In Life as in Death

By Leanne O’Connor Desmond

 

The stairs creaked loudly, announcing Sylvia’s descent to the basement. Her bruised white skin shone brightly under the low hanging lanterns. William was waiting for her, as he always did. She appeared like a vision of an angel, her dark hair contrasting wildly against her unique pallor. William stood as she approached. He tipped his hat politely at her. Sylvia’s wide eyes scoured the room with great intrigue. What an innocent creature she is, William thought fondly.

“Where am I?”

It was a dull whisper. Her vocal chords had been silent for some time. It would take a while before they built back their strength. She followed the layout of the room, enthralled by the dozens of books and cased objects.

William came around from his wooden work desk. He approached her cautiously, treating her like a timid deer. He held his hands out to her carefully and stopped a few paces ahead of her.

“You’re at home my love. This is my work space.”

Sylvia’s gaze shifted from his outstretched hands to his eyes. What a poignant blue they were in comparison to her own. Love, Sylvia thought. Subconsciously she reached for the golden ring encapsulating her wedding finger. William smiled warmly. He was encouraging.

“My love.”

She tested the words on her lips. There was something innately right about them. They belonged with this man. Her love was engraved in his bones. This was something she remembered. William stayed completely still as Sylvia reached for his rough touch. She gently caressed his palm. This skin. The callouses and the world weariness to it. She remembered this too. Words and images were racing through her mind but they were jumbled crazily. Some were too quick to capture. Others were slow and patient. His face was one she focused on. A little row boat. A glass of wine. A wedding ring.

“William.”

He nodded in reassurance. She fell easily into his embrace, holding him closely to her. The warmth from his body contrasted the cool nature of her own. She felt his heart beating through her own hollow chest. His arms wove around her waist drawing her closer still. She clung to him like a child would, her head buried in his shoulder. He ran his fingers delicately through her hair. Her white nightdress swayed where she stood, scuffing her calves with its soft cotton touch.

“Everything is alright my darling. You are home with me. You are safe.”

Memories were flooding back. The tone of his voice. It used to sound somewhere down the hall from their bedroom, but he wasn’t talking to her. A story used to weave along the walls of this home. A story of a princess and her handsome prince.

“Can I be a princess too, Daddy?”

She could see them now as if they were before her. Her little Vanessa ensconced in her bed, the covers all the way to her chin. William was always dreadfully fearful they would catch a cold. He would sit perched in the armchair reading from a hard covered book.

“Of course you can my sweetheart. You can be whomever you want.”

Sylvia gently pried herself from William’s hold. He let her go, easily giving her space to explore. She ran her hands along the books on the shelves. Was it here, she wondered, amongst the dust and the jars filled with suspicious things? What odd objects she saw trapped behind the panes of glass. Her breath fogged the glass as she exhaled quickly. The air felt heavy in her lungs. She placed her hands on the glass as if she were touching them. Her children. Each had a name written in strong cursive on an ink parchment. Vanessa. Rosalie. Gregory. Her babies.

“They’re not moving.”

She was not panicked. She was merely making an observation. They were dressed in their Sunday best. Vanessa was the largest of the lot with the build and height of a five-year-old, Rosalie smaller, and Gregory a mere infant. There was some sort of mechanism keeping him propped to his feet.

“No. They’re not. I’m sorry my love. I couldn’t save them. Not like I saved you.”

There was a sadness to his voice. It gave it a musical quality. He used to play piano and sing with Vanessa. Sylvia remembered it now. How their voices would meld together to create such wonderful and enchanting melodies. Her little Nessa was going to be a star. That’s what she told William.

“I want to hold them.”

William, as if predicting this reaction, quickly produced a key and unlocked the glass pane. Sylvia reached for Gregory first. His body was hard and cold. His limbs did not give way from their shape so she moulded herself around him instead. She pressed his cold head to her chest and kissed the top of his head. It was how used to put him to sleep in his crib.

“I was wrong. I don’t want him.”

William took Gregory from her hold and gently placed him back inside the cabinet. He locked it again, hiding the keys away. Sylvia turned away from the closed eyed corpses and placed her hands on the wooden table. She bowed her head over the white sheet that lay over the contents of whatever William was working with. Something felt wrong still. Her mind was spinning trying desperately to fabricate something into existence, someone. She felt Williams’s hands on her shoulders.

“I’ve been putting him back together again.”

He reached around Sylvia and gently lifted the white satin cloth. Beneath it lay the foul smell of death. A stale corpse of a baby, perhaps no older than a few weeks, lay there. Limbs had been stitched back on but there were still toes missing here and there. One of his ears lay beside his head.

“I think I can do it this time my love.”

Sylvia reached out and stroked her baby Samuel’s head. How interesting, she thought. Her eyes wandered to the heart encapsulated in a block of ice. It was tiny. She could hold it easily between her thumb and index finger without dropping it. Her eyes found the needle and thread. She reached for it and took it from its resting place. The needle point glinted in the light.

“I think I should do the sowing my love. My hands are more able than yours.”

There was a slight pause from William. It was as if he had not been expecting Sylvia to make such an exclamation. He shuffled uncomfortably behind her before stating.

“I’ll get another chair than.”

