Allison would laugh, her voice echoing, filling in the spaces in between the trunks of the trees. It brushed through the branches, pushing the leaves to dance. There, everything was okay. We would run, our hair trailing behind us, the wind sharp in our faces, our feet and toes digging down into the soft, musty earth. Our legs kicked up clouds of leaves, made them rain all around. A red, gold, and fiery shower. We sat with our backs pressed to tall, sturdy oaks, hair catching on the bark. Our small, nimble fingers fashioned crowns out of branches and armour from old logs. We wore them with bravery and pride. The forest was our castle, we its queens, the birches bent low in bows. The rustles of the leaves were the sound of great knights come to battle and fight for our hands. But we laughed in their faces at the audacity. They could never take us as prizes! Fore we were great beauties, strong generals, and gods. We lived as if nothing could stop us.
And indeed, as we were, nothing did, nothing could. We were young and happy, but naive. Trees age, leaves fall. Fall back to the earth. In time, everything changes.
* * *
She stares blankly at me. Into the face she once knew, now unrecognizable.
“That’s a nice story.” She sounds far away, out of reach. “Sad, but nice…...Who’s Allison?”
She doesn’t realize. I sigh, disappointed both that she can’t remember and at my neverending false sense of hope. I make a weak attempt at replying, pushing the lump in my throat down.
“She’s my sister.” It never gets easier.
“Oh.” She looks interested but confused. “Where is she now?”
“Close.” My voice is barely above a whisper. I clear my throat. “Close,” I say louder this time so she can hear. “She’s always close.”
Her face softens. “That’s nice.” She turns to the window. “That’s real nice. I wish I had a sister.”
My face feels hot, my eyes burn. “Mhm,’ I choke out, “It’s wonderful”
“M’am?” I notice the attendant for the first time. “Visiting hours are over...You’re welcome to come back tomorrow, though.” He wears a warm, understanding smile.
I clean myself up and walk over to the bed, kiss her cheek. She smiles vaguely and waves goodbye as I walk away.
* * *
The room looks the same as it does every day as I walk in.
She notices me and smiles. “Oh. Hello. Who are you?” Just like every day.
I walk over to the bedside chair and sigh as I sink into it.
“I’m Delilah. Would you like to hear a story?”
“Well it’s not like I have anywhere to go!” She laughs at her own joke.
I take a deep breath and begin.
“Allison would laugh...”
Just like every day.
* * *
I finish the story and look over. She doesn’t stir. Her chest lies still.
For a moment I forget how to breath. She can’t be gone. It’s as though I’m just now figuring out that her life could have an ending. That a nursing facility is not for strong, healthy people. That the wonderful woman I’ve loved for my entire life is no longer with me. That the four year old face I saw leaning over my cradle will never smile again.
Tears fall down my face, hand over my mouth, lips tasting of salty water. My body racking with silent sobs. I get up and walk over to her - kiss her cheek. She doesn’t move. I place my forehead on hers, my tears flowing down both of our cheeks.