Melissa scanned the long dark stretch of road she constantly took to get back home and pondered the many questions swimming around in her head. The plastic reflectors lining the tarred route shimmered like the arteries of a living thing, guiding her each night as she drove between them.
Her mind was a mess, and if it wasn’t for the designated lanes and the occasional gleam that came from the small pieces of yellow plastic, she knew she would’ve driven herself into a ditch.
“I guess being single wouldn’t be so bad.” The words she was thinking came out louder than she expected. They always did.
Melissa had begrudgingly come to accept that saying her thoughts out loud was her quirk. While others gnashed their teeth or bit their finger nails, Melissa said what was on her mind, unintentionally. It wouldn’t be so if bad half the things she was thinking weren’t insulting to the people she was talking to. Saying things out loud was a quirk, she knew, but being a bitch was deliberate.
Despite all that, Melissa lived a fulfilling life. You couldn’t see it as the darkness hid it well, but Melissa was pretty. A natural blonde; she escaped the common stereotype of her hair color and is now a practicing lawyer. The momentary flashes of light from the street lamps overhead gave glimpses of her locks which she constantly dyed a chestnut red to break away from the assumptions men would have of blondes. Also she said: being a redhead made her intimidating.
She would scold herself for the things she said and quickly take control of the situation, shutting her mouth and forcing herself to have the conversation in the confines of her own mind.
While her eyes were focused on the darkness ahead of her, her thoughts were suddenly disturbed by the sound of buzzing coming from her handbag. She cursed herself for not remembering to take out her phone and place it within easy reach, forcing her to rummage around in her bag.
Prying the plastic object from its leathery depths, the name “Samantha” shone on the white illuminated screen of her iPhone.
“Why would..,” she stopped herself from saying the words out loud and thought it instead. She needed to train herself more to do this. She can’t risk being fired from her job again for saying bad things about her CEO, even if she did think he was cheating on his wife with the managing director’s secretary.
Why would my sister be calling me at this hour, or let alone calling me at all? she thought.
She and Samantha hadn’t been talking to each other ever since their mother had made the decision to admit herself into a nursing home.
Melissa was angry that Samantha, having had her own family, wouldn’t want to take their mother in on the basis that she had too many commitments as it was, with taking care of the kids and her husband.
“Sam?” she asked, her curt way of saying hello.
“Lissy? Mom’s at St. Lucas, room 3-19-4. I’ve called Jonathan. He should be on his way,” her voice was followed by a click and the sound of a dead dial tone.
“Guess she’s still pissed,” Melissa said out loud, not bothering to keep it to herself.
She flicked her turning indicator and veered left, taking the exit off the highway and making a U-turn to head back into the city.
Entering the parking compound of St. Lucas hospital, Melissa turned her car into a spot furthest away from the entrance. She turned the ignition off and sat there in her car quietly, her fingers drummed the steering wheel, too awkward to do anything else. No thoughts left her lips and no sound accompanied her save for the piercing silence that reverberated within the padded interior of her metal box.
Within the silence, she lost herself. She knew that if she stepped foot outside her car, she would have to deal with another issue. Eventually she would, but she took this moment to reflect on her current existing problems.
She caught her thoughts before they escaped her lips.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, she thought. I have the resources to live alone. I mean, I…
The familiar buzzing cut short her thoughts.
“Hello? Sam?” she asked.
“Where are you? We’re all here,” said Samantha, sounding irritated.
“I just parked. I’m coming up now. What happ..” but before Melissa could finish her sentence, the line was already dead. Guess she’d been sitting in her car much longer than she thought she had.
“Great, now I have to deal with the Manson family,” she scoffed.
Melissa loved referring to Samantha’s little brood as the Manson family after the psychotic murderer, Charles Manson. It was publicly known at this point what Melissa thought of her sister’s family, much to the Samantha’s disapproval.
She always said her sister was one spilled juice away from strangling her kids. However, it was common knowledge that Samantha and her husband Keith kept a well organised household, proof of which could be witnessed during the many barbeques hosted by Samantha at the end of each month.
People assumed that these events were hosted out of spite to prove Melissa wrong. It was a chicken or egg situation; whether the barbeques came first or Melissa’s statement, Samantha kept her head high and Melissa away from her barbeques.
