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Oscar and Alphonse This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Caroline Stanton knew, unequivocally, that it was impossible for people to die twice. She would repeat this fact to herself quietly throughout the day as she walked through the sun drenched rooms of her house by the woods. Mrs. Stanton would whisper “They’re gone, and they can’t be taken again,” as she shook the dust from the velvet curtains in the drawing room with a disproportionate intensity. As she beat the curtains, little breaths of dust would escape from the thick fabric, illuminated by the beams of sunlight which peaked through the folds of velvet. “They can’t die again,” Mrs. Stanton would tell the tiny particles as they spun off lazily into space. “They can’t.” As the last puff of dust expanded into nothing, she would then turn on her heel and for a moment, everything would be in proper accord. The curtains were free of dust, and death was neatly at bay. Perhaps, if Caroline ever truly accepted Death, Death would stop using the shrieking of a tea kettle, or tinkering of breaking china, or a door slamming across the hallway to assert his presence in the house of stone. But as it was, Caroline blatantly refused to compromise with her great hooded enemy and so, every time something caught Caroline Stanton off guard, the unbearable heat of loss would sweep over her body like a wave crashing to the shore. Caroline Stanton would collapse, and, despite what she told herself that she knew, it would be just as if her sons, Oscar and Alphonse, had died again.
One September afternoon, a five year old Louise Stanton watched concernedly as her mother struggled in vain against the tide of grief. If Louise had waited a few moments longer, she would have seen her mother collapse to her knees with a dull thud on the carpet, begging silently with Death to let her and the stone house be. She didn’t wait, though. Louise, after a brief consultation with her brothers, Oscar and Alphonse, decided that now was not the best time to go to downstairs for breakfast. She stuck her thumb in her mouth, and with Oscar and Alphonse tucked tightly under her armpits, plodded back down the hallway to her bedroom.
The spacious room greeted her with its usual kiss of pink. Light streamed through the half opened fuchsia curtains; illuminating the wall mural depicting giant pink butterflies alighting on giant pink roses. Her bed was also pink. The towering four poster bed was so large and so completely covered in big puffy blankets and frilly pink throw pillows that, once Louise had heaved herself upon it, there was hardly room for her two teddy bears, Oscar and Alphonse to sit, much less her five year old self. Pushing her chunky bangs from her face, Louise cleared a space for her brothers to rest. Once they were firmly situated, Louise kissed them both on the head. “Go to sleep, babies,” She told them, “I’ll wake you up when I’ve made the soup.” As her brother’s dozed off behind her, Louise began to gather, from the giant cupboard that her bed had become, glitter and cake and strawberries and potatoes and the other necessary ingredients for soup. She heard Oscar start to snore behind her, and she giggled. After a few intense minutes of cutting, pouring and stirring, Louise called out in a chipper voice, “Soup’s on!” which is what she believed people said in such situations. As she poured the steaming broth in big diamond bowls for her brothers (who always ravenous after their naptime), she sang a little song she made up “My brothers are still with me, it is plain to see. Oh yes, yes , yes my brothers, yes they are here with me.”
Death was rather hard to conceptualize as a five year old. You see, little Louise had grown up with Oscar and Alphonse pounding through the stone house, filling it daily with shrieks of laughter, sword fights, hide and go seek games and little treasures they found for her from the outside. Louise had grown up watching their every move with wide, delighted eyes, and she had crawled, then walked, then ran after them. When one day they didn’t come back from the woods, Louise had whined, then cried, then screamed for them. She had clung to her mother’s skirts, her father’s smooth hands, and had been encompassed in the sweet smelling hugs of aunties and uncles and grandmothers, but she still hadn’t seen her brothers. After a few days, the front door stopped opening, filling the house with light and relatives and pot roasts. Death had started sending barking dogs and knocks on the door and the backfiring of automobiles to her mother, and her father started staying at work all night, then never coming home at all. One day, Louise began to play a make believe game that Oscar and Alphonse were with her again, laughing at her funny jokes and eating her delicious soups and listening to her sing and dance to the songs she that wrote herself. She had two mostly identical teddy bears had started out as place holders for her two mostly identical brothers. Gradually, magically, to Louise, they became Oscar and Fonzie. Death hovered around the ceiling of the very big, pink room and watched the three of them play. He sighed a deep sigh because he could not find any room in the big stone house in which to grow up. He worried his eternal infancy in the stone house would lead to problems. Louise spun and spun below him, laughing gaily as the bears watched her. Perhaps she would grow to meet him, thought Death idly.
By the time Louise Stanton had turned seven and a half, she had decided that the teddy bears no longer looked like Oscar and Alphonse to her. Brothers, she told herself, did not have arms that got torn off or stuffing that fell out during pillow fights. Sometimes she thought they weren’t listening to her stories, either, and brothers certainly did not do that. Louise sat on her puffy pink bed as sunlight peeked through the curtains. She was staring at the bears. Death watched from above, his breath bated. This looked like progress. A hot knot began to swell in Louise’s stomach, and her eyes blurred with tears as she realized that the bears couldn’t see her. With what Death thought was tremendous bravery, Louise picked up the two bears that she knew were not her brother’s anymore and scooted off of the side of the puffy pink bed to ground. She put the two mostly identical bears underneath her bed, exhaled, and slowly retracted her arms, her little fingers dragging against the carpet. Death descended excitedly from the ceiling and wrapped his arms around the little girl, who screamed and shook him off. Louise tore down the staircase, past her mother staring at the velvet curtained windows, through the door and down the porch steps and into the garden by the woods.
Louise collapsed on upon the stone bench, her chest heaving jerkily. Her entire face hurt, her throat burned. Futilely, desperately Louise ‘s hands balled into firsts, then unfurled against the cool stone; her bare feet dug into the earth. She looked around wildly, trying to find something that would comfort her. Finding nothing, she finally began to cry. Sun pouring through puffy white clouds dappled the ground, and birds chirped contentedly from the treetops. Nearby a shiny black beetle shimmied under his great heft, trying to climb up a tomato stalk. Death watched placidly from above as Louise looked down at her small hand, startled by a tickling on her palm.
A fantastically bright caterpillar was shifting gently across it, with long black hairs that swayed back and forth peacefully in the April breeze. Though she was trying to remain very still, lest the insect be frightened away, Louise gasped when a second caterpillar, almost identical to the first, meandered over her palm to join his friend. For a glorious moment, it was them. Louise cupped her hand and brought it to her face. “You came back to me,” whispered the girl, her stomach filling with something like euphoria. The caterpillars, for their part, did not seem to care for the commotion, and began to shimmy frantically over her hands. Birds chirped overheard, and the euphoria slowly faded. Suddenly, seven and a half year old Louise Stanton knew one thing was unequivocally certain, and that was that these caterpillars were only caterpillars. She knew it was time to send them back. The caterpillars softly wiggled in her hand, spelling out “goodbye”. Louise set them back down on the cool stone bench, and they wiggled away, illuminated by the April sun. Death sat down beside Louise on the stone bench in the garden, gently putting his arm around her little shoulders. They watched in silence as the happily singing birds swooped in and out of the trees.



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