There’s nothing more unsettling than seeing my face wrapped in gauze against the stark white sheets of a hospital bed. Although, the hair is shorter, curlier, and the nose more pointed. She got it from our dad where I inherited our grandmothers skinny nose. The pastel hospital gown looks abnormal on her small frame, which usually dons black clothing and combat boots. I wish they’d let me dress her, maybe it would wake her up. But there’s nothing much they will let me do besides wipe her down with a sponge and brush her dark hair. I never thought I’d have to take care of my twin sister in this way. She’s the older one after all, she’s supposed to take care of me.
I’ve been going back and forth for a year, between the hospital and my work I haven’t been home much. I shower there and hardly sleep, lately I’ve taken to staying in Annabelle’s house, so I can take care of her cat while she’s healing. I wish she would have never adopted that stupid, raggedy cat. She found him at the pound being cornered by the other cats, named him Bo, and took him home. He’s obnoxious, likes to break into cabinets and rip open rice bags.
The walls match her stark white bedsheets and the stark white counters. I wonder how comfortable the bed is and if it’s any better than the cardboard like mattress she has at home. Bo won’t even sleep on it, he has a bed by the window I’m insanely jealous of.
Her doctors keep trying to talk to me about moving her to a permanent facility. They say it’ll be cheaper that way and clear up a bed for someone else, but they can’t do anything until I sign the papers. Our dad is paying for the hospital bills so I don’t really care about that aspect. But, the thought of my sister in somewhere permanently is scary, she hates permanent. Our whole life we’ve been constantly on the move. This is the first time I’ve lived in one place for more than four years.
I open my bag and take out her indie mix CD, and pop it into the DVD player connected to the old TV on the wall. It mostly consists of Ed Sheeran, he’s her favorite singer. We saw him in concert on our last birthday, that was the first time I’ve seen my sister smile so much.
As the music plays her hand twitches and my heart jumps.
The nurses told me playing music or just talking to her could bring her out of her coma. I like to think she’s staying under to avoid work, but I’m waiting for the day the doctors pull the plug. Mom said it could be soon but I try not to think that way. No one in our family is confident that Annabelle is going to wake up. Mom stopped visiting a few months ago, occasionally she calls me for an update.
Good morning Lainey, she’d say. I reply with her name. Sometimes the car window would be open and I could hardly hear her, she’d ask how Annabelle’s doing. And I’d say she’s doing the same. That nothing has changed. Then she’d hang up and I’d wait for another call. She thinks because she’s paying Annabelle’s rent and convinced her job not to let her go that she’s making up for not visiting. I haven’t heard from dad in eleven months.
Our brothers have come to visit three or four times but they have families and don’t have time to sit around and wait for their little sister to wake up. They’ve never waited for anything, they’re impatient at best. When we were younger they had to get to everything first while Annabelle and I tried to keep up on our tiny legs.
I kick my feet up and pull my laptop out of my bag. She’d kill me if she knew I was putting my dirty converse on her bed. She’d also kill me if she knew I was wearing her favorite hoodie from high school. The red one with a tear in the collar from when she got into a fight with Beatrice Ker Patrick, our junior year. The CD repeats three times before I finally decide to head home. Around the second repeat, Annabelle’s nurse came in and told me to leave. The hospital is quiet outside Annabelle’s room, there’s a few nurses gossiping around the nurse’s station and they ignore me when I walk by.
The next morning I bring one of Annabelle’s photograph’s and sit them on her bed side table. She took them on a professional camera I’m not sure the name of. Annabelle wanted to go to college for photography but instead received a business degree. Yet, she encouraged me to finish my degree in graphic design when I wanted to quit. Maybe if she wakes up I can encourage her to go back to school. A pipe dream as my mother would call it.
The only items in her room is the photo and a vase with yellow roses, I don’t know who put them there. Probably a friend of hers. Every few weeks the color of the roses is switched. Annabelle was never popular in school; the combat boots were too intimidating. The girls with the brand name clothes were scared to go near her. She had friends outside of school but because our classmates never saw them they picked on her.
