“This isnʼt like you, I know you."
I was sitting in one of the chairs in Mr. Wellʼs office. His awkward family photos smiled at me from the desk. I tried not to scowl.
"No, itʼs not," I agreed.
"You've a perfect track record and your grades are more than acceptable. You're going to graduate in a month and then you pull this. You know our schoolʼs policy for cheating."
"I do know it." His tone was disappointed, but I could hear the willingness to understand behind it, eager to come out from the slightest provocation.
Mr. Wellʼs stood up from his chair, his suit as perfectly trim as the cut of his grey-speckled black hair falling down his head. He sat at the end of his desk, folded his legs over, and sighed at me.
"I donʼt expect you to treat me any differently," I clarified. "If you're going to suspend me, let me know now so I can deal with the consequences sooner rather than later. And donʼt punish Markus. He had nothing to do with it, I just convinced him to help me."
He sighed, again. Itʼs one of the many idiosyncrasies of childish behavior that pass on into adulthood. "No, nothing will happen to Markus. Itʼs been a hard year for you, Thomas. Talk to me."
Pieces of me started to drift away from the room. I was slowly turning to ethereal ashes, fragments slipping up from my body and through the ceiling, to be swirled away with the wind.
"Yes," I admitted, meeting his eyes. "It has been hard."
"Is this a result of Samantha and your mother? Be honest."
The truth is it wasn't. After Samantha, I was destroyed. After my mother, I was numb. A few months passed and what was there left to do, but to be strong? I took long walks in the middle of the night to process everything. I ate well, I exercised, I cried on a regular basis, and I got on with lifeʼs toil. Sure, Iʼd use the sympathy of others to squeeze out some leeway, the same way you might when you're ill. I didnʼt feel good about doing it, but you know as well as I do that we do almost anything to make life a little bit more bearable.
"It is," I lied. "Itʼs been … difficult." And I knew thatʼs all it took to draw out his sympathy.
I watched the predictable tilt of his head. The pity all but jumped out from his eyes, relieved to be given an excuse to show itself. His neutral expression turned into that of sad recognition. He stood up, opened his arms, and pulled me into a hug.
"We'll talk to the schoolʼs councilor and have her write something to your trigonometry teacher. Who is it, again? Mr. Duffel? In any case, you'll go in for a few sessions, and she'll then write something up to help clarify how difficult grieving can be. You wonʼt be punished. If Mr. Duffel gives you any trouble, come back to me."
The embrace, as odd as it was from one of the schoolʼs faculty, was almost comforting. I could feel his stress of waking up early too many days in a row. I could smell the horrible cologne his wife had bought him, and the evenings he tried to savor with his children, but couldn't, because just like all of us, he was worn down by societyʼs incessant demands.
"I've known your father ever since your sister was a freshman. Heʼs a good man, but I know it wonʼt help your relationship if he hears about this. We're going to reschedule the test for next week. You study, you ace it, and we'll pretend like this never happened."
I thanked him, trying to muster some genuine warmth, and left. After the door clicked shut behind me, and the fear of suspension left my chest, I thought to myself, I deserved this, anyways.
The meeting allowed me to leave almost half an hour early, dodging the chaos of hundreds of students screaming, gossiping, fighting, and making crude jokes as they waited for their rides home.
I walked until I was on the trail that connected to the neighborhoods near my house. When I didnʼt seen any hikers, I stripped out of the suffocating uniform and got into my usual, much darker, and stranger, garments that I kept in my bag.
I was free. The time slipped by with music and sliding in the muddy ground, picking up fallen leaves and reveling in the steady decay of autumn. My feet led me to the turn in the trail that had become habit since Samanthaʼs funeral, and they kept stepping forward instinctively, almost detached from my will.
The clouds came in impossibly intricate layers, illuminated by the sunlight tucked deep beneath their folds. They came quickly, darkly, and lightly through and above the trees, fogging my breath and surrounding me with a soothing chill.
Out of the thickness of the forest, I breathed in the clean air of the graveyard after greeting one of the security guards. The faded rose petals had tumbled over the grey slates, the tombstones and the entrance to a sepulcher.
I sat on Samanthaʼs grave with my back to her headstone, writing in my journal and humming one of her favorite pieces, Clair de Lune, while the rain let up. It had become as habitual as exercising on a daily basis.
No dramatic, one-sided dialogues in which I cried and said things to her I never had the courage to, but always wished to. No weeping and begging for her to come back. No pounding on the ground, as if it wasnʼt just disturbing her sleep anyways.
I did that once before I realized how silly it was. After that outburst, I just spent some time after classes there. I figured sheʼd like that better, anyways.
When I stood up, I glanced at my motherʼs tombstone beside hers, trying not to scoff. When she left, I wasnʼt sure whether to be infuriated or devastated. She was battling with the same emotions when she killed herself, wasnʼt she? Whatever demons haunted her, I had eased them into the pages of my journal, and snapped them shut there. They might've killed her, but I wouldnʼt let them do the same to me.
On the walk back home, I found a piece of notebook paper folded beneath a streetlamp. The handwriting on it was impeccable yet dramatic, flourishing and spreading across the page beautifully. It was a poem. I almost started to read it, before deciding that it desired some quality time with me at my desk, read with candlelight, and not the rushed skimming of a passerby quick to toss it aside right after.
Words deserve the utmost attention, so long as the person writing them gave them the same concentration.
