Emily was huddled in the corner, her knees pulled up tight against her chest. Her once pretty blue floral dress was torn and dirty and it hung off of her bony shoulders like a rag. Cole noticed how much weight she had lost since he'd seen her last. Even in the half light that crept through the grimy broken window, it was obvious how pale and sickly she had become. He counted back; it had only been a few months, maybe five or six. Certainly not more than that. Or had he lost track of time? He didn't remember the house being in such disrepair. And Emily... poor, poor Emily. They'd known each other since they were kids; she had always been different, but he'd never seen her like this - straggly and disoriented. Lost inside herself.
He stood in the doorway for a moment watching her. He was afraid to speak. He knew she didn't want him there. She never had. All those years when he'd tagged along after school, following Emily and her sister Ellen back to their grammy's house. And he always got sent away. Emily was ashamed of the way they lived. She'd never said it, but Cole knew. But he kept coming back, and eventually Emily came to tolerate him; and he'd grown to love her. That had never changed.
He eased into the room, paused and then cleared his throat. She didn't acknowledge him. He waited another minute and then flicked on the light, a bare bulb dangling from overhead. He looked around the small space that had been Emily's childhood bedroom. There was a stained ripped mattress in one corner, and pieces of crumpled paper scattered about the floor. Several candy wrappers lay next to Emily and a gallon jug of water, and next to that, what appeared to be a moldy doughnut. A thick layer of dust had accumulated on the the small empty bookcase that was beside the mattress, and he could see rat droppings along the baseboards all around the room. Maybe it had been longer than six months since he'd come to check on her. He suddenly felt guilty.
"I'm worried about you Em. You can't stay here anymore, it's not safe. In a couple of days they're gonna tear it all down. And nobody's gonna care if you're in here or not."
He reached out his hands and took a couple of steps towards her.
"Stay away from me Cole!" She screamed at him and he saw the blade of a long hunting knife. She held it up in front of her. "I don't want you here. I never have. Now leave. Leave me alone!"
Cole stood dead still. He couldn't leave her like this. It was obvious she was out of her mind, and if he wasn't careful she might very well attack him with the knife. Gingerly, he took another step towards her.
"Em, if you stay here, they will bulldoze the house down on top of you. You'll be buried alive. I can't let that happen."
He still had his arms outstretched towards her. She screamed and waved the knife wildly in front of her.
"No, I don't care! I won't leave, and you can't make me. Don't you understand? She died here Cole... right here. In this very room. My Grammy. She died here just like Ellen did. And nobody cared. Nobody came. Just me, I was the only one. They let her die. She was so sick, and nobody did anything. It'll be just like that for me too. Except... except you'll be here won't you? You'll be the one that comes for me. After I'm dead. And then you can cry for me. Just like I've cried for her. You'll do that won't you Cole?"
She rocked herself back and forth as her voice trailed off and she stared into space, her eyes filling with tears. Cole eased towards her and knelt down on the floor. He took the knife from her hand and held her against his chest. She was so frail now. She was sicker than he had realized. Her sister had died just ten years ago, and her grandmother soon after. And for a few years, Emily had seemed just fine. She worked afternoons at the library, went to church on Sundays, and volunteered two nights a week at the hospital. And then she'd been diagnosed too and she'd stopped doing anything at all. She had stopped living in the present; her mind went back to the time right after her grandmother had died. Now the house had been foreclosed upon, and the property sold. And Emily had fallen through the cracks of social welfare. No one even knew she was still there. No one, except Cole. He knew he had to do something, he couldn't bear to leave her suffering alone in this filth. It was a quick decision.
Emily had been right about one thing; he had been the one to come for her. He was still kneeling beside her holding her against his chest and he softly stroked her hair. And he still held the knife. He took a deep breath and in one fluid move, pulled back her head and slit her throat; then it was over. He wouldn't cry for her though. She had been wrong about that.
©2012 Garden Summerland
©2012 Garden Summerland