I’m scared to put anything else in here, I don’t want her to think she can move in. She needs to get back to her job, her life. Bo has already costed me enough in food, he’s practically my cat by now. Although, he doesn’t act like it.
The photo I brought is of Annabelle and I at eighteen, on our first day of college. She’s wearing a shirt that reads NYU mine reads CUSA. I couldn’t get into NYU but an art school nearby accepted me. It took a lot of walking to get to her dorm from my apartment, the blocks I had to cross were the busiest in New York but I still made the walk every Saturday morning with fresh donuts. Even a tiny unfrosted cake donut for Bo.
The photo was taken right after our parents’ divorce. On the night they told us our brothers built us a blanket fort, like they did when mom and dad would fight when we were younger. We sat in it and played Monopoly until 4 AM when we finally crashed.
“That was the first time we were apart. You still came over every night.” I laugh at the memory. Annabelle had a harder time being away from me than I did to her.
When I first started talking to Annabelle I thought I was going insane but the nurses encouraged it. It’s therapeutic.
“Sometimes I’d come home to you eating my food or asleep in my bed.”
Her foot twitches, my heart picks up.
“I remember that time you left your science book in my apartment and I had to ride two subways and skip my design class to get it to you.” I hated taking the subway so Annabelle thanked me by ordering me Chinese from the best place in New York.
I move a hair that fell in front of her face and wipe the tear off her hand that fell from my cheek. “I miss you Bear. Please wake up. It’s our birthday soon and I don’t want to celebrate it without you.” We’ve only had one birthday apart and that’s when she went to France with her class for a few weeks over the summer. That was a hard month.
“Twenty-nine is a big birthday, so I’m told. I think it’s overrated. People find anyway to make a birthday special.” I take a hold of her hand, “remember? You told me months ago, that this was going to be the biggest party in all of New York. You only invited six people but it’s going to be great anyway.” I take a deep breath, “I need you to wake up Bear. I don’t want to celebrate our birthday alone.”
There’s a baby crying in the hallway. I wonder what problems it has a right to be crying over.
“Bo misses you. I think he hates me, probably because of that time I locked him out on the porch.” I smiled at the memory, “you didn’t talk to me for a week. Whenever I go home to feed him he scratches my leg. He should be thankful, I could let him starve. You could’ve at least bought him a fresh bag of food before you got into that accident.”
The baby’s cry gets louder when the door opens and a girl walks in. She’s wearing a pink pastel dress, she doesn’t look much younger than Annabelle and I. Her hair is bright pink. She’s carrying super market flowers and a card. Her hair is pulled back in a messy bun. Her eyes are red and puffy.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” her flowers are lavender roses. They match her dress. “I didn’t think anyone would be here. I wanted to drop these off before visiting hours were over.”
Annabelle’s head moves an inch toward the girl. As if trying to move closer. I tried not to let it affect me, I didn’t want to scare our visitor.
I stand up and shake her hand. “It’s fine, are you a friend of hers?”
She hesitates, “uh, sort of. You must be Lainey, Annabelle talks about you a lot.”
“I wish I could say the same.”
She smiles and mixes the lavender roses with the yellow ones. We stand in silence while she sorts through the flowers. The color vibrant against the white walls. She sets the card down next to the vase.
“Would you like me to give you a minute alone?”
“Are you sure?”
“No. But it’s all right, I was just passing through.”
I nod and walk her to the door, “it was nice meeting you uh,” I stutter, trying to remember if she said her name.
“Well, it was nice meeting you Mary, I wish it were under better circumstances.” Mary walks out, the scent of a floral perfume in her wake.
“She seemed nice Annabelle. Not your usual crowd though.”
I walk over to the vase of flowers and touched the soft petals. It was weird seeing them next to my sister. She was never a rose person, she liked Cacti and ferns, plants that are hard to kill. She had to get rid of them when Bo moved in, he would eat the plants and throw it up on the couch.
Next to the vase is the card. It has a cartoon bear holding balloons. On the front, it says “I miss you”. I open it and see paragraphs of writing and quickly shut it. It’s none of my business. Even though this Mary character intrigues me to no end.
