“It’s smallpox,” Jenny, 9, of Savannah, Georgia, asserted into her mother’s cheval mirror. “You’re going to die,” she added in a tone of calm acceptance.
She climbed off the hat box she’d just broken with her own weight and left the room.
Sitting under the oak tree, her oak tree, in the back yard, Jenny repeated her morbid discovery in a soft whisper to the smell of peaches in the air and the cushion of grass beneath her.
“It’s smallpox. I’m going to die. I’m going to die. It’s smallpox.”
“You’re going to die,” Mrs. Windstrom’s cat responded, but only with her eyes.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” Jenny answered, but with her voice.
Jenny decided to look at all the things she liked one last time before she died.
The trumpet vine that coiled itself around the trellis by the rose garden. The chipped-nosed gnome who bravely guarded the rose garden from whatever sorry lot threatens rose gardens. The rose garden.
The fire-tinted nail that jutted from the bottom of the tree swing. The strange, small shovel that always leaned against the shed but never seemed to be used, likely because it was strange and small. The spot where grass stopped growing after Jenny at the age of six, playing Old Testament with Mrs. Windstrom’s cat, dumped a pound and a half of salt.
“I’m going to miss you,” Jenny’s heart thought, but didn’t dare speak. Missing things was a sign of weakness and Jenny wasn’t weak. She was simply, respectfully, saying goodbye, because she thought these things might, when she died of smallpox, miss her.
When she’d said goodbye to her favorite 4 rocks in the creek behind the carriage house, to the hole in the ground where she believed a family of mice who wore people clothes lived, and finally, dutifully, to Mrs. Windstrom’s cat, Jenny went back inside. She stroked the smooth cherry banister as she climbed the stairs. She stopped to take her shoes off so she could feel the wool runner under her toes again. That made her think of Christmas morning.
Jenny turned the cool porcelain knob one last time, and slowly opened the door to her room. She kissed Irving, her teddy bear, gently on the forehead and demanded he be brave. She simply would not tolerate tears. She stripped down to her slip and climbed into her deathbed, which had previously been just her bed, and stared at that freckle on her arm she’d noticed at breakfast. “It’s smallpox,” Jenny said.
With that, she closed her eyes, and welcomed death.
Julia Weiss is a writer, improviser, and actress. Julia has a big heart and a tiny bladder. Julia likes baths and wine. @weiss_tea.