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Population of a Dead Theatre
“So… I’m dead?”
“Which dead is this?” She asked looking around wearily, eyes roaming in the hazy darkness. He raised an eyebrow in question. She shrugged listlessly, hands digging into her mint green scrub pants. “You know. Is it Christmas Carol? Or I’m a restless soul that needs to realize I’m ready to go?”
“That all depends,” He smiled slowly, an almost teasing laugh hissing out from between his teeth as he spoke.
“On what?” She looked at him, eyes wide in confusion.
“Me?” He nodded at her skeptical frown.
“Yes. You,” Her mouth opened before closing slowly. She sat down again, taking the movie theatre seat next to his. She sat straight backed, black short cropped hair hanging forward as she buried her face in her hands. He sat forward, elbows leaning on knees. “Hey. I know this is kind of overwhelming but-“
“Overwhelming!?” She had shot up from her chair, gold flecked brown eyes glaring at him, a hysteric twinkle breaching the coffee rim of the iris. “I’m DEAD! That has to be on the top 3 things no one ever wants to experience!”
He sighed, falling back into his chair and ruffling the short dusty blond strands into place. They spiked up despite the attention. He listened to her rant, an endless stream of rhetorical questions she answered moments after catapulting them into the dull shadows of the theatre. They sat at the back of the auditorium, just below the projector, rows upon rows of seats rounding out from them. He sighed again as she droned on, having begun to pace from his legs to a few seats down the aisle and back again, thinking up scenario after scenario; her hands gesturing wildly the frustration and hysteria boiling inside. He opened one crushed pearl blue eye to watch her continue the rant.
“Kasey, Listen,” He interrupted her. Kasey’s eyes bulged and she whirled to face him, the use of her name in the death theatre (as she was aptly calling it) sending a shiver of fear down her spine.
“You… You know my name?” She whispered trying to sound incredulous but the tremor through her words squashed the rest of her confidence. He nodded, standing to his full height of just over 6 foot. He reached out slowly, palm up, a small luring smile on his face. Kasey found her hand coming up to meet his, her hand disappearing into the large gentle moving hands he possessed. She seemed dazed into silence. “What… Who are you?”
“I’m Jo Azrael,” He said softly, pulling her along and guiding her back into her seat. She looked up at him, noticing for the first time how comfortable he made her feel. He wore a black button up shirt and black slacks but no shoes or socks. He wiggled his toes as he caught her looking, smiling apologetically. “I don’t much care for shoes.”
“I… can see that,” She looked up into Jo’s placating expression and instantly felt like she was going to melt into the seat from the warmth. She felt drunk and wrapped in a warm black afghan that swallowed her like a velvet glove. “What am I doing here?”
“You’re dead,” He smirked as his leg brushed against her knee playfully. “I thought you would remember that. It’s kind of a big deal.”
The haze disappeared. Kasey rolled her eyes and leaned back in her seat, arms crossed, pouting at his small jab. “That’s not what I meant.”
Jo chuckled lightly before taking his seat and pulling a remote from its place in the cup holder between them. He smiled lightly as he twirled the sleek black plastic in his hands. “I know.”
“So if I’m dead… where-” Kasey had unfolded and gestured vaguely to the auditorium of red velvet walls and low lighting. “-is this?”
“I guess you could call it limbo,” Jo replied handing her the remote, casual and relaxed. She began to twirl it in her hands as he had done, examining it precariously.
“And this is the controller of limbo?” Skeptical eyes glanced up at him.
“It’s what your mind sees as the controller I guess,” Jo shrugged, smirking sardonically, following her movements with a glint of amusement. “Kinda cliché if you ask me.”
“I’ve seen too many movies I guess,” Kasey replied tapping the remote against the arm rest wearily and watched as the plastic made contact with the pillowed divider. “So… what do I do?”
“I don’t know. It’s different for everyone, supposedly,” Jo leaned his chin against his palm, watching the blank white screen in front of them. His eyes flicked to where Kasey’s gold brown eyes were watching him, seemingly perturbed. Jo felt his stomach sink and limbs become heavy. “What?”
