Wilhelmina could still feel her sister close by as her feet crunched the cemetery's dead leaves beneath her feet, silent, sightless, but present somehow all the same. Desdemona was not touching her, nor speaking to her, nor in any way giving physical disturbance to Wilhelmina's body, and still, Wilhelmina knew she was there. What she did not know was if her sister had been present from the start, perhaps from the moment of her death, and had only now let this be known to her, or whether Desdemona had been drawn out just now, simply by being spoken to.
She let out a shivering exhalation as she stopped in front of her car, unable for a few seconds to gather her thoughts enough to remember where she had put her keys. Finally fishing them out of her back right pocket, Wilhelmina slid herself into the driver's seat and started the engine. The passenger side door did not open to admit another, nor did she hear anything else over the blast of the car's heat or the engine's motor. There was nothing to hear and nothing to see, but that did not mean she had ceased to feel her sister there, close enough to touch.
She turned on the radio, thinking that the bouncy cheerfulness of vapid pop music would distract her thoughts, if not shake her off from the feeling of Desdemona. But three songs came and went, and Wilhelmina pulled up in front of her mother's house without any change. Her sister had not left her; she had not even backed off the intensity of her nearness.
"This is crazy," Wilhelmina told herself aloud, letting her head come forward to rest with a faint thud against the steering wheel. She didn't release her hand's grasp of the cool plastic, even squeezing it in an effort to ground her senses to the reality of her physical surroundings. "This isn't happening. This isn't real."
When she lifted her face with a steadying breath, she saw that Maxine's car was missing from the driveway and no lights burned on within the house. She doubted her mother would return at any point in the night, but it didn't matter. She didn't have any sentimental intentions of telling her goodbye, and by tomorrow morning, Wilhelmina herself would leave out from this godforsaken house in this dying town and never come back, not for anything.
"Tomorrow, this is over," she said aloud to herself again, as though to strengthen her own resolve. "Tomorrow, I leave and don't ever come back here again. So it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter anymore."
The air around her seemed to grow thicker, more difficult to breathe in through her nose. Wilhelmina knew that Desdemona had heard her, that she was expressing her disapproval. Exasperated with herself for the thought, she shook her head hard, attempting to dislodge the continued feeling of her sister nearby, the continued imaginings of Desdemona's responses to her.
"Stop it," she said aloud, to herself more than to Desdemona. "Just stop it."
It felt stupid, even crazy, to be talking out loud to seemingly no one and nothing- to what logically must be no one and nothing beyond herself. Anyone who saw her would surely think so, and she couldn't blame them for it.
But even as she told herself aloud to stop, Wilhelmina knew that she wasn't really talking to herself, that as illogical and crazy as it might be, she couldn't talk herself into believing that. She was talking to Desdemona, or what remained of Desdemona. What part of Desdemona had chosen to come to her.
She couldn't hear Desdemona saying anything to her. Not once had she actually heard a voice, speaking audibly actual words. But she knew without needing to hear what her sister was thinking and feeling, as clearly as though Desdemona was standing beside her, showing her in her expressions and gestures. She could sense the sadness, the reluctance for her sister to let her go. Without hearing anything, she could understand Desdemona's message to her.
"You know I have to leave," she said in response to her, hearing her own voice shake and tensing her jaw, trying to force strength behind it. "How crazy would I have to be to stay here now? God, Mona, even you didn't stay in the end."
Not waiting for any sort of reply, spoken or otherwise, Wilhelmina hurried forward into the house, letting the door slam behind her deliberately. Likewise, she made some effort in noisiness to her footsteps, trying to keep herself from hearing or sensing anything but her own body's space and actions. Going into the bathroom, she shut and locked the door behind her, feeling ridiculous for it, but not enough to stop herself from actually following through. It wasn't as though her sister could now try to open a door, and even when she had been alive, she wouldn't have intruded on her in the bathroom. But it seemed that things changed after death, or perhaps didn't change enough. Wilhelmina no longer felt secure that she was alone simply by shutting a door.
