An Importance of Death
Mrs. Morrison was too busy to die.
She was too busy being dead.
The ashes on Beau Morrison’s mantle were of Latisha Jardin, they whispered her name in the voice of her cremated wife every time she drew near. Her own, personalized siren song; beckoning her to succumb, to pass on, to be deceased.
But Mrs. Morrison was too busy doing the things dead people do. There were weeds to spread, fallen fruit to rot, and her small collection of ghosts that grew every day. Her house now housed an assortment of cats that had expended their many lives, dogs hit by cars, birds killed by the very same cats, shrews, possum, mice, and one particularly lively ficus that had garnered its own spirit.
Beau called the ficus Shonda, and had initially placed it near a window but found it in perpetually new spaces every time she turned around. Much like for the cats and birds, she shushed it away from the mantle and Tisha’s ashes, but would have turn away and quick-spin back – increasingly too dangerous for her deteriorating ankles – for it to have moved away.
Today, Mrs. Morrison is finding a wheelchair. Her muscles have lasted much too long since her heart had stopped supplying necessities, and her current system of dual canes has finally become insufficient. Now pushing beyond her time as a dead person-in-the-physical-sense, she hides the scent of her now-rotting flesh with rose hips and cardigan pockets full of potpourri.
The extension wasn’t enough, she murmurs to herself and her collected bestiary. She has things to do, she is too busy to just up and die.
Cats and dogs perk up ears as Beau assembles herself for the trip, she continues to murmur about things to do and not having been given enough time to do them.
If Latisha were here, she would laugh and maybe call her silly. She would remind Beau that There’s never ‘enough’ time to do anything, you just do things regardless.
Then she would kiss Beau on the nose, or spin to kick up her skirts and Beau would watch her wife’s certainty in the ways of the world. But now there is no Tisha to remind her of how silly and impratical she’s being: overdue and rotting. Tisha’s ashes sit on her mantle and Tisha herself is somewhere else far away, while her voice lures Beau nearer. Her own, personalized siren song.
Finding herself in mid sitting room in front of the fireplace, bestiary now watching in avid curiosity, Beau shakes her head with a downturned smile and places a kiss from her hand on the urn. “Not today, hun, not today.”
At the front door, she double checks the scarf borrowed from Tisha covering her hair, and turns round to check her adoptees. “Shonda,” she hisses, “not on the mantle!”
She opens the front door with its creak and rattle of resistance, turning back around to check that Shonda had moved to a less offending location
From the window that faced the apple tree in the side yard, shafts of light through lace curtains beamed through the ficus’s leaves at the side table as though they were smoke. One of the cats had caught a robin in that tree, before expending their final life falling from the neighbour’s roof a week later. As soon as Beau shut the door, said robin and cat kicked up a fuss that would have the dogs barking at the conflict for hours.
Beau, maneuvering down steps to the sidewalk, was so accustomed to this she no longer heard the ruckus. Once she had made it down the block and round the corner, a child walking down the same sidewalk would insist to their dads and mom that there was a whole choir of dogs going off in the house just there with the paint peeling and the roof caving in. The parents would assure them of no such dogs and that the house was in fine condition.
Beau, after all, did an excellent job.
Mrs. Morrison's commute ended at a clinic some blocks away; still close to streets full of houses but turning into the produce stores, bakeries, and electronic shops that lined traffic-burdened streets. She peered in the front windows until a medical assistant spotted her, instantly brightened, and gestured excitedly to go round the side. Reliant on her canes, Beau nodded emphatically when she had instinctually moved to wave in return.
Guiding herself around the waiting room of people she – a dead person – wished not to upset or possibly be clocked by, looked forward to the increase of abilities she would have in a wheelchair. She could wave, she could carry, she could spread weeds and rot fruit, and maybe somehow find someone to look after her spirit bestiary plus ficus. She had so much work to do but then, she promised, she would move on and return to her wife. She was simply too busy to die.
Rosalina opens the side door with a smile, "Good morning, Mrs. Morrison! You are always so punctual."
