It’s the twenty-first of March when Mina arrives at the St. John’s Private Hospital, a bouquet of Mary’s favourite flower—lilies—tucked in the crook of her arm.
The sanatorium has always been clinical in nature, with its white walls and polished floors, everything seems so much colder as she stares down the hall,
a handful of lily petals swept from their stems as she is jostled by a particularly stone-faced nurse.
At the sound of her name, she turns to see Tess hurrying over to her, patting down the front of her nurse’s uniform.
“Tessie,” Mina murmurs affectionately, bumping shoulders with her. The two descend into comfortable silence, Tess taking Mina by the hand and leading her to room 1408: Mary’s quarters.
The door opens with the turn of a knob, and Mina’s breath hitches in her throat as she catches sight of her brother—no,
sister—sister—she reminds herself forcefully—beneath the yellow-white blankets.
Grandfather is sitting by her bedside table with a newspaper—Mother and Father are standing close by, holding hands so tightly that their knuckles are white.
“Oh, Mina!” exclaims Mother, her voice hoarse from grief. “Come in. And hello to you, too, Tessie.”
“Good morning, Mrs. Ackerman.” Tess nods politely at Mother, then at Father. Grandfather doesn’t bother looking up from his newspaper, even when Tess echoes her greetings for “Mr. Jaeger.”
“How is he, Tess?” asks Father, his broad face haggard. Mina squeezes his shoulder as she moves past him to change the wilted lilies in the nearby vase with the fresh ones she has brought.
From her periphery, Mina can see her best friend shift uncomfortably. “Not good,” Tess says grimly. “I’m sorry, Mr. Ackerman, but she’ll have a week at best.”
“HE!” explodes Mother, wrenching her hand from Father’s grip to grab Grandfather’s chair, her nails digging into the wooden top rail.
Her ears start to burn a fierce crimson, and Mina almost knocks over the glass vase, her brow lowering. “That,” she exhales sharply, “is my son. My son Marco.”
Tess clenches her jaw. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Ackerman,” she answers brusquely.
“A week,” mutters Father, seemingly oblivious of Mother’s outburst, his brown gaze far away.
“Marco,” sobs Mother, pushing her face into her hand. “Oh, Marco, my sweet little boy…”
“That’s quite enough, Mother,” Mina finally says, sharply. Her face is white, and her nails are digging into her palms, creating little half-moon indents.
“I’ve read articles saying that even the comatose can hear what is happening in certain situations.”
“I don’t care!” Mother weeps wretchedly, her shoulders wracking with each sob. “Oh, I just want him back!”
At that, Father starts to rub comforting circles on Mother’s back, lowering his chin.
Grandfather continues to read his newspaper.
Mina merely watches as Tess does her routine duties,
silently thanking whatever god was watching over her family that it was someone she knew and trusted that had been assigned to care for Mary.
She remembers when Mary had been Marco, remembers a time when all the biggest worry in the world had been winning their races through the golden wheat field on Grandfather’s farm.
The farm has long been sold to developers, and Grandfather makes do with a small house in the suburbs.
When Tess leaves, Mina circles around to the other side of Mary’s bed.
She observes how gaunt her sister’s face is—how sunken her eyes are, and how her brow protrudes grotesquely as a result.
Yet, to Mina, she is ethereal.
She stays for an hour, then two. Mother, Father, and Grandfather have long left by now. When Tess comes in briefly to announce that Mina has five more minutes with her sister, she nods.
It is only when Tess leaves that Mina rises from her seat to kiss Mary’s pale brow.
“Sleep well, angel.”
The thirty-first of March is Mary’s funeral.
It is a warm Thursday.
A sunny afternoon.
Grandfather doesn’t attend.
Mina is silent as Mother delivers Mary’s eulogy.
It is not Mary’s, Mina thinks as Mother misuses Mary’s pronouns.
Nobody says anything about it.
For a moment, time no longer exists. When Mina awakes herself from her stupor, the people are already disbanding.
“Why did you just stand there?” she hears Tess ask from beside her.
“Why didn’t you say anything about misgendering her?” It takes all of Mina’s courage not to shirk away from her best friend’s accusing tone. Instead, she turns stiffly to Tess.
There are frustrated, indignant tears spilling out of the other woman’s eyes.
“Why didn’t you?” Mina retorts. She doesn’t think it sounds like she is the one speaking.
It’s almost as if she is underwater, and Tess’s loud, angry voice is far above the surface of the sea.
“Because I thought you were going to say something! You’re her sister.”
Suddenly, reality feels real again, and Mina’s insides begin to crumple. She’s been holding it in for hours, but emotion is a beast you can only cage for so long.
Tess can only stare at Mina as tears begin to run down her cheeks, pooling at her chin. “You’re right,” she says bitterly, nearly choking on a sob. “You’re right. And I’m a godawful sister.”
She can feel how disappointed Tess is, even as she leaves, murmuring that she needs to return to the hospital.
She stands there—in front of Mary’s grave—for what seems to be hours, weeping unabashedly in shame and sorrow, her heart twisting with remorse.
Apologies spill from her painted mouth, but they all seem so worthless.
It is only when Mina runs out of tears that she leaves, flipping the veil attached to her pillbox hat over her face.
"I’m so sorry, angel."