New Fiction – The End
I thought about not coming today. When your mother called and said that you wanted me to do it, I wanted to Facebook you with an excuse. I wanted to leave it for a day, maybe two, maybe more. I wanted to put my headphones in, and go out running for seventy-two hours. But here I am. And here you are, quiet, unmoving. Everyone else is here too. The room is cramped and hot. It smells of sweat and bread. Your sister still has her Tesco uniform on, a white net pulling the hair off her face. There are bread crumbs underneath her nails. I don’t think she’s noticed. I don’t think she’d care if I told her.
I notice for the first time since I arrived that you’re wearing purple slippers and matching fleecy socks. Your mother says they they’re for when you wake up, and want to go and get a Twix and a Coke from the hospital shop. The water in your plastic beaker is still. Nobody moves. My arrival signed your death warrant. I wonder if you’re dreaming, and I’m angry that if you are, then they’ll all go unexplored. That we won’t be able to analyze them together, dream books spread open in our laps, Loose Women rattling on in the background, as your mother does three things at once.
Everyone pays attention to your shoulders. You shuddered them a few hours ago, apparently. The doctor said it was natural. He also said it didn’t mean you would come back. I comb your hair, your mother strokes your temples. For every strand that comes loose, I feel a new lump swell in my throat. I can’t remember the last time it was easy to swallow. I’ve used your bathroom about twenty-seven times more than you have. I look in your mirror, smeared with the salt of twelve people’s tears.
Costa is on the ground floor of the hospital. I walk instead of lifting it. I’m hoping that the more time I take, the bigger the chance you’ll wake up, and I won’t have to pull your life line, and we can go and see what all this Frozen fuss is about. I order a flat white, extra hot and a triple chocolate muffin. There’s no sugar left in the little wooden boxes. I ask for four sachets. The barista returns with a container of demerara. “Make it six then,” I tell her. She doesn’t look surprised. The cup burns the pads of my palms, the lengths of my fingers. But I pretend it’s your heart and hold tighter. The place is full. I took the last available seat at a table for two with one chair. I survey the cafe population; the smeared makeup, the gritty stubble, the creased suits and crinkled hair. I wonder where it all started for them. I can’t taste one sort of chocolate, let alone three.
I have my fingers and toes crossed all the way back to the seventh floor. Nobody looks at me strangely when I stumble past. I think they’ve done the same themselves. You’re still laid back when I stagger into your hot space. I don’t want to uncross anything just yet. Your grandparents have arrived with a cardboard box packed with books. The room smells of other people’s junk. “Carboot sale,” your Granddad mutters. “Someone was selling this lot for a fiver. They put it down to four quid when we told them about her.” I gently lift the books out. There’s no space on the floor so I rest them in my lap. 100 Tips For Better Sex, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, Stencil Your Bathroom – Stencils Included. Except they’re not.
Your nails are all the same length and I can’t see your pores, the pores you’d obsess over. But inside I know it’s a different story. Right now, I’d exchange all of my good ribs for all of your broken ones. The nurse comes in. Checks you. I don’t know what she’s checking for. “What a beautiful daughter you have,” she says to the room. And this sets your mother off again. Your dad has a face like thunder. The nurse says, “are we nearly ready yet?” It’s like she asking if we’ve gone to the loo and tied our shoes before going out. I hold one of your hands. The colder and heavier it gets the tighter I hold.