I see a flock of white sprites falling from the sky. They are small, insignificant beings made of ice with a guaranteed lifespan of nothing more than a few seconds. My face is so close to the glass that I can feel the frigid air slip in through the small wooden openings. I see our parents outside digging up the graves. Dad’s gray overcoat is unnaturally thick, stiffening his movements, while Mom stands beside him, hovering and wearing a long black dress that dangles slightly above the frosty ground.
Today resonates a bit differently with me. I wish you were here, that you had let me take your place. Mom and Dad keep busy; digging up the graves, making space in the cemetery for new tributes that will soon occupy their freshly carved burials. I imagine that they ceaselessly think of you. Maybe while they’re out there with their shovels, they speak to you. Mom probably tears up while recalling little fragments of your younger days. Dad probably keeps his emotions restrained beneath his brute armored persona, suffocating himself while choking back his tears, only to keep Mom from witnessing what he feels. I think Mom is the strong one, that she better copes with death; after all, the cemetery does belong to her family, she still prepares the bodies of the deceased, while Dad’s only responsibility is to help out digging the holes.
It’s not the first day of winter, but the snowiest day by far. White fluff decorates the gravestone in our family's cemetery, masking some of the letters on the tombs and killing off the flowers that any visitors may have left behind. The day has an odd peacefulness, a looming silence. I hear your voice in the back of my head say, "What a beautiful day to die."
Past the cemetery, I can spot the frozen lake. I see images of our younger selves skating along the thin ice. Your doppelganger looks at the younger version of me, helps her keep balance by locking hands. They smile at each other, your copy pulls my copy further to the center of our private rink and they then glide like petals following a gentle swirling current.
I hate seeing us out there. I detest what the lake reminds me of; it makes me think of you, of us and causes my eyes to swell and burn.
“Why did you do it?” I whisper to myself, hoping that my question reaches your spirit on the lake. “Why did you save me? Why did you have to die?”
I hear the front door creak open, giving a chilly gale permission to invade our home and wisp past the corridors. The door slams shut, and Mom rushes past me into the kitchen. Dad walks by, his eyes meet my shoulder, he says nothing but his face leaves behind a message. The house is suddenly filled with the sounds of clanks and cabinets being opened and closed as Mom prepares breakfast.
“Tea or coffee?” she shouts.
“Tea,” Dad responds.
“Whatever,” is all I say.
I feel like a hostage in my own home. Mom and Dad sustain a routine of working in the mornings, making meals, answering telephone calls, and calming down whoever is on the other side of the line, comforting random families who have lost their loved ones. I resent them. Life is so fickle and short; death is always lurking like a shadow. Yet, on days like this one, our parents occupy themselves with work and dig up holes; they don’t seem to mourn, they don’t seem to remember.
I wonder if they let you melt and fade like the snow. It’s probably easier for our parents than it is for me. Mom and Dad just don’t see you as I do. They bury others, suffocate the remaining souls of idle and limp bodies with dirt and gravel. They bury themselves with work and responsibility; they bury me in silence. I bury myself in isolation, with blame and regret. I toy with the past and let it seep into the present. I drown myself daily in your presence. I remember you, the cemetery, the ice, how I buried you.
Business is booming; Mom and Dad just can’t sit still. Winter is profitable, especially for a family that deals with death. Every day the phone rings with calls from people who have lost someone. Patients dying from hypothermic shock at the hospital, people slipping and bashing their heads on the icy pavements of their frozen driveways.
The cobblestone path that leads to the cemetery is frozen over. The trees and branches have been coated, and the wretched lake is almost silver from all the ice. Our parents are outside, getting another gravesite ready; most likely, it will be filled by the end of the day. The telephone rings, but I refuse to answer it. I reject the idea of assisting Mom and Dad with their work. Who wants to bury someone more than once? The telephone rings again, the invasive chime crawls under my skin, causes my teeth to grit. I pick it up.
“Is this the Castor Family Mortuary?” the voice on the line questions.
“Yes, it is. Do you want me to call my parents?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Can you give'em a message for me?”
“Alright,” I murmur.
“Tell'em a body should be arriving in about two hours.”
“What? A body? Maybe they should talk to you instead?”
My hands begin to shake. Part of me wants to hang up, to rip the cord from the phone.
“No, no. You’re their daughter, right? Just pass on the message. The body of a young boy should be arriving in about two hours.”
There’s a silence; I feel nothing; I feel numb.
The voice on the line questions irritatingly. “Hello, did you get everything?”
I choke out a response, “Yeah. Young boy. Arriving in two hours. I’ll tell them.”
“Oh, I almost forgot. The boy is a drowning victim, so the family wants a closed casket, alright?”
