“My name is Death. Arthur Death,” he'd joke in the mirror.
His hair was sunshine, his eyes were skies, his body slender, his mouth all smiles. You would think, or you wouldn't depending on what kind of person you are, that all of this ugly manslaughter, murder, suicide, disgusting examples of overripe age would make a boy his age macabre, at least. In this line of work, you had two options: submit in despair or agree in glee. You couldn't very well be on an even keel unless, of course, you were a Buddhist. This though was too big a leap for most reapers to take because with the job you did have one buzzing, one obnoxious question in your head: where the fuck do the spirits go? It's one thing for your average Joe to wonder about the afterlife, but once you are technically part of the afterlife, part of bringing people to it, not exactly part of the living world, shit gets really confusing.
Arthur wore pastels a lot but he wasn't gay. He could've done the whole long robe thing like his friend Christie. She says that people have this image in their head and when they learn they are dead, they think, at least we got that right, whatever may come. He thinks she just likes to scare people.
He comes up bedside or curbside or whatever and kisses your face, kisses the fear, no matter how mutilated or ugly you are. Jesus Death, I'm telling you, washing the feet of lepers. This is particularly frightening to the homophobic among us but what are you going to do, yell at someone that could be Death or could be God or could be Satan or could be you don't know what, “is that really my body right there?”
He is also more or less amused how surprised people are with death, even after 80 years in the game. They still seemed shocked that this could happen to them! Them!
Most predictably though, when Christie came to get Arthur, he was just as surprised. Golden hair, bright blue eyes, this fragile boy did not expect to die at the age of 10.
Here I've been going on this long, decent dream. It is not that I didn't appreciate it, or think it would come to an end at some point, because I had heard the stories. The stories of my father growing up this way, pretty okay, not in tip top shape or anything but at least able to fit in; and then it all went topsy turvy around this age.
I did appreciate it, honestly, that nobody said: this is definitely going to happen. If they had, I'd probably be wrapped up in my own head (well, even more so); and if they had, I probably wouldn't have let you love me, would've learned better to push you away.
I feel almost like a witch, honing my craft, one I'd rather not have. More every day. More morbid, more creative, more amused, more scared. I have told people, like you, people I can trust to not send me away.
It isn't exactly magic; it is madness. Once upon a time, it only happened when I induced it, or when I did not drink. Now it is every day and they're so much more vivid, all these hallucinations. It used to be the marble moved and danced within its own lines. It used to be a trash can next to a grill looked like a mother picking up her child.
I listen to the orchestra stuck behind the lyrics of my favorite band called “False Advertising” (this just happened to be the case, I am not being post-ironic). The shadows in the room danced so gracefully, so gorgeously, it could've rocked me to sleep. I wonder what moves I can make them do. Of course, it was the waltz because I used to take ballroom dancing, which blocked me from forcing the salsa on them. Can I make them box turn all at once? All of them, I can.
But everything got bleaker that night, half in my control, half outside of it. I made the fan turn on and go in its circles and push wind at me because I was hot and didn't feel like moving. And a small, shadow man ran around my bed. I felt cuddled to sleep with your hand on my cheek even while you were away. And a small, little voice ran around my head. I can have ten—count'em—ten digits on each hand! This would make typing and using the phone and cooking all a bit more tense, a bit less pleasant, if it was true, but it wasn't, so opening the door when I ran out of the room didn't become a problem. And a small, little shake took over my arms and legs.
None of it is completely useless, although not quite a practical as the Charmed ones have or whoever your model for “magical power fun saving time” is. When the precious are bored, I can tell them all the things I'm seeing that they're not. We saw a light show one day which ended up being bunk for my companions, who I love, so I told them. How the fetus was in red and coming out of the its shell when they talked about the dawn of creation. How there was a man standing, frozen perfectly in the distance, when God brought about Eve and Adam.
In these small wonders, my powers are useful to others. But just please don't tell anyone, because I need to stay here with you, I need to bask in the glory of sanity or else it will get worse. The little man still goes away sometimes, and if he doesn't, and if they put me away, I don't know what he'll tell me to do, don't know how much he'll dominate my thinking, don't think I can entertain all of you.
I knew the rules, but I couldn't help myself and on the first few, I did perfectly well. You've seen it in movies and as if often the case, the movies are right. At least in matters of strange.
