When I'm Gone

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Blue and Red

When I arrived, the sweet smell of home was the first to greet me. Everything felt fresher, felt better, and if it was possible despite the cool air, felt warmer. I walked through the grass, feeling their soft blades tickle my legs. As I moved, my mind picked out the best memories to play. I remembered when I was seven; the first time I realized why I loved my place so much. There was so much freedom, so much peace, so much space to be myself. The sky was wide above my head, and though I never once succeeded in reaching it with my hands, it always felt like I had been among it. I reached father up my hike, and just a little bit more, I could see the sparkles in the water. The sea was calm. I waved to it, and the waves seemed to notice. They lapped up the shore as if welcoming an old friend. Time seemed to stop there, or perhaps it felt like I was a bit more in control of its nature. Back in the city, time was something like a luxury: it’s hard to achieve much. When I finally reached home, mother and father was sitting on the front porch. I saw the smiles they held both in their lips and in their eyes. There was no hurry there, but I threw myself towards them as if they could still carry me in their arms. I missed them so much. I missed home so much. I’ve never felt so much safety other than where I stood at that moment.

Beatrice did not come home, at least in that day. I strolled around my little place. It was a little quiet with just me alone. I then remembered that it had always been like this, even if my sister or Beatrice or Arthur was around. I had been in the city for too long that my ears were searching for the constant sounds of people talking, of speakers blaring, and technology humming. I also did not realize my feet were carrying me to Beatrice’s house. It was a weekend, and when I knocked on the door, it was their aunt who answered.

I’ve never really seen her before. I can see from the slight wrinkles she had how tiring it is to go to the city, work, and then travel back again. There was this mixture of excitement in the way she looked, but it disappeared rather quickly. Perhaps it was the shine in her eye. I’ve seen that one before when I once looked at myself in the mirror. That was the last night I slept in my room before finally leaving for the city in the next morning.

She welcomed me in and told me about Beatrice. She’d told me that she’ll be coming home soon. She led me towards Beatrice’s room, where for a long time she stood there by the door, staring at the work of art at the bedroom wall. She’d told me then how wonderful it was, how she slept in Beatrice’s room the first time she discovered it. She said it reminded her of her past, that she’d seen the same sunrise before, felt the same kind of comfort as the two kids facing their backs on us. She spoke with so much sincerity that I can’t help but smile. Of course she’d had a great past here. Why else would she keep on staying in the hills if there weren’t anything tying her to it? I decided not to ask her about it. It felt private, and besides, I’d only been with her for too long for the very first time.

At that night, I sat outside on the grass, seeing once again a sky that’s filled with a million lights. I’ve missed doing that, too: sitting in silence and conversing with the stars. I remembered the girl on my sister’s story. Talking to the stars is possible, really. I can do it perfectly well, and no one is around to ask me if I’d gone crazy. But I wasn’t alone that night. Arthur was beside me. He had just come back earlier that evening, surprised to see me. I’ve realized by then that that moment was only the second time I’ve been alone with Arthur. The first time was when he helped me get up. He was a kind boy then, and now he’s still the same kind man. Sitting beside Beatrice’s brother was like sitting beside Beatrice herself. It was okay to invite silence. It was okay to invite laughter. It was okay to invite anything you’d need. Maybe this was what my sister felt like losing when she learned of Arthur’s long absence.

Arthur spoke after what seemed like a really long time of me talking about the drawn-out constellations with my hand, remembering those Beatrice had shown me. He told me how thankful he is for my presence. I stopped looking at the sky, then. I listened to him, though I really can’t quite understand what he meant with it. He said, for starters, I was the reason why he and my sister even met. If he hadn’t found me sprawled up on the ground, he said there’s a chance that he and my sister wouldn’t have seen each other at all. More importantly, he thanked me for Beatrice. He told me I had done a lot to help her. At that moment, I realized it wasn’t only my sister who’s good at telling stories.

He talked about her sister and what she was like before she met me. I thought I had known Beatrice. I collected my knowledge of her, years of them, whether she was near me or not, tucking them carefully in my brain. But of course, there are some things I could never know. I was just her close companion. There are some things about us only our family knows about. I lingered on that thought for a while. Was there some things only I know about my sister, or my mom, or my dad? Was there some things only they know about me? I pulled at the grass.

Arthur told me Beatrice was once a lively kid, running around the house and going out to meet with her friends. She loved to laugh and she loved to make those around her do the same. That was a painfully short time, because it all vanished after the crash. Beatrice liked to draw while she waited for her parents to pick her up from school. Arthur said he couldn’t forget that day, when he saw her alone in the swing set, hands clutching the chain instead of crayons. It was Arthur who came for her, and he told me how painful it was to deliver such devastating news to an innocent girl. He told me he couldn’t compose the words, he couldn’t make them prove any sense at all, because even he himself didn’t believe that their parents were in the brink of their lives in the hospital. He’d cried so much, holding on a fragile kid’s shoulder for support. Beatrice just stood there in silence, the pools of tears slowly forming in her eyes. Arthur hugged her for the longest time. Their parent’s instructions of going home straight after school didn’t matter anymore. The hospital was their only destination. There, they both stood in front of the hospital beds. Their mother was smiling despite all the pain. Their father’s eye was struggling to open, but his hands held on to Arthur’s with strength much greater than any man. At that night, they slept on the cold, metal chairs outside the ICU. While both of them forced themselves to rest, their parents didn’t have the need. The hospital was in a rush in the late night. Arthur remembered peeking through the glass in the door, the doctors and nurses trying to keep their parents alive. He saw all the motions and emotion, and he saw how the movements ceased. The monitor showed a straight line. That was the end.

