A Dying Dream: a short story.
I want to die a fantastic death.
In 762: Li Po, a Chinese poet, tried to kiss the reflection of the Moon beside the boat in which he was traveling, and he fell overboard and drowned. I don’t wanna go in my sleep of old age; or die of some cancer. That’s such a waste of a death. I want something dramatic and exciting, something that I will always be remembered by. Not cancer. These days everyone dies of cancer. Boring.
Did you know that in 1518: A woman uncontrollably danced for a month causing dozens of participants to die of stroke and exhaustion; this became known throughout History as The Dancing Plague. I love to dance. I make up choreographies with my friends all the time. Our latest one was to Gangnam Style, we performed it at the school talent show and we got the loudest applause out of anyone! We didn’t win cause the one girl with down syndrome in our middle school did a song, and she came in first place (for obvious reasons), but deep down we knew we had been robbed.
I love dancing so much, that when my parents were still married and they would throw dinner parties, I would be the after dinner entertainment. We were never rich, so our dinner parties were more like Cuban feasts where Dad roasted a pork and some rice and beans all their friends would bring drinks and dessert and I would always get to perform right before my mother brought out the coffee. Dad loved listening to Frank Sinatra and Madonna, so I had a routine for New York New York. I would disappear from the table and return in my dad’s navy blue bathrobe and a curtain rod as a walking stick and dance and lip sing as if the spirit of Mr. Sinatra had possessed me. My other piece was to Material Girl. My Dad loved Madonna, so I loved Madonna too. I put on my mother’s bangles and plastic necklaces and I’d smother my eyes with bright blue eye-shadow and jump around the leather couch with a toothbrush in my hand- that’s the only time my mother let me jump on the couch – ever! And all their friends would laugh and clap and tell my parents they had such a talented little girl. Maybe I could die dancing? That would certainly be memorably fantastic.
Or in 1782: Mrs. Fitzherbert died from laughter after watching The Beggar’s Opera. She laughed and laughed until she died. I tried watching The Beggar’s Opera on YouTube, but I couldn’t understand what was so funny. It was almost as boring as cancer.
I could see myself dying of laughter. Aunt Eileen says my laughter is contagious cause when I laugh you can see the gap in my mouth from my missing baby teeth. I’m still waiting for my real ones to grow but they are taking forever. Aunt Eileen says I look like a rare species from another planet when I laugh, one time she said I looked like a Halloween pumpkin. Maybe I will inspire my own Plague of Laughter- not that I want to be responsible for the deaths of innocent people, but if others want to die a fantastical death, then why not go laughing.
Or like that baseball player from the 1920s, Ray “Chappie” Chapman, killed when a submarine ball thrown by Carl Mays hit him in the head. He died twelve hours later.The only major league baseball player to die from a pitched ball, but he died doing what he loved most. I love baseball!
Before their divorce, dad and I used to play together in Regent’s Park while mom went grocery shopping. We hated going with her, cause when it was time to checkout she’d bust a bizzillion coupons out of her purse, and argue with the cashier if the coupons were expired, demanding to speak to the manager, and get the discount anyway, holding up the line behind her. It was so embarrassing to get all those dirty looks from annoyed customers. To avoid those shameful trips to the supermarket, dad and I would rather go to the park and stay out of her hair. Plus, she never let me get anything I wanted anyway, so there was no point in going along just to look at all the candy and cereal I wanted but couldn’t ever get.
So once a week, dad would teach me mad baseball skills like a pro. He taught me how to hit like a boy and catch with both hands so the ball didn’t fall out of my mitt. I can throw pretty far too. I played with kids twice my age. When it was my turn to bat, they would come in close thinking I wouldn’t hit it very far, and I would let them think it, and dad would wink at me, and then I’d hit it so far, I would almost get a homerun, or least I’d make it to third base. I could die playing baseball, that wouldn’t be a bad way to go either, just like Chappie Chapman.
I know all this because I am obsessed with the subject matter, not baseball, but death. In the fourth grade I wrote my first poem about death, and while my mother dismissed it and said something like “death is for the old-folks and the sickly” my teacher Mary Deavin celebrated me for my poetic skills and the emotional “depth” of my writing. She said “This is very deep for a ten year old! You sure you didn’t copy this from a book?”
My uncle Rey gave me his old computer for my eleventh birthday, and even thought the “s” the “w” and the “.” keys didn’t work it opened up the world of the internet to me, so for my fifth grade research paper I Googled bizarre deaths throughout history. I got an A- on it cause there were a few spelling and grammatical errors (for obvious reasons), but overall, it was very informative paper, full of useful facts about people who died miraculous and fantastical deaths like the one I hope to die too someday.
