I stand in front of the shop window, gazing at the black and white images flickering on the screen. How I wish we had one of these boxes at home! It would certainly relieve the boredom of staying cooped up inside when it is my turn to look after Dani. I am sure he would enjoy the movement of the images too. The stories look like they are fun – especially the ones with the man and his bowler hat.
Suddenly someone grabs my hand, pulling me along, away from my meagre entertainment. It is Emily, my older sister.
“Leave me alone! Where are you taking me?”
“You need to go watch Dani now. I am going out,” she responds.
“It is not my turn,” I shout. “I left 30 minutes ago. It is your turn. I want to be outside watching people, seeing them talk and laugh.”
“Well that is too bad.” She pulls me in roughly through the front door. Immediately the smells oppress me. The smell of urine, and of our bedridden brother. I wish to leave this dark and gloomy place, if only for a while. I love my brother but sitting with him day after day, helping him drink, spooning his food to him, emptying the bedpan, is too much. I am 12 years old. I should be outside with friends, doing things that children do. Running free in the sweet-smelling air.
“You need to stay here until mom gets home. An opportunity has come my way and I am not going to let it pass. It is a chance to get out of this hell hole and I am going to grab it with both hands.”
I look at my oldest sibling. She is beautiful with her well kept hair, her manicured nails and her trim figure. “Where are you going?” I ask suspiciously. “Why are you dressed like that?”
“I, my dear, am going to an interview. Hopefully I will get the job and earn enough to leave this place.”
“No,” I cry desperately. “You cannot leave me here alone. Who will help with Dani? And what about me? I need to go to school – I miss too many days already.”
“That is not my problem. I am not going to let my life be ruined because our brother made the wrong choices!”
Emily turns on her heel, picks up her purse, and leaves the house closing the front door firmly behind her. I sink to the floor with my head in my hands. I cannot stop my sobbing. But what about my life? Why was I born into this family? Why? Our father left us so long ago that I cannot even remember what he looked like. My sister is concerned with only herself. Our mother works all hours at the hospital. We never see her – she is like a spectre in this house. Ghostlike, she drifts in and out occasionally saying that we are good children. My father’s leaving took the spirit out of her. Dani used to tell me she was full of fun and laughter before. Not that I even remember her like this. All I remember is a mother who is never there – both physically and emotionally.
And then there is Dani. The brother I adore and used to follow wherever he went. He was the shining light in this place where we all live. Always laughing and full of life. And one day three months ago all that joy was gone. Snuffed out. I get up and walk towards the room where he now lies, silent and unmoving. My sobs have quietened but the tears still run slowly down my cheeks. A bad decision and so many lives have changed. Joyriding in that flashy red car must have sounded so exciting to him and his friends. But speed and too many beers had led to two deaths and a paralysed brother. The doctors do not know if he will ever walk again; but his care has landed squarely on my young shoulders. Mother does not seem to care, and Emily … Well, Emily is not going to let this get in the way of her life and her ambitions.
I wipe the tears off my face. Feeling sorry for myself is not going to change anything. I head off to the bathroom to fill the ceramic wash basin with warm water. I pick it up and carry it to Dani’s room, water slopping over the edges. As I enter the room, the pungent smell of urine hits me. Emily had not emptied the bedpan. Again!
“Hi Dani,” I say cheerfully. “Time for your wash.” Dani looks at me silently with eyes that are lifeless. I pick up the wash cloth begin to clean my brother, deftly and quickly. No one else is home and I am unable to turn him myself. So I do what I can. I empty the bedpan and make a mental note to myself to catch Mother in the evening to help me change the sheets. When done, I look up and see my patient looking at me with tears in his eyes.
“I am so sorry, Lucy. I would never have wanted this life for you.”
“Dani, it is okay. I love you and will always be here for you.” I climb up onto the bed and snuggle up next to him like I used to do before the accident. I close my eyes and feel comforted. All I can do is hope that everything will be okay.
(This story was inspired by Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday prompt.)
© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013