“Johnny? Did you pick up the cake?”
He reaches for her hand. “I did.”
“Good.” His mother cranes her neck from the pillow, trying to see past him. “Where am I?”
“You fainted,” he says, “and we brought you to the hospital. You'll be home again soon, don't worry.”
“Oh…" His mother blinks. "I hope I didn’t ruin your party.” She blinks again. “Now where’s your father gone to?”
He looks away. “Oh, he’s
He’s six feet under because when we hit that truck, his seat belt snaps and he smashes halfway through the window and by the time the car stops screeching he’s stopped twitching but Casey and I do not stop screaming, we scream and we scream because he won’t get up and you, you’ve blacked out, but we don’t know that so we scream for you, too, even louder, and after a while it gets quiet, so quiet, and days and weeks go by and you don’t speak much, you don’t move much, you sit on your chair and you sit and you sit and –
“He’s grabbing a bite,” he says. “He’ll be back soon.”
“Alright…” His mother closes her eyes. “He better have bought those, oh… what do you call them… the round ones. Red. Where’s your sister?”
He squeezes his mother’s hand. “She’s
You know, I really don’t know where she is because, well, four months ago I went to get her from her friend’s house and she was there, they were both there, red-eyed smoke-skinned high out of their minds and when I see the needle I panic, I freak, I grab her and run and later I don’t say anything but she stops talking to me anyway, just like you, and the next day when I get back from work she’s gone, and the police don’t do anything because she’s an adult now, a legal adult they say, but she’s still my sister and she’s still your daughter and she’s gone now, and you’re here, and I’m –
His father's name. He shivers and looks down. His mother stares up at him, trembling. There are tears in her eyes. “Where am I?”
“You're home. Please.”
“Home? This isn’t home, is it, Nathan… there was a… I’m so glad to see you. But what do you mean, Nathan? This isn’t home. Why are we – why am I –”
Her mouth works, but no sound comes out. Her pupils loll around like marbles, eyelids drooping up and down. He wants to cry; he wants to leave. Instead, he starts humming.
Her chest rises, juddery-like, and falls. Her mouth has gone slack; a line of spittle threatens the pillow beneath. He wipes it away and settles back, not breaking a beat. In his palm her hands are warm, and he squeezes them with every line. Soon, her eyes lose focus. They slip closed. Her breaths turn shallow.
He gets up and steps into the hallway, walking faster as he nears the lobby. By the revolving doors, he stops. The parking lot’s in view.
From the left: “Is everything okay?” The receptionist wears a worn smile.
“I’m fine,” he replies. “See you next week.”