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I killed my own mother before I knew what death was. My father never blamed me, but I knew that the pain, the blood, the horrifying effort of bringing a new life into this world was what did it. My father said I was a fragile thing. He said that I could not drink my own mother's milk in the few days she clung to life and strained to stay with her true love, and with me, the product of two uniquely beautiful minds. So independent and forward-thinking, unafraid to challenge every taboo.
I love my father, and the memory of my mother. He never hid her life and brilliance from me like many grieving men do. He was open and honest about it, even after he married Mary Jane Clairmont and took on Claire as though she were his own. My father is an open, honest man but he has developed his own ideas of morality and shame over the years that I could never subscribe to. Love the poor dear, though, ringing his hands over tabletops while his daughters gallivant off with suitors sleeping with who knows who and marrying who knows what. He understood true love once, he felt it, he should know, and I intend to remind him.
Only the truly reckless and inspired people understand that God is either dead or never existed in the first place, and that love, above all, is the universal truth and goal. Only the truly brilliant understand that humans are the closest things to divinity that will ever be reached. My most excellent friends and lovers do not fear death, for they are too busy drinking in every drop of life and liquor that they taste upon their lips. They do not know my secret, why I am so frequently requesting to be alone or quiet, seemingly so far away even at the table, picking at my food. They think I fear death.
I do not, for why fear a thing you have conquered? Only I, with my excellent wit, sound mind and hands, and true passion for the living, can be the mother of all. Someday I can create excellent creatures that will not disappoint me when I look upon them, that will not have flaws upon their skin or nightmares of their own birth. They will not be like Claire.
She was the first of my creations, and the only one that has been allowed to live. In a way, I suppose this could be called a success. It was through my revival of Claire that I discovered my true passion and calling. While combining ink and paper is satisfying and it is entirely possible to create beautiful fictional lives and express beauty in this way, it is also not enough.
I can write a lovely poem or story about whatever I want, but the characters and pictures I create can only appear to me in my mind, and the second they are written down, they are no longer the same. The initial thrill of creation is gone, for they cannot walk around and bring their own ideas to the world as they grow. This method of creation is flawed inherently. The butterfly who flitters across the page in a poem cannot leave the page and pollinate a flower in the garden. It makes me sick and douses my mind in darkness if I allow myself to ponder such things for long.
If it had not been for her death, I may have never realized such things about writing and about life. We were out in the garden one day, I about twelve and her having just turned eleven, when I suggested that we might climb a tree in the back yard. I may stress at this juncture that Claire was quite a clever little bird, the human embodiment of a raven. She was wiser than I in spite of her age and I will admit that such things irked me at the time, for I did not like to think of anyone else, especially my lesser, to be superior. She developed before I did as well, her new, young breasts already swinging lazily beneath her clothes with each step, already past her first blood and constantly sore. She tucked her head down and wrapped her arms around her chest when she ran, a blush of womanly shame spreading across her cheeks.
I did not act so with Fanny, who was so far beyond us both. I did not feel the same resentment towards her, for she was older and supposed to be more grown up. What irked me so was that the two would sometimes pair off to discuss the more secret, intimate desires and pains of womanhood without me, giving me a pitying glance as they spoke in hushed tones. That stirred up the dragon of rage I sometimes swore lived in my chest, and I would retreat to my room and beat my fist against the bedpost until it ached and tingled.
I should not have envied their rapid ascent to the world of womanhood, for Claire told me that being a woman was nowhere near as nice as it sounded, and that, if anything, it made your life harder than it was before the inclusion of breasts. Fanny, also, once told me that being a woman was like being demoted after being a child. I could not bring myself to believe her at the time, and I was competitive with Claire in spite of myself. That day, I was certain I could climb higher than she, given my height advantage and my long, gangly legs that were awkward from the puberty I was starting and that had not favoured her in that fashion. I was like a spry young filly you'd find bucking off invisible riders in a paddock, so full of directionless energy and a brilliance that had yet to be unlocked.
“Come with me, Claire!” I called as I yanked myself up to a branch halfway up the tree that was thick and able, I was certain, to support the weight of both of us.
Claire was stuck a few branches down, about eight feet high up the tree. “Mary, dear, can't we go inside? It looks like it may storm, and we are awfully high. That branch won't be able to hold us for long.” She narrowed her eyes at it as she came anyway, not wanting to be shown up.
