by Tallis Baker, Age 16, Australia
The February fiction prompt required the writers to begin their entry with, “The minute my eyelids fluttered open, I was aware that I was not in my own room.”
Imprint on Life
The minute my eyelids fluttered open, I was aware that I was not in my own room.
The first thing I noticed was the absence of any smell. There was that undefinable lack of even the scent of fresh air that comes with being outside. As far as I could see were stone headboards in rows, and at the base of almost every headboard was a bouquet of flowers: some wilting, some fresh. I looked down and saw a wooden box, as long as I was tall, with soft coverings and flowers all around.
Many people were standing solemnly by the nearest headboard. I examined them closely and realised that they were all people I knew. A tall woman was holding a damp handkerchief in shaking hands, and as she sniffed loudly, the man next to her put his arm around her. Tears were rolling down his face, which alarmed me––when had Dad ever cried?
Maybe something had happened to Mary––but no, my younger sister was there, in a drab dress, plump face pale, holding my mother’s hand.
I cast my eyes around and more familiar faces jumped out at me: my aunts Jenny and Myra, Uncle Ralph, my four cousins, my two best friends from school, even my grandparents, facing a grave man in black. But––my mum’s parents, Hillary and Marcus, were standing just behind their daughter, and my dad’s parents, Janet and Joseph, who had died when I was five, stood at the back of the crowd. They alone of all assembled there looked at me, caught my eye. Grandma winked at me.
Funny what can happen, isn’t it? Yesterday I was walking home with Anna and Hayley, discussing the snake near our lockers after school that I had dealt with easily, grabbing it by the tail and swinging it into the garden beside the path. I hadn’t felt well that night––maybe food poisoning from the four-day-old sausage I’d shoved into my lunch box on my way out to school––and had gone to bed early. Never would I have dreamt I’d be waking up with all my family standing around in some sort of grieving stance.
“All who wish to may now look at the remains,” the grave man in black said. My mum, dad, and sister wandered over to me with identical expressions of heartbreak.
Mum? I asked. Mum, what’s going on?
She did not reply, did not even acknowledge my presence. Instead, all three watery gazes seemed to be directed at something beyond me. Heart in my mouth, I turned, knowing I would at last get to the bottom of this mystery.
And in the box, where my eyes had skipped over earlier, lay…myself. Myself in a state of peace that I could swear I’d never felt in life. Myself, with my eyes closed, hands flat by my sides, and pale as the bark of a gum tree. Myself, dead.
I stared, horrified. How could I be dead and yet alive? To all appearances I was as solid as any of the people standing over me.
“My darling,” Mum said softly, tears dripping onto my dead body’s face. I wanted to tell her that it was okay, that I was right here, that I was not dead. But to her, I was.
“Hannah?” Mary whispered. She alone was not crying, but was so pale she looked like a corpse herself, and trembling. “Hannah, please, wake up…”
She reached for me, and I stretched out a hand to touch her, but her arm went right through me, and I recoiled from the touch of living flesh. She looked at my mother imploringly. “How did she…,” she began, and then, finally, burst into tears.
“The doctors said it was a brown snake,” Mum murmured, never taking her red eyes from my body. “Their venom is the only venom that doesn’t cause pain. She wouldn’t even have realized she’d been bitten.”
I’d had enough of this. I couldn’t bear to sit here and listen to them discuss my own death. I stood up from the coffin and walked unsteadily towards my dead grandparents. They smiled and each took one of my hands.
Come, they said.
As the priest moved to place the lid on the casket, concealing my body, they led me gently towards a gateway through which I could see lush fields.
I did not look back at my grieving family.
Tallis says, “What I love most about writing is making all the words fit together like a jigsaw on the page.”