Grave Wisdom


The video snapped on. In the background, I could hear the whirring of the ancient recorder, the one that our grandfather had given to us years ago.

"Take one," she said with a grin. "The final take." She looked so casual, like this was easy for her. Like it was as simple and inevitable as breathing.

Was that how it had been, really?

"I wanted to show everyone how easy this is." She pulled out a butcher knife from where it had rested against her stomach, held there by the waist of the jeans I had bought for her just last birthday. "Lovely, isn't it? Now, some people would choose this. I can see the draw, but who wants to leave behind a scarred corpse? Not me."

She reached out-of-frame. Her hand returned with a bottle of pills. "Sure, these will do the job, but only if you can force down enough. Personally, I can't stand the taste of them. Besides, if you pick the wrong pill, you end up with a lot of unnecessary pain. And too much is left up to chance. Think about it. My brother Clancy, he's in the next room right now." She paused and grinned the smile that she used only for me. "Hi, Clance. I know you're watching this. I know you're blaming yourself. Don't." Now her expression straightened back out, and she resumed her speech in a hauntingly reasonable tone. "If he walked in and I was passed out, he'd call the ambulance, right? If they were quick enough, I would end up alive and on suicide watch. Is there anything more shameful? I think not. So pills are out."

I paused the video. She was running out of material, she had to be. How many ways could someone consider killing herself?

It was too much for me. I took a moment to compose myself before I realized that it wasn't possible.

I hit play.

Now she walked over to the camera. It shifted around as she moved it to show the view from our three-story house. "Another option? Jumping. I'd love a good adrenaline rush, but I've always imagined it happening here, in this very room, and the fall from this window probably wouldn't be fatal. Pity, eh?"

"And do you know what that leaves? You've got it." Her eyes twinkled as she moved the camera one last time, focusing on a dirty rope that she had strung up from the ceiling fan. She stepped up to it as lightly and as gracefully as a dancer. She had always had a special, natural poise.

I paused the video again, though it took a couple of tries for me to hit the button properly, my fingers were shaking so much.

I couldn't breathe. I couldn't watch this, but I couldn't force myself to put it away. Had she really been so unhappy, all of these years? My dazzling, wonderful little sister? Sure, she had had her growing pains, but didn't everyone? And perhaps most importantly, why hadn't she come to me? I would have done my best to help her through whatever distress had led to this.

Maybe that was the reason she hadn't. If there was one thing I was sure of, it was that the girl on the screen had not wanted to be saved.

I sat here in her bedroom, underneath the very same fan from the video. I was surrounded by her things, still neatly organized and smelling of her. Her hairbrush was still on the bookshelf from yesterday morning when she had woken me up with her singing and dancing routine, the one that usually led to her swaying on her bed and singing Muse songs at the top of her lungs. I gave it to her last Christmas. I had chosen it because it was delicate and lovely, just as Irene had always been.

I turned back to the screen where she stood frozen, an expression of delight on her face as she looked up at the rope. I pushed play and she stood up on her bed, which was near enough that she would be able to maneuver into the little loop she had tied. She reached out for the rope and tucked it snugly around her neck. She waved cheerily at the video camera and said, "Now, what shall my last words be?" For a moment, I saw something pass through her eyes. Sadness? Regret?

"I love you, big brother. I'm sorry I had to do this to you. Please believe that. I'm done now- that is, as you watch this- but that doesn't mean I'm gone. Good luck on your Calc exam." Her pale white hand reached toward the camera and it clicked off.

I sat there simply staring at the screen for a long time.

Then I glanced behind me at where Irene sat, beaming. "Never show that to Mum and Dad."

"Is that all you have to say about it?" she demanded, jutting out her bottom lip. "It's the very best acting I've done to date. This is what will get me my first big movie role, just you wait." I shook my head and reached out, my fingers brushing lightly at the angry red marks around her neck. It hadn't been easy to get the loop off, as she had accidentally tightened it around herself. Good thing she hadn't tried filming this without me being there. Even if I didn't approve of this particular project of hers, I had insisted on helping out for that precise reason.

"Is this the price of Hollywood?" She made a face, so I dug through my mind for something constructive to say. "Won't the end be a dead giveaway? I mean, whose last words are ever going to be 'good luck on your Calc exam?'"

"Would you rather I had offered some grave wisdom?" She burst out laughing. "Grave! Get it?" I smiled weakly. I was still shaken from seeing the video, even though I had known full well the whole time that it wasn't real. It would be a while before I was up to joking about it. And it would be even longer before I lost this extreme gladness that she was sitting before me now, alive and smiling. So I laughed with her.