talked about it, because I –I was unfair about it, didn’t want to listen, but I want you to understand that she –” His eyes went to the album in her lap. “What is this doing here? What are you doing?”
I expected her to exchange information with her father amiably, but she just shrugged in turn.
“What were you going to say?”
He frowned. “Megan…”
“You can’t even say her name,” She said, and, for the first time in a long time, sounded hurt. “You’re worried about me and you can’t even say her name. Dad, you can say it. Please.”
Before I could try to understand what was going on, the door to the room burst open, and Dr. Snyder and two other nurses came in.
Uncle Rob rose to his feet to greet the doctor, the remnants of his interrupted conversation evident on his face. “Will the operation go alright?”
The doctor nodded, his glasses slipping to the tip of his nose. He slipped them back up his bridge as he said, “On average occasions, nothing ever goes wrong with heart transplants so we guarantee a safe operation. Within several hours, your daughter will have a new, healthy heart again.”
Her father smiled, shaking his hand. “Thank you so much.”
“It’s no problem at all, Mr. Silvest.” He turned to Megan. “I’ll let you say some words to your family before we wheel you to the operation room.”
Megan nodded. “Thank you, doctor.”
Each person in the room was gathering around her already, a couple aunts and uncles, my grandma, my mom, and my little brother, Tyler. Our little tight-knit family.
I saw her father standing off by the corner instead of being right by her side every second until he couldn’t. He looked pale, profusely nervous. I thought about their conversation, some topic I’m assuming to be about Megan’s mom, who’d always been the enigma to the family, to me. I thought about the only clear memories I had of that woman, who I didn’t know was mentally ill until Megan told me how much she hated that signature story of the puppet girl who lied.
I shimmied my way back to Megan’s bedside. “Megan,” I started, “I wanna say something real quick. Before you go.”
She turned to look at me, striking me how much she’d changed. Her long, flowing hair had lost its luster, cut shorter by half since the last time I saw her two months ago. The smile lines she always had whenever she cracked jokes with me back then, it disappeared by her eyes. Her lips were chapped. The paleness of her skin was no longer pearly but drained to the figure a ghoul had the pleasure to pass by and stay.
She’d forgotten that me not seeing her, really seeing her like I used to as a kid, let me see that nothing was actually wrong with her heart.
“It can’t wait?” She asked, and then another relative butt in to wish her good luck.
“It –no, it can’t,” I said, craning my neck to see her. “I just wanted –”
“Bye,” said Tyler, throwing his little arms around Megan’s waist.
She smiled down at him, looked at me. My mom squeezed her hand. The nurses started unstrapping the legs of her bed.
It was ridiculous but, out of everything I could’ve mentioned – the divorce between her parents, her mom’s suicide six years ago, how after picking herself back up from that incident she suddenly fell so hard again right before we moved away from each other and lost contact – I asked instead, “Do you remember Isabelle Quince?”
“Okay, Megan. I hope you’re ready,” called Dr. Snyder, his voice booming on the walls. “It’s time to go now.”
We held each other’s gazes, mine searching, hers shutting down a readable expression. The hesitation was there in her voice though. It was all there.
“I’m sorry,” She said. “Who?”
The nurses converted her hospital bed to a transporting device, wheeling her further away from me, the squeaking of those wheels being the last sound of her presence in the room.
That was the last time I saw Megan.