She took her time in brushing her teeth and washing her face, pausing several times to take long, assessing looks at herself in the mirror. She tried to avoid meeting her own eyes, bothered by the dark, almost bruised look they held. She looked instead at the new lines in her forehead and the dark circles cutting deep beneath her eyes, the sharpness of her own cheekbones and the dry skin of her lips.
She looked like shit. In fact, for the first time that she could remember, she looked like Desdemona.
The third time she looked, seeing her own sister's features vaguely recognizable in her own face, Wilhelmina turned her head away roughly enough that she heard something pop in the vertebrae of her neck. She left the bathroom, opening the door to her old room, and almost immediately, she felt it again, coming up from behind her.
Desdemona. She was with her again, still close, her presence in the bedroom so overwhelmingly clear to her, even without seeing or hearing it, that Wilhelmina's throat grew cold inside.
She tried to ignore it, turning her back on it to begin packing the few belongings she had brought with her into the house. It took very little time to pack an already near empty backpack and set it at the foot of her bed for the morning, but Wilhelmina stretched it out, even deciding to sleep for the night in the clothes she was wearing. If that would get her out the door faster in the morning, then so be it. When her things were all packed and there was nothing else she could do to delay, she invented things to do, straightening the curtains and dusting at surfaces with the hem of her blouse. Still, Desdemona's presence didn't fade in the intensity of her sense of it. If anything, it seemed stronger, closer.
Her back taut with stress, Wilhelmina kept her back turned as she stopped in front of the room's dresser. Avoiding her own reflection, she directed her gaze into the mirror, looking towards the doorway, reflected back at her, where she felt Desdemona to be.
"Stop," she said quietly. "Please stop, Mona. Please go away."
She waited, but nothing at all seemed to change. There was no lessening of the oppressive feeling of the room. Desdemona seemed, instead, to be waiting for the right answer, the right words from her, and Wilhelmina had no idea what they might be.
Swallowing noisily, feeling her own saliva briefly stick in her throat before going down, Wilhelmina turned, facing the doorway. Of course, she could not see Desdemona there; she had known already that this would be the case. That didn't mean that her presence, or Wilhelmina's sense of her presence, had disappeared. If anything, facing her seemed to make it stronger.
"What is it?" Wilhelmina asked her quietly, letting out a slow breath and unconsciously wetting her lips. "You're dead, Desdemona. You're gone…or you're supposed to be. Why are you still here?"
No answer. Wilhelmina waited, trying to be patient, to keep her body language and facial expression open and calm, but her frustration was beginning to rise. This was so like her sister, no different now in death than she had been in life. Why couldn't Desdemona ever just say what she wanted or needed, why did she have to force you to guess and pry and pull it out of her?
But then, that wasn't completely true. The last time they had spoken, Desdemona had been open with her about what she wanted- an occurrence that Wilhelmina suddenly realized was unlike her. The last time they had spoken, Desdemona had asked her to come home.
Now here she was- exactly as her sister had wanted. And yet still she was not satisfied. How had her sister managed to force her into doing her will, and yet still refuse to see it as enough?
Suddenly angered, Wilhelmina raised her voice, not bothering to soften her sharpened tone.
"You chose this, Desdemona. Not me. You chose to die. No one made you do anything, you did what you wanted. You always do. I never told you to stay home with Maxine and be miserable, I never told you to do anything with your life. You made your choices. You wanted to die, so why didn't you stay dead and gone? Why are you here now, if you wanted to go so badly? What are you trying to do to me, what are you trying to prove?"
She heard her sister's voice then, not as a spoken word aloud, but more like a transferred thought, from her sister's being into her own mind. As strange as the transference was in its occurrence, the message was nevertheless clear.
Wilhelmina blinked, taking a step back. It was as she had thought, as she had known without having to ask or hear. It was what Desdemona had wanted most and lastly in her life, what her last request and words to her had been. Of course it would carry over into her death…why would the simple changing from living to dead cause her to change her at her core?
She couldn't respond immediately, could not think of what to say. Her anger had fallen away from her as soon as she heard Desdemona's request, and Wilhelmina felt a heaviness settle over her body, as though her sister's words had added weight upon her. She remained silent for a moment, and then she heard Desdemona again.
