Proxy: Chapter Six

Chapter Six

The concert ended after that. They rushed the little kids off the stage and back out into the vestibule, and they pushed everyone away. My father went away with Sheena in the ambulance. The rest of the congregation drifted away, and I was mostly forgotten. Pastor Devan and his wife drove me home when they realized that there was no one else to come and do it, discussing what had happened in low voices. "It's so awful... I know she didn't feel well, but I didn't expect anything like that." His wife kept reaching over to turn the radio volume up as if it would cover up their conversation, and then turning it down so that she could turn around in her seat and murmur some kind of encouragement. "It'll be okay, honey, she'll be home by the end of the night! She'll be okay!" Up and then down, all the way back to the Orchard.

Pastor Devan's wife walked me up to our doorway. I unlocked the door and opened my mouth to say thank you, but before I could say anything, she yanked me into her arms and held me tight, pressing her bony arms into my back. "You'll be okay, sweetie. I promise."

I didn't think that it was her place to make promises like that, but I mumbled some kind of thank you and ducked into the house. She and her husband had already backed out of the driveway and disappeared down the road before I realized that I was still holding the camera.

I heated up some leftovers and waited at my window, watching for the headlights to come down the driveway, the camera still sitting in my lap. I waited until almost one in the morning, when my father's car came down the driveway. He stepped out of the car alone, with no one following him. I ran out of my room and ran down the stairs. He was standing in by the front door, going through the mail that no one had been home to collect. "Dad? What happened? Is Sheena okay?"

He looked up at me and he dropped the mail on the end table, his shoulders slumping. "We don't know yet, honey. Sheena had some kind of seizure. They admitted her and they're going to run some tests in the morning." "When can she come home?"

His entire body seemed to slump, and he held up his hands helplessly, palms up at the sky. "We don't know yet, honey. We don't know." I walked towards him, and he held his arms out for me. I lifted my own arms and pulled him close. His shoulders shook, and I could feel the faint dampness of his tears where his cheek was pressed to the top of my head. "I pray she'll pull through. That's... that's all we can really do right now, love."

"Can we go see her tomorrow?"

He shook his head, wiping hastily at his cheek. He kept one arm hooked around my shoulder, gently kneading his knuckles into my shoulder. "I don't think so, honey. She needs to focus on getting well, and she'll have to have a lot of tests done, so we can figure out what's going on. It's better that you give her some space to get better."

I nodded slowly and followed him out to the living room. He turned on the TV to some late night infomercial for some kind of exercise machine with the volume down low and settled down on the couch. I sat down beside him and let him steer me into his side, wrapping an arm around my shoulders again, knotting his fingers into my hair. With his other hand he reached for the cordless phone and began calling down the phone tree, starting with my grandmother and working his way down the fair. I laid my head down against his chest and watched the infomercial without really watching. More than anything, I was listening to my father cry on the phone about how ill Sheena was, how worried and scared he was, manfully choking back tears as the person on the other line reassured him and told him it would be okay before he sighed softly, thanked them for their kind words, and let them go. Then he would take a deep breath and go on to the next person on his list. I didn't quite remember this, but it all felt familiar, like I had heard this before.

Eventually, I fell asleep there on the couch, next to him. I woke up on the couch near dawn, and I was alone in the half dark, television off. My father had gone upstairs to bed, and I wandered back upstairs to lie awake in bed.

Sheena was in the hospital for three days. They declared her stable, but they had no idea what was wrong with her. There were appointments scheduled for afterwards. My father arranged. But she smiled when my father let her back into the house, dressed in a simple cream colored maxi dress that he had brought her to wear for the ride home. "Hey, Corinne. How are you doing?"

"I'm okay. Do you feel any better?"

"So much better now that I'm back home and away from the hospital food. And I can get back to my projects now! So that's exciting. What have you been up to?"

