Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Guest Blogger: Barbara Weitzer

Enjoy this short story and please pay no attention to any formatting issues this blog  has caused :)
Please Wake Up
A Short Story by Barbara Weitzner

Her bed is in the ICU.
I walk in on my toes. I hold my breath; my smile melts away. I have been warned that I will be shocked. Drowning in an ocean of grief, I take a deep breath and step closer to the bed, which revolves slowly from side to side. Her head is shaved. A pipe juts out from the center of her skull. I touch it and feel the cold of the steel in my hand. Machines hum and thump, recording her vitals and whatever else they do. I stand by her bed and watch the rise and fall of her chest. I lean over the bed, smell the starch and bleach in her hospital gown.
“Hiya, Aud,” I manage to croak in what I hope is a cheery tone. The doctor has told me that in her coma Audrey may hear and recognize voices.
Her hands, with their chewed nails and cuticles, are distorted, her fingers puffed up like sausages. I touch the little cushion pads on her fingertips, see the jagged scar on her arm that has been there for years, a reminder of the time Mother stabbed her with the sewing scissors. Her chapped lips are sealed around a breathing tube. She sleeps floating on a cloud. If her arm gets caught in an awkward angle, if her head tilts on the pillow, it doesn’t matter. She can feel none of it.
“Wake up Audrey. Please wake up,” I repeat.
Through my silent tears, I notice the heavy booties encasing her legs.
The monitor burbles, coughs, before it goes click, click, and begins to beep. The nurse comes in and adjusts knobs and things then leaves. The air is cool. Night comes, the moon slides by the window, clouds gather. The room is lit only by the dim lights trapped behind the dials.
My parents arrive, their words banal and pitiful. Dad works a crossword puzzle. Mother files her nails. In the machine-ticking silence, my hands clench into fists, and I feel skin-prickling rage. Loving her and hating her and wondering if she still has any feelings for me.
The memories of our beatings sweep over me like a chilling wind. Memories that make me break out into a sweat. We learned to protect our faces, to freeze our expressions, struggled stoically not to cry.
Our mother had rules for everything - don’t do this, don’t do that. I never knew what would precipitate her maniacal rage. Never knowing what she might do was the worst. If we didn’t cater to her inflexible demands she’d whip us with a thing she called a cat-o’-nine-tails, a leather multi-tailed whipping device that menaced us from a hook inside the broom closet.
One time, we came home from school and Audrey accidentally knocked over a potted plant. Mother grabbed a fistful of Audrey’s hair and pummeled and kicked her until she lost her balance and fell, blood gushing from her nose. Despite my seven-year old wish to defend my big sister, I remained silent, cowered helplessly, afraid to get involved, my knees knocking in fear that I’d be next, my heart doing giddy-yaps, wishing we could run away to a home where children were cherished.
We never told Grandma or anyone else. Thought if Spring 2012 Soundings Review 59 SR
we didn’t speak about it, we’d be like other ordinary families. It wasn’t true.
I look at my mother. Can’t she see how I feel? Doesn’t she know what I’m thinking? I wonder how she will answer for her sins.
My mind hops from one thought to another. My father is a withdrawn, disheartened wreck whose life has been blighted by a miserable marriage. Mother’s maniacal behavior has snuffed out the last vestiges of the man he had once been. Something important has left his marriage. He copes by staying away from the house as much as possible. His crimes are irresponsibility, cowardice and failure to wrap his protection around us. But then again, perhaps there was nothing he could do.
It is a week before my parents return. I hear them out in the hall speaking to a doctor and I open the door. My insides knot up. I’m scared. Mother’s perfectly plucked eyebrows are raised; Dad glances at me and makes a waving motion with his hand to tell me to go back to the room. Devoted parents.
I know better.
They stay for a half hour and leave.
I keep vigil at Audrey’s side. I watch a parade of nurses come in and out of the room. The room is cold. I tuck my hands underneath my thighs to keep them warm. My favorite nurse comes in.
“How you doing honey? Here, I brought you something. Don’t know anybody doesn’t like an ice cream pop.” She reads the machines, jotting stuff on Audrey’s chart, assures me the doctors are doing all they can for Audrey.
I like how gently she touches my sister. The sound of her soft voice so sympathetic, so alien to any experience I can remember, brings tears to my eyes - kind gestures affect me deeply. I thank her for the ice cream.
I had asked my parents to bring a box of chocolates for the nurses. The kind I like with the descriptions of the fillings in each candy so you could avoid the jellies and caramels. Neither remembered.
When I go home, the emptiness of our house feels intolerable. Luckily, school is over until September.
In the coming weeks I learn how to rotate each of Audrey’s legs slowly and carefully with my clumsy hands - each limb, forward and clockwise for twenty circles to help her circulation. Tedious and exhausting - each bootie weighs five pounds.
I wet a washcloth and gently wipe her face, angry over my inability to do anything more.
An orderly comes in. I hear him cleaning the bathroom, the swish of the mop, the flush of the toilet, the water sucked down the drain.
The next morning comes - and the next and the next. Milestones, headlines pass us by. My heart aches. To pass the time I tell Audrey stories. At a different time, at a different place, I’d have told her other stories. Now I speak only of good times, of the future, of a life with love and affirmation. I twist fact, flesh out fiction, just to keep her listening to my voice - something that may make her smile, a tale that may remind her of something funny - or not. I run out of themes, read to her from our favorite book, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. I’d spend the rest of my life here to keep love in this room.
Audrey, please wake up with a smile, freed of tubes and wires, and walk straight into my arms.
But my sister never moves inside her softly swaying cocoon. I lift her head to fluff the pillows. I have to be careful. I wonder about her brain aneurism. Is it because of my mother’s hair-pulling, the beatings … ?
Audrey is four years older than I. I adore her, have always listened to her and trusted her. We can communicate with a glance or a squeeze of the hand. I can go far back in memory and recall her many acts of kindness. She taught me to tie my shoelaces, checked my homework. On the nights our parents went out, she allowed me to stay up past my bedtime to hear the end of a TV program, or she darkened the lights, sat on my bed, and thrilled me with ghost stories or we’d play hide-and-seek, laughing as I screeched with delight when she allowed me to find her. She sat with me at the kitchen table, her nimble hands carefully cutting out paper dolls and their clothing as she unfolded all sorts of romantic and daring tableaus to shut out the daily cycle of fear and abuse that made up our lives.
It was Audrey who held my head when I was sick, wiped the blood from a scraped knee, comforted me when I suffered nightmares.
“I’ll give you three seconds to apologize,” she’d say when I did something naughty, although I have always been timid, inclined to obey the rules. Audrey was always a pillar in my bewildering world. She saw everything through a prism of fun. But because she too was a child, she couldn’t change our world much.
For all these things I thank her from whatever is left of my heart.
I open the window and ask the moon to light up her lifeless face. But when I look at her again, it is too late. I feel a hardness form in my throat. My sister has risen into clouds where evil cannot follow.
I sit wishing I could talk to her, dial heaven. Hear her laugh.

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