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Is Morgan Penn really dead?

Submitted: May 29, 2017

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Submitted: May 29, 2017





Grant Fieldgrove



  An inquest without a body is a peculiar thing - deciding if someone is alive or dead based solely on the accounts of other people. We’re all here; her boyfriend, the guys from the jazz band she recently started playing in, and me. Of course me.

  “The purpose of this inquest,” the coroner says, “is to conclude if Morgan Penn is indeed dead, and if she died by her own hand.”

  Morgan Penn, my younger sister by six minutes, who threw her body from the top of Ellington Falls one week ago. Morgan Penn, whose head apparently hit a rock on the edge of the bank before falling into the gushing stream below. Morgan Penn, whose body was washed out to sea.

  Introductions are made all around the table.  Russ Spaulding, the boyfriend, is sitting on my left. I can feel his eyes on me. Me being here creeps him out. My very existence creeps him out. I know this because he told me when we met in the lobby just a few moments ago. His excited face when he thought I was Morgan and the utter disappointment when he realized I wasn’t.

  Next to him, three black guys with dark shades, each with hepcat jazz names: Toothless Duke Washington, Fat Bones Dupree, and Jailhouse Gumbo Jackson. I have a sneaking suspicion those names might be made up. Across the table is the coroner and next to him is the officer who came to my house to inform me of what happened. The officer who, probably against all protocol, held me in his arms while I soiled his uniform with my salty tears.

  Next to him are two lawyers in expensive suits, who haven’t moved or said a word since we arrived. Sitting at a smaller table, at the rear of the room, a secretary with fiery red hair, a laptop open in front of her.

  The first to speak on my side of the table is Toothless Duke. He tells the group how Morgan has been moonlighting with his jazz band at the Five Spot, a smoky old music club downtown where these guys would be right at home. He tells them how anyone can get up on stage and jam with them, as long as they have the talent and the nerve, and, apparently, Morgan had the talent and the nerve. She’s been playing the clarinet since she was ten years old. Morgan was the musical one, I had told the officer across the table when I found out. He had asked which one I was. I had smiled through tears and said I was the actress. When he asked if he had ever seen me in anything, I told him I never said I was a successful actress.

  He smiled back.

  The coroner asked the hepcats how well they knew Morgan, and Toothless Duke’s response was that members of a jazz band were like family. He said Morgan came to play five nights a week after her initial awkward phase. He said she was one cool chick, then he looks at me again, as if seeing a ghost.

  Behind us, the fiery redhead click click clicks away on her laptop.

  “Jazz is all about the blues,” Toothless Duke says, “and she had them in spades, daddio. I’m sorry as hell about that poor girl but she told me she was going to do it. Going to kill herself. She talked about it two, three times a week and every night after, I’d go home with a pit in my stomach, man, but then the next night, there she would be, ready to kill it on the woodwind yet again. I guess that last time she had just had enough. I’ve seen it before and I’m sure I’ll see it again. Still a total drag, ya hear.”

  The coroner thanks him and seems content with his offerings as a group package because he doesn’t ask the other two band members anything, instead opting to move on to Russ. Russ, still catching glimpses of me from the corner of his eye.

  “Russell Spaulding,” the coroner says. “You’ve known Morgan Penn for how long?”

  “Just over a month,” he says quietly. “We actually met after one of her sets at the Five Spot. I go there for a drink and some relaxation after work. I’d never seen her there before, then one day she was a member of the band, apparently. Took five days for me to get up the nerve to hit on her.” A nervous smile.

  “And how would you describe your relationship?”

  “It was good. I mean, I liked the girl a lot. It was weird though, I only ever saw her at night. She kept herself guarded at all times; I don’t even know where she worked. She would never spend the night, either. At first I thought maybe she was married, but after a week or so, I figured it was unlikely, seeing the hours she kept. But we would talk on the phone, text. It was a good relationship. A little unconventional, but I liked that. Kept things exciting.”

  “And do you believe she threw herself off a cliff, Mr. Spaulding.”

  Russ chokes up, his eyes go narrow. He swallows a dry gulp then shakes his head yes. “I do. She never flat out said she was going to, but some of the other things she said, things I didn’t think meant anything at the time, all make sense now.”

  “Can you be more specific?”

  “I… I don’t know. Nothing in particular, just… morbid. Sometimes she would say things that were so morbid. I can’t… I can’t recall anything specific. I’m…I’m sorry. When she said she was going to jump from the falls, I shrugged it off as being over-dramatic. It wasn’t until I came home and saw the note she left taped to my front door that I called the police.”

  The note simply read: I’m sorry.

  The note found at her house was more detailed; ramblings of a suicidal woman teetering on the verge of death.

  The redhead clicks away; the coroner does that tight-lipped, sympathetic nod thing before scribbling a few words in his notebook.