“Have you ever shepherded someone on to the afterlife before?” Jo shook his head, amusement seeping back into his face in the form of a small smile that crinkled his cheeks into dimples and a twinkle in his eyes. Kasey fumed, her mouth pulling into a thin line of distaste. “I want a new guide.”
Jo guffawed, a barking laugh, hunching over slightly. “You want a new guide? Wow… I’m flattered, Kasey but I’m not your guide to the afterlife.”
“But I’m dead! I should be dancing with demons! Because I know that I’ve done a lot… a lot of bad things in my life so… premature death and an eternity in hell… punishment fits the crime, right? Why am I still here?” Jo smiled sadly as Kasey curled into her seat. Her hospital slipper clad feet came up to the seat so she could bury her head into her scrub panted legs. She sounded resigned, ready for the torment that would come. Terrified but resigned. “I’m dead so… so why? Why am I here? Stop prolonging the inevitable.”
“I never said you were gone, Kasey,” Jo whispered, his large hand running along her shoulders and settling on the back of her neck. He massaged slowly, letting his warmth seep through into Kasey’s quivering body. The haze pushed for a comeback. “There is a difference from being dead and being gone. Being dead means you can still go back. Being gone means you’ve already succumbed to death.”
Kasey snorted into her knees and twisted her head to look at him through the crook in her arm. Her eyes glittered with fear and pain but the smallest flicker of hope streaked through them like a falling star. “Why would you want to save me?”
“Everyone needs saving at some point,” Jo smiled, continuing the massage as he slid the remote from her hand. “Let’s see what’s on TV.”
He clicked the menu button, his eyes flicking from hers to the screen, a silent command to watch. Kasey lifted her head, resting her chin on her knees, watching the screen with bemusement as it wavered before a HD clear picture came through on a wobbling camera before righting itself, the static clearing life fog on a sunny day. A boy about ten with curly brown hair a shade darker than Kasey’s and golden green eyes smiled up at the camera from his place in the passenger seat of the sky blue, white cab pickup truck. Kasey’s eyes widened.
“That’s…” She unfolded and leaned forward. Jo’s hand fell away. Laughter along with sporadic singing to the radio bounced around them in the amphitheatre.
“You’re little brother, Michael,” Jo finished for her, head cast down. His hands pulling into each other, kneading away invisible kinks. He admired the wrinkles he could make by pressing the skin together. “What day was that?”
“It was… It was the day…” A solitary tear slid down her cheek. Jo flinched at the small glittering light that reflected from it as the tear dripped off her chin. “It was the day he died.”
[“You promise he’ll come?”Michael smiled up at her, twirling the soccer ball in his hand. Kasey rolled her eyes and pulled into the parking space just on the north side of the soccer fields. She cut the engine and turned fully, taking the soccer ball from him. Kasey looked her brother square in the eye.
“He’s coming. I got him to promise no matter what happens,” She said twirling the soccer ball in her hands, staring intently at Michael’s smooth baby fat cheeks that he had yet to grow out of. Kasey pulled on them for good measure. Michael pushed her away.
“Hey!” He laughed as she descended on him with one hand tickling him incessantly, the other focused on holding the soccer ball.
“No matter if the moon falls from the sky! Or the traffic lights all fizzle out and die! Or if pigs miraculously learn to fly and he has to become a pig wrangler!” Kasey crooned as they both dissolved into giggles, leaning against the head rest. Michael stared at her gasping for air. He smiled slowly and looked to the riveted leather, his hand fumbling over it.
“Ok…I trust you, Kase,” Michael whispered. Kasey sighed and ruffled his hair.
“Get going, Mikey,” He shrugged away from her hand, stifling an offended gasp with a childish grin. He waved and hopped out of the truck turning to catch the soccer ball as Kasey tossed it to him. “Have fun.”
Michael nodded, grinning, dimples squishing his face into wrinkles as he ran towards the field, bag banging along at his hip.]