Beau knew she had left the house later than she had meant to, but appreciated the words nonetheless. She informs Rosalina that you have to be, when with a limited amount of time remaining.
Rosalina laughs, chiding Beau for thinking she had so little time left.
With better timing and punctuality than Mrs. Morrison could hope for herself, Xia Lu appears behind Rosalina, pushing a manual wheelchair that appeared to be hospital standard issue. He greets Beau with the same brightness and genuine joy as Rosalina had. "I'm sorry, it's not going to be very comfortable."
Mrs. Morrison hushes him. "Anything with wheels is fine, fine. Don't go concerning yourself." She shoos the two medical assistants away from her prize and was just levering herself into the chair when the wild whooping of sirens cut through the quiet of the sideway to the clinic.
The three watch as the ambulance sped past, alerting the streets to its urgency. Beau Morrison watches as a short figure ran past after it.
"That's me," Xia Lu says, already bouncing into a jog back into the clinic. "I'm off to the hospital. Rosalina, let Dr. de Luz know."
Rosalina shouts an affirmation, and turns back to see Mrs. Morrison already gearing to go. "Take care of yourself!" She couldn't hear what Mrs. Morrison muttered in response, but something sounded like 'curmudgeon'.
Beau took off down the street, in hopes of catching up to the figure chasing after the ambulance. "Slow your roll, child!" she calls, fumbling at first but quickly becoming accustomed to her new grips and sprinting down the street.
If there was one place in the entire town that Beau Morrison avoided, in all of her keeping up with the locals and community service, it was the hospital. Beau would do anything to never visit the hospital ever again, so long as she lived. It was her extreme misfortune that she was dead.
The ambulance had long since unloaded when Mrs. Morrison pulled onto the scene of the ER entrance, clucking her tongue at being ignored by the figure that had slipped into the doors against the wishes of all her hollering. Old, dead, and in a manual chair for the first time since a leg break decades ago, Beau had at least beat Xia Lu in her race to the medical institution she had done so much to avoid; that she had gone so far as to pick up the wheelchair at the clinic instead.
Muttering to herself about regulations, Mrs. Morrison further exerts herself to wheel around to the main entrance. She ignores the odd faces of the people she passes in the lobby – the ones finding something off about her – and looks both ways at an intersection of hall before confidently making for the ER. She knew the layout of the hospital as well as the house she grew up in, as well as the apartment she had lived in in university and as a young adult, as well as the house she had lived in with Latisha Jardin.
Every familiar ward passed, every hall and corner, was another memory of working here for so many years. She muttered to herself though: she had other work now, she didn't want to be here.
Being dead was important, it was why she had stayed, why she wasn't with Tisha in whatever happened after death that wasn't this state she was currently prolonging. She had things to take care of: her wife's ashes, the house, the ghostly bestiary plus ficus, and now the business of a small child she was currently tracking down.
"There you are." Beau grabs them round the elbow and away from the access to the OR – where her person-in-the-physical-sense and chair could not go. "Best not go in here. Not for young eyes, or most eyes really."
The child had stopped resisting against her hold once it became evident she wasn't letting go and clearly could her them down as long as she wanted.
"What's in there for you, hey?"
Gaping for just a moment, they lifted an arm and pointed through the doors – their hand clipping through plexiglass. "It's me."
At best, Beau Morrison had hoped the child had long past and had been chasing some relative. But the fresh road incident had been so devastating as to immediately part the child with their body. Beau's heart – not the unbeating one in her chest – drops. She pulls the child closer with a gentle urgency. "Is my hair alright?"
Frowning, they face the woman who had charged through streets with abandon. "I think it's spectacular!"
"Thanks dear," Beau smiles cynically. "Will you stay while I fix it a moment?"
Beau presses her fingers round her crown, finding a wreck of whispy hairs escaped from Latisha's scarf. "I'd like to tell you about the importance of weeds."
Nodding, Beau tilts her head side to side, tucking away locks. "They set a precedent for other plants, but also weather the soil – do you know what weathering the soil is?"
The child didn't.
"Breaking down the parts, so they're more manageable and beneficial." She starts wheeling backwards, away from the OR. "It's important they exist."