For the most part Annabelle and I share friends. We each had our own best friend but we got together with the same people for movie nights all through high school. In college we were forced to have separate friends and separate lives but that didn’t stop us from movie nights on Saturday. Although now it involved alcohol and reality television. Mary had never been at any of those get togethers.
I sit down and open my laptop, let music play through the speakers. I answer a few emails but my eyes keep drifting back to the card. Every time I look at it I notice something new.
There’s clouds behind the teddy bear.
The white glare on the balloons.
The crease from where a corner has been bent in.
I get up to use the bathroom and get some coffee. Looking at the clock I know I’m going to regret drinking a cup, although, hospital coffee isn’t that strong.
The hand drawn heart on the teddy’s belly. I put my coffee cup down and grab the card from the table.
“Please forgive me Bear but it’s killing me.” I flicker my eyes up to see if my sister will react. She doesn’t. “Would it be better if I read it aloud?”
I huff, “it’s worth a try.” I open the card and begin reading. “My dearest Belle. She gets to call you Bell? Not fair.”
Annabelle’s hand twitches. I roll my eyes; the hand writing is beautiful. “My dearest Belle. Tony told me about the accident after you didn’t answer your phone for three days. I stopped by your apartment to check on Bo, but I saw your sister and left. I’m sorry it took so long to get here, it’s been hard not having you by my side every day.”
I look at my sister to see if she had any sort of reaction. A hair falls in her face but that’s it. I pushed it off her forehead. She needs a haircut, she hates having hair in her eyes.
“I miss you stopping at my floor to drop off coffee before you go to work. My coworkers have been asking about you. I don’t know what to say. I want to curse the taxi driver that got you into this mess. Get well soon Belle, so I can hold you again. Love always, Mary.” Her telephone number sits at the bottom, which I realize is for me. I type it into my phone under ‘Annabelle’s Mary’.
“You have a lot of explaining to do Bear. Don’t worry, I’ll hide it if mom and dad decide to visit.”
I sit on her bed and put her hand on my lap. I try not to budge the IV as I play with her fingers. “You know I love you. I wish I knew why you couldn’t tell me about her.”
I toss my cold coffee into the trash and leave. Tonight, only one nurse is sat at the nurse’s station. He waves goodbye as I leave.
When I arrive in the morning doctors are surrounding her. They yell when I come in, so I stand by the nurse’s station. Well, paced, until one of the nurses tells me to sit down. It took a few hours but Annabelle’s nurse came out of the room and sat down next to me.
“After you left last night her heart monitor picked up. We weren’t sure if she was going to make it.”
“Is she all right?”
I’ve never passed out before. Annabelle has, when she donated blood our senior year of high school. That’s the same year we found out that she’s anemic. She told me that it felt like the world spun and for a moment she forgot everything.
I don’t think I passed out, but I had the sensation that I did and I hope it never happens again.
“Can I see her.” She nods. When I walk in the doctors are pushing tray’s out the door and congratulating Annabelle, as if she just won the biggest award of her life.
“I didn’t think you’d ever wake up.” I say.
Her bed is sitting upright and her brown eyes are staring back at me. She smiles and holds her hand out. I take it and sit next to her legs.
Her voice is scratchy, “you talk a lot.”
She takes a few sips of water and clears her throat. It sounds rough, like’s she’s been coughing for a week straight. “You never stopped talking, it was driving me crazy.”
“Shut up.” I laugh out. I tugged her into a hug, her frigid body falling into mine.
“And nosey, who said you could read my private letters?”
I tense up but she laughs and I knew we’ll be all right. She took another long drink of water.
“She’s really nice,” I say.
She puts the cup down, “I love her.”
I nod, “I’m glad you’re awake Bear, I missed you.” A tear falls down my cheek and I don’t know when I started crying. Annabelle wipes it away with a cold hand, pulling the IV with her.
“I wasn’t ready to leave yet.”
I know I need to call my family. And Mary. But, for now, I just want to be close to my sister. We’ve been countries apart, neighborhoods apart, especially since we’ve grown older, it’s been hard to make time. Seeing my sister in a hospital bed, not responding to anything I do or say is the farthest I’ve ever been from her. And I’m not going to let it happen again.