They worked long into the night. William grew sloppier with his work. He had managed to reattach all of the threaded flesh from little Sam’s shoulder to his arm. Sylvia was stitching up the wound. William yawned widely. His eyes teared from the tiredness.

“It’s time for bed love. We shall continue this in the morning.”

Sylvia stopped threading with her needle still stuck in flesh. It was growing more rigid and tough as time slipped on by but she could not continue on without William. She had not the faintest idea how to piece together their little baby. She leaned down and kissed the top of Samuel’s head. Then William covered him with the satin cloth and they followed the stairs up to the hallway, down and to the right where their bedroom was. William sunk gratefully into the bed. Sylvia squirmed in beside him. She watched with blatant fascination as he closed his eyes and slowly drifted off to sleep. She was not tired in the slightest.

As the hours stretched on Sylvia abandoned the warmth of the bed. It was an uncomfortable contrast against her frozen flesh. She closed the door quietly behind her as she left making sure not to wake William. She wandered down the hallway and easily found their homely kitchen and dining area. It was, she came to realise, a simple home. They were not in any way well-endowed but she got the impression that they were happy once.

Dirty plates and cutlery lay out so she set to cleaning. The water ran smoothly over her hands as she scrubbed. It was a strange sensation. Curiously, she pooled some onto her cupped hands and splashed it on her face. She gasped out of fear as her breath stuck shortly. Her lungs ached painfully. Every breath she inhaled caused her great discomfort. It was as if she had been cut to pieces and reassembled.

Once she was finished with the kitchen Sylvia glided down the hall. The nightly breeze trotted alongside her ankles sending shivers up her spine. She came to a closed door. Intrigue spurred her on and she gently opened it. She stepped onto soft spongy material on the floor. It was not wet but it was incredibly dry and uncomfortable. Strands of fur stuck up between her toes. She would have turned away but the gas lamp, she noticed, was freshly alight. It illuminated the small room, highlighting the crib in the corner and the teddies laying out on the floor.

She picked up the stuffed rabbit. It was Samuel’s favourite, a hand-me down from his older sisters. Sylvia stroked the toy mindlessly. She was waiting to feel something. Inside her stomach was sore and her chest was empty. She couldn’t feel her heart beating or her lungs breathing properly. There was something terribly wrong with her and she couldn’t tell what. She turned to the mirror in the room staring at her ghostly face. She was closer in pallor to her dead children than to her living husband. She knew she was in neither heaven or hell. It had to be somewhere in-between then. She glided away from the mirror as if in a trance and ensconced herself in the workroom, cradling her Sammy in her arms. What kind of monsters were they to do this to their child?

That was where William found her in the morning. He woke, alone and called for her frantically. Sylvia did not grace him with an answer. She heard his footsteps thundering from room to room. Eventually he made his way down the stairs, descending into the darkness below. He sighed with relief upon seeing his wife seated. His expression changed to one of confusion however when he noticed Samuel in her arms.

“Sylvia? Are you ok love?”

“What have you done?”

William’s mouth opened and he floundered for a moment. He was not able to find the words.

“What have you done to me?”

The accusation struck William deep in his soul. Never had Sylvia spoken with such hatred directed towards him. Not in all of the struggles, they had been through together. Losing their children and attempting to revive them.

“I’ve brought you back Sylvia. I brought you home.”

“Back from where? Where did I go William?”

William turned away momentarily. He covered his mouth with his hand, choked up all of a sudden. Sylvia stood, still holding tightly to Samuel, his ear suspended on pieces of thread. He would hear nothing either way. William turned pleadingly to Sylvia. She stared him down stonily. He could see it now in the way she held herself. She remembered. She remembered everything.

“Leave.”

“Sylvia!”

“Go!”

“Go? And leave you with our dead children! Is that what you want?”

“You should have left me with them William! Instead, you brought me back, back here! To have me hold them in my arms and feel nothing. I hate you for doing this to me! I hate you!”

Sylvia reached over and grabbed Samuel’s heart. William gasped audible.

“Please don’t! Not again!”

His cry fell on deaf ears. Sylvia lifted her arm and smashed the encapsulated organ on the ground. It shattered into dozens of pieces. William fell to the ground with a cry of agony. He scrambled to get all the pieces but there was nothing that could be done. He looked up at his wife, tears streaming freely down his face.

“You are a monster.”

“Please! I love you! Sylvia! What are you doing? Stop!”

Sylvia lifted one of the knives on the table and drove it into her chest. She felt one of her lungs sear in blinding pain. Her legs trembled before collapsing completely under her. Her vision blurred and that last thing she saw was William crawling desperately towards her, but he was too late.

“NO! NO! NO!”     

William clutched Sylvia to his chest and rocked back and forth. Why did this always have to happen! Every time he brought her back it all went wrong. He lifted her limp body back onto the wooden desk. It was elongated to accommodate her exactly. William pulled the knife from her chest. There was no blood, no anything. William slammed his fist down angrily.

“I’m going to fix this Sylvia. I’m going to fix everything. I promise.”

He leaned forwards and kissed her forehead. Her eyes stared listlessly up at the ceiling, dead and unmoving. William sighed heavily and rolling up his sleeves set to work once again. How many times would he have to do this?

END