“This is hell isn’t it?” Kasey whispered brokenly, voice cracking and dying off. She was slumped back against the chair, looking boneless and broken. Her eyes were dull pieces of autumn bark watching and waiting for the next stake to rip another piece away. “Making me see what I took from the world? I already know what I took. Mikey… he was my little brother. I know what I did. Just…”
Tears bubbled up and slid down her cheeks. Kasey adverted her eyes to glare at the black threads of the seat. She bit her lip and burrowed half her face into the cushion, unable to even bear keeping her eyes open against the dull light of the theatre. Jo was in a similar position, mirroring her perfectly except for the slight slump of his posture as he had a lot more space to go for his head to touch the headrest comfortably.
“You know,” He whispered hoarsely. “I know you don’t want to hear any of this. You want to go to whatever you think you deserve.”
“Then why aren’t you letting me?” Kasey’s eyes flashed open and she gripped the armrest between them for support. She pulled herself upright and steadied her swaying body and mind. Her face melted into a pleading, hopeful smile. “You understand… So just let me go to where I belong.”
“You don’t belong there, Kasey,” Jo whispered, his crushed pearl blue eyes glancing at the screen again as the screech of tires came over the surround sound system. Kasey’s entire body flinched, curling in around her middle as if she’d been stabbed when her voice echoed over the humming of the idling engine of her truck. The speakers adjusted and lowered the volume, the thundering roll of the engine drained out by the voice coming from them. Jo continued in his husky whisper which forced Kasey to watch him, watch his lips form words she didn’t want to hear but could only obey out of a hope to see something different. Something better than her reality. “Look at the screen, Kasey.”
Kasey turned her head before her eyes moved from his reassuringly calm face, the small acceptingly sad smile pushing her forward. Her eyes fell on the screen and she closed them in shock.
[“Michael!” She was jumping out of the cab and running for the park bench, desperation grabbing hold and pulling her faster across the grassy knolls surrounding the park. “Michael!”
The coach looked up from where he was rubbing soothing circles in Michael’s shoulders. Kasey collapsed to her knees in front of her brother looking up at the nameless coach with a grateful smile of relief.
“I’m so sorry,” She said it out loud, more to Michael than to the coach but he nodded his head in acceptance.
“I’ll see you on Saturday, Mikey,” He waved and jogged off, casting a small glance over his shoulder. Kasey turned back to her brother and rested her hands on his knees which he promptly shrugged off.
“Let’s just go,” He whispered dejectedly grabbing his bag and standing. Kasey let her hands fall uselessly to her sides and stood up with him. She grabbed the soccer ball and twirled it in her hands mulling in her own thoughts. Michael stopped a few feet in front of her. Kasey waited patiently, admiring the stitching of the black and red soccer ball. Her eyes drifted up as Michael turned around, grass tangling in his cleats and Kasey had already dropped the soccer ball to pull his tear streaked face to her stomach. Michael wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly to bury his head further into the folds of her jacket and shirt.
“I’m so sorry, Michael,” Kasey whispered, draping her arms around his back and running a hand through his hair. She bowed her head, her hair falling from behind its restricting head band to fall around her face. “I’m just so sorry.”]
“Our dad… He… he wasn’t around much,” Kasey whispered. She was curled up in the seat, knees beneath her hands tightly held to her stomach as she sat sideways in the chair. She was trying to burrow into the seats. Disappear into its black depths. “I basically took care of Michael while he… he just gave us money. My mom… she left when Mikey was two. He never really got to know her.”
“It wasn’t your fault she left,” Kasey shook her head at Jo’s words. He smirked and shook his head in exasperation, leaning back and stretching his legs out to rest between the seats in front of him. Jo watched the dark ceiling as he continued. “You were only a child. What? 8 years old? How could you have done anything to stop her? How could have done anything so horrible that she would leave you?”
“I know that,” Kasey whispered defensively, tugging at a stray string on the seat. “She left because my dad’s not a nice person.”
“Not a nice person is putting it lightly,” Jo muttered deftly, gauging Kasey’s reaction from the corner of his eye. Her smirk made her eyes’ glitter and Jo smiled at his achievement. He lowered his voice slightly. “If you know that then why do you blame your brother’s death on yourself?”
“Because… I…” She looked around helplessly, a list of options she couldn’t apply to the whirlwind of emotions darkening her eyes.
