“Judah has not contacted you since you have been here.”
“That’s not true,” I rush. But, even as I say it, I know it is. “We had a falling out. Before I was admitted to the hospital. We haven’t spoken in quite some time.” I sound like a formal, well-spoken liar.
“And what was your falling out about?” she asks, her pen poised above her yellow notepad.
I think. It’s so hard to remember shit in here, all the drugs pressing against your brain. “His girlfriend,” I lie. “There was an argument. She was rude to me.”
“How did the argument end?”
“He didn’t want anything to do with me. He … he said he didn’t even know who I was anymore.”
“But you write to him, yes?”
“Yes,” I say, remembering the judicious way I tried to explain myself in them. Please forgive me. I don’t know why I did it. She was hurting Mo. She killed her little girl. I won’t do it again. Please speak to me.
All met with silence. I hunker down in my seat, staring at the floor. I’d write him another letter—five. I’d do whatever it takes. I’d make him realize how sorry I am.
“But he came to the hospital,” I say. “Before they brought me here. He was in my room. The two people who transferred me here saw him. You can ask them…”
Dr. Elgin shakes her head. “There weren’t any visitors at the hospital, Margo.”
“How do you know?”
“You were on suicide watch and in critical condition. The hospital wouldn’t have let anyone in there beside family.”
“Call his mother,” I say. “Go on…”
“I have, Margo,” she says. “I went to see her.”
My tongue feels sluggish. I can’t make it form the words I need to say.
“Do you remember her asking you to buy her shirts, from your job … where was it…?”
“The Rag O Rama,” I answer. “And yes, I do.”
“You brought her men’s shirts.”
“That’s what she asked for. Shirts for Judah.”
Dr. Elgin reaches into a drawer in her desk and pulls out a stack of white envelopes. I watch as she lays them out—one by one in front of me. A fan of pure white accusation. And then I start to moan.
“No,” I say. “No, no, no, no, no.”
Scrawled on each of the envelopes, in what looks like red crayon, is Judah’s name. Judah on each envelope in a child’s handwriting: the jagged J, the crooked h. Judah, who I love. Judah, who loves me. Judah, who I wrote those letters for. I pick one up, pull out the lined paper inside. There is nothing written on the page.
“Margo,” Dr. Elgin says. “There is no Judah. He does not exist.” Her accent is thick and syrupy.
“You’re crazy,” I say. “I’ve known him my whole life. Where are my letters? The ones I wrote? Why didn’t the hospital mail them?”
“These are the letters you gave to the nurse,” she says. “There was never an address, and the papers are always blank.”
“No,” I say. “I wrote to him. I remember. He lives in California. He is going to move back to the Bone. Be a teacher.”
“There was a boy,” she purrs. “Who lived in the house on Wessex Street. I called his mother, Delaney Grant. She said you used to come by a lot … after he died.”
I can’t breathe. “What do you mean? What are you saying?”
“Tell me,” she says. “About the day before you became friends with Judah.”
I have to bend over, put my head between my knees. I feel her presence. She’s an absolute, and her absoluteness permeates the air I’m breathing.
“I’m not crazy.” I sob these words. They hurt so bad, like someone telling you you have cancer when you’ve been healthy your whole life.
“Crazy is a simpleton word. You are not crazy,” she says. “It’s much more complex than that.”
I tell her before she asks again. “I watched him his whole life. A boy in a wheelchair while the rest of us had legs.”
“But you never spoke to him,” Elgin says. “He died when he was nineteen years old. He committed suicide, and you tried to save him.”
“No,” I say.
She hands me a single sheet of paper, a print out from an internet search. Her nails are lacquered a deep, chocolate brown. I take the paper, not looking at it for several seconds, while I try to control the violent fray between my body and my mind. On it is a picture of a man in his late teens who looks nothing like my Judah. He is frail looking with deep hollows for cheekbones and hair that lays flat on his head as if plastered down by a heavy rain or days of unwash. Underneath what looks like his school photo is an article.
NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD MAN DIES AFTER ROLLING HIS WHEELCHAIR INTO THE BOUBATON RIVER
My eyes scan down the length of the article.
On Friday night, Judah Grant, a recent graduate from the Allen Guard School of Progress, who was scheduled to start college in the fall, was found drowning in the Boubaton River by eighteen-year-old Margo Moon. Margo, who lived down the same street as Judah, and attended Harbor Bone High School, was walking home from work when she saw him plunge from an abandoned dock into the water. Judah lost the use of his legs at eight years old after he was involved in a car accident where he sustained a spinal injury. Struggling with depression for over a decade, his mother, Delaney Grant, said that her son often spoke of death and lost his will to live shortly after the accident. Margo, thinking that Judah’s chair had accidentally toppled into the water, dove in in an attempt to save him.
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