*Trigger warning: This story focuses on mental illness, suicide, domestic abuse, and depression. If these topics are currently upsetting to you, or you’re currently feeling depressed, please do not feel obligated to read The Suicides. If you are currently struggling with your mental health, please seek help from a trained professional. There are people who care and they will help you feel better.**
Fog seemingly seeped from the decaying forest floor as my eyes searched the path ahead for animal traps. The wilting flowers’ stems had already lost their firmness. The air’s chill only seemed to intensify as I approached a tiny, old wood dwelling that was the furthest thing from quaint. I took a deep breath before knocking quietly. A woman’s ghostly, white face peered out the window. She eyed me like a cornered barn cat.
“Good day,” I smiled.
I stared at my boots until she finally worked up the courage to open her front door.
“Here to cause more trouble, I see,” she said stiffly.
“These… are for you,” I said quietly, slowly extending my messy bouquet-bearing hand toward her. The daisies were pathetic. I should have put more thought into it.
“Please accept my condolences, Ma’am,” I said. My voice sounded empty even to me.
“Condolences,” she echoed, staring past me.
“Jeremy was a good lad from what others have told me. The world is-“
“His name is not to be said by the likes of you! Is that clear?”
She was about to slam the door in my face, but I stopped the motion with my foot.
“Please, Ma’am. I hope to know more about him so I can preserve his good memory.”
“Where do you journalists come from, anyhow? Hell?” she cried.
“I am just a writer. Newspapers are not my forte. I-I really just want to help.”
She sighed loudly. “What if all I am trying to do is forget he ever existed?”
I swallowed past the giant marble in my throat. I partially hated myself for causing the grieving mother further pain.
“Where is he buried so I can pay my respects?” I asked.
She put all her weight onto the door.
“Get off my land, city boy!” she yelled.
I stood back as she caged herself inside of the tiny house again. I set the flowers in front of her door and walked briskly away.
Few people knew where he was buried, but from what I could gather, his body had been tossed in the same area as the other suicides. I wanted to find that burial site. To bring justice to the young people that had taken their own lives by telling their stories and giving them a proper name.
My aunt did not approve of me spending my summer vacation investigating dead people who had taken their own lives, but she did understand the peculiar tastes of creative writers. My uncle used to write short gothic tales for newspapers. She loved that I carried on the family’s creative legacy, but every morning before I set out to do some fact finding about Jeremy, she would do her best to persuade me to write about something peaceful, even happy. She had a lot of grief in her life already and she disliked my fixation on sad stories.
I wandered through the bustling street. Some of the people who I made eye contact with glared at me, or so I imagined. They probably did not enjoy the thought of a rich kid spending his time writing or gallivanting around all summer while everyone else worked hard. I understood long before I hopped on the train that I was not someone who would fit in to the quirky little harbor town easily. Thankfully, my aunt was happy to house me for the summer so that I could work on my novel and keep her company.
I strode into the general store for a reprieve from the crowded street.
“Alfred, what brings you by?” called an airy voice.
I was startled to see Sarah, the store owner’s wife, at the front counter leaning over a book of numbers. It was said by the gossiping women in my aunt’s home the other night that she spent a lot of time in her room, but I always remembered her to be a friendly person when I visited my aunt and uncle over the years. Her warm smile was inviting enough, but her amber eyes had a fearful wideness to them.
“Good day, Sarah. What do you have in the way of tea? I hope to surprise my aunt with a calming blend.”
“Oh, we carry our teas in the big red tin over there. I’ll show you,” she said softly, keeping her eyes on the floor as she drifted across the store. “You will not see the fancy selection you must have in New York City.”
“Never mind that.”
She gave the impression that she was attempting to be personable, but her jab at my privilege stung. I supposed that she felt she needed to apologize for her husband’s merchandising decisions since it was my first purchase at the store in a long time. She opened the top of the tall red tin and gestured with her dainty hand.
“You have a choice of oolong and oolong,” she smiled. “People prefer their coffee here.”
The rumors about her avoiding contact with other people were likely not unfounded. How difficult it was for the special to coexist with the ordinary. There was no corner of the little town that did not emit some form of uncanny mood. She was no exception as her gaze travelled to the closed door at the other side of the room.
“Thank you for showing me where the tea is,” I said.
“I should really speak with Caleb about ordering a selection of teas,” she said thoughtfully.
“Well, that would make my aunt very happy. Thank you, Mrs. McFarlane.”
She returned to the front counter with a surprising, lively gait. A smile formed on my lips that I could not control.
“Fifty cents for the tea today, please.”
I dug into my pocket for two quarters as her almond shaped eyes scrutinized me. Exactly what she was thinking, I could not tell.
“There you are,” I said, allowing the coins to slide from my hand into hers.
“I have heard you are a writer,” she said.
“Ah, bad news spreads quickly here.”
“Sadly, yes, but writing is an admirable pastime. I rather enjoy… I mean… never mind.”
The rosy blush that formed on her cheeks made me feel sorry for her. Silence rarely resonated as awkward for me, but with her, an unusual heaviness seemed to fill the air between us.
“Do you write?” I asked.
“Oh, I suppose you could consider it that,” she stuttered.
“One time we could read one another’s work. If you have time, that is. Lord knows I could use a second pair of eyes once my work is underway.”
“Well, I suppose.”
“I did not mean to cause you embarrassment. If you would rather not share your work, I understand.”
“My writing would probably seem silly to a man who attends Brown University.”
I frowned. “Do not be so hasty to assume how I would perceive your writing. I can imagine you must have read a great deal of books through your life.”
She blinked at me no less than five times.
“Allow me to think about it,” she muttered, staring back at the floor.
“Of course. I really should be going for dinner. Good evening, Ma’am.”
My aunt was likely keeping her eye on the wall clock, waiting for me to return for dinner.
“Mr. Allen!” Sarah called before I stepped out of the store.
She had never addressed me so formally. Then again, she never used to really address me at all.
“Yes, Mrs. McFarlane?” I asked.
“Be careful. People have been talking about your curiosity about the suicides. You must understand why.”
“I do, but this is a project that I hope to finish. I think it is important.”
“You will discover things that you wish you hadn’t.”
I cleared my throat. “I am prepared.”
“Are you sure?”
Her expression matched that of my moral philosophy professor from last semester before he attempted to trap me during a debate.
“What in the world are you attempting to convey to me?” I asked.
She swallowed hard and turned away. “Forgive me. Do what you wish. Good evening then.”
I strode down the less busy street, feeling drained. Sarah was about to warn me about something, but then thought the better of it. I shook my head at my carelessness. I could have been far less blatant about my researching. I had only been in Sunny Harbor for two days and I already caused a bit of a social stir. I needed to find better places to glean for information or my cause would disintegrate.
What I wanted to find most of all was the place where the suicides’ bodies had been tossed. I hated going to bed at night thinking of them never being paid the respect of a proper burial. I hoped that they hadn’t been tossed into the river, sent to drift and be eaten away over the months by crawling creatures that only appeared in nightmares and gruesome tales. It was yet another reminder to me of the darkness that was life, no matter what humans did to catch some light.