Welcome to October
CHAPTER
3
A Cas(k)e(t) Closed
It was fact that the Mortimers were terrific and three, but they weren’t the only dwellers of October. Not at all. Their Leila thought of this often when alone on her walks, when together with her sisters, or when embracing a corpse. She thought, while passing shops and bodies breathing, about life and about others. About the fact that there were others living leisurely in October around them— without them. And when she was called upon by Detectives Abe and Bee, she thought about life as well. She thought, while carrying cadavers cold, about the lives that were lost while she lived hers— without them.
At those times, Leila thought of her parents. Which meant, of course, that Leila thought of her parents a lot. They were practically the only reason Leila came to realize there were others in the world who weren’t Leila or Evie, Nyx or Clara, Dr. D or Mrs. D, Jinx or Stein. She remembered them as people and they were people who had lived in October around her. They were people, once; not bodies. And she often wondered about the lives they lived. Without her.
She had questions. About their lives. About their deaths. About life and death, in general. About Clara and what the rest of them were supposed to do, now, without her. Leila Mortimer knew that she and her sisters did not live in October alone. She thought of that often. But most days, thinking didn’t— simply couldn’t— stop her feeling like it was them against the world.
On a day dark and rainy, the phone rang and rang and rang and just possibly could not stop ringing. It’d been one month since Clara’s passing premature. One month since Dr. Down’s wife had left their Home now hollow. Slowly, Wei, himself, was finding his way up from the depths of grieving gruelingly, but it took a lot of effort. A lot of effort he honestly didn’t have. But his Evie had inadvertently helped him to start the process of healing his hurting heart, and Clara would have fussed at him for wearing a frown for so long.
You’re not dead, Dad,” she would have told him. He smiled, picturing her standing with hands on hips, the spitting image of an angry Constance Down. He smiled, eyes tearing as he pictured her jumping up to hug him. With a peck on the cheek, she’d tell him, half-playful, half-serious, “It’d be best if you remembered it.”
It was time, he thought the very night he rocked Evie back to sleep from her nightmares. It was time to remember that he was living. For better or worse, he was breathing. He was alive. And his wasn’t the only heart hurting. He had a family. And even though a part was taken from it, family was the only thing he knew that could, in spite of everything, remain whole.
On a day dark and rainy, the phone rang and rang and just possibly could not stop ringing. Leila Mortimer listened in as Dr. D finally took up the phone.
It was Detective Abe or Detective Bee. There’d been an accident awful. This much, Leila gathered from the fact that it was Detective Abe or Bee in the first place. But she understood something else from the way Dr. D tried to cover the earpiece and from the tensing of his face and body as he tried to turn away while doing so.
It was a collision. A traffic collision. An accident.
A car accident.
There was something about rainy days in October that caused cars to crash and people to pay less attention. There were so many people that day, Leila realized. But none of them saw a driver dozing through several stop signs. None of them did anything to stop her parents from crossing with the permission of the walk-man winking, or prevent the act that came after.
It was an accident, apparently, and October had those plenty. But Leila had her doubts and still had questions. And she stayed indoors on days that were dark and damp. Usually.
But she didn’t like Dr. D’s reaction. She didn’t like it one bit. If he thought she was scared or scarred, he was wrong. She was the oldest. She was his first (and really only) assistant. She was going to go with him and that was that. Just because she didn’t like car accidents, didn’t mean he had the right to assume so.
But he did.
So Leila took his umbrella and led him out the house.
It was a long way to the site of the Nu-Mann accident. Especially since Lei had convinced Dr. Down to walk.
Wei knew deep down that it had nothing to do with exercise as she had tried, for the first ten minutes, to convince him. As they walked along the High Road, Leila’s mouth stopped moving. Her eyes, however, kept wide open, and she jumped at every other passing car that splashed through the roads rain-splattered— even though Wei had purposely decided to walk on the outside, closer to the cars, just in case.
