Colleen Murphy is wondering whether it's the dead who keep us alive


     Sound of a woman breathing then, after a moment, the breathing pattern is broken...

...four pills... maybe one more might help... four with three beer no four beer - no I only had one two three - yeah only three beer... gotta be careful... couple weeks ago my husband poured a huge bucket of water over me - did I tell you that already? Should have seen I musta jumped a foot in the air. Scared myself. Scared him. He started crying. Said I had stopped breathing... lucky he was on night shift an' not on graveyard. Soaked the mattress - took a week to dry.

I still got the same duvet I had when you lived here that time - yep, same one - blue with the big orange orchids you liked so much... it's your fault... all this screaming in my head's your fault - no no it's not it's not your fault... sorry. Can you hear me?

One two three four... yeah only had four Diazepam so far... should take this other one... don't want to stop breathing but sometimes... sometimes I do - no don't say that don't - but if you're dead an' if I'm dead then I might see you. We could meet somewhere... I could take maybe 30 pills smush 'em up into a kind of paste then mix the paste in a glass of beer or maybe spread it on a cheese sandwich then jus lie here an' fall asleep... no more screaming... jus fall deeper an' deeper falling backwards but never landing jus falling an' falling then wake up in a soft grey world no ground no sky no place to walk on or lie down an' I'll see you coming towards me through the fog an' you look... the same but younger an' your eyes are bright like laser beams... do you recognize me... yeah prob'ly - but do you? I'm fat now - gained about 25 pounds like I gotta wear a size 14 or 16 - 16 in blouses 14 in skirts. Doctor said I have to lose 20 pounds - says I gotta give up the junk food an' the beer but no way I'm giving anything up - so there - if I don't die I might live a long time 'cause Mom she turned 87 on Tuesday. Eighty-seven. Good genes eh. Going strong, too, but now she lives in an assisted living place in Thunder Bay. She complains 'cause she doesn't have a view of Lake Superior - her window looks over a Toyota dealership.

I got fired from Metroland - too many late days. Keep thinking I should put in an application at Sears... prob'ly someday when I get the energy to get off this bed... maybe I drank more beers than I thought 'cause I'm not hearing the screaming anymore... guess what - J graduated from Capilano College with a degree in Outdoor Recreation - what the hell's so hard about that eh that you gotta get a degree, but he's got a job already up in Whistler, lucky kid an' the other one she's still working at the bank - benefits everything. Got a boyfriend, too - he treats her with respect so that's something - might even get married.

... I can hear your voice a little bit now... hello... can you hear mine... eh? I know you're there - I hear you breathing... can you hear me breathing?

     She takes two long deep breaths... and the very nuanced echo of another person
     breathing might be heard.

We're in the grey fog together... breathing... I can hold you like when we were little an' cover you with the duvet... there, now you won't be cold. You're the best sister ever ... you're prob'ly thinking I'm the worst... friggin' addict now even... bet you're thinking 'don't take another damned pill, stay alive, live for me'... honest most times I don't even know how to live for myself let alone for you... when I get mad it's easy but boy oh boy when I get sad it's way harder. ... hello... hello... you still here?


Come back tomorrow eh 'cause I'm not gonna take this other damned pill - so there...

... maybe tomorrow I'll go over to Sears an' drop off my application. They're starting to hire seasonal part time for the Christmas rush - even though they fired me at Metroland my boss said I was an excellent worker... 'cause I am. I can work hard. And I do... I'll try to stay alive... for you.

Author's note: "In my play Pig Girl, two sisters talk to each other through time and space. One, the Dying Woman, is murdered. The other searches for her for years, and is left with no conclusive evidence but a sick feeling of the worst having happened.

I heard Paula Vogel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, say that drama lets us talk to the dead. The notion of talking to the dead can give one great solace, and it's often a reciprocal relationship. We keep the dead alive through memory, and they also keep us alive in that their memory gives us a reason to go on.

In my piece for this series, I revisit the Dying Woman's sister because I worry about her. I've set this monologue 15 years after Pig Girl. I am haunted by her interminable anxiety of not knowing what happened to her sister. That roiling, circling, relentless anxiety has to be something that you're plugged into all the time, consciously or unconsciously. How does one stay alive in the face of that? How do you get through another night and wake up in the morning?"

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