“Kasey… What do you remember about that night?” Jo treaded lightly, checking his words over for sharp edges. Kasey looked up at him and Jo almost recoiled at the fear in her eyes, the golden flecks dimming to an ugly brass. She was almost in a trance as she spoke softly, the tremble cracking her voice. The numbers scrolled on the screen, old fashion black and white.
“We were listening to Let it Be by the Beatles,” [The song lilted over the hum of the trucks engine and the muted words Michael spoke into the cell phone. Kasey tightened her grip on the wheel, glancing to the passenger seat at the lulls in the conversation. Michael was leaned up against the window, hand running a groove in the window, phone pressed to his ear.
“Yeah dad,” A sigh. “You promised.” The boy shook his head. “I know Dad.” He laughed lightly and Kasey was almost afraid she would break something; the steering wheel or her hands. Didn’t really matter at this point. “Thanks Dad. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Michael looked at Kasey and handed her the phone, taking her blank expression as concentration on the road. “Dad wants to talk to you.”
She ground her teeth and took it. “What?”
“I know you’re upset with me,”
“This goes beyond being upset,” Kasey cut him off. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. You promised him.”
“I don’t care, Dad,” She snapped. “You can blame me and do whatever you want to me but you can’t break a promise to him.”
“Kasey I am not having this argument. Not again!” He snarled over the phone. Kasey flinched at the sharpness that penetrated the distance between them. She bit her lip and slowed the car as she came to a red light. Her father heaved a controlling breath and continued, his calm and condescending manner back in place. The perfect pacifying tone tinged with a superior complex that Kasey wished could be beaten out of her father’s head. “Now. I’m taking him out on Saturday. We’re going to lunch and then I’ll take him to the Baseball game downtown. You’re-“
“Michael hates baseball, Dad,” Kasey glanced at her brother, noticing how he paled. She frowned her apologies at him, seeing the way his entire face drooped. Michael turned from her silently, the façade of happiness he’d been holding up slipping away, into a relieved sadness.
“He’s forgiven me, Kasey and this way we can spend time together,”
“You just don’t get it, Dad! He’s only forgiven you because he wants to spend time with his dad!” Kasey yelled. She sucked in a shuttering breath and let her head fall forward slightly. “You’re his father. You’re supposed to want to spend time doing things that make him happy.”
“He enjoys spending time with me so Saturday is exactly what will make him happy, Kasey,” Kasey glanced sideways at Michael. He looked so much smaller, curled up in the seat, forehead pressed to the glass.
“He has a soccer game, Saturday… Couldn’t you take him out to lunch and then come to the game?” Kasey sighed glancing to where Michael was tense while he listened, hand gripping the edge of the door like he would fall off the seat and plummet into its green depths. She lowered her voice. Submissive requests worked sometimes. “He’s really good, Dad.”]
“He said no…” She whispered. Sometime during the scene, Kasey had stood and walked down the stairs to stand before the screen, looking up with rapture at her little brother’s face. The picture froze on his face, hopeful and attentive and Kasey forced herself to look away, wrapping her arms around herself. “My dad said no. He refused. It was his way or no way and I…. I took that from Michael. I took dad from him.”
“You we’re trying to help,” Jo supplied.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Kasey murmured dejectedly and looked up at the screen. “Why did it happen to him? Why didn’t I let him go? Why did I argue with my dad?! If I had just said ok then… then…”
Kasey’s head dropped and she ran her hands through her short cropped hair, tugging the smooth glossy roots. Jo stepped forward, standing just behind her and slowly encircled his arms around her upper body. He trapped her elbows to her chest, her hands hovering near her cheeks. Kasey fought against the hold but the sobs wracked her body, silent but with hurricane force. She trembled, leaning forward, testing the strength of his arms before she collapsed into it, close to the edge and slipping fast. Kasey clung to Jo, her arms crossing just under her throat and gripping his arms.
“Watch the screen, Kase,” He murmured into her scalp. “I know it hurts…. I know… But please… Look at the screen. It’s almost over. He’s almost here.”
[“He’s never going to do anything with me ever again, Kase,” Michael glared out the window, giving Kasey an indignant glance.
