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That Mountain You've Been Climbing
The light filtering through blue calico curtains illuminated a sparsely decorated room. On one side of the room was a tall brown chest of drawers, on the other was a squat little book shelf that extended along the entire span of the wall. The very center of the room housed the bed. A scent of lavender and wildflowers clung to the patchwork quilt draped over the bed and over the limp form within it. Ellen could hear the normal breakfast noise drifting up the stairs. A spoon scraping against a bowl for that last cornflake, a bit of chatter from the radio fallowed by a pause and a thunk as it was turned off and a glass was set down on the kitchen table. She snuggled deeper into the covers. If she went back to sleep, she wouldn’t have to think. She wasn’t sure if it was feeling, or lack there of, that had left that hollow space in the pit of her stomach every waking moment since the neural oncologist, Doctor Grahm, had told her about the illness.
Just as the sunlight had penetrated her curtains, sunlight turned the insides of her eyelids from a void, to a constant red glowing reminder of her pain. It was like having a traffic light pressed up against her eye socket. The doorbell rang downstairs; Ellen listened to her father’s receding foot steps on the tile of the front hallway. The front door squealed reluctantly into movement, coaxed by her father’s patience and determination as much as his prying finger tips. When the Callaways had first moved into their house in the suburbs, the door had been painted shut, as well as being a bit water logged. The rest of the house had been cheerful enough after the vines had been pulled from the red bricks that covered the front of the house, and after the metallic blue wallpaper had been removed from the bathroom. However, the thing Ellen had always loved the most about their house were the stairs, more specifically, the stairs directly across from the aforementioned door. These stairs had a magnificent shiny banister of dark polished wood, and the very tip of those stairs peeped out just enough for one to climb up the edge, while pretending to climb Mt. Everest. The banister also served as an excellent slide on rainy days. One of the pictures of Ellen that had been Mrs. Callaways favorite had been taken on such a day. Ellen had always liked the picture too. Partly because it had been her mothers very favorite and partly because she thought it made her unruly auburn hair and strange green -- blue eyes look almost majestic.
“Ellen.” Rebeka Bradley’s voice had a soft but determined quality as she knocked on the door, but, as usual, her twin sister took up the plea. Eliza Bradley’s voice was much more forceful than Rebeka’s. “You can’t hide in there forever, Ellen.”
“Last time I checked this was called sleeping.” She replied while hauling herself out of bed. She knew it was pointless to argue too long with her friends, the Bradley twins. She pulled on a pair of jeans over her Winnie the Pooh pajamas and unlocked the door. Though her door was quite new and hardly as difficult to open as the ornery old front door, it seemed to take twice as long to open. As soon as it did so, both Bradleys poured into the room, seeming more like ten people than two. Eliza had cropped blond hair, was all arms and legs, and moved around more like a whirling dervish than a girl. Rebeka was shorter with longer hair, a darker complexion, and a much more reserved personality than her twin sister. Eliza came into the room as though she lived there, straightening up the books scattered over the top of the bed and opening up a few windows.
As the last window went up Eliza declared, “And then there was light, and Eliza said it was good.” Ellen couldn’t help herself, a gurgling laugh bubbled up from her lips. “That’s more like it!” cried Eliza, “You looked pale as a ghost.”
As quickly as the laughter had come it was replaced by tears rolling down her cheeks. “That might be an accurate description.” At this Eliza slid off of the bed where she had been perched and wrapped her arms around Ellen’s frail frame.
“It’s gonna be alright Ellen.” As Eliza released her grip Ellen felt a hand being set down upon her shoulder, as light and fluttery as a butterfly. Ellen turned around and looked into Rebeka’s dark solemn eyes.
“We’re going to be right here for you Ellen, right here.” This, more than any of Eliza’s bravado, comforted Ellen, the sobs that had wracked her body were slowly replaced by slow deep breaths, as if she were sleeping. After a period of time during which Eliza, who was unaccustomed to staying in one place for very long, began to fidget, Ellen broke the silence.
“I’m so afraid.” she whispered, “Even when I was younger I was afraid of death. You know…” she let her sentence trail off. “I didn’t believe it when Doctor Grahm told me I had an inoperable brain tumor. I’d just been having some headaches.” Ellen couldn’t keep fresh tears from trailing down her cheeks.
“We’ll help you Ellen. I promised we’d be there for you, and I never go back on a promise.” Eliza, who was on the verge of having a spasm from being inactive for so long, hopped off the bed and wrapped her bony arm once more around Ellen’s waist.
“Let’s go.” She whispered in Ellen’s ear. Ellen looked up at Eliza and took a deep shuddering breath, suddenly realizing what Eliza meant.
The graveyard was oddly still as the threesome stepped through the gate. Even though the sun shown brightly on the earthy mounds that surrounded them, like squares on a checkerboard, no one else was there. At the very back of the graveyard was a low grassy hill that, until several years before, had been just and empty patch of land. It was to this hill that the girls walked, hand in hand, winding their way through the newer graves. The grave on top of the hill had long ago been grown over by grass and flowers, but all the weeds had been pulled out, she knew, by her father’s gentle hands. Ellen dropped to her knees and dug her own pale hands, so much like his, into the red-brown clay under the thick grasses, red against white, blood against bone. Rebeka backed up, pulling Eliza with her, to give Ellen some privacy. Ellen reached out with one of her hands and traced the name inscribed on the marble tombstone with her index finger, “Laura Callaway”.
“Mama,” she whispered, “I’ve been avoiding this place for a long time.” She paused to take a deep breath and to look around. “And it wasn’t because of all those horror movies, like I told dad. I’ve spent all these years running away from you, and now I don’t have anywhere else to run.” Ellen stretched out, and gently lowered herself down till the side of her face was pressed against the ground. “But you know what mama? I’m not afraid anymore.”