Slartist

Short Stories


  • Arianna: Chapter 2 - A Cold Response

    Chapter 2. A Cold Response

     

     

     

     

     Police Constables Richard Stevens and Sally McMahon parked their patrol car in front of the Smiths' residence and walked to the door. Notifying the next of kin that a family member had committed suicide was one of the most harrowing parts of their job. McMahon in particular always hated being the harbinger of such news. Stevens rang the bell.

     "This is the Police, open up, please." The door opened, and Arianna's parents met the two officers.

    "Is there a problem, officers?" her father asked.

    The officers took off their caps and proceeded to inform the parents.

    "Do you have a daughter named Arianna Smith, Sir?" Stevens asked.

    "Yeah, what about her?" Mr Smith asked, looking rather irritated.

    "I'm afraid she's dead, Sir. Please accept our condolences." said McMahon, with her hands sweating. She barely resisted wiping them on her skirt.

    A few moments of awkward silence followed. Surprised, Mr and Mrs Smith looked at each other, then at the two officers.

    "Dead... How?" asked Mrs Smith, while Mr Smith looked on, with his arms crossed.

    One would expect a mother to be in a state of complete shock upon receiving such news and burst into tears, but Mrs Smith's eyes looked puzzled rather than sad. No tear formed in them. McMahon hesitated a bit, cleared her throat and said:

    "She jumped off the Ashworth Bridge outside Dagenhull, Ma'am."

    "I'm not surprised," said Mr Smith. Annoyance and a degree of anger coloured his voice rather than sadness, as his greyish eyebrows became an ominous frown. "She never fit in."

    "Honey, please..." Mrs Smith started to say, placing her hand on his arm.

    The two officers were lost for words. Never before had they seen such reactions from the relatives of someone who had committed suicide. They were used to see relatives burst into tears at the shock, even if they knew it was a matter of time - but the Smiths' reaction seemed so cold.

    "She left this note behind, Sir. We should give it to you. Could you please come to the police station with us to collect her personal effects? We can arrange for your transportation to the hospital where she is, for recognition, retrieval and last rites, if you want."

    "No." grumbled Mr Smith, and closed the door on the officers' faces, without accepting the suicide note.

    Once the Smiths got back inside their house, their son, a thirty-five-year-old man named Kyle, was walking from his room to the kitchen. He had woken up at half-past-noon and was fixing breakfast for himself.

    "What's the matter, mum?" he asked.

    "Your sister killed herself."

    "What? No way! How?"

    "She jumped off the Ashworth Bridge, outside Dagenhull." said Mr Smith.

    "Why?"

    "The coppers wanted to give me her suicide note, but I didn't take it."

    "Why not?"

    "Why should I?" he said, and tried to end the conversation.

    "Dad, she's your daughter and my sister. And you may not have liked her, but we should at least know why she got there."

    "I may not have liked her? Ha! I've always said we should have aborted her when we had the chance. Who told you I wanted her to be born in the first place?"

    Those last words stopped Kyle right in his tracks. He remained silent as Mrs Smith went on to prepare lunch.

    To those who knew the Smiths, it was no secret that the entire clan had scant regard for women, so Mr Smith's words wouldn't have surprised them. They were a deeply patriarchal, backwards family. To them, daughters were nothing but a burden on their parents' shoulders. Oddly enough for a family with such a common, mundane name, they valued the continuation of the family name more than anything. Well, almost anything. The other thing they held in the highest regard was the set of virtues they considered to be part and parcel of masculinity: strength, self-reliance, virility and such. The "elders" of the Smiths clan viewed women as weak, nagging, troublesome second-rate beings whose only acceptable roles were the kitchen, the church, and the birth and upbringing of children and, more specifically, boys. Beyond that, they were supposed to just keep their mouths shut and cater to the needs and wishes of the men in the family.

    Arianna broke away from the Smiths' mould at the young age of eighteen. She was known as a columnist for two publications of nationwide circulation and a well-regarded blogger / journalist, but kept her personal life... personal. Where she lived, only a very narrow circle of friends knew anything about her past. She avoided talking about her family or her childhood. She was often described as a highly-intelligent and deeply caring person, and, at the same time, as a shy loner who had trouble getting to know new people. News of her suicide were duly reported on nationwide TV and radio, as well as on news sites over the internet; obituaries for her appeared in the publications she worked for, as well as on her hometown's local newspapers and news sites. As is the case with such news, the townsfolk quickly started discussing... Or gossiping.

    At a local hair salon, the patrons were vigorously discussing the real and unreal, probable and improbable circumstances of her death over perm and manicure: Devoid of any decorum and laced with uncontrollable giggling, stories about her love life, her family life and whatever issues she might have been facing flew in the air between the clients and personnel, under the watchful eye of the sneering manager.

    "Shhhhh... Her mother is coming," said an assistant. She nodded, showing them the door, as Mrs Smith was opening the door to enter the salon. Some of the ladies stood, walked up to her and offered her their condolences and comforting hugs, trying their hardest to look like they were sorry for her loss.

