Death and the Lolita
Lady of the Rose
We all lose relatives, at some point. Death is inevitable and it doesn't discriminate. But what if you could sit and have a talk with the embodiment of Death itself? What if he (or indeed, she) could tell you for certain your loved one would go to a better place and gave both of you a chance to express your regrets and say goodbye before it was too late? One lonely girl whose mother is at death's door gets that chance. This story is dedicated to my mother Janice, may she rest in peace, and to anyone else out there who's ever lost a loved one.
Death and the Lolita
Death came in the form of a boy about her age (sixteen) with messy blond hair and cat green eyes she could have found enchanting under different circumstances. He looked surprisingly normal and real, in faded Levis and a button-down shirt. When she came in, he was standing beside her mother's hospital bed, holding her mother's hand. His lips moved, forming words she couldn't quite hear. Her heels on the tile sounded incredibly loud in the quiet of the ICU, and he jerked his head up to stare at her as soon as she planted her foot down. In that moment, she somehow knew exactly who, and what, he was.
"You can't take her." She said hoarsely. "You just can't."
"I wouldn't if I didn't have to." Death replied. "But she's too far gone now to come back to you."
"I don't have anyone left but her. She has to come back. She has to." She insisted stubbornly, balling her hands into fists. She almost stamped her foot, but managed to refrain.
Death raised his eyebrows. "You've got a father, don't you? And grandparents and aunts and uncles?"
"Yeah, but...I want her back." The tears started to well up and she fought to keep her voice level. She had to be strong, like she had been for her family since her mother had landed in this godforsaken hospital on Tuesday night. "I love Mama so much. I don't want her to die."
Death looked back down at her mother briefly, brushing his fingertips across the back of her limp hand. She had the urge to cross the room and push him away from her mother, and keep fighting him off until he left them alone. "She wants you to know it's not your fault," Death said, his soft, unassuming voice breaking her out of her thoughts, "that you took care of her as best she could. But she's too sick and too tired to fight any longer, so she has to go now. She's sorry for not being able to be at your graduation next year, and that she'll never get to meet her grandchildren. So, so sorry."
The tears broke free and flowed down her cheeks at his words, mixing with her eyeliner and turning black. She was surprised to find Death embracing her immediately and firmly. His touch was cold as ice, but she clung onto him anyway, bawling like a child. She was a child. Big girls don't cry.
She hadn't known she had so many tears in her. Twice she came to a point where it felt like she couldn't cry anymore and made to pull away from Death, only to find herself clinging to him again as more tears welled up in her eyes and more sobs rose in her throat. Death was quiet and respectful the whole time, simply holding her and letting her cry her heart out onto his shirt. He petted her hair occasionally, and the gesture made her cry even harder. But she finally backed out of Death's arms, looking away from him in embarrassment. She'd promised herself she'd be strong and dry-eyed, and she'd just gone and used Death's shirt as a handkechief.
"Um, sorry. I probably got eyeliner all over your shirt..." There was no probably about it. She could see the black smears on the shoulder of his shirt from where she stood. And as soon as the words left her mouth, the absurdity of that statement hit her. This was Death itself. What did he care about a petty human thing like eyeliner smeared on a white shirt?
Death examined the ugly black marks, then shrugged and waved a slim white hand dismissively. "Forget it." He moved off toward the two hospital chairs situated near her mother's bedside, flopping into one with careless grace and pointing at the other one with a stern look toward her. "Now sit. You and I have to have a talk."
"About what?" She asked, but sat down, dropping her gaze to the floor nervously when he pinned her with a fierce look.
"Look at me when I'm talking to you, first of all. It's the least you could do- I don't sit and chat like this with everyone, you know. I don't have that kind of time."
She looked up into his face again, and his expression softened. "Good girl. Now I'm going to give you a little advice. Don't look so surprised- I may be Death, but I know an awful lot about living." He leaned back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other. "First of all, don't bottle like that. It does more harm than good in the long run."
"Bottle?" She blinked.
"Crying your eyes out like you did all over my shirt earlier." Death fingered the eyeliner streaked near his shoulder. "That isn't natural. I bet you haven't cried once since your mother got in here, have you?"
"No..." She said softly, looking down at the pleats and frills of her skirt like they were the most interesting thing in the world.
"Stupid of you." He pronounced. "Why not?"
"I...I wanted to be strong...for my family..." She peeked up at him then immediately glanced back down. From the look on his face, you'd think he was talking to an exceptionally dimwitted toddler.
