Tree cropped

Hanan Adi

Germany

Impressionist.

A word is worth a thousand pictures.

Message to Readers

(This version is the same as the last; I've simply italicized the Tolstoy excerpt.) I invite all your questions and criticism! To answer your first one, no, I don't know what the girl is dying of either. Something occurring in acute spells, obviously with wide enough intervals in between for the girl to hold intelligible conversations with her friend . . .

The Fourth Death

April 4, 2016

PROMPT: All Talk

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“Laura… what are you doing here?”
        “Shh… Your mother said you had a really bad spell today. I want to see you. You feeling better now?”
        “Better than earlier… What time is it?”
        “Almost eleven.”
        “You should be asleep…”
        “Look who’s talking.”
        “You know I can’t sleep…”
        “Neither can I, not when I think of you. You thirsty? cold?”
        “No… don’t worry so much…”
        “Can’t help it, sweetness. It’s not worrying, exactly—more like trying to make your convalescence as quick and comfortable as possible.—What you sighing for?”
        “I’m not convalescing…”
        “Silly girl. Look, I’ve brought you fresh flowers. Even pinker than the last batch, these. Rare to find such pink ones so early in the year. I found them on that hill behind the house—you remember? the one we used to roll down, as kids?”
        “You should have left them there… let them live…”
        “They’re not dead when you pluck them, you know. They can live in a vase.”
        “They die in a vase…”
        “Then we pick new ones.”
        “I like old flowers…”
        “Nonsense. Look at them, all brown and wilting. Come, let's throw them out and put the fresh ones in.”
        “Don’t…”
        “Come, why not?”
        “I like wilting flowers…”
        “No you don't, silly. Your headache makes your thoughts all a muddle.”
        “I like wilting flowers…”
        “They rot. All the fungus and pong and all… Bad for you.”
        “Don’t throw them, Laura…”
        “They’re bad for you.”
        “No, they’re comforting… They sympathize with me… they know what it’s like to—”
        “See, Caddie, your headaches make you so silly. We can’t keep anything that will slow your convalescence. Rotting things go out—”
        “Oh, stow it, Laura. You know I’m dying.”
        “Don’t say that.”
        “Well, I’m sick of lying.”
        “See, I knew it. The flowers do this to you. Their fault. I should have reminded your mother to throw them the instant they started browning. Blast it—”
        “I know what you think, but you’re wrong… It’s not wilting flowers that make me think of dying… Hey, don't—”
        “There. Fresh new flowers, for a fresh new day. Hmm?”
        “…You don’t understand…”
        “I just want you to get better.”
        “You never understand…”
        “You never listen.”
        “Just… go home. Please…”
        “Hey, Caddie—”
        “I said go home.”
        “I’m not leaving you to wallow in your despair. You think I would abandon a friend? Well, you’re wrong—”
        “I’m not despairing. I’m just being honest. Now go home.”
        “See, what do I tell you: your headache makes you—”
        “Are you even trying to understand? No, anytime I say something you don’t like to hear, you tell me I’m being stupid. Because the only thing that matters is what you want and you don’t care how I feel.”
        “Don’t be so—”
        “Laura, I’m dying. I don’t want to lie to anyone. Especially not to you. Especially not to me. You think—everyone thinks—that making me hope I’m going to live will make me feel better… that pretending my pain isn’t there will make it go away… that saying ‘get well soon’ is being sympathetic…”
        “Well, Caddie—”
        “Well, Laura, it’s not. Do you know what? It hurts. Because what everyone means is that… that they don’t want me to die. That it’s a horrible thing to happen. That it’s something to be afraid of. Something to regret. But I don’t want to die afraid and rueful. I want to die happy. I want to believe it’s the best thing that could ever happen to me…”
        “But, Caddie—”
        “When you think about it, Laura, it’s not so bad. I mean, between ‘get well soon’ cards, I’ve been thinking… Death is like a deep sleep, isn’t it? At least then this pain will end, this headache, this heartache… And I’ll sleep and sleep till it’s time to go to Heaven… Then we’ll all go there together and be happy…”
        “Wow… Caddie… I just… And I always thought you were a pessimist…”
        “You never understood, Laura… You still don’t. But it’s all right… You try, don’t you? I know you do… I’m sorry for what I said…”
        “Nonsense. I am sorry. It’s my fault; I should’ve listened to you… should’ve listened to you ages ago. But, Caddie… it’s just… well… the thing is…”
        “I know. I’ll miss you too. I wouldn’t choose to die, if I could. But at least you’ve still got a long way to go… You’ve got your questions to answer, your dreams to fulfill… There’s a lot out there for you yet. You’ll be all right. Don’t be sad, Laura. Don’t make me sad…”
        “I know… It won’t be easy, though… Hey, you thirsty, hungry, or something? I’ll get you whatever. I’ll—”
        “No, no… you should be getting to bed.”
        “I’m not sleepy anymore. Or I’ll ask our mothers if I may stay the night. I miss you, you know.”
        “So do I…”
        “Well, I’m here now.”
        “… Laura? Are you sure you’re not sleepy?”
        “Not at all.”
        “Can you read to me?”
        “Of course.”
        “I love your voice… It’s like a lullaby… I can’t sleep; my head throbs so… Fetch my Tolstoy; it’s on the third shelf…”
        “Which story?”
        “ ‘Three Deaths.’*
        “Caddie…”
        “It’s a happy story, trust me…”
        “Well… all right. Here it is: ‘Three Deaths.’—You’re sure you’re not too cold, now?—Good.”
        It was autumn. Two carriages were bowling along the highway at a fast trot. In the first carriage there were two women. One was a lady, thin and pale….
        It was now spring… Joy and youth shone in the sky, and on the earth and in the heart of man. One of the main streets, outside a large house belonging to one of the gentry, had been strewn with fresh straw; inside, the lady lay dying….
        “You’re an angel!” said her cousin, kissing her hand.
        “No, kiss me here. Only dead people get kissed on the hand. Oh God! Oh God!”
        By that evening, the patient had become a body….
        Early next morning at the crack of dawn… everything was covered with a cold blanket of dew that was still settling, untouched by the sun…. Birds stirred in the thickets, twittering their happy song for all they were worth. On high, the succulent leaves whispered in peace and joy…

        “You’re right, Caddie; it is a happy story.—Caddie? You awake, Caddie? ... No? Well, sleep well, sweetness. You will see me tomorrow, won’t you? …”
 
 
In “Three Deaths,” Russian Count Leo Tolstoy examines and compares the deaths of a noblewoman, a peasant, and a tree. His simple, straightforward language and his astute observations and analyses together make for a thought-provoking and enjoyable read. The excerpts here are taken from the Anthony Briggs, David McDuff, and Ronald Wilks’ translation of the story.

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