Five Minutes Eternal
When she was twelve, my sister Kim showed me a gray backpack she kept under her bed. She told me that if she ever went to the hospital, she’d want it, and that I couldn’t forget to bring it. She’d said it matter-of-factly, the same way she’d say something like, “If you ever start your period and run out of tampons, there’s a spare box hidden behind the beach towels.” Kim was always saying that kind of thing; I had never asked her why. For all I cared, she might as well have told me how to file my taxes before I was old enough to drive.
She’d said it when we were curled up on the tiny couch in Dad’s hospital room, falling asleep to the low beeping of his monitors. There’s a photo of that night in our family album; we are both wearing hoodies, holding hands next to each other’s heads. The dark window makes it look like we could be anywhere; you can’t see the cold linoleum floor below us or the nurses sweating past us. For a while, I wondered if the couch was from our Hawai’i vacation. It’s a good photo.
That room was all I could think about when Jess – Kim’s best friend – drove me to my house, headlights slicing the dark street into halves. I was sitting on the hard passenger seat, trying not to think about how long I needed in the house and how much longer it would take before we could get to Kaiser and I’d see my sister. Jess’s lips were pressed into a hard line, and whenever we were at a stoplight and she caught me glancing at her, she’d squeeze my leg just above the knee, as if that would fix what had happened. The blood hadn’t returned to her face since she told me. We pulled onto the quiet street and Jess stamped on the brake.
“You’ve got three minutes. Just keep moving, get whatever stuff she needs, and go. Got it?” She looked me in the eyes, and I imagined she was trying to tell me what Kim would need, and not just that night.
I nodded at what wasn’t said and dashed into my empty house, listening for voices that wouldn’t come. There was nothing I could do but run up the stairs and find the backpack. I threw the door of Kim’s room open and dived under the bed. The backpack was there, flopping over itself, almost empty. I ran to collect the things Kim would need for the long night – longer than the one Dad didn’t wake up from.
“That was four minutes,” Jess remarked, already shifting gears as I slammed the heavy car door shut.
“Shit,” I tried to match her casual tone, but the word stuck in my throat. “SHIT!” I repeated, and Jess’s eyebrows raised like she’d never heard me cuss before. She probably hadn’t.
“Ana,” Jess whispered in a long drawl as the car whipped around a corner, “Kim is gonna be in bad shape. You know that. You know what happened, and…”
“Shut up!” I didn’t want to think, didn’t want to acknowledge why Kim’d been taken first to the police, why they only bothered to take her to a hospital after she threw up on the Captain’s shoes. I didn’t want to remember the black eye she had last weekend, and how she said it was from P.E., how I selfishly hadn’t asked again. I didn’t want to remember that Blake wasn’t just a crappy boyfriend –that he was a criminal, and that Kim had just thrown up on his dad’s shoes.
“Ana. You need to listen to me. This isn’t about you. You don’t get to decide how strong to be right now. You have to do whatever your sister needs you to do.”
“I can’t.” A tear splashed against the bag on my lap.
“Not an option. You have to. You’ve got five or so minutes to figure it out.”
I didn’t have any fight to counter her with, so I gave up, silently watching for the blue signs under yellow lights.
Jessica pulled up to the emergency room entrance and I leapt out at a run. I was hit by the harsh lights first and the mixed scent of bleach and piss second. I explained who I was to the un-caffeinated nurse at the desk and showed her my learner’s permit. She seemed to be obsessed with my eye color; I told her they were bluer in the sun. She concluded no one would bother to pretend to care about Kim and marched me down a hallway to Room 215.
I walked in, holding my breath, hoping for nothing and unready for everything.
I didn’t expect Kim to be asleep.
“Is she sedated?” I asked the nurse, who had followed me with a lab kit.
“No honey, she’s just had a long day.”
“The Long Day” had left her child-like in her sleep. Her hair was held in place by a bandage around her head, and an IV was sticking out of a huge bruise on her left arm. I sat on the edge of the bed, my weight dragging the covers across her body. Kim’s eyes opened slowly, bewildered but not yet frightened. They were bloodshot, making the gray parts turn bluish, the color my lips turn after swimming for too long. I hated Blake. That was the first time I thought I could kill someone who wasn’t me.
“I brought your bag.” I said, handing it to her and she sat up, wincing with her shoulders.
Her eyebrows arched in surprise, as though we were in a musical and I had cut a song. “Thanks. Where’s Mom?”
I swallowed. “Arizona.”
“She’ll get here when she can.” Kim plastered a grimace to her face. She used to tell me to smile as big as I could while I was getting shots; it didn’t work at funerals either, but I figured she was trying the same trick.
The nurse put her hand on Kim’s bare knee and the unshaven hairs stood up. “Alright, miss, I need you to spread your legs for me. This won’t take more than a minute.”
I tried to jump up, blood rushing to my face. Fingernails dug into the back of my hand and pulled me down. I nodded at Kim and watched her face, trying not to see the bruises on her thighs or the drops of blood the nurse gently wiped away with iodine and sanitary wipes. The nurse disappeared; Kim slowly opened her bag. She methodically moved items from left to right. She grew more and more frantic until the clothes were turning within the bag like a washing machine.
“Where’s the underwear, Ana?” Her voice had the tight control of a parent holding a broken vase.
“I know I grabbed some.” I protested weakly. I probably didn’t. I was an idiot –I knew that much.
“Where? Goddammit, motherfu…” she dumped the bag out and clung to the one pair that had somehow gotten stuck to a Batman t-shirt.
She unzipped the inner pocket – the one where you’re supposed to keep your iPod – and pulled out a folded piece of printer paper. It was a photo of our parents, when they were young and happy and none of us were born, captured before there were kids and before anyone could die. She pressed it to her chest, and I knew that I had to be everything that the photo didn’t have in it, that I probably couldn’t. I put my hand on hers, knowing we were both eternal, eternally eight years old.
About the Author: Heidi Turner is a graduate student at Azusa Pacific University who writes poetry, fiction, songs, and the occasional stage script. Her writing focuses on the small moments of goodness in the worst kinds of times. She loves tea and coffee equally, and can be found discussing both on her website.