And the Frog

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23

John stepped forward. “Listen, there’s no reason to punish her as hard me. This is her first offense, after all.”

“Listen,” snapped Goodnight back. “Why should I hold back on her? You began with a softer penance as a response to your initial infractions, and now look where you are, back here with more wrong-doings on your back.” John looked like he might respond, but opted instead for just lowering his head. In the woman’s voice, Goodnight said, “Tell me, John Bain, what happens to someone who’s killed after they are dead?”

“I don’t know.” John didn’t look up.

“No, you don’t. Do you suppose it’s pretty?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You are very right. Oh, you are so very prone to guilt that it is almost too easy to make you hurt.” Emma’s grandmother giggled at that. What a bitch, honestly.

Now John did look up, right at Goognight’s eyes, if there were any. “So I gotta hunt Emma. Why don’t you just kill me, if its such an ugly thing?”

“John.” Said Emma’s grandmother, grinning, grinning, grinning. “We didn’t say anything about hunting the girl.”

“Then what . . .” John looked around. Emma did too, and both of their scans fell on Jamie, whose eyes were on his feet, and his right hand was squeezing his left arm very tightly. “Oh, hell no.”

Goodnight just nodded.

“No,” said John. “What in the hell did he do wrong?”

“See?” said Goodnight. “See? That’s what makes it so brilliant. Jamie Humphrey does not deserve that, not at all. But you must kill him, or we will kill him and you. Her idea, actually.” They pointed at the old woman to their left. “Emmaline Humphrey, your predator will be this fine gentleman to my right.” Jang-soo met her eyes. “He is one of our finest actually. He’s going to track you down, and he’s going to kill you. Alright?” No, clearly that was not alright. Emma squeezed both her hands shut hard. “Alright!” said Goodnight, and it sounded like both the male and female voices in unison. They clapped, and Jamie vanished. Then they made a shooing gesture with their hands. “Off with you, now.” Neither Emma nor John moved. John doubled over onto his knees, pressed his forehead to the floor. Goodnight emphatically gestured toward him. “I said, off.” The hands clapped again.

For a brief moment it seemed nothing had happened. There was a definite change in the sound of the air, which Emma would not later have been able to explain but was sure about in the moment. But she was still in the big fishbowl chamber. John was still in front of her, on the ground, sobbing silently – maybe that was the only difference in the air. It was like mute had been pressed on John’s despair.

“Of course,” said her grandmother, and Emma looked to her. “You could be forgiven now.” Her grandmother was standing now, and she was also the only other person in the room. The chairs were gone, and with them Goodnight and Jang-soo.

“I could?” said Emma. At this point she was disinclined to trust what the old woman, who was by her own word no longer her grandmother (by her word, not Emma’s. Emma couldn’t bring herself to let the woman escape so easily). The old woman held a hand toward Emma, and in it was something shiny. A revolver, for all intents and purposes the revolver, held with the handle toward Emma. Oh, and suddenly it wasn’t too completely hard to trust her grandmother. Or was it? It didn’t matter, she wanted more strongly to trust the gun, the one thing that allowed her a character. She approached, and grasped the handle. And for that moment both of them were holding it, though of course the barrel pointed straight at her grandmother’s stomach. “I could,” she said.

Her grandmother smiled, good lord that smile. The same smile she made when she taped all the Tupperware in the fridge shut and only told Emma. “It’s only got one shot,” she said. “One shot for John. You kill him and that’s it, you’re free. I worked it out with Goodnight, who only agreed because it doesn’t know you like I do.”

‘It’. . .? No, that wasn’t the important question. She should be asking, why give her the chance? Because I’m your grandmother certainly was no longer a viable answer. But she wasn’t going to ask that either, because frankly she didn’t care enough. She had the gun back. She hadn’t even realized how much she missed it.

Slowly her grandmother’s fingers slithered off of it, and Emma let it hang there in her hand, pointing at the woman, for just a moment, then slowly twisted it toward the silent, sobbing John Bain. This was the second time she’d pointed the revolver at someone with any sort of conscious intent. She could hear the sound of the shot creeping up behind her again, but it wasn’t so intense this time because now she’d heard it before. She was able to actually think over it this time.