    Later in the evening, at the bar where Kyle worked, his friends asked him about his sister's suicide while unloading new crates of drinks and arranging the chairs and tables. He didn't know what to tell them, because he didn't know the reasons that drove her to end her life. After all, he hadn't seen her in five years, and it had been three years since she last talked to them.

    A local TV station tracked down some old classmates of Arianna's and interviewed them in order to offer some "insight" on the deceased. None of them could explain her suicide, but their recollections had a few things in common. All of them described her as a "loner" who "rarely smiled" and was "rarely happy", but was always the best in her class and others could always count on her, although she didn't seem to have any friends at school. No one remembered having her number while she was growing up, and no one remembered spending time with her outside of school. No one remembered seeing her playing with other kids, actually. The recurring image in the description was that of a girl who was always alone in every aspect of her short life, whatever she did. The media also tried to contact her family, but were denied any comment.

    "This is my great escape

    My final curtain and my last goodbye

    To everyone.

    To those I loved but had no love for me

    To those I tried to reach out to

    But chose to stay far out of reach.

    To this body that needed a pair of arms around it

    To soothe the soul therein, to dry the tears

    But was denied.

    By the time you're reading this,

    You're all thirty years too late.

    You're asking why I'm doing this

    You're asking the wrong questions

    A life in loneliness and silence

    A life spent unwanted

    Because of who I was born to be

    Because of who I was... Or am.

    I always felt inferior

    I always felt so small

    And tried to prove myself

    I thought I could prove myself

    Worthy of recognition

    Worthy of some love

    Worthy of a pair of arms around me

    To heal my wounds, to soothe my soul

    To dry away my tears

    Worthy of some tender words

    Worthy of a kiss...

    But I was proven wrong

    I felt the numbness of the deep

    The murky depths of nothing

    To this nothing I return

    This time... For good

    The first casualty I shan't be

    Neither shall I be the last

    So, here you are:

    Add another number

    To your suicide stats

    Goodbye"

    Police Constable Stevens, who had attempted to give the note to Arianna's parents, kept reading it again and again. Her gut-wrenching words tip-toed around the darkness of the deepest depression and the most extreme lucidity, with glimpses of sarcasm. How could a well-regarded columnist end up having to write this? What kind of suffering was hidden behind these words? Although the case was to be officially closed a week later, he chose to investigate on his own time and dime. The reasons he stated for his request didn't quite convince his superiors, but they half-heartedly agreed to let him find out the deeper reasons for Arianna's act and not obstruct his work, on the condition that it would not constitute an "inappropriate allocation of scarce Police resources". McMahon supported him in his desire to look deeper into this particular case and offered to help as best she could.

    Why would anyone care, though? With a little cruelty, one could pigeonhole her as a would-be media celebrity with first-world problems. "Love"? "Loneliness"? Ha! There are far worse problems out there, one could say - like abject poverty, starvation, chronic unemployment, homelessness, disabilities, metastatic cancer in its final stages, HIV, etc. She had embarked on a reasonably successful career which was showing promise and she was complaining about being "unwanted"? How exactly does this all add up?

    Stevens opened his desk's drawer and pulled out a photograph of a young, brown-haired woman. A heartfelt smile shone on her pretty face, as she posed goofily on a fallen tree trunk at a park. His face turned from calm to sad, and then he struggled in vain to keep his eyes from getting flooded with tears. "Helen..." he whispered. He sobbed as he hastily wiped his tears and put the photograph away again as McMahon appeared at the office's door, holding two mugs of coffee.

    "Did she bring back memories of your sister?" she asked, trying to soothe him.

    "No... I mean yes. I don't know."

    "It's OK." she said, offering him a mug of coffee.

    "Thanks. I still haven't come to terms with Helen's death. And to think it's been ten years..." he replied, with his voice trembling.

    Sally nodded, understanding the pain he had to remember.

    "Have you heard the news? All those people the reporters asked... They all describe her as a totally isolated girl, who was nice, smart, intelligent, but had no friends and no social circle. How the Hell is that even possible?" he continued.

    "Yeah, I've been wondering the same thing myself." Sally sighed. "Then again, who knows what's been going on in that family for all those years? Her father's eyes... And the tone of his voice... I don't know, there was nothing fatherly about them."

    "You got that right. You'd think he hated her." replied Richard.

    "Yeah, I wonder why... Why all this hatred? And so far, we haven't heard any negative comments about her from anyone."

    Richard sipped a bit of his coffee.

    "I'm surprised too. Only a few times have I seen this sort of attitude." he said. "Will you help me try to get to the heart of this matter?"

    "You didn't have to ask." Sally said, and patted him on the back.

    "Thank you. Where do you think we should begin our investigation?"

    "Let's try her schoolmates and teachers first. They described her as a loner, so we need to see what sort of a loner she was, and why." suggested Sally.

    "Makes sense. Think we can start looking tomorrow?"

    "Sounds good to me."

    "OK. I'll contact her school and see what they have to tell me."

