This party’s over, my sister says her patient said. Then my sister lifts her chin and says, Where is the fresh mozzarella?
This was right before she died. The patient, not my sister. My sister, the baby of the family, the nurse now trying to find pizza toppings in the Shop ’n Save, keeps living. Through twelve-hour overnight shifts, through all the deaths, all the last words—they always know when they’re about to go, she says—through all the parties that are ending.
And what of it—what of the dying of the light?
My little sister gives her patients sponge baths after they die. You’d want someone to do that for you, she says. Slings the grocery bags into the back seat and turns the ignition.
We know nothing of the end chord, the swell and flourish, the green flash of silence. She’s been out of her scrubs for about two hours. We let the dogs out—my boys, she calls them. We open wine. Set up stations for slicing.
It is only a matter of time: four months before she will be married; three hours before I pull my car out of her driveway and head home, alone; a half hour before the pizza goes on the grill; five minutes before she swings open the screen door and yells, Boys, c’mere!
The air in this moment hangs open, broad as a canyon between us. I have more years, but have laid eyes on only a few corpses. Have never sponged one, nor turned its arm over to ease out the tubes, nor held a conversation with it a moment earlier. My understanding of eternity is as small as a gasp of breath.
The sky, which has darkened while we cook, is salty with stars. I read that some of these stars we can see have died, exploded, years and years ago. Their light reaches us only after some matter of time. Millennia, light-years, maybe. A pinprick.
She shocked a man twenty-five times in one night, in a matter of hours, she tells me. Nurse-sister says these things, sometimes, after we’ve fiddled the grill into flaming and slid the pizza on—or she says she had a hard night, or she says she woke up screaming, or she says nothing. It’s only a matter of time until the cheese bubbles. Until we each utter our own last words and become air ourselves.
We test this layering of time and space with words, my sister and I. Hello, sister, we say to each other, echoing back and forth in the rare moments when we connect. How is the weather over there? I want to say; what can you see? But instead: what do you think of this thickness for the tomatoes? Or: Do you want red pepper flakes?
We know nothing of how long it will take to get to the center, that dark and endless sky. We are already so far apart. Is there a center? Is there a place where I can still protect her? Where I have any idea how to be her big sister, now?
Everything she tells me hits my gut’s nexus and explodes. Floats there, suspended, radiating. Our cells, our bellies are filled with the same matter, but I am unfamiliar with the galaxy inside her.
Start Sunday morning with a flash essay in your inbox. Enjoy short works hand-selected from the Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Diagram, River Teeth, and Sweet Literary archives, as well as the occasional original work.
Join the Mailing List