I sometimes wish Isaac would die. Nothing too gruesome – I wouldn’t want to horrify people – but nothing too saintly either. That would make the funeral unbearable. No, just a clean, sudden death. I’d prefer it to be sudden, because when a death is prolonged, like with a disease, then people are sad longer and will start mourning the death before it even happens. Additionally, in such a situation, I would probably be expected to sit by his bedside, comforting him or our parents, and doing all of the things you would expect a good sister to do. Nope, something quick would be much better, not to mention more convenient, like being bit by a snake bite, or hit by a truck – like how you see it in movies, when the truck just bowls and kills the person right over.
He could go missing, be kidnapped and killed, or just simply disappear. But, no, that wouldn’t work; my parents would spend the rest of their lives wondering if their only son was still alive out there, somewhere, and I wouldn’t want my parents to suffer. He could commit suicide. He always was a moody child, never had anything good to say about himself, or anyone else, for that matter, me included. It was always everyone else who said nice things about Isaac, It was never about me, though. He could fit the profile of a classic suicide case. Well, of course, then, that would probably upset my parents a lot too. I wonder what his letter would say, if he committed suicide.
No, he would never start a letter with “dear”; his letter would be a list of grievances – and stupid ones, too, like, “I did this because I couldn’t handle the pressure you were putting on me to enjoy things,” or “You just haven’t paid enough attention to me recently,” like he needs any more attention. Yup: his letter would be just like him; it would only piss me off. It would only upset my parents more, to read a letter like that; I’ll have to make sure I sneak in and steal it before they find him. They wouldn’t want to see that. I’d be doing them a kindness.
His funeral wouldn’t be fun. That would be the one upside to his just disappearing: no funeral. I’d have to get out of bed, otherwise, and probably put on some uncomfortable, stuffy black dress and pretend that I’m mourning. People would expect me to cry, won’t they? I should teach myself how to cry on command; I have all this free time now, anyway, and I bet someone here knows how to feign crying. It would probably be a good thing to know how to do, anyway. Who knows when you might to have to break out some tears?
Anyway, back to Isaac. What have I decided on? Suicide, right? Or what about that snake bite? He and my mom love to hike so much; it could easily happen. They’d be hiking on some trail in the mountains, and no one will be with them. Dad and I would be home, on the couch, watching a movie or something else that doesn’t require him to actually have a conversation with me. And Isaac? Isaac would be looking at a bush, maybe thinking it’s an exotic, rare plant, wanting to bring back some leaf samples home to compile in his little gay-boy pressed flora album. And suddenly, out of nowhere, a snake would come slithering out of the bush, to his feet. When Isaac was a kid, I used to try to teach him this poem about snakes: “Red before black; you’re okay, Jack. Red before yellow; you’re a dangerous fellow”; but he always thought it was stupid, and never listened to me.
This will be a red-before-yellow snake; I can’t remember what they’re called. I know that Red-before-Black is a California King Snake; I think the other is called a Coral snake. He’d see it and reach down, because he’s dumb, and would want to pick it up, because he’s dumb. Dumb. Then it would bite him – just a small bite, on the finger. But the Coral snake’s venom is very fast-acting and deadly. There’s a major blood vessel in your hands, you know – yup – and once the poison gets in there, it’d go straight to his heart. He’d yell and drop the snake, and my mom would begin to worry, that the snake may be poisonous, but she’d have no idea how fast-acting the venom is. They’d begin walking home, and my mom would decide to go to the hospital on the way home to get the bite checked out. It’d be at least two miles to the car from where they are. On the hike down the mountain Isaac would faint; the poison would have reached his heart, at last. My mother would fall to her knees, and fumble with her cell-phone trying to call 911 and explain where they are. She’d struggle to remember what the snake looked like and what the colour pattern was, when the emergency responder would inquire. In the midst of her panic, she would vaguely remember me, trying to teach the whole family about dangerous snakes. And she’d wished she had only listened.
Someone is moving near my bed. I pretend to be sleeping. Soon enough, the person leaves and I drift off to sleep, lulled by the gentle rhythm of the poem now stuck in my head.
“Red before black; you’re okay, Jack. Red before yellow; you’re a dangerous fellow.”
Sunlight streams through an open window into the hospital room. Abbey stirs in her bed, as a nurse bustles in for her morning check-up.
“Good morning, Abbey!” says the nurse, in an awfully chipper, sing-song voice. “Rise and shine; your parents are visiting today! And your brother might even tag along with them; won’t that be nice?”
Abbey curses the nurse under her breath, and sticks out her arm for her morning blood-test. She hates this nurse, Jessica. She hates Jessica.
Jessica looks over at Abbey’s face as she fusses with the IV and blood-bag. She looks pale, Jessica thinks, and thin; she’s been looking worse every day. And her poor parents!
Abbey wishes it were Heidi on call today; she finds coping with her parents easier, when she has Heidi’s rolling eyes to commiserate with hers. Plus, Heidi is the best, on her chemo days, and today is going to be a chemo day. After Jessica finishes the check-up, she scribbles something on her chart, and asks Abbey what she would like for breakfast. Jessica sing-songs her way out of the room, with the promise of cereal close behind her.
Abbey rolls over and looks at some of the pictures on her wall – long-term patients are allowed to decorate. There are things her friends have brought and hung up, and a family portrait. The day she was moved here, her mother hung it, as though to say, “we expect you to be here awhile.”
Around mid-day, her mother and father sneak into the room. Abbey is reading a book; she doesn’t look up. Abbey looks paler than she did last week, her mother notices.
“Hi, honey,” she says, in the same sing-song voice that Jessica is prone to using. “How’re you feeling? How’s everything? How’s the food?” she asks, trying to sound concerned.
The remnants of cereal are in a bowl by Abbey’s bed, but there’s no sign of lunch. The doctors did mention that she might lose her appetite toward the end.
“Whatcha reading, kid?” asks her dad.
“Roth,” Abbey replies, and her dad nods, approvingly.
“We’re sorry Isaac couldn’t come, hun,” says her mother, hoping Abbey won’t be too disappointed. Isaac hasn’t been here in months, but he’s just such a sensitive child; being here isn’t good for him.
“Again?” says Abbey.
“Well, he wanted to, but he was just so busy practicing for his big audition… You’re not too disappointed, are you, sweetie?”
“Not at all,” says Abbey.
“He sends his love!”
“I send mine back.”
Abbey makes a mental note to practice that fake smile her mother is so good at.