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We were five years old when it happened. I had been watching SpongeBob reruns on cable as I waited for June to get home from ballet practice. Mom was in the kitchen getting dinner ready when the phone rang. She let it ring, knowing it was a telemarketer. She got calls like that daily and she didn’t want to deal with it right now.

“Ma, answer the phone.”

I didn’t even look away from the TV but when the phone rang again, she answered on the first chime.

“Yes, this is she. Yes, that’s my husband. Oh my god. I’m on my way.”

After that, things moved too quickly. Mom picked me up and we rushed out the door. I didn’t even have time to turn the TV off or put on shoes. I felt embarrassed standing in the hospital waiting room where everyone could see my socks. They were my favorite pair, the ones with little unicorns on them.

We went and saw Dad first. I told mom I didn’t like seeing the scary lines come out of Dad so she let me wait outside with the nurse.

“Where is June?” I asked the woman.

She spoke softly, letting one of her hands pat me on the shoulder.

“Your sister is being fixed up right now. The doctor is going to make her feel better.”

Maybe the nurse got June mixed up with a different girl but it didn’t look like the doctor took care of her at all. Her face was all messed up. She had scratches on her neck and her arms and one of her eyes was purple. When I looked at Juney I could feel my head start to hurt. I asked her if it hurt when I poked her arm like this but she didn’t answer me. I slept at the hospital that night on a small bed that was just the right size for me.

It took a long time for Dad to get better but Juney never did. She came home after a while and the hospital even let her keep the bed and the tube that came out of her mouth. She never wanted to talk to me and she would only make crying noises like the dog makes when he’s hungry. Mom explained to me that now Juney talks in her own special way and we will have to learn how to talk like her. I didn’t like that. I just want my old sister back.

__

I’m ten now. In fact, we just turned ten yesterday. We had chocolate cake for breakfast—well I had cake but we had to blend up June’s so that it could go in her feeding tube. My mom asked if I wanted to have a birthday party this year but I told her no. I feel like it makes June sad to see me hang out with friends when she can’t.

“Here Juney. I made this bracelet for you. Can I put it on your wrist?”

She gave me a long blink, then a short one then two long ones. In Morse code that signifies the letter Y. Y for yes, N for no. It’s a quicker way of communicating with Juney. It took me a few months to learn it but it took me about a year to teach Juney. Now it’s our own special way of talking to each other.

I looped the braided thread around her wrist, confirming that it wasn’t too tight, then I tied it in a knot. I lifted her arm up to hover above her face so she could inspect it. I watched her eyes flutter open and shut for a few moments.

Pretty. Thanks.

“You’re welcome Juney. They’re actually not that hard to make. I can make you another if you want.”

Please.

I kissed her gently on the forehead and she released one of her happy grunts to let me know she’s giving me a kiss back.

“Do you want me to braid your hair today?”

“Mm”

I clambered onto the bed, careful not to accidentally hurt her and found my way to the head board. I lifted her head and placed it in my lap. She closed her eyes while I carefully worked on her hair. Even though we are twins I’ve always been jealous of her hair. It’s softer and smoother than mine. It never got all tangly and rough like mine did.

How school.

“School is okay. Luke asked me to the Valentine’s Day dance on Friday but I don’t think I’ll go.”

June’s eyes flew open.

Why.

“That wouldn’t be—” I started but I quickly rethought my words, “I wouldn’t have fun. I already know it.”

June couldn’t show much expression anymore but the long stare she kept on me let me know exactly how she felt.

“What? I’m serious… I wouldn’t have fun. That’s the only reason.”

She closed her eyes after that and I finished up her braid. With a heavy sigh, I leaned back against the head board and stared down at June. I almost missed the tear that slipped out of her eye and trailed down her temple.

“Juney what’s wrong,” I sat up again, concern lacing my voice. June never cried. She’s always so strong and nothing ever gets to her.

Her eyes squeezed shut and she refused to look at me.

“June...” I whispered, swiping at the salt water. “Juney June June. What’s wrong?”

She peered up at me, sadness cutting through me immediately.

Help.

Her blinks were slow, almost like she was tired and had to fight to open her eyes.

“Yes of course. Let me help you. Tell me what’s wrong.”

I waited patiently for her response but it never came. Her heart was beating so hard I could feel the rapid thud against my legs as they shook her chest.

“June, you’re scaring me. Are you in pain? Should I get mom?”

No.

Her eyes wouldn’t meet mine; she only stared aimlessly around the room.

I felt a sickening sensation grow inside my stomach. If someone cut my belly open and looked inside, I’m worried that all they would see was a pit of darkness swirling around in there.

I won’t lie and say I never considered it. I’m sure my parents considered it too but it was never something we would talk about. How could we when the subject at hand couldn’t even join in on the conversation.

“Juney. I’ll do anything for you.”

Her eyes darted to finally lock with mine. Her eyes, the identical shade of brown with the same flecks of green as mine, had never looked so foreign before.

My eyes burned and filled up with tears but I never let them fall. Juney had been so strong and now it is my turn.

Her next word came and went in a matter of seconds but it felt like an eternity to me.

Plug.

The air seemed to get sucked out of the room instantly.

Mom won’t.

The room was too hot, too small, too cramped. June was blinking, trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t look at her. My eyes were fixed straight ahead and out the window. There was a tree that grew in our front yard. In the summer I climb it and wave at June through the window. I breath on the glass and draw a heart in the fog. A painful wave of realization fell over me, drowning me in the daunting but inevitable truth.

It was a prison. We tried to make things nice for her but a decorated cell is a prison nonetheless.

I am June and June is me.

The doctor’s explained it numerous times over the years. If the plug came undone, June would be okay because of the battery packs. All we had to do was make sure her tube stayed in place.

It was as easy as that. The tube clicked quietly as I pulled it out of her mouth. There was a hiss and then the machine began to beep steadily.

I’d never seen a dead person before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Juney looked the same as always except now her eyes stayed unmoving, staring up at the ceiling yet not really focused on anything in particular.

She looked peaceful laying there, her recently braided hair sprawled across the pillow.

“Juney?” I whispered, bringing my lips to graze against her ear, “Are you still there Juney?”

No response. Juney didn’t blink. Her chest was still now, the lulling beat of her heart now absent.

I put the tube back in her mouth but even still, her chest stayed motionless. I felt cold now but Juney was still warm. I curled up next to her, pulling her limp arm across my chest.

I feel Juney inside of me now. She’s happy now. And if Juney is happy then I am happy.

October 07, 2019 18:09

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1 comment

Lee Kull
21:30 Oct 23, 2019

This is such a sad and emotional story about a scenario that, unfortunate as it is, does often happen. It really struck home with me, because I know somebody who was hit by a car when out bicycling and was left in a similar (but not identical) state. He showed no response, but was alive, and supposedly could hear us. His family had to decide if the plug should be pulled or not. You captured the emotion well. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I commend you for your writing skills. Thank you for sharing the short story with us. - Lee

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