"Being strong," he parroted her words, and she blushed with embarrassment and a little shame, "doesn't mean you're not allowed to be hurt or cry. I don't know why you people insist on associating crying with weakness. It's one of the most healing things you can do."
"I just don't want to be a burden to them..."
Death looked at her incredulously. "You don't want to be a burden."
"Uh huh." She looked at her shoes now, feeling about two inches tall under his gaze.
"You humans just baffle me, sometimes." Death sighed. "How on Earth do you manage to misconstrue letting your feelings out in times of stress as being a burden?" She kept quiet, still staring at her shoes, and he sighed again. "Oi vey. Listen, sweetheart. They're your family. Letting them see that you're upset about your mother being on her deathbed isn't going to burden them, I promise."
"Yeah, okay..." She wet her lips nervously.
"Which brings me to my next bit of advice." He snapped his fingers and her eyes snapped to his face in an automatic response. "It's perfectly alright for you to be depressed about her passing -I'd honestly be surprised if you weren't, she tells me you two were close- but there's such a thing as taking it too far, and I don't want to be seeing you for a formal visit any time soon."
"What do you mean?" She knew perfectly well what he meant, had been contemplating it even as he spoke to her. Suicide. At least if she died she could see her mother again...
"You know what. Too many girls like you with their whole lives ahead of them throw their lives away every day over way worse reasons than you've got there." He nodded toward her mother. "Your family would be even more torn up than they already are whether it worked or not. If you lived through it, they'd want answers. They'd want to know why. And do you honestly think your mother would want you to give up and die before you did anything with your life?"
Her eyes watered again at that last bit. "No, I...no. You're absolutely right." She sniffed before she could stop herself. "It's just...it's going to be so hard..."
"Sure, but you'll get through it. You're strong."
"How do you know?" She spat before she could stop herself. She hated the bitterness in her tone.
Death was unfazed by it and simply gestured toward her mother. "She called you her little Cherokee warrior-girl." He stood and walked back over to the bed, taking her mother's hand again.
"A-are you taking her? Now?" She stood up from the chair in a panic and nearly knocked it over. Couldn't it wait just a few minutes? She hadn't even gotten to say goodbye yet!
"Not yet." He offered her a wry smile. "She wants to hang on so the rest of your family can get their goodbyes in, and I can give her a couple more days."
"I see..." She looked down again, at the gleaming hospital floor.
"Why don't you say it now? All those things you felt like you couldn't say in front of your dad or your grandparents?" Death suggested. "Nobody's here but you, me, and her- and she and I aren't telling."
She nodded and took her mother's hand, standing opposite Death. "Mama, I...I'm really gonna miss you. Like, you don't even know how much. But I'm not mad at you for leaving me. I know you would have stayed longer if you could've, and I know you'll be in a better place now...." She stopped, looking up at Death anxiously. "She will, won't she?"
"Of course. She won't have to worry about anything or be afraid anymore. And she'll never be in pain again. That herniated disk in her back won't hurt her anymore."
She sniffled, looking back down at her mother's face. She looked so peaceful, like she was sleeping. Like she could open her eyes and be normal again. But that would never happen, the doctor had said. Zero chance she would ever be anything but a vegetable if she ever woke up. She kissed her mother's cheek. "I'm glad you'll finally be at peace, Mama, and I'm sorry I wasn't a better daughter. I'm sorry for everything I ever did to make you upset. I love you." She smoothed her mother's bangs aside and kissed her forehead. "Goodbye, Mama."
Her teeny-tiny mother looked like a doll in the hospital bed, and suddenly she couldn't stand to be there anymore. She rushed out of the hospital room. Had to get away from the chemical smell, from the sight of her mother lying there brain dead. Mama, Mama! Don't leave me like this, Mama! I still need you so much! She couldn't stay another minute in that damned hospital room, even if it meant leaving her mother in Death's hands.
This story was inspired by the death of my own mother this past January. Much like the mother in the story, my mother had been sick for many years before she died, and the cardiac arrest that sent her to the hospital that last time just proved to be too much, even for a fighter like her. And much like the daughter, I tried to be strong for the rest of my family and pretend it didn't hurt as much as it did. Unlike the nameless lolita, though, I was too cowardly to stay in the hospital room alone with her and say goodbye while I could. And I never got the benefit of getting a talk like Death gave her. I do have to note though that my family was amazingly supportive once I finally let them in, and that I didn't once consider suicide.