I moved to Marrakesh in February, after traveling for so long, and just hoping to settle down. The transient lifestyle is all fine and well until you go baby crazy and then you think: is this the best life I can give? I know people who travel well and raise great but when push comes to shove, if your whole life is unstable, any grain of solid you can give is worth the effort.
We wanted to learn the language, dress the right way, fit in as best as possible. We had pretty untraditional ideas even in our Western countries. It seemed best to keep those closed off and hidden while exuding an air of complete and total conformity, to the extent that we could. We decided, even the home décor should be traditional. I bought the tea pot in light of this fact. I only had Taiwanese New Dollars on me, but the merchant happily accepted them, maybe thinking they were United States Dollars, maybe not thinking.
I get home to clean the thing off, to put it among other gaudy, golden things, tables with tile mosaics, bright colored curtains that assault the eyes.
And ka-blam, very unlike what I wanted to do to fit in, an honest to god genie pops out of this tea kettle. Eric isn't connected to it like in Aladdin or Kazaam! Legs and all.
Eric is gorgeous, Caucasian for whatever reason. He said it is a kind of “trust me” thing, a kind of “let me make it easy to fool you” sort of idea, and laughs at tribe mentality. Overall, I poke fun at him for hating a group mentality when he has to live his whole life alone. It doesn't seem has a choice. It's like getting your heart broken and then thinking love is trite and could never exist, could never be a two way street.
She knew the rules, but it seems she couldn't help herself. Gorgeous porcelain, delicate, delicate and hiding. I thought, for sure, she would never use the third wish. I thought she would keep me around or free me or some other thing that you expect people like that to do: something self-sacrificing, something syrupy sweet and insane.
She worded things so carefully. We are not as tricky or as spiteful as people think, we don't really want people to hurt, we just have something of a sense of humor that might come from being alone, it might have been bred into us. It may have been a message that magic isn't meant for this world—but for what world, I couldn't say.
The one thing that I knew, for sure, the most important rule, was to speak clearly and never wish for things for yourself. Now, in my economic state of mind this made little sense, since anything you wish for obviously has some benefits to you, otherwise you wouldn't want it to happen. Monetary or psychic profit is a line we draw for practical purpose, for analysis, not because it means much in the head. There is: good, not good, neutral. The degrees vary but the principle is the same, profit or loss. Breaking even is better than the latter but worse than the former.
So, she wished something for her little brother. She wished to “stop the pain that made him self-harm without killing him.” I wanted so much to not hurt her but I cannot resist. Like I said, maybe something in the DNA that the environment brings out. Her parents got into a car accident the next day, killing them both on impact.
I have to admit, I kind of giggled. Not because I hate them, or because I am a bad person, but somewhere in my mind, I thought that Eric really, really liked me. I guess he is born all grown up, or I don't know if it is born, but it is something. He came into existence all grown up and knew what was his to do. Which seems sad and comforting. Imagine coming into being, and going “ah, for certain, I know the rest of my life.” I wonder if that is why they get so cruel, like angels do. They don't have a choice and there's very little variation. You see how you can manipulate people and that is really, like personally, all the power you've got. Being able to grant wishes is a “power” but not the kind that you feel inside of your body. It is inhuman, to be forever alone, to have no will to choose. That is, I guess, why they choose to break people with their wishes instead of help them.
Well, I giggled too because I had considered it as a possibility, this outcome. It hurt everyone they knew and was that really worth it? To me, a little bit. They've all become just blades of grass a long time ago and my brothers' flower was just starting to wither. He kept it so long, worked so hard, to keep it, to show his appreciation to the world.
I flew him out to live with me after that. Him, Eric, my husband and I had a great time together. We went to the Bazaar together and haggled over stuff we didn't even want, it had just become a sport. Where we come from, what you see is what you get.
Eric loved being part of a family. He smiled that there were hugs and kisses freely given.
It is longing, that is mostly what I feel when I see them laughing, locking eyes, smiling, and so many displays of affection. I want to marry her and can feel the hunger in my bones.
The second wish was trickier because it couldn't be about me, still, it couldn't, but there are so many things so near and dear to my heart that I want fixed, FIXED NOW, but I wasn't so sure the upswings and down swings. Sometimes, you parents have to die, but how much could I inflict that sort of possibility on the world?
The wish I wanted to make, I couldn't. I mean, I couldn't until the end whence I couldn't hold it in any longer. Eric gave me a chance to correct myself, he knew I knew better, but I honestly don't.
