Proxy: Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

This time, Sheena was in the hospital for a week and a half. She had two more seizures there, but they had no answers. My father was a wreck. I heard that from the nurses, when I went with him to Saturday rounds a few days after she came home. "He was a mess. Screaming at Dr. Simmons, crying in the hallway, and they still don't know what's wrong."

"It's always harder for us, I think. We're used to having the answers and saving the day. He can't right now."

"Poor guy... I hope they figure it out soon. I can't even imagine."

She had to take another few weeks off of work because of the concussion, but by then, her boss had let her go, "just until you feel better, Sheena." And of course, by then, she wasn't really in any condition to go hunting for another-- seizures almost weekly, unable to drive herself, getting thinner and paler and more exhausted looking. So she spent that fall at home, trying to keep herself busy. I had started school by then, but I rushed home to be with her, in the two or three golden hours before my father rushed home from the hospital.

She was usually in her craft room, working on one of her dozens of projects. She usually had some kind of snack laid out on the table beside her, whether or not she actually felt well enough to eat. The third or fourth day of school, I can't remember which, she was working on a big scrapbooking page for our night at the fair. My father had given her a few of the shots that he was unwilling to frame, and she had saved our ride wristbands and ticket stubs.

"Hey, Corinne. How was your day?"

I shrugged, but I smiled as I did, taking out my school agenda to look over my homework assignments for the day. Sheena reached over me to grab one of the pretzels in the bowl next to me but paused, glancing down at the first page of the agenda. "Who's Cori?"

"I'm just tired of people saying 'Corinne' wrong. And spelling it wrong. Plus, it's nice to have a shorter name."

Sheena nodded slowly. "Do you want me to call you Cori?"

"If you want. That'd be really cool. You don't have to, though."

"No, I like it. How was your day, Cori?"

"It was okay. Busy, but pretty okay. How's your project going?"

"I finally got the layout figured out! It's gonna look amazing. Speaking of projects, do you wanna work on your videos once you finish your homework? I'd love to see what you do with the videos that you made at the fair."

"Sure! Sure!"

After that, we fell into silence, totally engrossed in our work. Well, Sheena was, at least. I kept glancing over at her, checking to make sure she wasn't going to get sick or start seizing again. But every time I looked, she was normal again. Or still. I wasn't sure.

When I finished up my math homework, she still seemed okay. Until I caught a glimpse of her scrapbook page. She had pasted the photographs, ride wrist bands, and ticket stubs to the page, added a few stickers of cotton candy and Ferris wheels, and then begun the process of writing out captions along the side. But she hadn't written out the date and a few punny descriptions of what was going on in the pictures and what the wrist bands and tickets were for. At first, I couldn't tell what she was writing. I closed my math notebook and gently pushed my chair away to walk around the table and look over her shoulder to see what she had written, and continued to write even as I watched.

In her gently looping script, she was writing over and over again:
be still for i am with you
be still for i am with you
be still for i am with you
be still for i am with you
be still for i am with you...

My mouth went dry, and I struggled to call her named. "Sheena?" She stayed still and kept writing, repeating that same phrase over and over: be still for i am with you... I called her name again. "Sheena?" She kept writing. be still...

"Sheena!" Finally, her hand stilled, and she lifted her head from the paper, blinking rapidly. "Huh? You okay, Cori?"

"What are you writing?"

She frowned and looked down at her page. She seemed just as confused as I was, even frightened. She reached out and touched the fresh writing, flinching as the still damp ink of the marker smeared and came away on the tips of her fingers. It was almost as if she'd been shocked. "I must have.... I must have zoned out. I didn't sleep very well last night..." Her voice trailed off, and she seemed to be trying just as hard to convince herself as me. She flipped the page over out of sight, then stood up unsteadily. "You done with your homework?"

"I... yeah... are you okay?"

"I'm okay, Cori. I am. Let's go work on your project."

She sat beside me as I arranged the clips from the fair in new and different orders on Movie Maker, even did a little joking narration for them. "Maybe if I get some kind of mic, I can add it to the movie for real."

"You think?"

"Yeah, Sheena," I said absently, before I focused in on the movie again. I had to concentrate on it. I needed to. If I drifted for even a moment, I would see those words written over and over again on the cheerful blue and white checked scrapbook paper: be still for i am with you be still for i am with you be still for i am with you...

When my father got home, he made dinner for the three of us-- chicken and broccoli for him and I to share, and a simple broth for Sheena, since she couldn't keep much else down. By the end of the meal, Sheena was exhausted, barely awake. He went and helped her to their bedroom. I pushed out of my place and went up the stairs, following them like a ghost. He pushed the door of their bedroom shut behind him, but I waited outside. I needed to show him.

After a few minutes, he emerged, and he seemed almost startled to see me there. "Corinne? You okay, honey?"

"I have to show you something," I said, crossing the hall to Sheena's craft room. He followed me, and once he stood beside me, I carefully flipped over the scrapbook page, so that both of us could see that terrible writing: be still for i am with you...

His brow furrowed as he looked at it for a moment, then looked at me in confusion, even a little anger. "Corinne? What is this?"

"I was up here working on homework while she worked on her projects. And I thought she was writing captions for the page, but she just wrote this over and over. I asked her about it, but she didn't know... she said she must have just zoned out, but she didn't really know..." I was startled to hear the crack in my voice, to sense the shaking in my palms. My father's reaction softened immediately, and he opened his arms and pulled me in for a hug, as if to still that shaking. It didn't work. "Oh, honey. I think it might have been an absence seizure. Those happen sometimes. Thank you for showing me. I'll bring it to her doctors. That should be a big help."

I nodded slowly and carefully extricated myself from his hold. I needed to go to bed, I needed to sleep, I needed to be away from here. As I turned my back, I heard the sound of the paper crumpled.

That night, I had a nightmare. I have never been much for dreams. At least, not dreams that made enough of an impression that I remembered them for days or years afterwards. It was strange enough that I wrote it down in a fuzzy pink diary that I had been gifted several birthdays ago and never been moved to use. I still have that journal today.

I dreamed I was in the sanctuary of the church again. It was dark outside, nothing visible outside the windows except for the fat white snowflakes melting against the thick glass. I was sitting in our usual pew, but it was utterly silent and still. I didn't see why until I turned to the spot where my father should have been. There was only a mannequin, dressed in a blond wig and my father's black and gray funeral suit.

The church pews were all full of mannequins, dressed in clothes and wigs to approximate the people that I knew. They had no faces, only flat, cream colored emptiness, framed by synthetic hair and fabric that still reeked of department store newness. I looked up to the altar and saw the white and gold coffin at the front, piled high with funeral flowers. The lid was beginning to close. From inside, muffled under all those wilting flowers, someone began to scream.

I scrambled to my feet and began to run towards the coffin. As one, all the mannequins all turned their blank faces towards me, but I ran anyway, shoving the heavy coffin lid back with all my strength. The screaming was louder now, but I began to dig in the flowers, even as their thorns dug at me. My blood stained the pale pink coffin silk, but I still couldn't find the person screaming underneath. Someone placed their hollow plastic hands on my shoulders and began to tug me backwards even as I screamed and kept pulling at the flowers, trying to get to the person under them and save them, get them out. The person underneath had gone from screaming to quiet, hopeless sobs, the sound almost completely drowned out by my own screaming. The coffin lid began to swing shut again and finally closed with a hollow thud. A plastic hand clamped over my mouth, and silence fell over the sanctuary again.

I woke up, still choking on the cloying scent of funeral flowers.

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