"I wanted you to come. You're here now…stay. Please stay with me."
"Why would I do that now?" Wilhelmina whispered. She lifted one hand without being entirely conscious of it, rubbing it over her face in an attempt to conceal herself from her sister's view. Out of sight, out of mind…wasn't that how she had always tried to live her life? Put things that troubled her, things she could not control, away from her conscious thoughts and view?
Is that what Desdemona thought she had done to her? Was she right?
"There's nothing here for me, Mona," Wilhelmina managed, the words emerging small and almost crushed by her growing guilt. "Don't you see that? Maxine is nothing to me, she hasn't been in years. I'm nothing to her. No one in this town cares about me or what I do with my life, there is nothing here that I want or could do with my life. And now you…." She hesitated, then forced the words out, however much they hurt. "You're dead, Desdemona. How can I stay here for you, when you're really not here at all?"
Desdemona's answer was longer in coming this time, but remained every bit as firm. She did not bother to elaborate; she had said exactly what she wanted to say, and seemed to have no need to add on.
"Stay, Mina. Stay."
Wilhelmina took another step back, her knees bumping against the bed, and let her body sink down onto it, too shaky to continue to hold her much longer. The heat of tears began to prick behind her eyes, and she clinched the edge of the blanket in one hand, digging her nails into the fabric.
It was so much to ask of her. So very much. But when had Desdemona asked anything of her in life, compared to others?
Her last words to her, her first and final real request. Why hadn't she listened to her, back when it was possible, before it was too late to ever really listen to her again?
This was why Desdemona was still here, this must be what kept her tied even now to life. She was making Wilhelmina realize what she had done to her with her refusal. She was haunting her, making her understand with her own suffering how she had caused Desdemona to suffer.
Reaching up to wipe at her eyes, Wilhelmina chewed the inside of her cheeks, almost welcoming the slight pain it brought her. Breathing out shallowly through her nose, she raised her face, letting her sister see the pain and regret in her eyes. Letting her see that she understood, if this was what Desdemona wanted; that she hurt now too.
"I'm sorry," she told her. "I'm sorry, Mona. I should have come when you asked. I'm sorry I didn't come, and I'm sorry I didn't stay, for you. I'm sorry I can't give you what you want now. I wish I could, but it's impossible now. I'm sorry."
She didn't know how she could know it, without Desdemona being visible, but she could sense her disagreement, could almost envision her shaking her head in response to her apologies. She could feel the strength of her no, unusually strong and assured to be coming from Desdemona. When Wilhelmina lifted her eyes again, confused, she received her clarifying response.
"But it isn't impossible. You can stay now, if you want to. You can stay. Please, Mina. Please stay."
And Wilhelmina knew that Desdemona was right. She could choose to stay with her, in this house, for however long Desdemona wanted or needed. It was a choice that was possible. If it was possible for Desdemona to come to her even after death, if it was so important to her that she make this request of her from beyond life itself, well, it was certainly possible for Wilhelmina to grant her wish.
It was possible…but it was crazy to do it. It was ridiculous to even consider it. She was in school now. She had worked so long and so hard to be able to get out of this place, and she had managed to do it, however briefly. She had an apartment, rent to pay, classes to finish, a career to work towards achieving. She had roommates who expected her, who depended on her share of the money coming in. She had a future, or she would, one day.
Wilhelmina couldn't stay. She couldn't then, when her sister first asked, and she couldn't now. Especially now.
"I can't," she said aloud, but even to her own ears, her words sounded faint, lacking in the conviction that Desdemona's had carried. "I can't. How can I?"
And yet she was reconsidering, her mind rapidly examining her own protesting words. She had worked hard, yes, and she had achieved her goal. But it had not yet resulted in her feeling satisfaction or real pride, let alone happiness or joy. She had an apartment, but she shared it with girls she barely knew, girls who might miss her vaguely, should she not return, but who would nevertheless easily find someone else to step up into her vacant role. Girls who would forget her, eventually, as Desdemona never would.
She was working towards a career, but there was no guarantee that she would obtain it, or that it would make her happy if she did. She might have a future…but how empty, how lonely, how ultimately meaningless would it be, if her only sister did not?