A week after my amazing discoveries on Google and Wikepedia, I started a recess club called FDCC (Fantastic Death Corps Club) where my friends and I sat around behind the herb garden in the playground and shared stories of how we wanted to die. I would lead these meetings and every week we each had to try out an almost death. So for example if this week it was death by being tickled, we all had to go home and try to almost die of being tickled. If next week it was death by jumping jacks, we had to go home and try to almost die by doing jumping jacks, and so forth. We would talk about our almost deaths, and we would have to give very specific accounts of our ideal fantastical death, of how old we wanted to be. What we would be wearing. What our last meal would be. Who would be around. Where we would die. Who would discover our bodies, and so forth. I knew it was a bad idea to let Kitty Mclintock join our club cause she was an immature cry baby and when it was her turn to talk about her fantastic death she started hyperventilating, burst into tears and rushed off to tell on us to Mr Hassan, who told Mary Deavin, who told the Principal, who called my mother, who told them that there was a perfectly good explanation for everything, and that was that my father was suffering from cancer.
Dad died in a hospital bed surrounded by sour faces that pretended to be happy to see him. That told him he was looking good, when he really wasn’t. They lied to his face. They said he’d be up and running in no time. They barely let me see him. The few times I went in, I remember his skin was bright yellow, like my pee first thing in the morning. Like Spongebob. I called him Spongebob one time, but his wife didn’t think it was funny. Dad half-laughed but barely, I think if he’d had more energy he would have laughed harder. Maybe even died of laughter like Mrs. Fitzherbert but he died of cancer instead.
Sometimes I think I’m a terrible person cause I didn’t really like to visit him, not because he was sick, but because everyone else around him was acting so fake and wanted me to act fake too. Like outside the room his wife was crying and all his friends were comforting her, and then inside the room everyone put on these smiles and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Should I be happy or sad? What?!?! Should I smile or cry? I didn’t know anything and people were all whispering around me and I just heard half of conversations all the time. And everything felt unreal, like a dream where everyone knows a secret except for you and you are trying to figure out the mystery but they are all one step ahead of you. Kinda like an episode of Scooby Doo, only instead of a haunted mansion, it’s in a stuffy hospital room; and instead of a ghost, it’s my dad’s corpse-like-body laying on the bed staring up at you.
I don’t remember much, except his skin was leathery like a baseball. It was rubbery and I liked touching it and pulling at it, and every time I visited I sat by his bedside and tugged at his alien-like hand. I just couldn’t understand why it was so yellow. My mother explained to me once that it was because the type of cancer he had made toxins come out of his skin, like instead of peeing them out like normal people, they came out of his pores. I don’t know, it sounds fishy to me. They lie to me a lot, especially lately. Maybe they are lying to me about this one too. Whatever the truth is, I definitely don’t wanna go like that, on a hospital bed, looking like the skeleton of Lisa Simpson. Nope. I wish I didn’t have to die at all. Like if I could live forever and not shrivel up and get eaten by worms and insects.
My mother says “Lili, death is inevitable. We are born to die, so just enjoy every moment, eat all your vegetables and work hard to provide for your family.” and when I ask her if there is a god she says “Religion is the opium of the people” to which I never know what to say, cause I’m not sure what that means, but then I ask her, “if there is no god, then what is the point of anything?” and she says “there is no point Lili- now go do your homework!” and I argue “why should I do my homework if there is no point?” and she says “because I am your mother and I say so!” and I am not satisfied. There has to be a point, there has to be a reason why I am here, and if I was really born to die (like my mother says) then I don’t just want to die some random pathetic death that I had no say in choosing. That’s so lame. Maybe I don’t have to die at all.