The smell from the disinfected hallways stung Melissa’s nose. She harbored no love for hospitals ,and the doctors and nurses of this particular one offered none in return. All this distaste for hospitals and nurses was after a few of the nurses got slapped with a lawsuit that would keep the case tied up in court for years, all because the last time Melissa was admitted after being involved in a car accident, they kept prodding her with a syringe unable to locate a vein. Seven pokes in total, seven subpoenas.
Samantha, present at the time, said this was because Melissa had no veins and she was in fact a heartless bitch.
Melissa kept her eyes on the room numbers along the hallway. She dodged nurses and gurneys and doctors running up and down the stretch of hallway.
Funny, she thought. These are the wards and the individual rooms. But where’s 3-19-4?
“Excuse me,” she stopped a passing nurse. “Where’s 3-19-4? It’s not on this floor.”
“Oh, 3-19 is the intensive care ward,” the nurse said, looking down the corridor. “Take the elevator down, turn left and head to the east wing. You should see it there. Four is the bed number.”
Melissa’s face was stark white, even in comparison to the white walls of the hospital corridor. She was wondering why Samantha hadn’t told her that her mother was in the ICU. She thanked the nurse and sprinted towards the elevators, fearing the worse.
As she reached the room, her sister Samantha and her brother Jonathan were standing and talking with an elderly lady whom Melissa recognized as Maggie.
Maggie was their mother’s friend who eventually became her live-in caregiver. She had accompanied their mother, Beatrice, since the day their father passed away when Melissa was 21. After their mother had moved into the nursing home, Maggie moved in with her own children.
“Took you long enough,” said Samantha as Melissa approached them, the contempt for her sister evident as the words escaped her lips.
Melissa hugged Jonathan in a tight embrace and gently wrapped her arms around Maggie, careful to take care of her small and fragile frame.
“Oh, you can hug me harder than that Lissy, I’m not dead yet,” she said half-chuckling.
“If you were dead, I’d be hugging you even tighter,” Melissa said with a wink and a smile.
“You always know the appropriate things to say,” said Jonathan with a smile at Melissa while putting his arm around her.
Melissa turned to look at Samantha.
“Good to see you too, Sam,” she said scathingly. “I see you left the family at home.”
This was a normal conversation between the sisters. They never really had a clean cut relationship. All their conversations were laced with sarcasm and biting cynicism. It was a wonder to anyone how they survived living under one roof with each other. However, more importantly as expressed by others, how did Jonathan survive as the youngest in the house with sibling rivalry between the two females.
Jonathan had grown up relatively sheltered, not in the sense of him being protected from the outside world, but more of him being protected from his sisters, away from the Indian burns and purple-nurples.
Jonathan was as tall and built as any marine would be. He signed up with the Corp after his 21st birthday and had been on duty in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and even Somalia ever since.
Their father, Andrew, had been a role model for Jonathan in his years growing up in that house. Working at a lumber mill to support five people in the family, Jonathan had picked up the slack once he had turned 13 and had finally towered over his two sisters. When their father died, Jonathan took his death the hardest. He was 16 at the time.
He was away on duty when his mother had moved into the nursing home and only found out when he came back for leave the following summer to find that the house had been sold and bought over by another family.
Needless to say, there was no one around to protect his sisters from Jonathan’s words. Their relationship became strained and more so between Jonathan and Samantha as he blamed her for their mother moving out.
Samantha looked at Melissa with animosity. She figured why give her the full benefit of her emotions. There’s plenty of time for that.
“What happened to mom?” Melissa asked changing the subject as it had been a long day and she expected it to be a long night too and she just didn’t have the time or patience to start a fight with her sister.
“The nursing home called me and told me that mom fell down the stairs. They rushed her to the hospital but by the time they admitted her, mom’s condition was already critical. A few hours later she fell into a coma,” Samantha said, monotonous. All emotions had been swept aside as she suddenly remembered why they were all here.
“Can’t the doctors do anything?” Melissa asked. She noticed that both Jonathan and Maggie stood silently. They must have already been briefed prior to her arrival. She looked to Jonathan as if asking him to do something about it, assuming the military prepared them for situations like these. Jonathan shook his head while Maggie looked down, forlorn.
“All we can do is wait,” said Samantha. “You can go in if you want.”
“Has everyone gone in?” They nodded. “Guess it’s just me then,” she thought aloud.
Despite it being the ICU, their mother had a room to herself, compliments of their father’s pension fund and their mother’s health insurance which he had started in the early 70s. Today, it was the equivalent of a small fortune.
