Chapter Nine

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"Somethin' filled up
My heart with nothin',
Someone told me not to cry.

Now that I'm older,
My heart's colder,
And I can see that it's a lie.

Children wake up,
Hold your mistake up,
Before they turn the summer into dust.

If the children don't grow up,
Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We're just a million little gods causin' rain storms turnin' every good thing to rust.
I guess we'll just have to adjust.

With my lightnin' bolts a glowin'
I can see where I am goin' to be
When the reaper he reaches and touches my hand.

With my lightnin' bolts a glowin'
I can see where I am goin'
With my lightnin' bolts a glowin'
I can see where I am go-goin'!

You better look down below!"

-The Arcade Fire, "Wake Up"

"I don't care what he looks like—let me through!" a woman's frantic voice ordered from the other side of the pale, double doors made of cheap pine and laminate. It echoed, shocking into my eardrums—I cringed back. My irritation at the flickering, whining fluorescent glow above me abated for the first time since I had arrived at the hospital. The smell of ammonia and the wail of other patients from down the hall snapped off the walls—outside, the dark was flat and bottomless. It was the sort of night that swallowed you whole, if you so desired it to.

My mother sat up straighter next to me and I heard her loudly swallow, her thin hands once again clasping in front of her. She wrung them together nervously. Her knuckles paled whiter than her face had when the police had knocked on our hotel room door to tell her there had been a terrible accident.

"Ma'am, do you know a Judas D—" the policeman's question began in my memory.

My stomach lurched and bucked as the doors burst wide open, angrily smacking into the grubby, off-white walls on either side of them. A very severe-looking woman appeared between them, her expression harassed. Her brown hair was neatly clipped at the nape of her neck, not a single strand out of place. Her mouth pressed into a thin, disapproving line, looking like it had done so naturally through years of careful training—her nose was turned up and wrinkled slightly, as if something smelled bad. Startlingly blue eyes glowed from beneath sparse brows, unusually pretty amidst all the harshness. They had an almond shape—too soft for the rest of her care-worn face, which stiffened at the sight of my mother and me sitting in hard, plastic chairs close to the door where my father lay, slowly dying.

"I don't care what he looks like," the woman repeated, marching her way over to my father's room and throwing open that door much as she had the ones she'd just exploded through. "I'm aware it's bad. I'm aware of everything now." And at this statement, she shot my mother a piercing look, focusing on her for the first time. Her eyes narrowed and she glared for a few seconds before she whipped her head around and walked into the room without another word, a doctor and a police officer following quickly behind her. Their heads were bowed, stooped and avoiding mine and my mother's gazes as they too entered my father's room. From the inside, I could hear the whoosh of the air vent, the thrumming of the machinery that was helping him breathe, the steady beep, beep, beep of the LCD monitor as it counted out the robotic rhythm of his heart beating artificially.

Curiosity and confusion rolled over me, wondering who this woman was and what relationship she had to my father to be allowed to see him in such a state. The door closed behind her and I strained my ears, listening to the murmur of voices within and trying to decipher what was happening. I cut my gaze over to my mother, whose face was taut, fresh tears tracking down her cheeks. She didn't make a sound. She'd been told she wasn't my father's emergency contact and therefore couldn't be informed of much more than that there had been a fire and he was in bad shape.

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