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Memento Mori

This is an excerpt from one of the stories included in the anthology, Silver Linings: Stories of Love, Hope, and Courage in a Pandemic Setting. If you liked the story, please consider supporting the writer by buying the book.

Ever since she was young, Esther Soriano had the ability to see dead people.

She and her parents first discovered this during her grandfather’s wake. It was a chilly Sunday morning in the funeral parlor and the room they were in was empty, save for a few guests who chatted with Esther’s parents. Esther wanted her mother to accompany her to the restroom, but she couldn’t wait any longer. She went by herself.

The child spent a long time looking for the restroom when her grandfather appeared before her. He had a warm smile on his wrinkled face. After giving Esther a soft pat on the head, he pointed towards the direction where the restroom was. Esther thanked him and rushed to do her business. When she finished, however, her grandfather had left.

When she went back to the room, Esther asked her parents if her grandfather had come back yet. Mister and Misis Soriano thought their daughter must be tired from the entire ordeal, so they insisted she rest.  By and by, they would learn that this wouldn’t be the last time their daughter would see more of the dead. 

Years later, Esther became a doctor despite her parents’ wishes. They knew how difficult it was for their daughter to grow up with the scent of death looming over her constantly, but Esther believed there was a reason she was given her ability. She just didn’t know what.

Then the virus broke out, and everyone in the hospital was in an uproar. Patients occupied all available beds. The entire hospital staff worked to the bone. With so much death around, Esther’s abilities went to overdrive. 

She witnessed spirits sobbing over their dead bodies. Their anguish over not being able to see their loved ones ever again showed on their pale, tear-stained faces. Some had even grabbed her shoulders, desperately vying for explanations, but she tried to ignore them. Even in her apartment, she would sometimes hear cries and moans while she’s on the treadmill or taking a shower. Often, she would shrug off the disembodied noises now and then, thinking it was just a normal part of her job, but even that became a chore to do.

In time, Esther wondered whether her ability was a blessing or a curse.

During a graveyard shift, Esther thought a good dose of caffeine was all she needed to keep herself intact. Her paperwork piled up, and gossip among the staff members revolved around the virus. These things didn’t comfort her in the slightest, so she excused herself from the office and pushed the button for the elevator once she reached the end of the corridor.

When the doors opened, Esther felt a sense of relief and hastily went inside, only to find a man standing right beside where the buttons were. He wore a worn-out hospital garb, and his face was unshaven. She stood still for a moment, wondering how such a patient could wander around at a time like this. As soon as the doors closed behind her, the man lifted his chin up and spoke to her in a soft voice.

“Hello, doctor,” the man smiled. “Quiet night tonight, isn’t it?”

Esther was silent. She was too exhausted to think about why he was there and give out a polite reply, so she nodded and pressed the button for the ground floor. She sighed heavily and slumped against the steel wall.

“You seem tired,” the man noticed. “Have you been resting properly?”

 Again, Esther didn’t bother to reply and nodded just to keep him from prying into her thoughts.

“You know, I have a lovely daughter back home,” he went on. “An adorable girl who’s just as beautiful as her mother. She enjoys playing outside instead of helping around the house, and my wife can’t help but scold her because of that. But when we both found out she’s the first honor in her entire grade, we really couldn’t believe it! My wife and I aren’t rich at all. She’s a housewife and I’m just a taho vendor, so to see our baby girl achieve so much, it’s unbelievable.”

“It’s too bad though,” His gaze shifted towards the floor. “I tested positive with the virus days ago, and I don’t think I’ll be able to see her or my wife again.”

When he said this, Esther felt a sadness stir in her heart. Based on her experience, infected patients had a fifty-fifty chance of survival. As soon as the virus entered the body, it attacked various vital organs mercilessly. With a cure still being made, doctors had no choice but to work with what they had and fervently prayed that the host’s immune system would be strong enough to withstand it. Not wanting to lose hope, however, Esther turned her head to the man beside her and offered a small smile.

“Don’t think like that, sir,” Esther assured. “Just get plenty of rest and listen to our advice. Before you know it, you’ll be out here in no time.”

The man stared at her for a bit, and then fumbled for something in his pocket. A necklace with a miniature carving of a sunflower was in his hand by the time he pulled it out.

“Doctor, I have a favor,” he gingerly took Esther’s hand, and that was when she noticed a red band tied around his wrist. She instantly froze. “Take this to my daughter. She’s always wanted one of these and it was only now that I remembered to give this to her. Tell her it’s from her father, Richard Cruz, and that,” tears were now sliding down the man’s cheeks as he placed the necklace on her palm, “that I love her and her mother, and that I’ll never forget them.”

By the time the elevator reached the ground floor, and the doors opened, the man disappeared and Esther found herself alone. She opened her hand and saw the necklace with the carving of a sunflower on her palm.

So that… just happened, Esther thought. She gently placed it in her pocket and let out a slow breath. What did that bizarre experience mean? She was just a doctor, not a priestess. She couldn’t even save her patients, so how was she going to send a message from a ghost?

Then she suddenly remembered that short meeting she had with her grandfather when she was a young girl. It was an experience that confused her at first, but she cherished ever since. There was something warm behind the way he smiled and patted her head. Maybe this was the same  feeling Richard wanted to give to his daughter before he crossed over, but his time came before he could.

Was this the reason I was given this ability?

Esther pushed the button for the third floor as fast as the thought dawned on her. Once the elevator stopped, she jogged back to her office and looked through the folders stacked on her desk. There, she stumbled upon the file of Richard Cruz and looked for his address. She wrote it down and checked the time on her watch. It was 6:30 AM.

No time to lose.

 ***

Esther arrived in front of Cruz’s house an hour later. She felt on edge about all this, and she asked herself repeatedly if she was doing the right thing. Her doubts faded away when the door opened, and a child ran out. The girl stopped at her tracks when she saw a stranger. Esther realized that this could all go wrong if she wasn’t careful with her actions. The doctor approached the girl and bent down as soon as she reached her.

“Hello,” Esther spoke kindly. “Are you the daughter of Richard Cruz?”

Her eyes sparkled at the mention of her father’s name. “You know Papa?” Her little chocolate orbs scanned the surroundings excitedly. “Is he with you?”

Esther shook her head and reached inside her pocket. “I’m your Papa’s doctor, and he told me to give you this.” She took the child’s hand and placed the necklace on her palm. “He’s hoping you’d take care of it while he’s away.”

The little girl beamed upon seeing the necklace and wore it around her neck. “Thank you so much, doctor,” she grinned. “I hope Papa gets better soon.”

Esther bit her lip. She couldn’t bear to wipe that smile from the child’s face if she told her the truth. 

“Oh, before I forget,” she said, reaching for Esther’s hands. “Please tell him Mama and I miss and love him very much.”

Tears pooled in the corners of Esther’s eyes. She patted the girl’s head and nodded. 

“I will.”

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