"But my parents always pull them out."
Beau smiles. "Right." She had led the child away to a seat in the hall. "They're good for the other plants, but not with. Like rotting fruit."
The child is particularly sore as they cry, "Rotten fruit are full of hornets!" A lesson they clearly learned by experience.
"Rotten fruit has its purposes too."
Now dubious, the child catches on, "Why do I need to know these things?"
Beau was smiling, Beau was still smiling. Beau was a nice, older lady, who didn't let anyone push her around, who took on more than anyone could have ever asked her to. "Because if you stay here, like this, I want you to do me a favour."
"You want me to make weeds and rot stuff?"
So quick to understand, Beau felt a little less horrible about the current situation. When the child asked what they were waiting for now, Beau told them they would wait to see what would happen. To fill the time, she told them about her house full of dogs, cats, birds, shrews, possum, mice, and one remarkably vigorous ficus. She said, whatever the outcome, she would love to have them come around.
They were in full tilt conversing about how neat animals were and about road safety, when Beau's pleasant reverie is shook.
She hears her name.
It is quiet, beckoning from down the hall. Mrs. Morrison's hand shakes, the child notices. "Just a–" she had set a hand on their knee to reassure them, but her name calls again. She shifts forward; the child frowns scrunched face so concerned. "It's just someone trying to get my attention." Despite her words, Beau leans towards the sound.
The child hops to their feet. "Shouldn't you give them attention, then?"
"Not always, you know?" Mrs. Morrison's hands fed her grip forward. "Sometimes you have to delay something important for something else important."
Now the child was following the old, dead woman down the hall. Whatever Beau was hearing, they weren't. The beckoning voice that led them away; the hallway signs indicate the special care unit ahead.
Beau didn't want to be here in this hospital, she had been avoiding it since years before she had died. She had avoided it so well that she had passed away in her own home, struck a deal to stay on longer – her home never appearing to fall into disrepair, her body still occupied by her – and kept to the clinic for any needs such as a wheelchair.
"Who is it?" the child asks.
They hadn't been going very fast, at the conversation revival now they slow.
"My wife, Tisha."
"Did she die here?"
Beau nods, the same mechanical fashion she always does when anyone asked about Latisha.
"It hurts, doesn't it?" The child already knew the answer. "Are my parents going to hurt too?"
Mrs. Morrison breaks out of her reverie, she turns to them with the most haste she had shown since chasing down the ambulance. "Look–"
"Lareesh," she says it with a familiar smile, "Everything always happens, even when it seems like it never will. And when you've figured out what to do and who you want to be around, where you want to be, what is important to you, then you work all your life to be that. And it's amazing, and more and more rewarding every single day. Maybe for your parents that was with you, and they'll cherish every moment with you, and they'll have to continue, and do, and happen.
"I was where I was needed and wanted and where I felt good, and when Latisha died I lost or left behind all of it. But I found dogs, cats, birds, and little things–"
"And a ficus!"
"And a ficus. And weeds and rotten fruit. And it was good, and I would do it forever, if there wasn't someone waiting for me."
Lareesh nods, they study the floor and think through everything Beau had told them.
Mrs. Morrison's wheelchair rolls so slowly forward.
"I really like dogs." They smile sheepishly. "And you have such nice red flowers in your garden."
"I really let them go to ruin once Tisha wasn't around to care for them."
"My dads let me help out in their garden all the time."
Smiling, Mrs. Morrison turns in her chair to face Lareesh. "Okay, I think we both know what we're saying here." She offers her hands to Lareesh and grasps theirs in turn. "You are kind and considerate, and it was a pleasure to meet you."
Lareesh bounces on their heels, unaccustomed to such heartfelt praise from new people. "You're late."
She laughs, she laughs an uproarious laugh at being told what's for when that had always been her job. "Thanks."
Standing alone in the hall, Lareesh watches Beau Morrison wheel away and disappear towards a voice they can't hear. A nurse passes by, not seeing Lareesh in the least. He does a doubletake at the empty wheelchair, then a quick turn, took hold of and wheeled away.