     

    First posted at: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-K7

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  • Arianna: Chapter 1 - Bridge

    For personal reasons, I have decided to try my hand at storywriting. The story’s title is “Arianna”, and it’s my first attempt. It’s a fictional story, which has many autobiographical elements and draws on many of my own experiences in both the physical and the virtual realm. As you can guess, it’s deeply personal. I’m still not quite sure what its aim is. Not plot-wise; I’ve pretty much figured that out. But as to what I want this story to do for me… I still don’t know, not least because of the emotional state I’ve been in for the past two weeks. Do I want to get my darkness and pain out? Do I want to mourn for parts of me that I’ve lost? I’m still unsure. Anyway, without any further ado, the story begins.

    Chapter 1. Bridge

    “Are you sure this is the end, lady?” asked the tired taxi driver after pulling up on the side of the road in the middle of the long, suspended bridge.

    “Yes,” she said nervously and paid him. She paused. “Here’s an extra tip for you to remain silent and drive away right after I get out of the car – and step on it.” She looked at him with a steely gaze, her otherwise gentle characteristics becoming strict and stern, showing she wouldn’t take no for an answer, and gave him double the route’s fare.

    No one else was there. Just them and the CCTV cameras, which were there to record traffic, accidents and the occasional jumper. Clearly, she was not going to meet a business partner or a partner-in-crime there. She didn’t even look like the criminal sort.

    She looked rather elegant, with her black, straight, shoulder-length hair, brown eyes and slender build. Dressed in a black leather trench coat and almost black slacks, she seemed as though she was about to go on a business appointment. Yet, no briefcase was in sight – just her purse.

    He looked back at her and prepared to say something. He knew where this was going. “Please,” she said, softening her voice, “take the money and leave.” He gulped as she reached for the door pull. “How old could she be? Doesn’t even look thirty. Why’d she want to–” his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the nearside rear door getting opened. She stepped out.

    “Go!” she yelled. The taxi sped away. She knew there wasn’t a lot of time. If she wanted this to be over, she needed to act fast. She put down her purse and climbed swiftly over the fence. She stood there for a bit. Staring out over the bridge, she saw the sun dawning above the tranquil river as the street lights were still mirrored in the water. She took a breath. And jumped. One last smile on her face, and the first in a long time.

    Seconds later, she hit the water. At the moment of impact, she was falling at a speed of approximately 120 km/h and the water, like a concrete wall, stopped her in a matter of nanoseconds. Her internal organs tore loose; as her ribs broke, they impaled her heart and lungs. It was all over.

    The rescue boat of the Coast Guard arrived two minutes later. They pulled her body out of the water and frantically performed CPR until they reached the shore. No response.

    Time Of Death: 6:03AM

    Her body was uncovered as the coroner arrived. He put on his rubber gloves and snapped them tightly against his wrists. He turned her on her side. Along her midsection, there were scrapes, caused by the Coast Guard crew pulling her on board their vessel. Her midsection and abdomen also had a purple discolouration, a tell-tale sign of massive internal bleeding. Simon Elders, the coroner, started his routine investigation.

    “Not another…” said a young petty officer to herself. “When I signed up, I thought I’d be saving lives, not pulling bodies out of this damned river.”

    In the meantime, the motorway patrol arrived, along with an ambulance to carry the body.

    “What have you got, guys?” Elders asked the officers.

    “Arianna Smith, 31 years old. She’s the columnist from the Herald.” said one of the policemen. “She left her purse on the pavement, with a suicide note, her wallet and a few other personal effects in it. Seems like she’s been planning it for months.”

    “Oh?”

    “Yes. To the nines. Every last detail.”

    “Information about next-of-kin?”

    “Yup, everything.”

    “OK then, time to send her to the morgue and call her relatives.”

    The paramedics put on their rubber gloves, unwrapped a body bag and put her in. They picked her up and placed her on the gurney, which they rolled back to the ambulance. Elders followed the ambulance to the county hospital.

    They say that graveyards are the places where the line between the living and the dead becomes extremely thin, but in reality, the place where the line between life and death, joy and sorrow, hope and despair ceases to exist is a hospital. Graveyards are static places – once you are deposited there, you’re going to remain dead. It’s over. In hospitals, though, every day, every night, someone is cured and someone dies; one family’s happiness is restored, another’s is lost – it’s a constant ebb and flow.

    The paramedics wheeled the gurney to the morgue, followed by Elders, who came to complete the necessary paperwork and provide information to the pathologist who would proceed to perform the autopsy.

    Arianna came from a small town, about 300 km to the north. Rural, but with urban pretences. During a recent artificial economic boom, fuelled by cotton crop subsidies, many among the townsfolk indulged in some ostentatious demonstrations of consumerism. Others tried to mimic them through easily-accessible, pre-approved loans. Finally, others remained poor both in appearances and in reality. Arianna’s family sat squarely in the second category: a working-class family that tried hard to look wealthy. When the police arrived at their place to give them the grim news, the Smiths responded rather unexpectedly. They didn’t seem surprised or particularly saddened by the news. Rather, it was as if they were just informed a trouble-making, ne’er-do-well distant relative ended up in jail.

     

    Originally posted at: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-Jz

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