Memento Mori

by Jayne Leitch

Rating: PG.

Disclaimer: God, I hope I wouldn't come up with characters as disturbed as these ones...

Notes: I couldn't take it anymore, I just *couldn't*. I had to try to explain this freaking thing; I only hope I didn't end up making it all more incomprehensible. It's Lana, it's Nell, and I have it on good authority that it's creepy. Gaah.

In happier news, MaryKate is Da Man when it comes to betaing under pressure. (Soundtrack courtesy David Bowie & Queen. With dripping water in the background.)

Summary: L is for Lana; two parents she lacked...

MEMENTO MORI by Jayne Leitch
Copyright 2002

When Lana was six years old, she found Edward Gorey's The Gashleycrumb Tinies in a box of her father's things under the stairs in the basement. She read it immediately.

She loved it. Partly because it had been her father's, partly because it was fascinating to her in the way gruesome counsel is fascinating to all small children, partly because the simple black and white pictures were funny--but mostly, Lana loved it because it was a piece of her parents that fit perfectly into little six-year-old her.

She carried the book around like a security blanket for a week, and knew it by heart after only two days. She knew Nell didn't approve; her aunt preferred that Lana read the colourful storybooks she provided, all about talking animals and spirited little girls who had exciting adventures. It didn't come as a big surprise when, the day after Nell caught her in the barn acting out all twenty-six deaths for the horses, Lana overheard her talking on the phone about taking "that horrible thing" away and donating it to the St George's used bookstore. Lana knew Nell always worried when she spent too much time clinging to things that had belonged to her parents; she was used to losing her prized, tangible mementos to boxes in the basement or donations to Goodwill as soon as Nell realized what they were. This book, however--Lana would rather pretend it didn't exist and only read it once a day, under the covers after Nell tucked her in, if that meant she could keep it from disappearing.

The Tinies weren't just a way for Lana to know her parents--although at first, knowing her father had loved them before he died had been important. They were more than that, though; Lana felt like they were also a way for her father to know her. The Tinies were poor, helpless children, alone in a world that didn't care if bad things happened to them. This made them just like her, and it was almost as if her daddy, through having read the book, would have known that. Known her.

Lana's favourite was Kate. The picture made her giggle. She felt sorriest for poor Ernest, who only wanted to eat a peach. Neville deserved no sympathy at all, since it was entirely his own fault that he couldn't find something interesting to do; Clara, on the other hand, couldn't help it if she was shut in until she died. Lana named one of her teddy bears after Basil.

Once she discovered that her name fit into the "L is for..." spot, she spent as much time as she dared trying to find an appropriate demise for herself. Swallowing tacks seemed such a silly way to die; Lana went through alternative favourites at the rate of two or three per day, and considered almost all of them to be far superior to Leo's fate--

"L is for Lana who drowned in a sack..."

"...melted like wax..."

"...had heart attacks..."

"...fell through a crack..."

--but she had to promise to stop when Nell found a sheet of potential deaths in the back of her spelling book, and Lana couldn't pretend the careful, wobbly printing wasn't hers.

One day not long after Nell's discovery, Lana came home from school and went to pull the book out of its hiding place between her mattresses--but it was gone. She realized Nell had searched her room and found it; realized also that she probably wasn't going to be able to go to the St George's store and buy it back, because Nell had been very upset when she found Lana's sheet of deaths. The book--her father's book, one more piece of the parents she would never know, who would never know her--was gone, and there was nothing Lana could do about it.

She said nothing to her aunt at supper, and cried herself to sleep the next few nights.

But one day, about a week after the loss of the book, Lana went downstairs for breakfast and found a flat velvet box beside her cereal bowl. Inside was a necklace: a pretty green stone on a silver chain, lying in a bit of soft fabric. Lana fingered it carefully; the stone was smooth, but had hard, cold edges. It seemed to warm up almost the second she touched it.

Nell sat down beside her then and explained where the stone came from, and Lana snatched her hand away. She could only stare, wide-eyed and trembling, while her aunt spoke quietly, saying things like "tragedy" and "blessing" and "love" and "sorry" and "remember".

"But you take all the things I can remember them with away!" Lana burst out, tears welling over.

Nell reached out and stroked her fingers over Lana's cheeks. "No, sweetheart," she said gently. "I take away the things that make you think you're remembering your mommy and daddy."

Lana didn't understand. "I want to know them, Aunt Nell. I want to know Mommy and Daddy. And the things that were theirs tell me who they were," she sniffled, and Nell, looking right into her eyes, gave a sad smile.

"You have to be told who your parents were. That's not remembering them, Lana." Reaching out one hand, she lifted the necklace out of its box. "But this...Lana, this is what you do remember about them. You remember that you love them, and that you miss them. And you remember, all the time, that they're dead, and sweetie I know that hurts...but it's what they are for you." She paused, then held out the necklace. "This is how you can remember your parents, Lana. It will always tell you who they are."

Lana wore the necklace. In time, she stopped searching the house for relics of her parents' lives. When she was old enough to go riding on her own, she started visiting her parents' graves. Whenever she thought about it, she understood that she was visiting her parents, and saw nothing wrong with that.

When Lana was ten, she found a battered copy of The Gashleycrumb Tinies in the St George's used bookstore. She bought it.

The next time she visited her parents, she buried it behind their headstone as she told them about her day.


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