Five years and a few hours ago, my mind filled in the blanks. It was around 6am; my father had guided me – by force and cajoling – to bed a few hours earlier, and then stood there to make sure I took the strong sedative he poured into my hands. I needed to sleep, he argued. She – we all – needed me to calm down. Worn out, I acquiesced and slipped into a hallucinatory blue twilight filled with the suns and stars decorating my sister’s bedroom.
Awareness is an odd thing. Although I was upstairs, away from the sick room, it’s clear that my brain registered some change. Maybe I heard the small beeps from a machine change; maybe just the right pause of my sister’s footsteps alerted me; maybe I heard the cat rouse herself from slumber at the foot of the hospital bed in order to act out. It’s hard to say what changed, but something did, and in the hazy twilight of that sedated sleep, I heard my name. I felt a hand across my forehead. I felt the gentle flutter of lips that followed that hand.
Groggy, I opened my eyes and I tried brushing my sister, who was being uncharacteristically affectionate and thus weird, away.
Only my sister wasn’t there.
No one was there.
A moment later my sister did appear in the doorway to the bedroom, looking drawn and wan. She gave me a quizzical look.
“Were you just in here?” I asked her.
“No,” she said in a tone I’d never heard before. She didn’t have to say it, then – I knew – but she did, anyhow: “She’s gone.”