For the first time, Wilhelmina let herself envision a life without her sister, beginning from walking away from her tomorrow morning and stretching out into the last day of her life. She thought of each day stretching forward, walking through each moment alone, and her entire body shuddered, violently rejecting the thought.
What was truly out there for her, without Desdemona waiting for her return? Everything she thought she wanted felt meaningless, compared to the love that her sister had for her. Everyone and everything that she had made a commitment to, whom claimed to need her in some way, paled in comparison of the need she knew her sister truly felt for her.
What was she really giving up, to give in to her sister's only wish? What would she truly gain, to deny her?
One question remained, the only fear holding back her final choice. Wilhelmina closed her eyes as she spoke it out, tensing in anticipation of Desdemona's response.
"If…if I stay, Mona…will you?"
"Stay." The word was soft, gentle, almost a caress. "Stay, Mina. Stay."
Each muscle of her body relaxed as Wilhelmina released a sigh of acceptance, and her head drooped, then lifted in a faint nod.
"Okay," she whispered, nodding again, more definitively. "Okay. For you. I'll stay, Mona. For you."
She could feel the air grow light around her, almost dizzy with her sister's joy. Her presence began to gradually lessen in intensity, moving apart, and Wilhelmina understood without Desdemona needing to tell her so that she wanted her to follow. Rubbery legs navigated the hallway, bringing her before Desdemona's bedroom, and her stiffened fingers reached out, turning the doorknob to bring her inside.
The room looked no different than she could remember from before Wilhelmina had left, perhaps a bit mustier and darker, but not noticeably disturbed. Anything that may have once been a remnant of Desdemona's death had been removed, and Wilhelmina did not feel upset or ill at ease. In fact, she straightened her spine, confidence unfurling at each step she made. She knew that she was making the right choice. She could feel her heart lightening with this inner assurance as she stepped towards the unmade bed, lying down with her head nestling into Desdemona's pillow, pulling her sheets over her frame. She could smell her sister's scent against her cheek, still clinging to the material of the pillow case, and Wilhelmina breathed in, almost dizzy with the mingled odd combination of her sister's unseen presence and her last markers of her physical existence.
Lying with her eyes closed, Wilhelmina ignored the quickened beating of her heart. She tried to picture only calm, wordless scenes in her mind, focusing on her sister's proximity, on the faint lingering scent of her shampoo. As first her heartbeat, then her breathing began to slow, she felt a sluggish urge to reach out, certain that she would be able to touch Desdemona, hovering close by. But extending an arm felt to be an enormous amount of energy, beyond her capability of making any longer.
As her breath grew still slower, her heartbeats spacing further out, Wilhelmina realized dimly that she was not simply falling asleep, or even unconscious. Her chest felt overly heavy, struggling to take in oxygen at all, and she knew that she was growing close to being unable to draw any further breaths at all. She should be struggling, she should be fighting, she should be frightened at what she was experiencing, at the knowledge of her possible death, growing close.
But Wilhelmina felt only calm, even peace. For her sister was close, watching over her. Her sister had not left her to struggle alone. Desdemona never had done that, and now, it seemed she never would.
This hadn't been what she wanted, a life tied to her sister, and she certainly had never wanted to be tied to her in early death. But it was becoming clear, with every slowed, slurred breath, that it was always what she had needed.
LOCAL TEENAGER FOUND DEAD IN HOME
Wilhelmina Arlene Asher, 17, died in her home on December 28, 2017. Wilhelmina was found unresponsive in the bedroom of her late elder sister on the late afternoon of December 29. Efforts to revive were unsuccessful. At this time, officers investigating indicate that although the cause of death is unknown, no evidence of poisoning or drug paraphernalia was found upon the scene of death, and there is no current evidence of homicide or suicide.
"It appears that her heart simply stopped working, possibly in her sleep," stated Officer William Barrow. "Of course, we will know more when the autopsy is complete."
Miss Asher is survived by her mother, Maxine Asher, her aunt, Helen Adams, and several cousins. She had suffered the loss of her elder sister, Desdemona Asher, only three days previously.