If I had a million dollars I could be frozen like Walt Disney. It costs $200,000 to get frozen after you die- I read that online too. I could get put in a freezer and be brought back to life when there are flying cars and scientists have found a cure for cancer. My mom told me cancer was hereditary and I could catch it if I didn’t eat all my fruits and veggies, but seeing that I am going to be a millionaire, she can stick her brussels sprouts and cauliflowers up her butt cause I plan to be frozen or to die a fantastic death and neither of those require any vegetable consumption…unless you’re Basil Brown, a health-food advocate from Croydon, London who, in 1974, drank himself to death with carrot juice. I told my mother this once, and she thought I was making it up “Nobody dies from eating vegetables!” she assured me, and I bet her my weekly allowance of $3 that this was no lie, but an absolute fact! She gave me a look of disbelief anyway and when I pulled it up on Wikipedia she brushed it off and said “I don’t have time for silly things. Eat your dinner and finish your homework if you want to watch Hannah Montana”. I ate the boiled broccoli on my plate quickly, stuffing it in my mouth, wondering with every bite if that would actually be a good way to go. Maybe if mom was a better cook. But these greens were overcooked and over seasoned, and I was more likely to die from disgust than from stuffing my mouth with broccoli. And thank God her cooking didn’t kill me, cause that night they were showing a rerun of “Lilly, Do you want to know a Secret?” my favorite Hanna Montana episode ever! (where Lilli finds out Hanna is a world famous pop star), and it would have sucked If I had died and missed it.
In 1941, Sherwood Anderson, a writer died after swallowing a toothpick at a party. I should like to be a writer someday and though swallowing a toothpick’s gotta hurt, dying at a party surrounded by friends can’t be half bad. I’ve decided I shall die on my 30th birthday (cause nothing happens after you’re 30 anyway- it’s downhill form there)! It will be right after the successful release of my Greatest Works A Collection of Fantastic Death Stories by Lili Amalia Castillo. I will be wearing a red polka-dot dress, not like mini-mouse, but like a beautiful Spanish Flamenco dancer, with lots of ruffles everywhere. My hair will be down to my knees, not like now, that I look like a boy cause my mom says it’s convenient to keep it trimmed, “it helps keep the lice away” she insists. No, my hair will be like Rapunzel’s in Tangled, except mine is not blonde and I look more like Pocahontas. And it will be done up like a princess, and I will wear a shiny tiara like the one my cousin Jenny wore for her Quinceañera, and I will have glitter sprinkled all over my head. I will look like a supermodel dancer actress writer princess.
I will do a dance for all my party guests, cause I will also be a world famous flamenco dancer that will have won over a hundred medals, and everyone will applaud and sing Happy Birthday, and I will eat my entire birthday cake, all by myself, which will be a trifle meringue cake with custard cream, but before that, I will eat a bowl of spaghetti and fried bananas, and drink pineapple soda and I will almost die from a food coma. But not quite. And almost die from a dance trance. But not quite. And then I will have the funniest person in the world (who will just so happen to be my best friend), tell jokes and I will laugh so hard I will almost die of laughter. But not quite. And then Mikey Sanchez my fifth grade crush at school (who will be my husband by then), will kiss me for like a thousand minutes and I will almost die of suffocation. But not quite. And then I will look at the reflection of the moon on my pool, cause I will be a millionaire and I will have a mansion with a pool and I will fall in and almost drown. But not quite. I will come out of the water and everyone will clap that I am still alive, and then I will give a speech about life and how it’s important to live every moment like you’re going to die. And how you should spend your years filled with dancing and singing, and laughter and kiss the people you love like Mikey Sanchez and your grandma. And then I will remember my father, and how he once told me I was made out of stardust, and I will add that to my birthday(slash)goodbye speech and I will cry a little.
And just as I am about to take off to my fantastical death that I have been planning for years, and just as I am about to sit on a monster rocket of fireworks that will leave for the sky from the backyard of my house, and my red polka dot dress will go up in flames and I will fizzle into the atmosphere like sparklers and shooting stars for all my guests to make a wish upon; I will remember that Walt Disney was frozen. So as the countdown begins, and the fireworks are lit, I will have half-a-second to have a change of heart and to alter the course of my future, of everything I had so carefully planned for my fantastical death. And I will step off the rocket and will join the rest of my party as I watch the fireworks fly into the sky and fizzle into the night, and I will join in the OOOOOHS and AAAAAHS of the crowd. And realize Wow, just to think I could have died and missed it! But not quite. And I will dance the rest of the night away, and first thing in the morning I will drive my baby blue convertible to the nearest bank where I keep my millions; and I will put aside $300,000 to get frozen (the extra $100,000 is for inflation). You never know the cost of living might go up by the time I’m old and in matters of life and death, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
2099: Lili Amalia Castillo, writer, dancer, philosopher, was frozen on her 98th birthday along with her dog Dinky and her canary Poe. Her body is said to be cryogenically preserved in a tank under the baseball field in Regent’s Park where it will be dug up and defrosted once there are flying cars, and scientists have found a cure for cancer.