I lean forward and look at Tess.
The machines that keep Tess alive beep at me. I’ve been here so often that sometimes I think they’re her way of replying. But today that’s not enough. Sunday is a day of prayer after all, isn’t it? So here’s mine:
Today I want Tess to wake up.
Today she has to wake up.
I lean in, so close I can see the tiny blue lines on her eyelids marking where her blood still pumps, still flows. Shows that her heart still beats.
“If you don’t do something, Tess, I—I’ll sing for you.”
“I mean it,” I say.
Still nothing. Tess’s eyes stay closed, and her body lies limp, punctured with needles and surrounded by machines. I used to visit Tess with Mom and Dad, used to wait with them for the doctor, but the news never changed and I got so I couldn’t bear to see my parents’ faces, washed out and exhausted and sad.
Like a princess in a fairy tale, Tess is asleep. Deeply asleep.
I guess “coma” doesn’t sound as good when you’re trying to sell stories where everything ends up okay.
Sleeping means you’ll wake up.
Coma … well, coma doesn’t. And Tess has been in this bed, in this room, in this hospital, for six weeks. She was in a car accident on New Year’s Day, driving home the morning after a party. She’d waited to come home because she didn’t want to risk getting into an accident with a drunk driver.
Instead, her car hit a patch of ice and slammed into a tree.
Tess was always so good at being safe. At doing the right thing, at making people happy. And now she’s here. She turned twenty in this room, four days after the call that sent us all rushing here. My parents got her balloons. They floated around for a while and then wilted, fell.
Tess never saw them.
I turned seventeen in this room too. It was two weeks and two days after the accident. I was still visiting Tess with my parents. They got me cupcakes from the vending machine and sang when I opened them.
Tess didn’t say a word. Didn’t even open her eyes. I chewed and swallowed and chewed and swallowed even though the cupcakes tasted like rubber, and my parents watched Tess’s face, waiting. Hoping.
That’s when I realized I had to start coming by myself.
When I realized I had to bring Tess back.
“Wake up, Tess,” I say, loud enough for my breath to stir her hair, and pick up the glass unicorn Beth brought the first time she visited. She said she knew Tess would like it, that it was all about impossibilities. I thought that sounded a bit beyond Tess, who dealt in the here and now and in being adored, but when Beth put the thing in Tess’s limp hands, I swear she almost blinked.
Now Tess doesn’t do anything, and I put the unicorn down.
I miss the little ledge where it sits though, and it hits the floor. It doesn’t break, but a crack appears, running from one end of the unicorn to the other.
A nurse comes in and frowns at me.
“Accident,” I say, and she says, “Love is what your sister needs, not attitude,” like it wasn’t an accident, like she knows me, like she and all the other nurses who have only ever seen Tess in this not-life, this twilight state, know her.
They don’t, they can’t. But I do. Tess believes in happily ever after, in dreams come true, and I’ve decided that’s how I’m going to reach her.
Now I just have to figure out how to do it.
I leave the hospital and ride my bike down to the ferry.
Once I’m on board, I stand by the side of the boat. Most people stand up front; the wind in their hair, the river all around them, and Ferrisville up ahead looking almost quaint and not like a big pile of nothing.
I look at the water. It’s dark, muddy brown, and slaps hard against the ferry. I can see my shadow in it, all chopped up, bits and pieces scattered among the churning waves. I turn away, because I already know I’m broken, that there’s nothing in me worth seeing. I already know there’s nothing worth believing. It’s just how I am.
© 2011 Elizabeth Spencer