I freeze up. The phone slips through my fingers, smacks against the floor, dangles, and sways from its wire. The room expands and contracts like a lung, pounding faster and faster, until there is nothing but silence.
A shot of cold air whips against my neck and back, shivers run up my spine. Mom closes the front door, comes up behind me like a ghoul. “Is someone on the phone?” she asks. “Hello, earth to Clara, is someone on the phone?”
I dodge the question. I run to the living room; I want to run even farther.
Mom picks up the suspending phone. “Castor Family Mortuary!” she informs. “Okay. Uh-huh. Two hours got it.”
Mom hangs up. She peeks her head into the living room to catch sight of me curled up on the bay window. She sighs.
I offer her silence. The drowning sound of no response.
“Okay, then. I’ll be outside if you need anything.”
Water floods my eyes. My vision begins to blur. “H..H…How? How can you…How can you do this?”
Mom walks my way with a slow and dubious stride, like a hungry but frightened stray.
She sits by me. “What do you mean?” she asks, fully understanding the question.
“How can… How can you do this? Bury people?”
“Well, it is my family’s line of work.”
“No, not that,” I respond. “How can you keep doing this, ever since David…”
“Ever since your brother died,” she interjects.
I nod with my eyes and not my head.
“Clara, I celebrate David daily. I bury him every day, every hour. I see him in everyone, even more so when I have to bury a young man.”
Mom places her hands on my knee, it’s freezing, but it’s the warmest she has ever been.
“If you want, maybe you could come out. Um… the body should be here in a few hours.”
I’m not able to offer her an answer.
“But only if you want,” she replies.
The body of the boy will be arriving soon. The lake calls out to me, taunts me with your invocation, and cows me into a nightmare. I see you and me, our past reflections floating along the crisp ice. I lose balance and fall, crashing my knees against the thin frozen plane of the lake.
“Ouch!” I whimper.
You skate towards me, squat by my side.
“Are you okay, Clara?”
“I’m fine,” I respond all giggly.
Suddenly a crack interrupts our laughter. A series of sharp rifts stream along the ice.
“Don’t move. Stay how you are.”
“David, I’m scared.”
“It’s fine, Clara, just don’t move; we don’t want more of the ice breaking,” you say.
I hold back my fear, along with my tears. I reduce even the sound of my breath, hoping that it’s enough to calm the ice.
“Clara, I want you to get on all fours, crawl to where the ice is not cracking.”
“I…I can’t,” I protest.
“You can,” he returns. “Just crawl slowly and don’t pay attention to the ice.”
I get down on all fours. I move on my hands and knees, inching my body forward as you follow.
The cracks cut my path, the ground vibrates, it breathes. My vision sinks, and the cold darkness envelopes me. I see nothing in front of me. There’s an overlaying shadow expanding from below. I see jagged shards above, floating puzzle pieces, and specks of light.
Something wraps around my waist, it’s you, David. You hug me, hold me tight. You launch our tethered bodies forward, you reach for an edge above the water. Your iron grip takes hold of the frozen extremity of the lake. You pull me like an anchor, toss me to safety, beach me like a whale.
“Clara, are you okay?” You tap my body like a drum. My eyes open. “Clara, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” I weakly reply.
“Thank goodness!” You smile. Your weight relaxes, and your shoulders loosen. You rest your hands behind your back, your palms slightly push against the ice.
Cracks ring around your body, enclose you rapidly, split the ice between us. Your eyes widen. I swear, I see you gulp. The lake draws you in. I turn and extend my arm. I see your body dipping into the water, your hand setting like the sun. I touch the end of your fingers, feel their frozen tips. Your blurry silhouette melts in the water. Fades. I let you go, I can’t save you, so I let the water bury you instead.
The body of the young boy arrives, a black van parks outside our home. Mom and Dad are waiting by the cemetery entrance. I look further behind the graves, peering to your old burial sight that is the frozen lake. I see you, and you look at me. Your skin isn't sallow. You don’t appear to be cold. White droplets surround you, and for a moment, you look perfect.
I'm going to imagine that the boy in the casket is you. Mom buries you every day, I think Dad does too. I stand, make my way for the door. I’m greeted by the cold air and by a performance of dancing snow. I make way to the cobblestone path that leads to the cemetery, the place where I will bury you. The trail is stone cold, my feet begin to curl. I waddle; I take small steps. Mom and Dad are now already inside the cemetery.
“Wait for me!” I fire. “I’m coming!” The path is slippery, and I’m not good at moving on ice; you know that David; but I'm almost there.
Today I will recall myself of you, but not by the lake. I’ll make it to the cemetery to put you to rest, and I'll grip Mom and Dad's hands tightly while you're sinking to the ground. I guess that in the end, David, today is actually a beautiful day for you to die.