Locked. I tried it again, thinking I wasnʼt turning hard enough. The door of our house was never locked, since my father was usually home writing more of those steamy erotica novels that got our family name Moore some raunchy prestige. Thatʼs right. Our home was bought and furnished off of the many creative ways you can rewrite the word cockand pussy, complimented by predictable story arcs that only end in the former going inside of the latter in some way or another. Brilliant stuff.
I try not to remind myself of that too often.
I quirked an eyebrow and slipped in through the window.
"Dad!" I called out. "Another week has been vanquished. The adventurer returns home early," I narrated after unlocking the front door and walking up the staircases. Every journey up the steps was a small workout. Iʼm not sure why we chose to dwell in a three story house with only four people.
Clothes were strewn about the ground. Old dishes were on the mantle, and some flowers that had been plucked three months ago were growing a fungus to keep their rotted stems company. Everything was in perfect order, so where was he?
The chandelier hanging from the ceiling, still as it ever was, glittered in response.
I shrugged, fixed myself a sandwich, and went into my room for a few hours. I'll spare you those details.
I tried on the Halloween costume I had been losing sleep over, appreciating it in the mirror. Every seam had been stitched myself, and was in its proper place, even if a few of those proper places were dangling in threads.
Mismatched black and red was the color scheme for the masquerade outfit, with some silver charms that hung from my tunic, and leather gloves to finish it off. I had finished pouring the mold for the mask last night, but never painted it. I liked the bleak, pale look of the plaster and the eerie simplicity of it.
By now, the sun was deep in its descent, still sequestered from the world by the clouds.
I went into the garage and found his car parked, cold.
"Dad?" I called again, in case he had come home and not checked on me.
I walked down the hallway towards his bedroom, my nose catching the scent of something past its expiration date. The house was big enough without all of the rooms being empty, but since Samantha and mom, it was as if my father and I slept with ghosts. Being home alone in the middle of the night had become almost nerve racking.
We put on brave faces every morning, trying to feel normal with just two of us eating breakfast. We even started watching television, something we never did, to fill in the silence.
The master bedroom was as messy as the house, and the bathroom as vacant.
Still, I smelled the rancid stench. No dead rats or mice under the bed, no clogged toilet.
I went for the plants on the mantlepiece, stuffing my nose into the algae-infested water before recoiling. It was bad, but it wasnʼt the cause of the stench.
I turned to look at the sealed door in the hallway.
"Your grandfather died in that room. We donʼt go in there," my father had told me since we were children.
The doorknob had been replaced with a strangely hard, cotton stuffing. No amount of pushing or shoving would budge it, as if it had been glued in. In the times where I attempted to open the door as a child when nobody was home, it only left my arm and shoulder aching. Absolutely nothing could get that door open.
It had never been used since my father sealed it; it had become apart of the wall, and none of us seemed to care afterward. Itʼs not as if we needed the space.
As if a monster would burst from it, I approached the door in the darkness of the home, hearing the steady hitting of rain against the windows once again. I sniffed at the edge of the door and drew back, shaking my head.
"You fucking coward. You wouldn't!" I slammed my fists into the wood until my knuckles were bleeding, then threw myself against the door, hearing whatever had sealed it from the inside creaking. He would, he did, I accepted it as I threw myself at it again. By the time I could feel my shoulder bruising, I could feel something giving.
I took a deep breath, paced backwards, and rushed into it.
The door splintered and gave. Two fresh planks of wood with shining, protruding nails almost stabbed me as I pushed them aside. My hand pushing the door open, waving away the layers of dust coating the air, wasnʼt enough to block my eyes from the swaying display hanging from the ceiling.
Flies drew up in swarms off of the corpse and flew out towards me, as if to attack me for discovering their food. I eased myself onto the floor and sat with my back against the doorway. In my peripherals, the motion of his body was as still as the chandelier.
My sisterʼs death, an accident. My motherʼs suicide, almost understandable. My father … detestable.
I wasnʼt surprised when I didnʼt start crying or screaming. It only made sense at this point, to respond with the same silence that the bodies had given me.
For a writer, he didnʼt leave much in the crumpled note beneath his feet. I tore it up and left the scraps there as I walked back into my room.
My phone had some messages from Markus. I skimmed through the requests for a night of gaming and smoking, and dialed.
"Yes," I said for the second time in my life, "Iʼd like to report a suicide.”
As I waited for the police, I sat in my chair and took out the poem from my jeans. They typically take around twenty minutes.
Ethereal whispers calling
Eating away at the dead flesh
Tremors shake in your chest
Masks and costumes alight
Entertainers dance for your delight
Above the ground and the rain
This realm of the mad and inane
Silhouettes greet your entrance
Under the hanging canopies you think
Nothing of this wild, delirium dream
3 strikes of the clock count
Away your hours ‘till dawn
Move, move, my friend.
As if a dead family wasnʼt disappointing enough. I furrowed my eyebrows at the words, trying to make sense of the poetʼs message in his script. Something about grasping time before dying? I sighed and placed it on my desk, beginning to suspect he was overcompensating with his handwriting. Nothing on the backside either, and the sides were ripped, as if it was torn out hastily.
With nothing else to do, I brewed some coffee and sipped it as I shared the last few minutes I had with my father, sitting beside his toes pointing toward the ground, swatting away the occasional fly.
“This isnʼt like you, I know you."