A Different Shade of White

The day she died, I died too.

She had been sick for a while with a rare bone disease. Her death was imminent but painful all the same. She was buried under the weeping willow in the cemetery a few blocks away from our house.

I thought that her death meant the end. The end of a strong, sisterly bond, the end of a friendship. But that was not the case. That night, she appeared at my bedside, clothed in white. She looked like a goddess, a light in the darkness of my bedroom.

She arrived nightly. Each time, she wore the same flowing fabric and sung the same euphonious melody. Her eyes were always bright, and her hair always framed her face like a golden halo.

I told my mother that I had seen her daughter, and she screamed at me until her throat burned. “You’re a liar!” she had yelled. “No one can see the dead!” I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut.

Even after several months since her death, she still visited me each night. She would sit next to me and stroke my hair as she whispered soothing songs into my ear.

I couldn’t understand why I could see her but no one else could. I thought that maybe I had a special gift or that she had become my guardian angel. After all, why else would she visit me? How else would I be able to see her?

However, despite these questions, I couldn’t tell anyone about her. Not anymore. Not after my mother’s anger. When my mood dipped suddenly, I was forced to bottle it up. I watched as everyone around me could breathe perfectly fine, while I was drowning in an invisible force. Solitude became my friend, and I could confide in her alone. She would never judge me. She would never hurt me.

My mother had noticed the change, and she brought me to a psychiatrist, who claimed this newfound mood swing was called “depression.” He gave me little, white pills and sent me on my way.

She came to me the night of the diagnosis. She hugged me tightly and sang in my ear. It was the same song that we sang when we were children. I couldn’t stop the waterworks that sprouted from my eyes.

On the way to school the following day, I joined her. She appeared in the distance, standing where the dirt road turned to pavement. Looking at her instead of the ground, I plunged into the river. I splashed wildly, desperate for air, but none came.

It didn’t take long for me to pull myself out of the river, where she waited for me with a smile on her perfect, pale face. She hugged me tightly, despite the soaking clothes I wore. She and I were together again.

I went back home instead of the school. After all, I wanted to see my mother before she discovered the news. However, I was met with her disapproval. “Julia Cotard, why on Earth aren’t you at school?” she shrieked. “You’re going to be late!”

I told her there was no point. Dead girls don’t go to school. She laughed in my face.

The weeks passed, and I became more and more reckless. Stepping in front of cars and refusing to eat. There was no point in being cautious. I was dead, so what did it matter? I couldn’t get hurt, so I leapt at the chance to take risks. My curiosity blossomed like never before.

After enough months on Earth, it was finally time to leave. My sister walked with me down the halls of Heaven. The skies were not eggshell blue like I had pictured them to be. They were a soft, soothing gray. I wondered if I was colorblind to it.

Heaven became a refuge. The angels were all so kind to me. They brought me white clothes to replace my human ones. However, they didn’t flow like my sister’s. Mine were tight at the legs. They also weren’t the same color. Hers were bright, pure white like fresh snow that coated the mountains of the north. Mine were eggshell.

Despite the differences, I was content. This was a place that recognized my ability to see my sister, and they saw it as a truth. The angels never called me a liar and never threatened me. I felt welcomed. I was finally home.

I was given a room to share with my sister, where we could talk and laugh. She would stroke my hair and sing songs of praise, trilling her voice like a bird during dawn.

The angels would also give me food daily. I was dead and therefore had no reason to eat, but I would accept it anyway. I didn’t always eat, but when I did, they were small bread rolls. Manna, I remembered.

The trumpets sounded several times a day. The noise wasn’t as breathtaking as her singing, but I looked forward to the song. For it meant an angel was coming to see me, to take care of me, and to love on me. Their kindness was marvelous and better than anything I had experienced before.

It wasn’t long before I was able to speak to God. He was tall with a head and beard of snowy white locks. He had a strong nose and warm eyes disguised by wire glasses. He looked majestic yet professional.

His large hands touched mine, and they felt like spider silk. “Tell me,” he spoke, his voice deep and intimidating, “what brings you here?”

I could only muster a small squeak. In his presence, I had resorted to nothing more than a little field mouse. Even the angels trembled as he walked through Heaven.

“There is no need to be frightened, child.” His eyes gleamed, and I could see the trust behind them. I couldn’t resist the small smile that pulled across my lips.

Immediately, I felt a soft touch brush my hand. I turned to see her standing beside me. She clasped my hand and squeezed it gently, providing me with enough confidence to speak to the authoritative figure before me.

After the conversation, I was sent back to my room with my sister by my side. She held me as we fell asleep, singing softly as I drifted off.

I don’t know how much time passed in Heaven. Time seemed to meld into itself. All I knew was that I must’ve aged considerably. During this time, I had noticed a reflection in the mirror. I looked up to see a figure standing before me. She was gaunt and hideous. For this couldn’t be me, could it? I was supposed to be beautiful, supposed to have a new body.

But maybe this was my new body. Maybe I didn’t have to be perfect and flawless like she was. After all, God didn’t love the pretty ones best. It was okay to look this way. Many others in Heaven did too.

Some time passed before I received the surprise of a lifetime. I was in my room, sitting on my bed with my sister kneeling on the floor in front of me. I braided her hair as she hummed a sweet symphony to herself. Everything was perfect, just as it had always been.

The door swung to the side violently, as if it were about to be ripped off the hinges. My head whipped around to see a woman standing at the entrance. My mother, wearing an ivory dress, stood, teary-eyed and smiling. I rushed over to her, sobbing as I wrapped my arms around her waist. She pulled me into a hug tightly. The embrace was unbreakable. It was everything I needed, everything I hadn’t realized I craved. It was perfect.

She was dead too. We were finally together. We were a family once more.

God stepped out from behind her, and we broke apart. “Follow me,” he said, his deep voice commanding my legs into action. We walked past the others and into a small room. There was a chair in the middle and a thin paper barely covered it. A light fixture dangled from the ceiling, but it was turned off. “Come sit,” he said, and I complied without a second thought.

He pulled out a few instruments. He poked and prodded my skin, writing a few things down as necessary. After he had finished, he inserted a sharp object into my hand before covering it was a tape of some sort.

“I need you to trust me,” God said. “You can do that, right?” I nodded, and he smiled at me. “Good.”

I laid back in the chair as he attached several things to my scalp. “Don’t be scared.” I nodded again. Have no fear, I told myself. How many times does it say it in the Bible? God reached up and turned the light on. Everything was so bright before it turned black.

My raven vision slowly faded away, revealing a soft white background. In the distance, I saw her, dancing and singing as her white dress flowed gracefully like doves’ wings. She was the embodiment of flawlessness.

Rain began to pour around her. Lightning cracked the sky, setting the space ablaze. Yet, she continued her graceful movements, as if the weather didn’t faze her. Her golden hair was soaked and stuck to her back. Her dress clung to her thin figure. But she danced. And danced. And danced.

She looked me in the eyes and held her arm out to me. I reached out to touch her, even though she was so far away. She smiled softly and pointed up to the sky, up to the lightning above us. Her lips didn’t move, but I could read the words through her eyes.

I’m waking up, I thought. I don’t want to. I want to sleep.

She smiled, graceful as ever. Before turning and walking away.

I collapsed to my knees. How could I wake up like this? How could I move on? Not when she’s left me yet again.