“Oh, great,” she said. “Now I’m hallucinating.”
I smiled. “What do you mean?” I asked.
She scoffed. “No, no. I’m not falling for that shit. If I’m dying then I’m dying with dignity, or not at all.”
I laughed. “I’ve always admired you for that,” I said.
She was trying very hard not to look at me. Her jaw was clenched.
“You’ve always been … determined,” I explained. She still wasn’t looking at me. I sighed and folded my arms. “Come on, ‘Liv,” I whispered. “It’s me!”
“If you’re real,” She said slowly. “Then there’s a whole lot I’ve gotten wrong about this world.”
I laughed aloud. “Ah, ‘Liv,” I said through tears, “you have no idea.”
She still wasn’t looking at me, but I saw a single tear slide down the inside of her cheek. “Let’s say you’re real, then. You’re real and you’re here and I’m not hallucinating.”
“Does that mean I’m … I mean … Is this it?”
“Maybe,” I said. “Well, probably, yea. I mean, that’s why I’m here. I got special privileges, see—”
“Privileges?” She still wasn’t looking at me. I noticed her hand clutching the bedsheets.
“Yea, ‘Liv, look, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is I get to be the one who helps you make the transition. Nobody else.”
“Oh, God.” She wiped more tears from her face, but was still very careful not to look at me. I understood, so I let it go.
“I can’t leave now, Lou,” she said quietly. “I can’t! What about Ray? What about the girls?”
I held out my hands. “What about ’em? Ray’s strong. You guys have good friends. He’ll be alright. And the girls—” A lump sprang up in my throat. “The girls’ll be O.K., too.”
“You don’t know that,” she said. “How could you possibly know that?”
“I don’t,” I admitted. “But they were alright when I left, right?”
“They hardly knew you.” She had stopped crying. Instead, she was clenching her jaw over and over again.
“Ah, ‘Liv, come on. That’s not anybody’s fault. Accidents happen.”
And now, finally, she looked at me. She whipped her head around and stared right at me. Her face was beet red. Her eyes were as big as they’d ever been. I waited for her to yell at me. I waited for a slap. I waited for curses and accusations.
I waited for ‘Liv.
She didn’t slap me, and she didn’t start to yell. Instead, she started crying all over again — but really crying this time. She sobbed all over the place. There was snot and sweat and tears everywhere. She reached out and I wrapped her in a big hug.
“I love you, sis,” I whispered. She cried some more. She cried and told me this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She told me about all the plans that she and Ray had. Plans like taking the girls to Europe and going on a 25th anniversary trip to Rome. She told me about the cancer showing up out of nowhere, and how Ray could hardly look at her without getting emotional. She told me the doctor had been very kind and helpful, how he had done the best any doctor could’ve done. She told me nothing had been the same since I left.
“I think Ray misses you the most,” she said. She was nestled in the crook of my shoulder.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Ray?” I said. “My brother-in-law misses me more than my own sister?” She punched me in the ribs.
There was a warm, patient silence.
“Special privileges, huh?” She said eventually. “How’d you manage that?”
I shrugged. “No idea,” I said. “I just got told that I could be here for this if I wanted.”
She was quiet a little longer, and then, “What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
I smiled and squeezed her in a big hug. “Piece a’ cake,” I whispered.
more by ISAAC GOLLE
photograph by Logan Adermatt