When asked why their father didn’t take the money and put it into a savings account so it could be used for holidays, their father had told them that health was more important than a few days in Italy.
“The health and protection of your family is the single most important commitment you can focus on as a husband and as a father,” he said. “I gave you a roof over your head and three square meals a day, holidays can come after. But the health and protection of my family is one of the most important things I want to provide.”
True to his word, the holidays came, but looking at her mother now in her own private room, being surrounded by all sorts of machines and having nurses constantly on standby was the best gift their father could give her. Even in death he was still taking care of her.
A single tear escaped her eye. She wasn’t sad that her mother was hooked up to all these machines; in fact, she looked the most peaceful she’d been in a very long time. No, Melissa was sad that her father couldn’t be here with them.
“He’d know what to do, mom,” she said.
After having a few words with her mother, Melissa stepped out of the room. Her mind, if it ever was a mess before, it had become a hoarder’s paradise. Problems stacked on top of problems and nagging issues littered every nook of her brain.
“We’re heading back home,” said Samantha gesturing to her and her husband, Keith, who had arrived to pick her up.
Melissa looked at Keith and Samantha and looked away. Troubled.
“Hey, Melissa,” Keith acknowledged her.
Melissa nodded. Keith hadn’t earned the right to call her by her pet name just yet. Things stayed professional between them, more so while Samantha was around.
Samantha looked at Melissa suspiciously.
Samantha’s relationship with her siblings had always been strained ever more so with Melissa.
Samantha was small and while she was pretty, time had not been kind to her. She was the first child in the family and had been adored by both Beatrice and Andrew. Once Melissa came along, the house, her castle, had never been the same.
She was taught to share her toys and leave some food for her sister, which took years of getting used to. There were more fights in the house and fresh bruises each morning. Melissa was larger than Samantha, which forced her to become more vicious both with her words and her nails.
Soon after Jonathan came, Samantha was a bitter, conniving shell of the former petite little girl that she was, using her wits and deception to get what she wanted. She was forced to. In a household where your mother adored your sister and your father only bonded with your brother, it was a very cold place to live in.
Their father passed away on Samantha’s 25th birthday. She never celebrated another birthday since then.
Soon after, she moved out of the house and at 30, married a lawyer and gave him two young boys whom she swore she would love equally and unconditionally. Samantha never looked back.
“I’m heading back too,” said Jonathan.
“Where are you staying tonight, John?” Melissa asked knowing that since the house had been sold after their mother had moved out, Jonathan was without a home. Normally, he would stay in a motel near the nursing home and spend each day with Beatrice. It was a lifestyle Jonathan and their mother had become accustomed to for three years. Then after a month on leave, Jonathan would head back for duty.
“Same motel,” Jonathan replied.
“C’mon, I’ll drive you back to the place and you can grab your stuff and come stay with me,” Melissa calmly requested. ” Honestly, I don’t know why you’d want to stay there with us practically a stone’s throw away.”
Jonathan acquiesced, not wanting to be a burden, but any bed would be better than the ones they had at the motel.
During this period, time became increasingly relative. It was a curved affair. Once she thought time had passed and everything was over, déjà vu kicked in and she found herself right at the beginning of where she was a month back. This time around, it wasn’t déjà vu that reminded her of that familiar place, but the overwhelming feeling of despair.
Samantha had called them both one morning to discuss something. When everyone was gathered, Samantha knew that it was better to break the news like pulling off a band aid.
“The doctors told me that mom’s been in a coma for a good month. Normally, they stop giving it too much hope after the first week, saying that people usually fall deeper after the fourth day. They’re giving us the option to pull the plug,” she said.
Melissa pondered the request for a moment ready to object at the idea at any time, but it was Jonathan who beat her to it.
“Don’t you dare suggest that!” cried Jonathan.
“We have no choice!” retorted Samantha, similarly distressed.
She was right. According to the doctors, they had already given up on waiting and from experience; people usually don’t wake up after the fourth day, let alone a month.
“There’s always a choice!” Jonathan screamed back.
“Sam’s right, John,” said Melissa. “I’ve handled euthanasia cases before. Doctors usually don’t give it much hope after the second week.”
“But there has to be something we can do,” Jonathan pleaded.
“You can take care of mom if you want. Then after you go back to Afghanistan or wherever the hell they send you, what then? You want me to look after mom? Or how ‘bout Lissy?” She didn’t mean it, but everything that was said by Samantha came out as condescending.
