Ameena was the daughter of my great-aunt and she was alive and healthy before I was born. She died when she was eleven and before, when she was well, she was gorgeous, silky black hair and pink lips and deep dimples in her cheeks. My mother took the last picture of her alive and in it, she had blue lips and pale transparent skin, frail fingers and sunken cheeks, the dimples sunken and crater-like.
Ameena died three months after I was born and whenever I see her mother, in her eyes are Ameena’s last breaths poured into me. My mother took a picture of me at the funeral and I can see Death hovering over my baby girl body as everyone else cried over Ameena. I smiled in the picture and it haunts me.
Sam was seven years old and he was asleep when he died. His cat knocked over a candle on their mantle in the middle of the night and the result was an inferno, melting and burning and I cried with my fourth grade classmates when I found out. His older sister and his mother died too and I remember them in flashes, passing out cookies at a bake sale, applauding the principal at a PTA meeting.
In the front hall of my elementary school, there is an enormous painting hung on the wall of dinosaurs roaring and birds flying painted especially for him. Sam was beautiful, bright blue eyes and blonde hair and red, strawberry lips. We had fire safety assembles once a month afterwards and Death sat next to me during each one.
In the midst of all this fire, he clutched my hand to remind me of the cold.
James was twelve and I cried so hard when I heard. It was my brother’s birthday and my friend called, her voice choked and breathy. I didn’t tell my parents or anyone at my brother’s party and later my brother asked if I would play the Game of Life with him. Alone, grief swallowed me and it was the most heartbreaking thing on the planet. James was twelve and had red hair and freckles and I don’t remember the color of his eyes but he was so lovely maybe only because he was just a child.
During the funeral, my teachers and my mother cried. There was a man in bright green pants and a reindeer parka in front of me who weeped. Death sat beside me in the cafeteria after, a silent comfort. I drank lukewarm coffee and ate two dry turkey sandwiches.
At school, a mural was made for James but I was absent that day. I saw it the next day, shaky, crooked hand prints painted onto the wall by each of the students and I remember feeling solid and steady and permanent.
His name was Aiden and he was the father of a little girl named Mary. She was the best friend of Caleb, the kid I babysit and I couldn’t breathe for a moment when I found out. I had seen him a week before, bald, blue eyes, pale skin; pure Russia bred into his skin and his voice and even the way he walked. He had worn a navy jacket and in the corner of my eye, I saw Death loitering, idling, whistling a happy little tune in the background. I still don’t know how Aiden died and I don’t think I want to.
I watched Mary the day after and to my relief, she didn’t mention anything, as if she didn’t even know. Caleb asked if her dad was picking her up and she said looked down, brows furrowed and said, no, her mom was. Mary’s mother Regina was stunning, high cheekbones, caramel skin and cocoa curls, green eyes puffy and cracked with tears.
I don’t know why Death has taken away from the beautiful. I don’t know why Death takes away at all. I don’t plan on going to Aiden’s funeral and I don’t know how Death will visit me now.
Yasmin Belkhyr, Age 16, Grade 11, Garden School, Silver Key