“Just shoot him, and what you did is erased,” said her grandmother. “Plus the kid doesn’t have to die, again. You know John deserves it more.” Deserves? If there was one thing Emma knew she’d learned since the crash, it was that she, as the man she once called her father would say, didn’t know jack diddly, let alone what was “deserved.” She suspected that if she was going to fully commit to what she gathered to be the moral code of the afterlife, she didn’t deserve to be holding this gun. Therefore, the argument did not sway her.

“Casey,” said the old woman, “do it.”

Emma couldn’t help but look her grandmother straight in the eyes. Really? “Casey”? Perhaps the woman didn’t know her that well after all. How could she of all people be airheaded enough to make a mistake like that? “What?” said Emma.

“What?” said her grandmother.

“What’s my name?”

Her grandmother’s eyes raised and lips parted, clearly having recognized where she’d gone wrong. She initiated the back pedaling. “Your name yours, honey,” she said. “You know that. You tell me.”

Tell her. Right. She had decided to be Emma. She had. But the worst part about being Emma was that she used to be Casey. She was glad, now that she was dead, not to be Casey anymore, but it would’ve been so much easier if she could’ve been Emma. Emma only. Emma only could accept that she had no grandmother. She could allow the woman in front of her to be just another Evil Old Lady trope, instead of Mufasa turned Scar. Emma only wouldn’t have shot a kid and ended up here, probably.

Erased, her grandmother had said. That’s what guns were for. That’s what Tillers were for. Erasure. If she shot John, things would be erased. But not enough. Because all of the things she could do without were in herself, not John. No one could take away enough. Killing John wouldn’t burn away Casey Humphrey, nor would it burn away Emma Humphrey, for that matter. She’d take that, in the end. Because the worst part about being Casey turned out to be that she would in time be Emma. Sure, if given the choice of the two, she’d select the former without hesitation. But if the choice is between either or both, well, both is the real killer. She had empirical evidence of this. No one can tell you your name. But who had said that? That’s right, Scar had. It was bullshit. Apparently, a name followed you like a bullet. And apparently, even when you think you’ve dodged it, you’ve really just been running in a straight line, and when the bullet catches you, it’s out of the mouth of your grandmother.

Well, erasure is the name of the game here, and it became clear to her that she had one more last-ditch style of option. She looked at her grandmother, and said “Goodnight, Frankie,” and then she pressed the barrel up under her chin, and she pulled the trigger.

Yes, she shot herself. That’s how the story ends. It’s poetic right? A good story ends that way, with a literal bang. And now, you can imagine as the camera slowly pans out and way from the young woman’s lifeless body. As It gets farther, and the field of view grows, the old woman, with her hands on her hips, is revealed. You can’t see her face because she’s looking down at the body, so you’re left to decide for herself what it reads. Is she sad? might be your operative wonder. But don’t forget to consider these as well: Is she disappointed? Annoyed? Impressed? Does she even care at all? Do you? The camera continues its departure, and so you do too, and into the frame comes the broken man, head still pressed to the floor, back slightly shaking as he cries and cries. All you can really conclude about him is that he continues on. He was right in the middle of going when he came into the story, and now he’ll just keep on, and on, and on. You might become suddenly aware of the canonical negative space. The ones that you realize will not be in the shot. The veiled whoever, the old man, the kid, and of course, the story’s first antagonist. Where’s she gotten off too? Did she cut some deal and run? Were you expecting her to show up again at some pivotal moment? Does it leave you dissatisfied that she didn’t? She won’t, if you’re still holding out hope. No, this is your final scene. These three, surrounded by more and more empty space as your view goes unavoidably away and away. And then you pass through the glass ceiling, and their visages become obscured. You can still see their figures, but they’re fuzzy and, had you not just been in the room with them, you wouldn’t be able to tell who they were. And finally, for added effect of drama, darkness fades in, and the last visible item preceding total darkness is the dark opaque figure you personally know to be the main character who you’ve shared all this time with. And that’s it. You’re perfectly within your rights if you want to know more.

But I have no more to tell. Because right then, I woke up.

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