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“You’re killing me?”
His voice is hoarse as he whispers across the white space. The words fall like drops from a leaking faucet, too hard and too loud.
I’m staring at him and, improbable as it is, he is staring back at me. His breath is coming in wisps.
“It’s not…killing, exactly,” I say, trying to persuade him. Trying to persuade myself. “It’s like…well, it will seem like death to the others. They’ll think you’re dead.”
“Oh.” Crushed breath from crushed lungs. In. Out. In. Out. “Oh.”
He stares at the nothing.
“Do I get to see them again?”
“Well…” I stop myself. Will he get to see them again? By “them,” of course, I mean his brother, his parents, everyone else in the book. Will he get to see them? “I guess…sure you could. You always can, you know. You just won’t see them, you know, in the actual story again.”
“So I won’t know if they die?”
Blood flowing, heart beating. Virtue and vice, thumping in rhythm.
“I don’t know.”
There. I’ve said it. I am kneeling on the white space across from him now. Blank sky and a blank ground. Crushed lungs filling. I can hear him not asking the questions, and I can hear my answers unspoken.
Will it hurt?
I don’t know.
Will they cry?
I don’t know.
Will they ever go home?
I don’t know.
Will the bad guys kill them?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
I don’t know how, but he’s suddenly grasping my fingers, clenching and curling them up tight until it looks as though his hands might break. Those hands…I gave him those hands, bestowed upon him every last detail of the thin face with its round, grey eyes. He’s like a child – well, I mean, he is still a child. He’s only, what, twelve? Ten years old when he was born. But he’s like my child. My child, and for some reason it’s suddenly hard to just let him go.
“I don’t want to die,” he whispers. I don’t want to die. Right now, he, along with his brother and three others, is struggling along a vast, barren plain covered in eternal snow, lucky to survive every day. Dying would be so much easier. No more cold, no more pain or disease, no paying the price if you survive to the end of the story. But for some reason, he wants to live.
And I can’t figure out why.
His eyes are shining with tears in the blank space, and I turn my hands to hold his gently.
“My brother,” he whispers. “Will he die?”
“Well – well, no, I guess. He’s the main character, so I can’t exactly…” My voice trails off, and I smile sheepishly. Tactlessly.
To my surprise, he merely nods. “I’m glad,” he says quietly.
His hands are exactly the size of mine. Fitting, since it is my hands that created him.
“Listen.” I speak his name. I’m the one who taught him that name, going through dozens of others before deciding on one. It speaks of his innocence, his youth.
It speaks of vulnerability.
“Your brother – he’ll be okay. They’ll all be okay. They’ll miss you, but they won’t forget you. And when the time comes, you’ll see them. I promise.”
He is silent. “Okay.”
Keeping his fingers in mine, I stand, pulling him up with me. I smile and brush some of the dark waves of hair from his forehead. When he was born, I did not believe it possible, but now, he smiles back.
Now the emptiness around us is closing in, the real world threatening to take over. Who knew I would grow so fond of him? I was not meant to love him, but he is a part of me. After all, our hands are exactly the same size.
It will not hurt. That much I know – he will not hurt when he is dead.
So I speak his name for the final time.
And I let go.