(4 minute read)
by Peter McAllister
Strip lights hum overhead. The familiar blue linoleum beckons me back, past taunting windows and through double doors which shield me temporarily from my nightmare. Why don’t they put plants in here? Something living, thriving. The plastic cup I’m holding, limp from heat, exudes the disappointing acridity of hospital coffee. My body begs for sleep.
Eyes clamped shut, I press my forehead against the window – the world outside relentlessly indifferent. Cold glass pushes back angrily, helping to force the feeling of dread back down into my gut. An image flashes of Eileen-Rose smiling as we licked running raspberry ripple from soggy cones, the sun on the sea making us squint. My ice-cream headache that day brought childhood tears, but eight-year-old Eileen-Rose soothed me even then.
Bursting through the dreaded doors, a nurse screeches to a halt, “Mrs Monroe, you need to come back in. It’s happening right now.”
Reaching the room, I realise there are no sounds at all – no beeping machines, no pumping ventilator, no chatter from the desk outside. This is different.
Another nurse is standing by Eileen-Rose, stroking her arm. “Come. Come and talk to her,” she gestures. “Keep talking; she can hear you.” She offers me my sister’s withered purple hand, its icy touch fires goosebumps up my arm.
“Eileen-Rose?” I say, “I’m here.” Searching her swollen face for any sign of recognition, I curl what little silver hair the chemo hasn’t taken in my fingers. We were always mistaken for twins because of our thick, dark bobs. Now you would barely recognise us as the same species.
“It’s just you and me for this bit,” I say, as softly as I can. “Just like it was at the beginning, back when we were young. You always looked after me, didn’t you?” My mind is rolling. I hadn’t considered what I’d say in this moment; two lifetimes of shared memories are strobing in my head and I can’t find the right words.
“I’m here with you, and it’s okay to go when you’re ready. I love you so much. Hey, remember when Jimmy McFadden and Steve Andrews took us dancing at Templar’s Hall,” I whisper in her ear, “and we ended up leaving early and walking all the way home because Jimmy was drinking and you wouldn’t let us get in the car with him? You gave me your coat and told me you were warm enough, even though you were wearing mum’s off-the-shoulder dress and your back had practically turned blue. You wouldn’t let me give it back to you, said it didn’t matter that my dress was warmer than yours. You said, ‘I’ll always keep you warm, little sister. I’ll always give you my coat.’
“Well, I’m giving you your coat back now, Eileen-Rose. And I’m telling you to put it on, because I’m warm. I’ll always be warm thanks to you. Thank you so much for being my sister. I love you more than…”
A hand on my shoulder.
“She’s gone, Mrs Monroe.”
Only now do tears come. They pour down my face and neck, soaking into my t-shirt. I’m making an awful groaning sound, but I’m powerless to stop it as I sink to the floor. Years of staying strong for Eileen-Rose, of holding back the thought of this moment, denying it even, all ends now. Here, on the blue linoleum floor.
I’ve never felt more alone.
Copyright © 2022 – Peter McAllister. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Peter McAllister lives and writes in Cornwall, UK. He is currently studying for a masters degree in creative writing, whilst working on two novels, which he hopes to finish in 2023.
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