“For everyone to smile more without you making them less happy? That's your second wish?”
She said it while we were drinking scotch in a rinky dink bar, which she called a dive. I think it meant diving down to the bottom.
“This is your second wish?” but she was sure, so I granted it, and honest, try as I might have even my Great Genie Intuition could not find a way to mangle her prayers.
She explained to me in great detail, animated face swinging hips yellow shirt raised eyebrow puffy lips detail, what this meant. The brain sends messages to the body and the body sends messages to the brain. A feedback loop, found by Ekman. If you make your muscles perfectly mimicking those of basic emotions, you have them. Want happy—fake it in the face—except this doesn't work if you're aware.
“But what if nobody knows?” she says “What if they just walk around smiling not knowing why and it makes them want to smile even more, that even if things don't get better, life still feels better?”
Where is she coming from and where is she going to?
Lots of these things I wanted to change, lots of the ideas, they get wiped out by my second wish. The happier people are, lots of times, the less change will happen; although if people are too miserable, this is bound to happen as well because of where your energy needs to go in tough times.
But what is the point? The point of changing things is to make me happier. To make others happier. This seemed like a shortcut but one I'm willing to give.
Showered with kisses, I melted my hands. I ached my bones. I tore my skin. It is not that her husband way OKAY okay with the way things land, but he accepted them. I wasn't okay with the way things were but I accepted them. The addendums, the corrections, additions, subtractions and divisions. They weren't the best we wanted from her but she was what we wanted so you make a compromise here or there. It doesn't hurt so much, the give and take.
It's already been a few years. She had only twice wished. I told you, I thought this could go on for ever, or for a life time, I thought she had decided the I is her and her is mine. Her brother had left, after raised with so much love. Her child had come in just the past few months.
After Atropis came (the name not as in dying, but like transformation for those that she met), I knew I couldn't help the wish. My brother had left. My husband, my home. My sweet baby girl was nothing but grace, and I'm not saying I am broken, but I am not full. There are wounds that leave absence and those that leave extremities and I have both.
I want to feel so bad, I need to feel even, I need to feel close.
Eric has had altogether 7 wishers.
1) Money, true love, death
2) a great poet, no more cutting, death
3) a white America, a dragon title, death
4) Clear skin, thin, death
5) Women, all of the coke, death
6) Classic beauty, famous actress, death
7) “Stop the pain that made him self-harm without killing him”, “For everyone to smile more without you making less happy” and “To feel unconditional love for everyone”
Like I knew at first, it turns out that when I make it for me, it wasn't the greatest of ideas, but I thought I could handle the consequences.
Eric loved me, like I loved him, he washed in me, as I did him. I know he didn't muss it up on purpose or maybe he did. Maybe my husband had opened a wound but the pregnancy had eaten his heart. I don't know if he had a heart, but I think he did, he had loved, didn't he? God, I hope he had love, whatever he has done to me.
It is just too much. I felt unfull because of where I was lacking but now my fullness fills everything. I can only forgive, can never dismiss. I do not get angry, I never yell, never call names.
And worst of all, I don't even get to hate myself anymore. Not even a little bit. What is it like to live without guilt and shame?
More stressful than to live with.
I did become something of a healer. You are not a murderer, you murdered. You are not a liar, you lied. And no matter what you do, no matter how much time, I'll be here. This trust, this love, it feels supernatural—probably because it is. But all the untreated wounds, all those who couldn't trust themselves, I trusted in them. I reparented. I rebirthed. I said, you are OKAY, and that was enough.
But oh, Atropis, I am being everything for you that I wanted to be. The sling on my back, the mother in me, has come into full bloom.
At the end of the day though, I realized I could have done this, for you at least, alone.
I am not trampled over. Unconditional love for myself means I don't care much to be mistreated because I am just as important as all of you.
I could have taken what she said less literally. I said it is my genes, it wasn't.
Her husband rubbed me after she'd gone. We are raising Atropis together. He never makes a wish, not even for her. I never doubt him, I knew neither of them, hell, I knew I couldn't hurt. You get touched by a love so pure, and most hurt is forgotten.
We laid her down in the river that she always loved. Like she did everything.
We laid her down and bathed in the fact that she did not hate herself when she did this. She couldn't have. I cinched the deal.
Somehow, she must have done it for us.