Proxy: Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven

Thanksgiving came and went, leaving the first dusting of snow for the winter in its wake, but we hardly even noticed it. Sheena was too sick. The other doctors didn't know why, and there were no specialists left to visit. My father took time off of work. And once again, we waited.

I knew what we were waiting for. It had settled in our house like a bad smell trapped behind all our closed doors and windows. I wanted to believe that we were just waiting for her to be well enough for our life to come together again. But that wasn't true. It had never been true.

She had multiple seizures a day now, so many that my father told the church ladies in a low voice that he had taken to sleeping sitting up in his armchair beside the bed, so that he could sit right up and tend to her when one of the seizures started. "Oh you poor thing," they all murmured, reaching out and taking hold of his hands.

I hadn't really seen her since the seizures got bad. This moment, while my father was holding court downstairs, was the best opportunity I was ever going to get. I slipped out of the living room, holding my camera in my hands. I always had it with me know-- I wanted the reassuring weight of it in my hands, even when I wasn't filming anything. I held it tighter as I crept up the stairs, the stale, thick hospital smell growing more cloying. The door to my father's bedroom was closed, but I slowly, carefully opened it.

The room looked like its usual, Good Housekeeping, self, with the exception of the vague shape ruining the perfect lines of the sheets and blankets. I closed the door behind me, then crossed to the other side of the room. "Sheena?" I whispered. No answer came from the other side of the bed. I froze in my tracks as I saw Sheena there in the bed. She was lying on her side, a hand curled up beneath her cheek. Her skin was so pale and sallow that it was almost the translucent yellow of a sweat-stained shirt. Her hair was still long and dark, but almost all of the curl had gone out of it, and the parts of it that hadn't fallen out entirely were limp and matted together in hanks. She was thin enough to be nearly skeletal, a bag of road kill bones loosely gathered together in the white sheets.

It was just like my real mother, those last days in the house-- except I remembered my mother had had a parade of people visiting her, aunts and uncles and grandparents that I only knew when they were pointed out for me. Sheena was alone. No one was coming for her in this airless, still sick room but me.

I feel now that I should have cried, or at least wanted to cry, but just like with my mother, my eyes stayed dry and calm. I wanted instead to find the answers, the cure, the reasons, and then make everything right. I didn't know how, but I wanted to try. Sheena opened her eyes. They were red rimmed and bleary, framed by dark purple circles, but they settled on me, and she struggled to sit up, but was too weak. She lifted one of her hands, pointing at me. "Cori... Cori, I'm so glad you're... here..." Her voice trailed off, and she coughed softly, but kept pointing at me. "Someone has to see... someone has to know..."

"Know what, Sheena," I whispered, the confusion and fear wriggling uncomfortably in my stomach together.

"Someone has to see," she said again, pointing as forcefully as she could. "Someone has to know..." she said, struggling to keep her eyes open. I realized that she wasn't pointing at me, exactly. She was pointing at my camera. I lifted it up, and she nodded approvingly, a faint smile playing around her lips. I turned it on and looked around, pointing the camera briefly at her before I decided against it. It was wrong to see her like that. I didn't know what she wanted me to film, but then I heard my father's voice calling me from downstairs. I looked around the room until I saw the little cluster of ornamental plants sitting on top of the dresser. I stuck the camera in the larger plant, carefully hiding it in the fake silk and plastic leaves and fronds.

"I'll be back later, Sheena," I whispered, before I slipped down the door and ran to my room, opening the door and closing it behind me loudly. "Coming, Dad!" I called out as I ran down the stairs. I went to the kitchen and helped him serve a makeshift lunch for the church ladies. They didn't quite know what to do with me, after the usual preliminary questions about how school was going and how I was feeling. They weren't sure how to handle someone responding to them with my cool stoicism, and eventually, they left me in silence. It was the best that I could hope for. It was up to my father to entertain them, after all. I sat in silence and ate the bland alfredo noodle dish that one of the church ladies had brought.

I kicked my feet idly underneath the table and fidgeted with the charm on the necklace that Sheena had given me on the day we had all gotten our picture taken. It wasn't as comforting as holding my camera, but it was something. It wasn't enough, but it was something. Halfway through the meal, my father got up from the table. "I should... I should really check in with Sheena."

"Is there anything we can do to help? Anything, really, Dr. Leonard, I know it's so difficult to have an illness in the family." Apparently that was what Sheena had become now-- not a person, but an illness.

"Oh, no, I couldn't impose, Karen--"

"We insist! No need to be a hero!"

My father paused and put his hand on his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm. Well, Corinne and I are really all right. But... well, it's silly, but with everything going on, we haven't gotten a chance to put up our Christmas decorations. And Sheena loves Christmas... it'd do her good to see them out." I wondered how she would get to see them, if she spent all her time upstairs in that room, locked up with all that awful air.

"We'd be delighted!"

My father smiled gratefully. "Thank you so much, ladies. I would appreciated. Corinne, would you go out to the garage and bring in the decoration totes? Then you can help them get started?" Then he walked upstairs, humming softly to himself.