Melissa was silent. She knew her sister was right. She couldn’t possibly take on the responsibilities of traveling back and forth to take care of her comatose mother. She knew it wasn’t possible for Samantha either as she has kids to take care of.
Jonathan became silent and looked down. Deep down inside, despite his best intentions, he knew it was not possible for any of them.
He nodded and looked up at both his sisters. He wasn’t happy about it, but what could he do? However, before he could get a word out, Maggie, who had been silent throughout the entire argument simply shook her head and tsk-ed.
“How dare you,” she said, her words dripping with anger and disappointment. “How dare all of you.”
“Maggie…,” said Samantha trying to reason with her, but before even she could get a word out Maggie continued.
“The years your mother put in raising you – why, I’m starting to think she hadn’t done a good job. The sweat and tears she shed molding you three inconsiderate children into the people you are now,” she said, all the while shaking her head.
“I was proud of you three. Once upon a time, I was proud of you,” she said, disappointed.
“Do you know how easy your life decisions have been throughout the years you’ve been adults? Do you?” Maggie screamed. “Your mother has constantly made your lives easier, not wanting you to burden yourselves with problems. Problems that could have been avoided if either one of you were considerate enough as her children.”
“What – ” Melissa started but Maggie shot her a look.
“Sam, when you were racking your brain thinking about how you were going to finance your wedding, who paid for it? What? You couldn’t wait and save for a few years to have one?” she said, pointing a finger at Samantha.
“And Melissa, the amount of things she paid for you, the downpayment for your car, your holidays, your birthdays. She would tell me of all the things she paid for you but not once did you come home to see her with a smile on your face or, OR! Stay the night!” If Melissa’s head could hang any lower, it would.
“And Jonathan,” Jonathan’s face was devoid of blood. “It’s nice of you to want to keep your mother alive, but where were you after your father passed away? You took the first bus out of this town, and if that wasn’t enough, you wanted to be as far away from that house as you possibly could. Did the war give you the freedom away from your family that you oh-so-dearly desired?” Maggie said sarcastically as Jonathan’s body shook, tears running freely down his face.
“But the one thing, the one thing that I could never forgive you for, was kicking your mother out of her home,” Maggie started to sob. Her breathing became labored and her cheeks wet with tears.
“You and Melissa,” she looked to the sisters. “You were fighting about who would take Beatrice in after it became unsuitable for her to stay alone. You were actually fighting about who she would be staying with. Of course, all Beatrice ever wanted was to be close to her family.”
Maggie continued between sobs, “She never told you this, but your mother overheard the fight you two had in her living room the night she asked to move in with either of you. She called me up crying that night asking me what she should do. I told her to check herself into a nursing home. She’d get more love there than with either one of you.”
“You told her to go a nursing home? You did that?!” said Samantha, thinking she had found ammunition against Maggie throughout this barrage of accusations. Her holier-than-thou approach wasn’t thought through well enough.
“No,” said Maggie calmly. “You did. All three of you. All she ever wanted was to make your lives easier. That was her commitment to you as a mother. Where’s your commitment to her as her children?”
Just then, the electrocardiograph monitoring their mother’s heart gave a sharp, shrill beep. Nurses scrambled from their tables and rushed into her room. A doctor ran in and immediately equipment was passed between doctor and nurse.
After a few seconds of chaos, all was calm again. The room, which mere moments before was ringing with the sounds of machines and shouting nurses and yelling doctors, was now silent. All that could be heard was the monotonous, flat beep of the ECG machine, accompanied by the flat line on its screen.
From outside the room, they saw the doctor reach over and flick the machine off. No one needed to be reminded of anything, especially not by a shrill noise coming from a mechanical contraption.
The doctor pulled back his shirt sleeve and looked at his watch. After saying a few words to the nurses, they jotted down something on a clipboard at the end of their mother’s bed.
The doctor turned and looked to the distraught faces of the lady’s children whom he had just attended to and shook his head.
Maggie turned towards her dearly departed friend’s three children. Jonathan had slid to the floor, bawling in tears. Samantha’s forehead was pressed up against the glass while Melissa was silently crying.
“I guess even now she just wanted to make your lives easier,” said Maggie.
(Image by Fotopedia)
Reporter by day and shiisha connoisseur by night, Haziq is on a self-guided quest for fulfilment. Lacking the moral and ethical capacity to achieve Shangri-la, he substitutes it with random bursts of self-praise on his Twitter page, which you too can do. @ZiqqyZiqqy