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I remember going to the hospital a few days after she fell asleep and they said it was over. Nothing more we can do, they said, it's metastasized. I felt that word more than I understood it. It felt like fingers around my throat that squeezed inexplicable tears from me and stole my air. It felt like she probably wasn't going to wake up anymore.
I remember my mother cried in the elevator on the way up. The Children's Cancer Ward, floor five. 'It's okay if you don't want to cry,' she said. She couldn't see the fingers. They were leaving bruises; I could hardly manage. We stepped out into the fluorescent hallway, past desks and open doors with a lot of darkness inside. I couldn't believe they had her in a room so dark. Things were stained with enough blackness.
I saw no patients in that hallway. I was relieved at first, but then I thought how it must be because none of them could get up anymore. This was the place they left you when it was over. Nothing more we can do, it's metastasized.
And then we got to the right place. I was terrified. I never knew the number, but I recognized that darkness. The one that belonged to her. Belonged to me. We stepped in and my mother brushed the curtain aside, revealing the disaster, the hurricane in all its devastating beauty. I felt queasy immediately.
She lay there completely still, asleep and making terrible noises as she breathed. It sounded like she was drowning. It felt like I was, too. I couldn't get any nearer, I couldn't feel my feet.
'What is that?' I sounded shaky and weak. She had never looked more sick. My aunt stood, came to my side, and I let her pull me gently forward.
'She can't feel it. It's just mucus buildup, it sounds worse than it is.'
What difference could that ever make? She was still lying there, beautiful and dying, those noises so much more real than the phone calls and the words from my mother's mouth, full of its healthy cells. I wasn't queasy anymore. I was going to faint.
I sat in my aunt's lap because I was not going to sit on the bed until she sat up and told the nurse to switch on the lights. Turn the TV on. Quit sucking at my mouth with that tube, I can swallow my own mucus.
I tried not to look at her either, tried to imagine this away. But I couldn't help it. She was very pale now. Sallow cheeks. Her hair was like feathers, laying in wisps over the pillow, matted up at the crown and sticking up in all directions. My aunt smoothed it down. I could not believe her beauty. And I didn't think it was just because she was dying, either. She was like a pallid angel come to haunt me. 'Remember me?' the angel said. 'I was alive once, you were going to teach me that song on the piano.' Maybe they were her fingers. I'd be more okay with them if they were hers.
I sat on her bed and it felt like giving up hope. 'Hold her hand,' they said to me. 'Tell her you love her. Say goodbye, let her know it's okay to go.' I held her hand. But the rest I could not do. How could I say goodbye this soon? I hadn't known her long enough. I never asked that question. She was just planning her fifteenth birthday, how could she leave already?
But she was leaving, I decided. And I'd never felt so desperately sad and confused, but I should tell her at least one thing.
'I love you, Adriana.' I was rubbing her hand. I was only nine but it felt weak and tiny. She was like a glass figurine, perfect and beautiful, a filmy white building in her mouth and a dewy sweat over her skin. 'I'm sorry I never got to teach you that song,' I whispered into her ear. I kissed her cheek and left before I could faint.
The call came three days later.