But eventually, poor Lei’s nervousness began even to get to him. After startling at the jingle of a mere biker’s bell, he had to laugh. And though his cheeks flushed from chuckles and embarrassment, he remembered, at least, to be grateful that he was breathing again.
Leila, on the other hand, was less amused.
Hmmph!” she hmphed crossing her arms, and cutting him a cross look as they cut across the road.
At first, Wei was confused completely, unsure of what he’d done wrong. But he realized she thought he’d been laughing at her.
Which of course got him laughing again.
Leila was livid.
“Lei!” he called for her through giggles and tears.
But Lei did not stop for Wei. She was determined to leave him and his chuckling behind her.
If it were any other day a month before now, Wei might have gone on laughing. He might have given her the space. But there was something in his gut that kept gutting, something in his heart that kept hurting, and the further she pushed from him, the harder these somethings kept stab, stab, stabbing. So Wei wiped his eyes. He hushed his HA!s. And he saw the green light in front of his eldest daughter turn a yucky, yucky yellow.
With a heart most heavy, Wei Down cried out “ Lei!”
But she didn’t stop.
So Wei Down ran.
There was no word Leila Mortimer could conjure to express just how she felt the second after Dr. D pulled her out of the road and into his arms as the truck for Paulie’s Pizza flew over the spot she once stood.
Angry only described what she felt before that, when she thought of Dr. D laughing and laughing at fragile, little Lei.
Terrified only described what she felt the moment she saw she’d made a mistake, stepped out too late.
Resigned only described what she felt when the sound of blaring horns filled her ears, fear tore the umbrella from her hand, and rain, in hard, single drops, it seemed, demanded that she Relax with every pool they made on her skin.
Numb only described what she felt the second after she realized she was being held and not crushed. It only described that one second where the lavender-coated smell of death rushed over her and she knew she was safe. She knew exactly where she was.
But there was only one word to describe her state of being that she thought to actually say. Aloud.
“Dad?” she choked in a note nasal and uncertain. Perhaps this is why Dr. D didn’t push her. Didn’t ask her to repeat it and didn’t make her look at him. He just held her tighter. So she said it. “I’m sad.”
She was sad. But why, she couldn’t say. After all the loss she’d lived beyond, she couldn’t say why she was crying now, in this moment. Only that she was. Even though she was the oldest.
With her emotions all jumbled and her thoughts jumbled, too, she confessed to the Dr.
“I can’t stop thinking about Clara,” she told him. “I can’t stop thinking about her, or about my parents. Or about the person who hit them and why they didn’t stop.”
Dr. D seemed to understand this. “Even accidents hurt,” he agreed. She nodded, squinting back her tears.
Dr. D gave her a pat on the back, then pulled away to whip out his always handy wipes. She took the one he offered her, thankful, then wiped her face.
“I think about them all the time, too,” Dr. D told her. She frowned, but she didn’t mean to. He smiled anyway. “He was my best friend, your father. And your mother made the best pecan pie.”
Leila could almost taste the sugar on her tongue.
“And not a day goes by that I don’t think of our Clara,” Dr. D went on. “She won’t let me stop thinking about her.”
Leila giggled. When her cheeks fell down again, she wanted to cry.
“I’m sad, too,” said Dr. D. And she really did. Cry, that is.
Dr. D took her hand and pressed the button for the crosswalk again. He used his second umbrella to cover the both of them.
“I’m sad,” he said, “but that means I’m alive. Because I’m alive, I need to keep moving. It doesn’t have to be right now. Just eventually.”
The light turned green, but Leila stood frozen on the pavement. Following her lead, Dr. D didn’t budge either.
“I’m sad,” Leila repeated as the light turned red again. She looked at Dr. D for confirmation. “But I’m alive.”
Dr. D smiled in response and pushed the button for the crosswalk again.
“It’d be best,” he advised as they kept their eyes on the bulb glaring red relentlessly ahead of them, “if you remembered it.”
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