Ever since then, Beatrice never spoke much. She rarely went outside, preferring only the company of herself and her brother. There was another problem too because Beatrice had a heart disease. When she was still younger, she’d go to the hospital for her monthly checkups. It wasn’t as frequent anymore as she grew older, and the attacks were starting to lessen, too. Still, life was going to be tough for them. Their aunt took them in, and that was how they stayed with her. When they moved away from the city, Beatrice started to talk about strange things. Arthur said she’d sometimes speak to herself. When they asked her about it, she said she was talking to the wind, to the grass, to the stars, to the earth. She said they spoke to her first, and she sometimes even hinted that the earth would someday take her. Those kinds of conversations usually scared Arthur and their aunt, but Beatrice would just smile and told them not to worry.

There were a lot of questions I wanted to ask. Arthur said that their parent’s departure wasn’t the only time Beatrice stood dangerously close to death. I wanted to ask him about it, but I can tell that Arthur didn’t want to. I did not speak for a long time. I didn’t know. I didn’t know a lot of things. Arthur said that was why I had done much in changing her. Ever since Beatrice met me, she seemed to forget about her tragic past. Slowly, she pulled herself out of her isolation and she started talking more. She started drawing again, and she even tried to act. Her heart failure didn’t even seem like it existed. It was like a living nightmare that stuck itself to her. It isn’t gone entirely, but at least it’s stopped bothering her for a long time. Indeed, when Beatrice and I played, it seemed as though Beatrice didn’t live with all her strains.

The night had grown later by then. I still didn’t know what to speak. Arthur then put his hand on my head and ruffled my hair. At a distance, it would look funny, seeing as how I was almost as tall as Arthur already. And I wasn’t a kid anymore. I told him that and he laughed. He told me Beatrice would be coming in a few days. He must have known how much that made me feel glad. He also told me I should get used to having my hair ruffled because we’d be some sort of a family soon. He winked at me. I didn’t know what he meant, but I smiled. We went home after that. I sat on my bed while sleep tried to find its way to me. I was thinking about how Beatrice spoke to the earth, like the boy my sister was talking about in her story.

The next morning, there were two surprises waiting for me. Both of them involved Beatrice. The first one was her arrival. I woke up late, almost noon, that morning and found her cooking with my mother in the kitchen. She didn’t feel real. I realized how long it had been since I last saw her. But then she turned around and I saw her face. There was no mistaking it was Beatrice, still beautiful as if it was spelled on her skin. She ran to me and gave me the tightest hug I had ever received. She smelled like the flowers in our backyard. She smelled like home.

We sat on the couch and she told me how luck had enabled her to come back home earlier than usual. I looked at her eyes and for a split second, I felt as though she was holding back something. It vanished quickly because she held my hand and she spoke excitedly. Looking at her then, I felt clearer the sincerity of Arthur’s words. I look at Beatrice and I saw how much difference there is from the little girl sitting on the swing. I looked at her eyes and I knew that she was thinking about her performance – OUR performance, if it really was real. I smiled a kind of smile only Beatrice could see.

That afternoon, we decided we’d go to the cave together. We were older by then and no amount of interference can stop us. She said there was something she had to check back on her house first. We planned to meet at three, when the sun would glow golden and paint the entire sea on fire. When I went into the cave, I remembered how long it had been since I last stepped foot inside. The unreadable writing was still etched on the wall. The view was still the same marvelous scene. I sat there for quite some time, positioning myself on the same spot where Beatrice once drew the most beautiful picture I’d ever seen. I found myself smiling. It’s funny how little things like that can make one’s life instantly better. I peered below me, where the sea was slowly brushing against the cliff. I noticed something moving with the wind. It was a red object, clinging from a branch protruding from the wall of earth. It was Beatrice’s ribbon!

I remember.

That cold afternoon, the last time we went to the cave, she tied her hair with a ribbon as she draw the sun. I’d almost forgotten about her ribbon until she pulled it out of her pocket that moment. The branch must have caught it when she fell. I reached my hand out to it, but before I could grab it, I met my second surprise.

The second surprise didn’t just look red, it was blue too. There was a sound as well. It filled the air for a long time, telling me to climb back to land and see what the fuss is about. Overhead, I saw an ambulance making its way through our narrow road. It stopped at a particular house, which wasn’t hard to identify because our place doesn’t have too many. I was at first too surprised to see an ambulance come to our place. The thing is, that house was Beatrice’s. I didn’t stall myself. I quickly ran towards the vehicle. When I reached it, I saw Beatrice being rolled into the back. Her eyes were closed and she looked pale. Arthur and her aunt were among the people outside. Arthur told me about Beatrice’s sudden attack, how she suddenly fell down on the floor, having trouble breathing.

As Arthur spoke, my mind worked. I remembered how Beatrice didn’t answer when I called her back at my sister’s place. I realized that split-second of hesitation in her eye when we sat on the couch was real. Beatrice already felt her disease recovering. She must have felt dizzy sometimes in the city, and so she was allowed to come home early. It wasn’t luck that brought her home; it was the presence of an old monster. Arthur told me to stay and he went inside the ambulance, holding her sister’s hand. The door slammed shut and I stood there watching blue and red lights spinning away from me. At that moment, I swear I can feel everything change.

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