I paused for a moment. I had been reading, as usual. But I'd also been playing with the camera that I'd accidentally stolen from Pastor Devan. I filmed birds in the yard, the living room curtains fluttering in a breeze, myself in the big hallway mirror. I had figured out how to download the clips onto the computer downstairs, and played with them on Movie Maker. I did not let myself look at the video that I had taken on the last night of VBS. I told myself very firmly that I did not need to and did not want to. I saved them, but I did not touch them.

But it didn't feel quite right to tell the truth just then. After all, it would be admitting to stealing, and I didn't want Sheena to think of me as a thief. "I just read, that's all."

"Anything good?"

"I finished Deep Wizardry. It was really good. I'll look for the next one next time I go to the library."

"That sounds excellent. Do you wanna go today, once I grab a quick shower?"

"Oh hon, maybe you should stay in and get some rest. I'm sure Corinne can wait."

"Lonnie, all I've done for three days is rest. A little trip to the library won't kill me."

My father sighed softly, his brow furrowed in an expression of gentle disapproval. "Sheena, really, we don't know what's going on yet..."

"Just give us a ride there. You have to go back into town to catch up on all your charting anyway, right? My friend Carol can bring us back home. Don't worry about it, Ray, really. We're big girls, right, Corinne?"

I laughed and nodded. "We'll be okay, Dad."

He sighed again, apparently resigned to the idea. "Please don't overexert yourself, Sheena. We still don't know what's going on."

"I know, Lonnie. But the world can't grind to a halt just because we don't have answers. I'll be okay. I'll take care of myself."

"And I'll keep an eye out."

My father and I sat downstairs as Sheena showered. I gathered all my library books into a tote bag and waited while my father went through his pocket calendar, double checking the notes for Sheena's appointments with specialists. Finally, she came down the stairs, her long curly hair in a ponytail, dressed in faded blue jeans and a bright green t-shirt. She still seemed pale and a little tired, but she smiled so brightly that you almost didn't see it. "Ready to go?"

"Let's head out," my father said, tucking his agenda back into his pocket and heading for the door. Sheena sang along to the radio on the ride there, and it almost seemed like that first night of VBS again. My father dropped us off in the gleaming glass of the library building, and we went inside. I went to return my books and the librarians at the desk greeted me, as normal. What wasn't normal was what happened afterwards. One of the librarians recognized Sheena and let out that low coo of concern. "Sheena! Are you okay? We heard about what happened, we were so worried..."

Sheena blinked slowly, tilting her head in confusion. "What?"

"Dr. Leonard said you were in the hospital and that they didn't know what was going on..."

"I was, but I wasn't really at death's door or anything. Lonnie gets a little bit dramatic sometimes," she said, with a little laugh. The librarian tried to pull her forward for more details, but she deftly deflected all of those questions. "You guys get anything good about scrapbooking? I need some new ideas..."

I slipped away to go comb the stacks for this week's books, but when I came back with an armload of fantasy novels and a few paperbacks on filmmaking, the same conversational cycle had begun to repeat itself again, this time with the local history librarian and another person I didn't quite recognize. "Sheena, how are you doing? I heard from Dr. Leonard that there was some trouble--"

"No, no, I'm okay, really, nothing to worry about. I'm doing much better..."

This conversation loop continued over and over again with different visitors to our table, all dropping by to say hello to Sheena and probe for any crumb of information, no matter how slight. The faint sense of familiarity lingered on the further edges of my mind like an itch that I could not quite reach to scratch, and I worried at it like a loose tooth.

It wasn't until we got in the car with Sheena's friend Carol that I realized how this all sounded familiar. I remembered, faintly, how people would come to visit my mother, my father and I in the church pews after her diagnosis, coming to talk to both of them in low, hushed tones about the sickness, as if I could not hear or did not know.

I couldn't breathe or speak. It was like I was remembering all over again what it was like to lose someone who mattered.

I wasn't used to having people who mattered.

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