I scoffed, and her calling me “dear”, as though her breasts made her older than me, stung. “You worry far too much about safety. Nothing will happen.” I said, shaking my head and taking one of my hands off the branch to wave away her concern.
She sighed and climbed up to sit next to me. Even as she sat, I heard the branch crack a little softly, bowing slightly under our weight. Claire gasped and went to get off the branch, but I pulled her back. “We will be fine, I assure you!” I said, and she struggled to get out of my grip.
“Let me go, Mary! You'll get us both killed!” she cried. Thunder cracked in the distance. Claire was not scared of much back then, but thunder rattled her for no good reason I could see. Her face went pale. “Mary, please!”
I shook her violently rather than releasing her, mocking her words in a high-pitched voice.
“Mary, please!” I cried, and giggled.
Then, all at once, I let her go. Her body had been shaking so fast that the force of my letting go must have caused her to tumble, and down she went, head-first and so fast she barely had a chance to scream.
I clung to the branch like a caterpillar the second she fell, and cringed as she hit the ground with a terrific crack that hurt my heart just to hear it. Her skull was in pieces, to be certain, but there was surprisingly little blood aside from a bit leaking from her ears. The bone, not the skin, had broken, for she had fallen on soft grass. If only she had been born a cat, and could have landed on her feet! I shook with fear on the branch that suddenly seemed as weak and feeble as Claire had implied.
“Claire?” I asked with the voice of a mouse, but I shook with the certainty that no response would come.
I do not remember climbing down the tree; it is as if the force of my fear alone propelled me down the trunk to Claire's waiting, still body. I had never held a corpse before, felt the heat fade from the skin quickly and slowly at the same time.
I did, however, know a few things about dead bodies. I had seen them before, especially those of animals. My father had once taken me to see a man who could cause a dead frog to move again when struck with a spark of electricity from a wire but just for a few seconds. Electricity, that's the thing. I knew I could do this. Hubris told me so, I suppose, but hubris has gotten me quite far. I carried her body to my father's shed without tears, eyes wide with anticipation and wet with rain. My own muscles shook, but not with fear, with excitement.
I laid her down on the work bench and grabbed every wire, every battery, everything lying around, and hooked her up with tape and wet rags. Barbaric, compared to what I have learned to do now, but I was improvising and it is best not to critique myself for too long about it. I was only a child, a silly little girl who had so much more to learn and understand. I did not yet have my vision. I never did know why my father had so many things like this lying around. I never bothered to ask for fear that it would cause me to reveal my secret.
I shocked her brain first, parted her lovely, thick curls I so envied to get as close as possible to the brain beneath. It was surprisingly easy, with the skull in pieces and only a thin piece of skin separating me from most of it.
Her body convulsed delightfully and several times her lips parted and she gasped, but her heart would only beat a few seconds. That was when true fear started to strike me. I knew what I had unlocked, but I feared I did not have the power necessary to perform such a task, even with a fresh corpse. The room started to fill with the smell of burning hair, and bits of her hair chipped and fell to the floor as though they were pieces of clay from a sculpture I was carving. I moved a few wires to her heart and focused on getting both working at once, dialling the electricity to varying volumes until finally, Claire's eyes opened and she coughed, trying to sit up and clutch at her head where she must have felt a terrible, splitting pain.
“Claire! Oh, thank goodness!” I cried, and held down her hands and laid her down.
“W-what happened, Mary?” she said. Her voice was harsher than before, grainier.
“Nothing, my sweet sister. You fell out of the tree, is all, you hit your head and I have to wrap it up.”
“What are these things?” Claire said, going to rip the wires from her chest.
“Never you mind. You're still delirious, there's nothing there.” I said quickly, slowly peeling them off.
“Oh, alright.” Claire said, and I balked. She would have never conceded to me before, this would have been an argument to last at least a half hour, two stubborn, smart minds pitted against each other.