“He’s an idiot Mikey! He takes advantage of you no matter what anyone says! You’re not something that he can just use and then throw away expecting to be welcomed back with open arms!” Kasey defended, glancing up at the still red light. She sighed, slumping in her seat and turning slightly to look at her little brother. “You don’t deserve it.”
“Least I was spending time with him,” Michael chipped over his shoulder, an insolent glare tinting the words further. Kasey held his gaze for a moment, the accusing in his green eyes, the bright neon sign saying “This is your fault!” screaming at her. She turned from him, cursing the sky for being so beautifully painted, the light for turning green too late to stop the argument and the man sitting in his office like a criminal mastermind plotting how to spend his winnings. Kasey gave one last glance at Michael as she eased into the intersection, green light overhead when blaring light filtered through the car, blinding her. It turned Michael’s frame into a shadow as the beams of light bared down on them and Kasey felt her breathing catch. The fisherman’s hook dug into her chest, hooking on her right lowest rib and jerking as she reached out towards the passenger seat. The pain of the hook was squashed by the vice tightening around her chest, the only sign that fear had taken over and induced her primal instincts. “MICHAEL!”
The tinkling of glass skittering across asphalt and metal bending into elaborate and horrific shapes filled the air surrounding her scream.]
“When I woke up…. When I woke up!” Her voice creaked like rickety stairs and she pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes. Jo had guided her to a chair in the front row of the back section, settling himself next to her. The sob hacked like a bad cough but she scuffled in a breath trying to calm the nerves dancing beneath her skin. Jo laid his hand on her arm, his warm touch suddenly pool water cool and it soothed the nerves, slinking up her arms like a soft blanket. Kasey continued, her voice softer and controlled, the occasional hitch of breath breaking through. “He was… he was gone…. He’d died alone and I… I was still here…. I had a concussion and a broken wrist but I was… I was alive… Mikey… he shouldn’t have died. He didn’t deserve it. I should’ve…. It should’ve been me… Not him….. It should have been me.”
Kasey’s voice had steadily gone silent and Jo patted her arm, sighing. He closed his eyes, willing the pain away; hers more than his.
“What could you have done Kasey?” He whispered, eyes burning with compassion and an unwilling glimmer of truth. “What could you have done to stop this from happening? Your brother being killed? The driver taking a drink and then getting in his car? What? Because last time I checked, you’re still human. We’re all human.”
“It was my job,”
“And you did your best,” Jo whispered forcefully, lowering his head and feeling the sting in his eyes. He was preaching to himself.
“My best wasn’t good enough,” Kasey muttered dejectedly, looking away from him. “My brother died and I lived. It’s not fair.”
“Life isn’t supposed to be fair, Kasey,” Jo replied wearily, picking at the knee of his pants. “We’re not superheroes. We don’t get to save the world. We have to have our flaws.”
“Why? Why do we have to have them? They make life hell,” Kasey turned back to him and scrunched up in her seat again, curling around and leaning on the arm rest, her expression that of a child expecting a really good tale of a heroic adventure. Jo leaned back and smiled at her kindly.
“But that’s what life is. You get too triumphant and fail, win and lose. It’s all a part of,” He paused, finding the words hard to swallow. “Living. It’s all a part of finding who you’re supposed to be.”
They went on in silence. Kasey looking up at him, expectantly, processing his words as the tears dried on her cheeks. Jo smiling nostalgically and just a tad bit sorrowful as he watched the reason come to her.
“But I killed him,” She denied the reasoning, attempting to squash it beneath an already cracked rock.
“No. You survived and you feel guilty but all the guilt in the world, all the wallowing in your life isn’t going to help, Kasey,” He whispered, looking away, his head rolling on his neck. “It’s only going to drag you deeper and then…. Then you won’t be able to live. And that… that is the real tragedy. Not being able to live.”
“He could have had more,” Kasey sat up, tilting away, arms resting across her stomach. The crack deepened, branching from within.
“But he didn’t,” Jo whispered, looking back at her, an odd burning fire back in his eyes. “He had you. Michael had you and with every memory in your head he always loved having you. Not anyone else. Just you. Why would that change once he was gone? Why would he suddenly hate you? The person he has loved, looked up to, relied upon and trusted since he probably was born. Why… why would he suddenly hate you?”
