An entire life lay hidden in that box. All the evidence that Gabe Goodman had ever existed was concealed in that fortress of cardboard and packing tape. So much power in something so small. At first, Diana was afraid to open it. She felt as though the universe might unravel if she did. Everything would disappear and she would fall. It wasn't a box. No, it was a black hole. Slowly eating, pulling their house apart board by board. Devouring everything. Her pale hands trembled and she simply stared at it with that terrible, lost stare which Dan had come to know so well. Finally, she willed herself to open the box. No catastrophe ensued. The house was still standing. The ground beneath her feet was still solid. It was almost disappointing, really.
Carefully, she began to unpack it. The first item that caught her eye was a green baby blanket. She examined it for a moment before setting it aside. It seemed wrong. She barely remembered the blanket. No wave of grief or longing overcame her as she picked it up. Just a piece of fabric. That was all. She felt absolutely nothing, and that terrified her. A mother should feel something when looking at the belongings of her dead child. But she was empty. A void. Perhaps it was she, not the box, that was a black hole. Consuming all the light with every breath.
Before she could dwell on this, she reached for another object: a small, wooden music box. She flipped it open and, in an instant, everything changed. It was as if she had been struck by lightning or pierced by a bullet. She sat still, her mouth slightly agape, as the melody poured over her. Time collapsed. She was back in Gabe's nursery. Exhausted. Rocking a sobbing infant in her arms. The music box played in the background. It was often the only thing that would stop his agonized crying. She had played it so many times that each note had become seared into her brain. She had since forgotten the song. Blocked it. But now the floodgates opened. Each note seemed to describe him: his silky blonde hair, his piercing blue eyes, his tiny, pristine hands…
How could Doctor Madden expect her to put this behind her? To move on? How was she supposed to forget his smile? His laugh? His tears. Was she supposed to do what Dan had done? Just shove all the memories in the back of a closet and try to lead a normal life? No. She had watched Dan being slowly eaten alive every day, the lines on his face growing steadily deeper, the fire in his eyes extinguished. If that was what sanity looked like-if that was what moving on looked like- she didn't want it.
Her hands grasped the music box so tightly that her knuckles turned bone white. She had to hold on. She couldn't lose her baby again. Dan was just jealous. Jealous that she could still see Gabe and he couldn't. Jealous that Gabe had chosen her over him. And now he was trying to pull them apart, trying to pull her apart from her baby. He and that Doctor, even Natalie. All trying to separate her from the one good thing she had left. She wouldn't let them take her Gabriel away. Hot tears ran down her face. She wouldn't. Her frail shoulders shuddered as she struggled to take a deep breath.
Suddenly, she felt a warm hand on her back, steadying her.
"Mom?" Gabe spoke gently, kneeling down and looking straight into her eyes, "You look so tired. What's wrong?"
She simply shook her head and turned away. Words refusing to form. But Gabe knew. He always knew what was on her mind.
"I'd never let them take me away from you. I promise."
Diana still said nothing. Gabe had made far too many promises over the years that he had failed to keep. They both sat quietly for a moment as the music box continued to play.
"You know, you could come with me." This got her attention.
"I could take you away from all this. Somewhere peaceful, where we could be happy again."
"Yes," she said, setting the music box on the side table, "I'd like that. I think it's time."
Gabe smiled. He handed her the key to his world. The key to open the void, the black hole. A box cutter. She hesitated. It had all seemed so simple in her mind, but now that the blade was actually in her hand, she couldn't bring herself to do it.
"I know it's scary, mom, but I'll be right here. You've been hurting for so long. Don't you want to be free?"
Free. She nodded, almost smiling, face streaked with tears. Free. With that word, all of her hesitations and doubts vanished. The razor glided through her skin, separating her soul from her flesh. The first cut burned. She could almost see her wrist glowing. Pulsating. But as the blood rushed from her veins, the burn dissipated and a strange warmth spread throughout her body. She didn't feel the second cut at all. Or the third. Or the fourth. Soon, her hands grew too heavy to hold the blade and she let it fall to the ground. Somewhere in the distance, the music box played on. Everything else was silence. Calm. No thoughts fighting in her brain, so loud she couldn't hear anything else. No yelling. Just the music box and silence.
As blood continued to flow, the warmth left her. She was falling now. Falling from some great height. Shivering in the night air. Her breathing shallow and her heart pounding. It was exhilarating. Everything seemed dark. Images concealed in swirling haze. The ground grew closer at an alarming speed. She crashed. Her cheek pressed against the hardwood floor, her crimson dress mingling with the growing pool of blood. A sickening, metallic smell permeated the air. Her face was relaxed but her eyes were those of a hunted animal. Searching for Gabe. For anyone. Anyone to reassure her, hold her hand. But Gabe was gone. He was always there the moment before but never the moment of. More broken promises.
She thought of Dan. He was probably reading downstairs, unaware of the storm raging above him. He had spent so many years trying to save her from herself. Through all the tears and sleepless nights, never once had he left her side. And she hadn't even said goodbye. Not even a note. She didn't want to die anymore. Not now, not like this. Using the last of her strength, she cried out.
At first she wasn't sure if she had actually made a sound or if it was only in her head. But then there were frantic footsteps climbing the stairs. Running down the hall. She breathed a sigh of relief and let her eyes close. Everything faded to black.
Dan entered the room and froze, processing the scene before him. He uttered some inhuman sound between a scream and a sob, one hand gripping the doorframe. Trying not to collapse. He forced himself to move. Grabbed the phone from the shelf, dialed 9-1-1. The conversation was a blur. Everything was a blur. He somehow managed to tell the operator what had happened. They were sending an ambulance. The voice on the other end of the line tried to calm him, comfort him, but none of the words registered. He hung up and ran to his wife. Wrapped his sweater tightly around her wrists. Cradled her in his arms. He called her name. Over and over and over. She didn't respond. All the color had drained from her face. Her skin felt clammy and cold. But she was still breathing. She had to keep breathing. He couldn't lose someone again.