Claire was suddenly incredibly obedient. When her mother wailed and my father shouted at discovering poor Claire's broken head that I had wrapped in dirty rags before taking her inside. As they unwound the rags and exclaimed at the amount of swelling and seeing the thin stream of blood trying to relieve itself from her ears, Claire repeated only what I had told her to as an explanation. “It was my idea. I fell off a branch. Mary told me to stop. Mary told me to stop.” She said again and again as they doted on her. They luckily failed to notice the hairs that had been singed by my wires, or it was of markedly less concern than the swelling beneath the rags. They did not scold me for long. I cried as they took off the rags and ignored the charred bits of skin on her scalp and chest in favor of the head wounds, and they figured I was entirely repentant, but I cried because I knew something was wrong.
They called in a doctor in spite of my father's reservations about letting one into his house, and the doctor tutted as he examined Claire.
“It is lucky you called me here, the swelling is terrible. She's lucky to be alive,” he said, “she must have fallen far.”
I sniffled in the corner of the room and protested, “We were not very high up, doctor.”
He looked at me sympathetically, “You may not have thought so, but it is clear that is not the case. Children misjudge distance so often.”
His words stung, but I collected myself and said no more.
He had my father make Claire a drink and as she sipped it slowly and coughed at the taste he muttered something about “relieving pressure” in Claire's skull and I saw him gently, precisely, make a cut and drain some of Claire's blood in a basin. She shrieked, but did not struggle, for she was told not to. She wept as he stitched her up, and he sighed. “Let me know if the swelling gets worse and I shall come take the pressure off again. She may act differently for awhile, trauma is to be expected, but she is talking and walking with relative normalcy so she should not be too damaged.” He murmured, tipped his hat, and was gone.
“You see why I did not want to let a doctor near Claire?” My father snapped at Mary Jane, who bit her lip to keep herself from sobbing and held the weeping, shaking Claire in her arms tightly.
“He did more than you could have!” she cried.
“Ice could have done that! He put a hole in her head!” my father snapped, lighting himself another cigar and pouring another glass of whisky for Claire.
Claire sipped the liquid and I could see it stung her tongue and throat, but quickly she seemed relieved and drank the rest down as though it were the sweetest milk.
Some part of me saw that Claire was not herself, and that I had been unsuccessful in re-creating the Claire that I loved in spite of her superiority over me in some respects. Claire was no longer the raven-esque young woman she had once been because I had been foolhardy. I had been too focused on starting her heart and brain and not focused on bringing her to the surface. I stopped too soon. I should have shocked her longer. In that moment, sucking down my father's whisky with shaking hands, Claire became my greatest love, my greatest success, and also my greatest regret.
You must understand, I am not mad. No part of this is born in madness. I was so worried about bringing my dear sister back that I did not think to continue shocking her. Could not yet tell a hippocampus from a pituitary gland to start with, you see. I could not have looked in her eyes and told you what parts of her needed more work if she could not follow my finger back and forth in a straight line which, poor dear, she could not do to save her skin! Always getting distracted by the slightest things and leaping in the air at her own shadow. Sometimes she woke up screaming in the night, saying she had dreamed she was a monster, or of falling from a great height. She often crawled into bed with me as though she were a toddler and asked me to hold her until she drifted off again. When we shared a bed, she never stirred. She did not even seem to be breathing as she slept, her heart barely quivered in her chest.
She no longer feared thunder or rain as she had before her rebirth, and instead took to dashing about laughing in it, shedding articles of clothing to try to get as close to the earth as possible. Her mother chased her around the yard calling for her to stop, but it was no use. Claire would not falter unless I told her to, and who was I to deny my child basic earthly pleasures after such an awful trauma? She was only trying to revisit the conditions of her birth in the way that, maybe, all children would if given the chance.
Something about storms called to the poor creature, some kind of primal desire to feel the thrill of one's heart restarting one more. She would not listen to any warnings about how lightning could kill you, how dangerous it was and she a veritable lightning rod in our sparse yard. She would simply state that the storms made her feel happy. They caused joy to bubble in your chest, the kind after a much-needed cry that has been brewing deep inside your belly for weeks. Running in a thunderstorm felt like falling in love to Claire. She so loved the world, every creature, every cloud, every blade of grass. Claire swelled with a joy of being alive, seemingly unaware that she had the world's most terrible luck. In a way, it is difficult to resist a kind of extreme admiration for the pathetic child. Unaware of being a member of the undead, little sense of danger or wrongdoing in the world, a child's intense innocence in an adult's body. Every day spent around Claire is like watching the flowers open up after a rainstorm, but it also fills me with a sense of unspeakable dread.
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