The Funny Thing (3rd Prize, Category 2)
Click. Click. Click.
Clea brought her camera down to check the photo quality. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted her mom buying two drinks from the small café in the train station. She hurried over to where her mother was standing.
“Done yet?” Her mother inquired as she handed Clea her cup of hot chocolate.
Clea nodded. She was taking pictures of the old train station for her art project. She took her mother’s hand, and walked towards their parked car. They climbed in, and Clea’s mom started the engine.
“Where are we going now?” Clea asked. She already knew the answer, but she asked it anyway.
“We’re going to buy cake, and then go to the cemetery.” Her mom said as she checked the rearview mirror. Clea could see her mother’s eyes- suddenly sad and empty.
Clea rested a hand on her mother’s forearm, hoping to assuage her mom’s sudden grief. Her father had died of cancer when she was five. Today was her dad’s birthday. Every year, they would visit her dad’s grave on this day. Sometimes they would sit on either side of his gravestone, taking in the serenity of the cemetery; other times they would sit and talk. But they never got cake for him. Clea shrugged it off. Her mom probably wanted a change. Besides, she was getting hungry.
They drove in silence for the next few minutes. Clea flicked through the photos on her camera, and her mother peeked over her shoulder every once in a while.
"You should consider entering a photography contest someday," said Clea’s mom, "I can see real talent there."
Clea laughed and showed her mother a photo taken a few months ago, one with her mom wearing a ridiculously large sun hat and sunglasses, imitating famous Audrey Hepburn poses. Clea’s mother took a quick glance and snorted.
Clea sat back and watched her mom drive the rest of the way. She only talked when the car screeched to a halt. She knew how easily distracted her mother could be sometimes.
They were at an empty crossroad. Clea felt the car inch forward slowly, gradually picking up speed. When she tilted her head, she saw another car racing towards them. The driver didn’t look like he was going to stop the car.
Clea tugged at her mom’s sleeve: "MOM!"
Clea’s mother looked out and immediately stepped on the gas. The car lurched forward, and Clea slammed into her seat belt.
The driver in the other car finally seemed to sense the danger. He put his phone down and looked up. Realizing the dangerous situation, he swerved in the other direction. The next few seconds passed, painstakingly slow. Clea heard an ear-shattering crash, and felt the car jerk sideways, dangerously close to tipping. The world started to turn upside down. She heard her mom shout Clea’s name, one desperate plea, before she raised her arms to shield her eyes from any falling glass.
First there was a dull pain.
Then there was darkness.
Sweet, bitter, and utter darkness.
Clea opened her eyes slowly, letting her vision adjust to the bright white lights that illuminated above her. She heard voices. She raised herself up with her elbows.
The voices stopped instantly. Two unfamiliar faces peered down at her. She examined her surroundings. Before she could ask anything, one of the faces spoke.
“Clea? What year is it?”
Clea had to think for a moment before answering. “2-2013?”
“What day is it?” The man pressed on.
Clea’s mind tried to grasp a date. She looked around the room, searching in vain for a calendar that would give her an answer.
In the end, she just stared blankly at the people standing before her. A woman, and a man, both in lab coats. They had identification cards hanging around their neck. Clea looked around again. She was lying in a bed with white sheets. Beds lined up in 2 rows against the walls of the spacy room. It was filled with equipment, most of them repeating the same obnoxious “beeps”. The entire room reeked of antiseptics.
“I’m in a hospital.” Clea muttered to herself.
“You are.” The woman confirmed. “I’m Doctor Smith, and this is Doctor Walker.” She gestured to the man standing next to her. “Do you know why you’re here?”
Clea racked her brains. Why was she in the hospital?
“Do you know why you’re here?” Doctor Walker asked again.
Clea shook her head slowly.
The female doctor- Doctor Smith quickly scribbled something on the clipboard she was holding. She handed the clipboard to Doctor Walker, and helped Clea sit up. She took a seat next to the bed.
“Tell us about yourself, Clea.” Doctor Smith smiled at her gently.
Confused, Clea glanced at the two faces. She saw Doctor Walker look at what Doctor Smith wrote, and noticed him furrow his eyebrows. She looked back at Doctor Smith. Her sharp blue eyes bore into her. Clea settled on staring at her trembling hands.
“My name is Clea… Clea K-Knell. I’m thirteen years old. My dad died from cancer when I was five. I live with my… mom.” With this, her head snapped up. “Where’s my mom?”
She saw the two doctors exchange a small glance. They sat in uncomfortable silence for a few moments, until Doctor Walker finally said: “You were in an accident with your mother just a few days ago. You’ve been in a coma ever since. It also seems like you have a mild case of amnesia.”
The air hung heavy around the trio. Questions rushed through Clea’s head. She blurted out whatever questions she could blindly grab.
