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Dying Embers

Claudia Schwarz

They were all crazy. Every single one of them. The screams, the fits,

the calling of names. The building was full of deranged people. But

somehow, I was drawn to one of them.

Her name was Arabella.

I don’t know why or how she was here, she seemed sane enough.

She would just sit on her chair, in her private room, looking out to

the forests. Her bright blue eyes were faded and her brown tufts of

curly hair hung just below her shoulders. It was almost as if she was

a ghost of a girl, mirroring her past. At night, she would stare at the

flickering fire, then start to read her book. The same one, every

night, and she would always read it eerily, turning the pages as if they

would snap in front of her. She would always –


– request I’d

be with her from 6pm (to light the fire) until 11pm (where she’d fall

asleep). As the embers died, she’d always tell me:

‘You know, when I was your age, I looked exactly like you. The

curly brown hair and the blue eyes.’

She said it softly, as if she didn’t want me to hear what she was

saying. It was hard to imagine a twenty-three year old Arabella Jones,

but over the next couple of weeks, I found myself looking more and

more like the photo of her when she was my age.

My hair got more ringlets, and my eyes got brighter. Some nights,

when Arabella had just fallen asleep, I’d stare at the photo, the

embers’ small flames flickering off the glass frame. It was haunting,

not necessarily scary, just haunting.

But I thought, it wouldn’t be too bad to look like her.

The night that I asked her why she was here, her blue pools filled

with a tragic liquid, but she talked anyway.

‘My husband died here – he was a madman, to say the least. And

I thought, I’m reaching 94, so it wouldn’t be a bad place to die.’

I remember a puzzled look crossing my face – thinking, there

couldn’t be a more terrible place to die, amongst crazy people, but I

didn’t argue. That wasn’t part of my job – I was there to keep

Arabella company, not question her antics.

‘He was in the war. After that, he was haunted by the horrors of

the prisoner of war camps. Before he went to war, we had a marriage

that every young person dreamed of. The photos just about show it.’

She always spoke nonchalantly. She gestured to the photos on her

mantelpiece, the same mantle where the photo of twenty-three year

old Arabella sat. Alongside that photo were five photos of her and a