Published on 2011/08/14

The Beginning at the End

Jessie Peacock

It’s a cruel beauty, how it ends, and no one’s really prepared for the indignity, the irony of it. A thin-lipped mouth ringed with spittle. A formless wail or an inarticulate grunt instead of words. A memory as sharp and fleeting as a ruby-throated hummingbird rushing by the window. I never expected to go out exactly as I came in.

I have to write this as quickly as I can, because I don’t have much time. That’s what they said, anyway. They said soon I won’t be able to express myself or remember things, and I’ll be reduced to something awful. I can’t help being paralyzed with fear… what if I become a real person trapped in a body with no way out and no one even aware? I watch my hand tremble. I hold it in the air for ten, thirty, fifty-two seconds and can’t keep it steady for even one.

I suppose I could write of Nancy and the children, how the brightest days of my life were my wedding day and the day I held each one of my progeny for the first time. But that’s all known, isn’t it? If my disease takes them away from me, it will be terrible, but no amount of writing that down will help me remember them once they’re gone.

No, I’m writing now to preserve what I, and I alone, know to be true. I’m writing, too, to tell of the beginning that no one ever suspected. The beginning of the war. I doubt anyone will believe this; they’ll chalk it up to senility, to my disease. People my age reminisce about the world wars; they’ll think I’m dreaming this up so I could play a role in what was decided before I could enlist.

But I’m not.

I suppose the story I want to tell begins at the end of the Great Depression, when my mother became a medium. She bought a crystal ball and beaded curtains, donned a brightly woven turban, and had people round to the flat for séances. These were strange gatherings of stuffily-dressed men carrying canes they obviously didn’t need, and their frilly wives, who looked surreptitiously about as if they feared their neighbors might see what they were doing.

I worked in the kitchen, putting lentil soup on to boil, for the scent of simmering food always seemed to calm her clients down. We’d pull the curtains closed and gather round the table and the customers would ask Mother questions, and she’d spout mystical phrases in funny voices. Once they were thoroughly spooked, they paid cash. The most profitable sessions were when someone asked questions of a soldier from the Great War.

I remember it was a Thursday, because my birthday was on a Thursday that year, so all Thursdays near it were special to me. The evening’s séance only had three clients: a wrinkled couple who wanted to inquire on the well-being of their daughter, who’d died of the lung sickness after working in a factory, and a woman with a long nose dressed head to toe in black, who said nothing of her intentions. She was frightening to my young eyes, and I was convinced she was a witch, as genuine as my mother was fraudulent.

The couple went first. “Eliza?” the woman queried. She wore a hat with a huge white ostrich feather in it that stooped drunkenly to the left.

“Yes, Mother,” my mother replied in an ethereal voice.

The woman frowned. “Why are you calling me Mother, Eliza dear? You always called me Mummy in life.”

“It is the way of things, beloved,” my mother said in her Eliza-voice.

“Ah,” the woman said. She immediately regaled the room with stories of everything that had happened since Eliza’s death, and the woman who was both my mother and gone-but-not-forgotten Eliza listened politely for a while, but eventually cut her off and told her she was quite happy in the ether but it was time to move on.

Then the witch leaned forward. I scooted back from her, sure the evil emanating from her would give me a tarnish if I sat too close.

“Olric,” she whispered. She had crooked, overlapping teeth. “Olric, come to this woman, now.”

My mother twitched. She had done some theatrical body movements in the beginning, but she’d ruled them out as in bad taste. It had been months since I’d seen her twitch. She twitched fiercely now, though, and her turban toppled to the floor. Her gray-streaked hair was askew, slapping her face in lank waves. I bit my lips to hold back a scream.

My mother spoke in a man’s voice. It wasn’t her dead-man voice, but a man’s deep, gravelly voice, lower than her range, sounding as though it was filtered through a thousand cigarettes. “I am done, Martha,” the voice said, and I looked wildly at the witch, whose name couldn’t possibly be anything so banal as Martha. “The war ended for me.” I realized it held a heavy accent my mother had never tried, one with very sharp sounds. Vor instead of war. It was filled with menace.

“It ended for you, you twit,” she hissed, “but not for the rest of us! Our country is falling apart. We are dying like flies die in November.”

“What do you want from me?” The man’s voice streamed from my mother’s lips. Her eyes were lusterless.

“Call him,” said the witch. “Put the idea in his head. Avenge us. He is the perfect choice to put our plan in action.”

Ah, if only I could see then what I know now. The memory is so vivid. It’s hard to imagine it will one day be lost to me, lost like the suspenders I was wearing that day. I would have taken the knife from the drawer and stabbed it through her heart. Anything to prevent the next words.

“Go to Hitler,” she said. “Make him rise. Make him fight. Make him win.”


Jessie Peacock's work has appeared in Sand: A Journal of Strange Tales, DOGZPLOT, Beyond Centauri, LITSNACK, Skive Magazine, Calliope Nerve, 52/250 A Year of Flash, Midwest Literary Magazine, and Eschatology Journal. She writes with two dogs in her lap and blogs at http://jessie-peacock.blospot.com.