“How long have I been unconscious?”
“Do any of my relatives know?”
“Your Aunt has been informed.”
“And my mom?”
Moments passed before Doctor Smith spoke up gently.
“Your mom died in the accident.”
“I’m sorry.” Doctor Walker said.
Clea knew that she should be miserable, knowing the fact that her mother is dead. Wiped out completely from the face of the earth. But she couldn’t remember her mom. What did she look like? Were they close?
Clea felt her head was going to explode. She cradled her head in her hands. She heard the two doctors leave silently, letting her grieve. Or not grieve. Either option was truly terrifying.
“Clea. You have to focus.” Doctor Smith slapped the table with her hand.
“I can’t. My head hurts.” Clea retorted. She knew she was being rude, but all these sessions with Doctor Smith was a hopelessly feeble attempt to bring back all her lost memories.
Doctor Smith was exasperated. She pointed to one of the many photos lying on the table.
“Clea. Look at it. You’re a bright girl. You’ve made so much progress these last few sessions. Look at the photo. And try to remember it.”
Clea gave a theatric sigh. She snatched the photo up. The photo showed her, and her mother, standing in front of a brightly colored building. The description said Spain, 2012. But Clea had no memory of it. It took her a long time to regain the memories of her childhood, and her pre-teen years, but now she was always stuck on the year 2012.
She stared at the photo, and look at the other ones of the table. They were all photos that showed her and her mom, all taken in the year 2012 onwards.
She threw down the photo. She threw herself onto a chair, and rested her chin on her hands.
They were sitting in Clea’s room. Not her room back in her house, but her room in the orphanage she was placed in. No one wanted her. Not even her family. She was always alone.
She missed her mom terribly. She started remembered how close they were, and with every memory restored, she felt the weight on her shoulders grow heavier and heavier.
The knocking. She hated the knocking. It was so annoying. How long will it be until everyone would understand? Clea did not want to be diagnosed today. Yesterday’s sessions were fruitless, why would today be any different?
“Clea, let me in.” Doctor Smith’s shrill voice sounded through the door.
“Why? It’s hopeless. My mom died, and I lived. Why should I get to feel the grief? Is this the punishment I get for living?” Clea yelled through the door.
“But you get your happy memories back. The ones with you and your mother!”
“Pain overcomes everything!”
“Clea. I know how you feel. Just let me come in. Talk to me.”
Clea took a glance at the photos that were laid out on the table in front of her. Suddenly enraged, she snatched up a pair of scissors for her desk, and started cutting up the photos. She cut and cut and cut, until it was merely white snowflakes in her hands, so beautifully dangerous. Clea let the shredded paper run through her fingers, and rest the cold floor below. She collapsed against the doorframe, letting her sobs fill up the room. She let her sadness consume her, as if it was a tidal wave, and she was sand.
“Done yet?” Doctor Smith’s voice asked cautiously.
Clea wiped her tears from her face, suddenly self-conscious of the childish tantrum she just made. “I guess.”
“Clea. Death is natural. It strikes randomly. Let’s put this metaphorically. Death is the Grim Reaper, right? He takes the souls from the dead people’s bodies, yes?”
Clea nodded. Then, realizing that Doctor Smith couldn’t see her, she quickly added: “Yes.”
“So, the Grim Reaper got to the car crash. He took your mother’s soul first. Then yours. Then that cursed drunken driver of the other car who was texting.”
“Then as he was leaving, ready to take your souls wherever. He saw your soul. It was so young, so innocent. It was full of potential, and it was ready to fight him. It was ready to take on the world, and strike down everything that was in its way.”
Clea snorted. “That’s the explanation for children.”
“Clea, it’s a miracle that you survived that crash. It’s a chance. Come on, try to get up on your feet.”
Clea shook her head. “It’s not that easy.” She hesitated before continuing, “What if the Grim Reaper suddenly realizes that he made a mistake, and he comes and collects my soul again?”
Now it was Doctor Smith’s turn to laugh. “Death isn’t to be feared, Clea. Death is a part of life. Learn to embrace it. And when you do, maybe the Grim Reaper will take your soul a bit later than expected.”
Clea smiled. For a few moments she sat there, comprehending Doctor Smith’s words. She felt a lot calmer now. She still didn’t understand the whole concept of “death”. It was funny, how it can never be fully understood by anyone. The only people who truly know are the ones that would never speak again.
She heard a rustle of clothes outside her door. It was Doctor Smith standing up.
“Clea, open the door.” She pleaded.
Clea sighed. She got up, and placed her hand on the doorknob.
Quietly, she twisted the doorknob and opened the door.
The hallway was empty.
By Abbie Leung,
13 years, Shanghai American School