Fair is Never Fair

Dee Olabi

     Francine’s eyes blinked before fully opening, clenched fists relaxing. Her nose burned of redolent salt filled air. A wave of nausea followed as she watched the blur of colors form the sky, sea and sand around her. In a state of simultaneous confusion and awe, Francine stood, bare toes wiggling in the warm, flour-like sand. A black t-shirt stuck to her skin, inviting the sun’s heat. Francine recalled distinct memories of how grimy sand used to feel against her skin; ever since she was a baby, her mom would always say, Francine loathed sand. 

     She wondered where she was, or how she’d gotten there. Francine’s last memory consisted of a knock upon thick wood, the kind that made her jump. Then, there was nothing, and somehow, there was here. A quote from her favorite author came to mind. 

 

“And of that second kingdom will I sing

Wherein the human spirit doth purge itself,

And to ascend to heaven become worthy.”

 

     Placing one foot shakily in front of the other, curiosity led each step. Oddly, there was no breeze, though Francine was completely encircled by ocean. That body of water seemed to melt into the horizon, the sun’s rays pouring light onto the beach. Beside the small rumbles of thunder, the weather warranted no cause for a storm, but still, dark clouds refused to hide, periodically illuminating as if lightning hid inside. Francine let her eyes wander, her feet doing the same. 

     She played around with theories, wondering if this island hers alone for eternity. After walking for what felt like days, the sun did not retreat. There was no way to tell time. Exhaling the exhaustion swelling her brain, Francine stared back at her footprints. Why didn’t her body ache from the walking? Her brows raised as her eyes did, discovering the outline of an object a few hundred feet away. Picking up her pace, she stopped before a wooden bench. Had that bench been waiting for her? Cautiously, Francine sat, expecting something to happen. Instead, the aged chestnut bench creaked sadly. 

     Was this meant to be Hell? 

     From her research, it couldn’t be. If she remembered correctly, the path to paradise began in Hell. But that thought was more frustrating than anything else. Francine had realistically relinquished all control some time ago, no knowledge or theory could be proved until life as she knew it ceased.

     Francine reluctantly waited, counting every second. One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. Three, one thousand… 

 

     Julie Provis had thought a lot about her daughter, Francine, and frequently, she’d been plagued by the thought of her only daughter’s death. This was not peculiar for Francine’s mother to ponder, as the concept had gradually become a reality. With every overdose of Benzodiazepines, every cut that required stitches, or every call Julie would get from her daughter’s roommate, death seemed to have it out for her. 

     Julie muttered God’s name in vain, which was something she rarely dared to do. But of everyone, God would have to understand that her own child was gone, and nothing could be done. Of course, He’d empathize. Right?

      A numbing silence filled Julie while the coroner’s lips moved. 

     The same fog covered Julie’s eyes when Francine’s name was spoken. 

     As the coroner draped a blanket over Francine’s pale, lifeless face, a piece of her mother was buried too. Julie watched the next seven days unfold in a blur of tears, only one thing remaining clear- a question. A plea. A curious desire, unshakeable in every way. Something that could keep the cool earth beneath her feet from collapsing. 

     Was Francine at peace?

     Did she find rest?

     The women in her bible study assured Julie that her daughter was with God. In the place upstairs; within the so-called pearly gates. She was told Francine’s fight was over.

     The mother remembered Francine asking whether or not suicide could be forgiven. Shouldn’t someone filled with so much pain be absolved? Now, the same question held as much desperate significance for Mrs. Provis. But, instead of reaching out to a priest, pastor or theologist, Julie called Evelyn Walden, Francine’s roommate. She was a family friend whose mother shared the same Bible study as Julie. Mrs. Provis knew she’d likely here the exact words everyone had recited with differing tones. Evelyn had to be different, though… As a missionary and a clinical psychologist, she’d surely have a better, more educated guess. Julie politely requested they talk in person. Upon ending the call, Francine’s mother began to crumble, the words that left her lips—the ones she still felt stinging her throat—were becoming normal. Dead daughter; A daughter who chose to be dead. With a mess for a brain, she imagined all the ways her conversation with Evelyn could go. Could Evelyn Warden be cruelly honest enough to speak her biggest fear? 

     Peach tranquility was Francine’s favorite tea; it filled the mug that warmed her mother’s fingers. On the coffee table, Julie noticed Francine’s marked up copy of “The Divine Comedy.” A book Francine’s stepfather never liked, leading to unending quarrels between the two regarding “Satan’s grip” on Francine. Now Mrs. Provis had reason to think of it literally. 

     “Julie, are you alright?”

      How could anyone ask that question? Julie had no response. It must have been several minutes of silence after they’d sat down in Francine’s old living room. Embarrassed, yet firmly, she asked, “where do you think she’s been sent? My sweet Francie? I need your honest opinion, you’ve studied psychology and theology, you must have a theory.” 

     Evelyn thoughtfully nodded, and she looked at Julie plainly. The words that left her mouth were the only ones to put Julie at ease. 

 

Once Francine had entered a state of existential delirium on the bench, she reopened her eyes, escaping the consumption of anxiety. She was met with puzzlement. There Francine stood, no longer on the barren island but on scalding black soil. The blackened ground extended for miles. Crumbling rocks replaced the sound of thunder from the Island. The same confusion and awe took over. Again, she walked, her feet boiling with every step. Stifling her screams, she groaned through the pain. Francine collapsed to the ground, the palms of her hands and knees blistering. A replica of her shiny boxcutter blade blinded the girl. Reaching for the blade, she suddenly noticed thousands of them on the ground, in every direction, rows of the same blade stretched on. Francine didn’t waste a second as she grabbed the blade with haste, slicing her arm with all the strength that remained.

 

     “I don’t know.” Was all Evelyn said.

     Julie adopted the answer as the only one. Her fears about the afterlife soon perished when she thought of C.S. Lewis, an author she and Francine both adored. 

 

     “Hell is a state of mind - ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind - is, in the end, Hell.”

 

     And so, a strict routine began with Francine’s new home. This pattern consisted of the nineteen-year old slitting her wrists, waking up somewhere new, anticipating something good only to find herself in Hell. She held the knowledge of her whereabouts for less than a minute because as soon as her heart sank, the beginning became the end, and the end, the beginning. Her pattern rebooted, and so it kept going. Again, and again, she’d find that beach and sit, and it always sounded like a hard knock on wood when she got an hour or so in. 

     Francine knew Hell for a few seconds before taking a blade to her wrists again and again, only to reappear with no memory that this was indeed the home she’d committed herself to. 

     Nineteen years was Francine’s lifetime, which ended one morning, when she didn’t have a reason to get out of bed. So, Francine raised a steady hand, pushing into the bottom drawer of her nightstand and shook the silver blade from the pages of the last leather journal she would ever write in. Without any doubts, she held it against her left arm. Francine’s last earthly sensation was the abundance of warm liquid. 

     But more than anything else, she longed to write about it.