Kasey swallowed thickly, feeling like tar had camped out in her throat. Tears bubbled in her eyes but only one fell. It dribbled down her cheek, leaving a glistening trail. Kasey rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand, sucking in a shallow breath that succeeded in fueling the tears further. The rock had shattered. Jo smiled at her as the tears of joy dripped slowly and deliberately off her cheeks. Kasey savored the feeling as her eyes glowed, the gold flecks dancing in the brown crusted orchard. Her face beamed, the small glowing smile that made her water strewn cheeks hike up and become full with relieved laughter. Jo reached over and wiped away one of the tears, laughing with her, low and deep as she attempted to stop the tears with the back of her hand. The lights faded on and the projector shut off. “Time to go, Kasey. He’s here.”
“Who’s-“ She pulled in a breath, the tears slowing and drying on her cheeks. Jo stood and offered her a hand. “he?”
“You’re guide to the afterlife,” Jo said softly gently guiding Kasey to her feet. She straightened like a pole had replaced her back and she looked at Jo with wide eyes.
“I’m… I’m not going back?” She whispered. Jo smiled sadly.
“No… you’ve done what you were supposed to do,” He replied watching her closely, his own face trying to mask the sorrow that paled his eyes. Kasey shook her head.
“But this…. All this,” She gestured around the theatre and then to the screen which had gone blank, her arms wide and questioning. “What was the point of all of this? What was I supposed to have done?”
“Forgive yourself,” Kasey whipped around, slippers gaining purchase on the carpet and nearly sending her careening to her knees. Her mouth opened, forming silent words as the inevitable happened and her knees gave out. He stood in front of her, grinning like he did when he sped past his opponent, streaking towards the goal.
“Michael,” Somehow his grin stretched wider as the word tumbled from her lips, quaking in a storm of emotion. Michael stood before her, dressed in his soccer jersey and shorts. His hair was still an untidy mop on his head and his green eyes were glimmering stars.
“Hey Kasey!” Michael replied with the enthusiasm of a gust of wind, brushing over her entirely. He bounced with the energy. It almost seemed inappropriate.
“Michael,” Kasey said, a steel rod of determination through his name as she levered herself up unsteadily to her feet. Michael reached out just as Kasey stumbled into him. They pulled each other closer, hugging and laughing in joyful relief before Kasey pulled Michael away to look him over thoroughly. She let out a calming sigh and knelt down in front of him, looking up into his face, smiling despite her trembling lower lip. Kasey reached out and gripped his elbows, holding on for dear life as she hiccupped back a sob. “I missed you… so much.”
Michael gulped and licked his lips, his eyes dancing with tears unshed. He stood still under her gaze, the fire of insanity and longing slowly being overcome by cooling pools of relief. He tried to reign in his words as he ducked his head. “I-I missed… you too.”
Kasey wrapped her arms around his back and buried her head in his stomach, the reversal from their last night filling the space that her newly released guilt had vacated. She felt warm; a feeling that had eluded her even on the sunniest beaches but tears still flowed down her cheeks, still warm against the burning of happiness that traveled throughout.
Jo watched with a slight pit in his stomach, twirling slowly against the walls of his stomach. It felt cold while the rest of his body was delightfully warm. Kasey had found what she needed from life, had let go of what was holding her back. Jo tried to hold up the happy smile; tried to keep the façade in place. The happy siblings didn’t need to see the pain splashing across his face. Michael looked up, his eyes suddenly older as they looked into Jo’s.
“They said if you couldn’t help her then no one could help you,” Michael spoke softly, his arms subconsciously tightening around his sister’s back. He hesitated before speaking, his face marred with a frown. “Did… Did she help you?”
Jo sighed at the question looking to the blank screen, wishing for things that were out of his grasp. Selfish things. His crushed pearl blue eyes looked back at Michael with an intensity of sadness so deep that the blue resembled the frozen icebergs buried beneath hundreds of feet of Arctic ocean. Michael held his sister tighter, the sorrow striking through him with lightening force. Kasey was lost in the folds of his jersey, unwilling and unwavering in her resolve to never let him go. She remained unaware of the look Jo was giving her. Unaware of the terrified sorrow that paled his eyes to the murky gray of toner ink. He sighed, looking to Michael with the paling eyes.