I was glad to have a task to move through, as futile and absurd as it seemed. I wore a path back and forth between the garage and the living room until all the green and red plastic totes had been regurgitated onto that white carpet. Then I helped the church ladies unpack all the decorations and put them out in the room. I knew their places by muscle memory, and I hardly had to think about where it all went and how it went. I moved through the house with the church ladies like a robot, correcting their mistakes and placement without any thought. My mind was upstairs, with the camera. When we finally had the house dressed in silver and gold, my father had settled on the couch, across from the three or four church ladies who hadn't gone home yet, talking in low murmurs, as if I still couldn't hear them, as if I didn't know what they were talking about.

I got up from the living room and slipped upstairs to the master bedroom, slowly easing the door open, pulling it almost shut beside me to avoid any sound. For a moment, I lingered just outside the doorway, watching the stuttering rhythm of her breathing, counting them, wondering if they would run out here in the room with me. Then I heard my father downstairs, walking the church ladies through the hall to the front door. "Thank you for all your help, ladies. It really... really means a lot. God bless you." I was almost out of time.

I darted across the room to the plant, snatching the camera out of its hidden place and shoving it into my hoodie pocket. I ran back out of the room, and I was halfway to my room before I realized that I hadn't closed the door fully behind me. He would know that I had been there. Something deep in my gut told me that that would be dangerous for him to know that. I ran back up the door and pulled the door shut again.

"Corinne, honey, Sheena needs her rest. We've talked about this."

I yanked my hand away from the door as if it had burned me. I started to open my mouth to argue with him and let out this doubt eating at the edges of my mind-- When did we talk about this? When have we ever talked about any of this? But that felt dangerous too. My father had his arms crossed over his chest, the perfect picture of the sitcom dad, except for his eyes. He looked at me with cold calculation, deciding whether or not I belonged in the scene. Had he always looked at me like that? Did he look at everyone like that? I didn't know. I still don't. It would be easier if I did.

"I just... I wanted to see her... I haven't seen her in ages..."

My father kept staring at me, scanning me. I tried to make myself cry, but I couldn't. Then he dropped slowly to his knees, holding his arms out to me. He began to sob, his shoulders shaking, and I remembered again all those days in the pews, listening to him sob to my mother's favorite hymns. Without thinking about it, I stepped into his embrace like I was supposed to. As his arms closed around me, I wondered if he would ever let me out again.

"Honey... Sheena's... Sheena's dying."

I knew that. We all knew that. How could he think that I didn't know that? Didn't he smell the sick and decay permeating our house?

"I couldn't tell you... I didn't know how... I can't lose her again..."

But we were going to lose her. Maybe we had already lost her.

"Corinne, honey, I'm so sorry..."

What did he have to be sorry for?

He cried on me for what felt like hours. I stood there, stiff and silent. He finally let me go, swiping at his eyes. "I'm so sorry, honey. If... if you need to talk to me, I'm here. I love you."

I knew that I was supposed to say it back. But that's not what I did. I turned away, towards my room. "I'm going to bed." My father stood in the hallway. I heard his footsteps start to follow me, but the sound stopped abruptly as the phone began to ring. I stayed at my closed door, listening to him. He answered the phone and moments later began to sob. I turned out the lights in my room and ducked under the blankets to pull the camera out. It was still recording as I pulled it out. It had been recording the whole time it was in my pocket.

I hit stop and then clicked back, to watch the video I had recorded. It was over two hours long, but I intended to watch every second of it. I needed to know what Sheena needed me to see. The video was hard to follow, confined to the tiny preview screen of the camera, but it was recognizable. The picture was awkwardly framed, cut through with the plastic leaves of the plant in the right corner. It definitely wasn't my best work, but it would do. It is a good enough record.

A skinny, pale girl in a red hoodie runs out of frame in a frantic blur, replaced a few minutes later by Dr. Leonard. He strides into the room with a tray of food like he belongs there, leaning over to touch Sheena Leonard's forehead, brushing away some stray hairs. He sets the food on the nightstand and walks out of frame, returning with two small glass vials. The resolution of the video is too low to see what the vials are, but they are clearly medical in nature. He takes one of the vials and uses it to fill a hypodermic with that unidentifiable liquid, squirting it into the bowl of broth he has prepared. He stirs it in thoroughly. The clink of the spoon against the ceramic bowl awakens Sheena, and she moans softly, barely audible on the video. Dr. Leonard murmurs something in response, but while it is audible, it is not intelligible due to the poor sound quality at the camera's location. He places the bowl and the hypodermic needle back on the tray and picks up the second vial. He fills another needle from this vial, tucking it into a jewelry box on the nightstand. He carefully spoons the oatmeal into her mouth, even as she chokes and turns her head away. He continues to tend to her as she vomits up the meal, stroking away her tears as she flinches.

The only word that Sheena Leonard says in the entire two hour and 14 minute sequence is "no."

The next morning, when my father left for rounds, he locked their bedroom door.

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