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Annie's Nightmare MAG
I gnawed at my nail. Right hand, pinky finger. The red polish was flaking as I walked down the hallway. The tip of my finger was raw.
I had a whole myriad of destructive nervous habits that had been set into play over the last week. The ends of my hair were split and brittle from where I'd tugged at them constantly. My eyes were red as much from crying as from rubbing them to try to stay awake each night, and my bottom lip was a thick line of swollen cuts where I'd bitten it. I used to be a pretty girl. Not anymore.
The white walls on either side of me reminded me of congealed milk; stable, but only if you left them alone. No pounding or kicking or slamming unless you wanted the first layer of gel to break and all the people behind it to come rushing out in a sour tide. I stayed in the middle of the hallway.
My mother walked on my left, clean cut, sharply angled, and in control. Her short blond hair was the only soft thing about her, and even that could be dismissed when you looked at her eyes, which seemed black they were so cold. I didn't want her here, had made it clear through loud protestations and long silences that I didn't need her anywhere near my boyfriend. She had argued back, regurgitating nonsense about family support and emotional instability, and since she paid for my schooling and owned the car, the only natural conclusion to our disagreement was her victory.
On my other side was a nurse. She was jerky and quick, constantly speeding ahead only to slow down to wait impatiently for us to catch up. She carried a clipboard and an unconcerned expression, and I tried not to be angry at her lack of distress while I chewed my fingernail.
The hallway was long, longer than I'd remembered it being yesterday. It'd been doing that all week, purposely giving me more time to walk and think, walk and think, walk and think. Thinking. It wasn't what I wanted to do, not because there wasn't plenty of important stuff to mull over, but because my sleep-deprived and fearful mind kept jumping back to one topic, like a yo-yo being slung at the floor, only to be reeled back up by that damn string.
Nikkel. The name set off a series of attacks from an internal army currently turned against me. Bile rose in my throat and nausea forced my stomach into back-flips. Without thinking, I clenched my teeth against my pinky. Hard. There was a muffled snap as my fingernail cracked, and I pulled it out, whimpering and cursing at the fissure running down my nail. My mother shot a sharp glance in my direction – she never looked me in the eye – and then gestured slightly at the nurse, who was looking at me with shock painted on her face in a professional, falsely concerned mask. I was aghast at the possible interpretations of my mother's expression, which ranged from “Stop making a scene” to “What are people going to think?” It wondered and horrified me that she could find space in her conscience for such shallow thoughts when we were making our way through the hospital toward the Intensive Care Unit.
More walking ensued, with me sucking dejectedly on my bleeding finger and my mother speeding ahead to keep pace with the nurse, no doubt disgusted by the tears running down my face into my mouth.
The doors to the ICU were heavy, metal, and automatic. My mother and the nurse strode through them without waiting for me. I hung back, a little apprehensive of the thick, mechanical barriers. I was sure that if I tried passing through them they'd snap shut and crush me like a bug. I could practically hear bones snapping. The insanity of this notion did nothing to temper the intimidation it held.
“Hurry up, Annie.” My mother had turned to stare at me, fisted hands digging into either hip. Her eyes glinted. Blue, I reminded myself. Blue, not black at all.
I wiggled my toes and willed my feet into motion, letting them drag on the smooth linoleum as I slipped easily into the ICU and past my mother, who stiffened as I pushed ahead of the nurse.
I was looking for Room 173. Despite being here constantly during the last seven days, I still had only a vague idea where it was. The sharp click of high heels behind me prompted me into a sharp left turn, hoping to lose my mother in the rolls of sickness and death that crawled in this hallway.
On either side, stuffy hospital rooms with glass walls and clicking, blinking equipment groaned and creaked. I dared look into a few rooms, only to quicken my pace, the sick feeling in my stomach swelling into an ulcer. Fighting back panic, I swung around another corner, cursing the identical corridors, each with their own set of scuttling nurses.
Cracks like the one in my pinky ran through the linoleum, and I broke into a run, not even bothering to look at the numbers on the doors as I silently concluded that today was really not a good day to visit him after all. I gasped as I skidded around yet another bend and slammed headlong into my mother, who took the impact with grace before eagerly detaching herself from me.
“You're going the wrong way,” she grabbed my hand and tugged me back the way I'd come, purposely not facing me so she wouldn't have to acknowledge my near-hysterics.
I had been stupid to think that I had lost her in the hospital. While I was busy banging down hallways she had found Room 173, then retrieved me like some misplaced object.
The walk toward Nikkel was far shorter than I had expected; the hallway had stopped playing its games. When we reached 173, my mother leaned against the opposite wall (the most privacy she was willing to give me) while I peered through the window at the hospital bed, the white sheets that smelled like chemicals, the tubes and the clear liquids and the stink of urine and sadness.
My boyfriend was curled on his side, his knees pulled up to his chest like a baby or a frightened child. IVs snaked from his arms like uprooted veins, and tubes in his nose fed a thick substance down his throat. I pressed my nose against the glass, distractedly noting how ridiculous I must look to any bystanders on the other side.
It was clear from the many nurses keeping close watch from secretive posts along the hallway, from Nickkel's father's head slumped in his hands at the foot of the bed, from my mother's stifling and incessant proximity, and from the unrelenting taste of vomit under my tongue, that he was going to die.