The Dying / New Flash Fiction

The Dying

I can hear the knobbles of my sister’s spine knock against the wooden floor of her bedroom as she sits up and lies back down, over and over. She’s on her four hundredth sit up now and I’m wondering if her heart is ready to die yet. I’m wondering if I’d be able to massage it until it started to beat again. Sophie stops at 1,000. Last week it was 800. I know she’s coming down the stairs but, like usual, I don’t hear her until she cracks the freezer door open.

She jumps back, like she always does, as a few handfuls of ice patter to the floor. She pulls out the bottom drawer, her drawer, and looks at me over her shoulder. I pretend to study. When she’s certain my eyes are occupied with something else, she takes out a bag of garden peas, removes one, and puts the bag back. She stands at the kitchen window, sucking the cold green ball. When she’s finished one, it’s back to the freezer for the next. She’ll do this eight times. Last week it was ten. I wonder how long it takes for the chill of the peas to leave her body.

Sometimes, I’m unable to keep my mouth shut. Yesterday I asked ‘when was the last time you were happy?’ ‘None of your business,’ she shouted. When Sophie was wearing velcro shoes and I knew how to tie laces, the answer to everything was calpol. I wish it was the case now, that I could hand feed her the stuff, from the Peter Rabbit tea spoon we’ve shared since we were kids. I’d like to see her drum taught belly take some shape. I’d like to see more of her face and less of her teeth.

Sophie was the softest thing I’d ever felt, always warm and smelling like honey and milk. Even her name was soft. When you say it you feel like you have a mouthful of clouds. Now, I don’t know where one limb ends and another begins. She is all sticks.

When Sophie says ‘just going for a walk’ I know that it’s not as simple as that. I know that her walk has rules and regulations from the second she steps over the threshold of the house, and onto the street. I know that she can’t stop, even if the red man is standing at the traffic lights. I know that she has to do certain twitches with her shoulders to keep everything okay.

Sometimes, I forget that the real world doesn’t matter to her anymore. Like last night. I asked her if she’d seen the moon because it was particularly fucking beautiful. She replied that she didn’t have time. Last week, instead of a passing comment that the magpies were too loud outside her bedroom window, Sophie got herself tangled up in full blown hysterics. Dad went outside with his head down and shut the door behind him. The magpies didn’t come back the next morning. Sometimes it’s like Sophie caught life by accident, that the whole thing has just been one long sickness.

I don’t know how she does it, but she touches the bottom of the stairs again instead of reaching the top. I didn’t think someone so tiny could make such a noise on impact with carpet. ‘You are bigger than this’ is not the right thing to say as she lies crumpled, limbs sprawled like spider legs. She cries soundlessly, her eyes are all pain. I make a guess that inside her shell everything is broken. I cradle her until she feels safe, until she is still.

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