“Guess I did my job,” Jo remarked, putting a slight edge of happiness into his voice. He scuffed his toes against the carpet, welcoming the rug burning against the toughened skin, hands fisted deep in his pockets. Jo let out a blithering and silent sigh, his shoulder sagging as he turned heading for the side door marked with a brilliant green EXIT sign overhead. “You two… have a good afterlife.”
He reached the door and pushed it open, light spilling into the theatre, a blinding sliver of hope streaking across the darkness. “Why’d you help her, Jo? Why’d you help her if it meant you losing so much? Why!”
“Sometimes,” Jo cut him off eloquently, his voice booming in its whisper. He paused, hand pressed flat against the door, head lowered. He was slightly turned, arm at his side, profiled by the sliver of light, eyes scanning the floor. “People will go to hell because they believe they truly deserve it. Because they carry so much guilt that nothing in their life can bring the meaning that they lost. It takes someone else to send them to heaven. Someone else has to make them realize that they have meaning. That they didn’t destroy their purpose. Sometimes you can change your fate if you’re given the chance to change your mind.”
Jo’s eyes flicked up and bore into Michael’s, the burning crushed pearl blue alight with a flame of a dying star, smoldering the brightest just before it is extinguished. His face was set in a determined blankness, lips closed but not pursed, face slack but not drooping. Kasey twisted, her eyes watching Jo’s body tighten and the muscles strengthen as he pushed the door open further, more light shedding into the room. The smile that slid onto his face was of a man on his death bed, realizing he’d lived a good life and embracing his fate, all happiness directed at those around him.
“Sometimes, saving someone else,” Jo pushed the door open, stepping into the light, his shoulders straight. He turned to get one last look, eyes roaming over the siblings. “Makes it easier to save yourself.”
The warmth of the light brushed across him, painting his body in the hues of black and white. Michael and Kasey flinched, hiding their eyes at the intense light, their attempts at watching him blinded to a halt. Jo disappeared into the luminosity beyond the door, becoming a shadow fading away into primer white, one speck at a time.
“Joseph,” The doctor was quiet, attempting to keep a blank face as she stared him down, shattering news on the edge of her tongue from the way she clutched Jo’s chart. Jo had been awake for hours, staring out the window in his room. The room was a pale blue, linoleum flooring that was flecked with blue and black and wooden doors that swung open with too much ease. He hadn’t responded to anyone or shown signs that he understood where he was. “Your wife, Kasey… She died at 9:37 this morning. There was too much damage to her organs and she bled out…. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
The smile that played across his lips made the doctor start, the reaction unexpected for the nearly catatonic man. Jo’s eyes, a sharp pearl blue looked at her imploringly. He tilted his head slightly to the side, his face still tranquilly blank. “She was ready to go. She’d done what she needed to do.”
The doctor took a step back from the situation as Jo looked back out the window. He was completely relaxed, smiling benevolently at the small park that bordered this wing of the hospital. The doctor felt her head slide to the right as she surveyed him. Jo looked at peace, like he’d been handed the ticket to the train called life and he had a free uninterrupted ride. “Are you going to be alright, Mr. Morris?”
Jo looked at her and the smile that stretched across his face was genuine. The myriad of emotions it held were complex and reassured the doctor that Jo was in fact lucid and understanding of the situation, despite his lack of reaction.
“You have to understand. Kasey has been living her life in the shadows for years. We both have but now… Now she’s free,” Jo looked back out the window, the white light of sun cascading in through the blinds, chirping birds heard through the glass. “And I know how to live in the sun again.”
“Mr. Morris… Joseph,” The doctor spoke softly, taking a step closer and resting her hand on his ankle. Jo looked up at her, tears slowly trailing down his cheeks, tracking through the smiling wrinkles of his face. “Are you going to be alright?”
“Yeah,” He nodded once, sounding breathless and relieved. “I’m going to be fine.”