  Next up is me. “Madison Penn,” the coroner says. “Thank you for coming.”

  I smile and then tell them everything I know. I repeat the fact that Morgan loved playing the clarinet. I tell them that I was the last person she probably talked to. She called me to say goodbye then hung up. I called the police immediately but I could offer them no assistance as to where she might be.  I ran to her house four blocks away, and when nobody answered, I kicked the door in. The house was empty, quiet. It wasn’t until Russ’s call came through that the police could locate the spot where she jumped, a mere mile from my house, her car parked on the side of the road, her heels sitting side by side on the edge of the bridge, as if they were in her closet, and blood on a rock at the base of the water, a few hairs still encrusted in the dark crimson smear. Then, nothing. Washed out to sea. Fish food.

  I’m sure they could check the phone records if they really needed to back up my story, even though I’m not sure why they would. In fact, they probably already have. When all the facts fit together, it makes an inquest like this all the more easy.

  The night after the officer informed me of my sister’s probable death, I slept. I slept like I hadn’t slept in a while. I’d been pulling double duty, getting no more than a few hours rest a day, for months. It was a relief to finally sleep. I called in sick to work, and slept some more. In fact, leading up to today, I had so much sleep, the events in question seem like yesterday.

  “How was your relationship with your sister?” the coroner asks me.

  I smile as a tear rolls down my cheek. “She was my sister. We shared a womb together. That’s about as close as two people could be, wouldn’t you say?”

  The coroner nods, so does the officer. The suits remain stone-faced and silent. I’m not sure of their purpose. Even if Morgan had life insurance, it would be voided out by her suicide. Her house falls back to me, which I will sell and keep the money. It’ll be a tidy sum, especially with the market value near the beach constantly going up, but so what? The house has been in my family for fifty years and has been paid off for twenty. And, she was my sister. Hardly seems like a legal matter, but I suppose there are formalities. It’s fine. I just want to get this over with.

  I tell a few more stories about my sister’s last days, about how I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks because of our conflicting schedules, but we talked all the time. I told them how we kept in contact through texts and phone calls and Facebook. I told them how she had been closed off lately, how she had made herself scarce around her friends, about the messages I would see on her Facebook wall from people wondering where she had been. Her reply was always that she was super busy, which people just accepted, and there was never any mention of playing at the Five Spot, like it was private; something just for her. The truth was, she stopped showing up to work two months ago. I told them how she was fed up with that place and simply stopped coming in. I told them how she had told me she saved up enough to be jobless for a while, to do what she wanted to do.

  Russ heard this and was confused. Rightfully so. He has no idea where his girlfriend was during the daylight hours when she was supposedly at work. I guess it’s just an enigma, but the mind of a suicidal person often isn’t rational. It’s almost always a mystery and the people who they leave behind are left with unanswered questions. That’s just the way it always is and the sooner everyone accepts that, the easier things will be.

  “One last question,” the coroner says. “Do you believe your sister is dead?”

  I nod. “Yes. I know she is dead. I felt it the minute it happened. Twins have a bond like that.” It was true. The moment she died I felt a part of myself die. “I’m one-hundred-percent positive,” I say.

  Some hushed words are shared between the coroner, the officer and the suits. Words I can’t distinguish. Words the secretary can’t hear either, judging by the sudden stoppage of keyboard clicks.

  The coroner turns his attention back to me, writes one brief statement in his notebook before closing it, then says, “Thank you, Ms. Penn. Thank you all for coming down. I think we’re done here. “

  And just like that my sister is officially dead by her own hand.

  We gather our things and make our way out to the hall. The three hepcats each give me a hug, all smelling of bourbon and cigarettes. I’ll miss those guys. I turn to leave when Russ catches up to me.

  “I’m so sorry,” he says to me.

  “Me too. And I’m sorry for your loss as well.”

  He nods, not being able to think of a proper response. We stand there awkwardly for a few moments before he says, “I miss your sister so much,” then just as quickly as he approached me, he leaves.

  The funny thing is, he’s never met my sister. That was me he fucked in the Five Spot bathroom. It was me who left his bed every night. It was me on stage with the band after spending nearly two years crash-coursing the clarinet.

  Everything was me this whole time.

  It was me sitting in front of my television, sending text messages back and forth, from my phone to my sister’s phone. It was me blowing off her friends on Facebook. It was me who drove her car to the top of the cliff, who left her shoes tucked neatly to the side of the bridge. It was my blood and hair smeared on the rock below, the tests being both right and wrong as we shared everything, including DNA. And handwriting.

  And it was me sacrificing sleep to be Madison during the day and Morgan at night.

  Those tears I cried when I was told about her death…well, I gave them a fair chance. I told them I was an actress.

  Russ Spaulding won’t miss my sister because I killed that bitch three months ago and buried her in my backyard.

© Copyright 2018 Grant Fieldgrove. All rights reserved.

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