Jay blinked slowly. The world seemed to swim in some viscous substance, slowing time, making every movement forced. It hurt to breathe, yet his chest rattled in dim concurrence with the beeping machines at his right. Just beyond those mechanical sentinels, his sister sat. Wren had been there since yesterday morning where their father had dropped her to attend to some work-related task. The girl had curled up silently with a book and had not spoken, but merely offered her presence as succor. There was not much to say now. All true words had already passed between the two, and what were left were dull platitudes that the two would never indulge in. She was drowsing as the sun set, her eyes half closed and her book lulling in her half-relaxed grasp.
The next breath came not so easily for Jay. It hung against his lungs, refusing to free itself, the breath dying where it lay. The machines beeped irritably against the intrusion. The book slipped from Wren’s hands as she awoke. She looked around in shock like a frightened dove before finding the source of her confusion. The words of her books still twisted sleepily around her mind.
Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.
“Jay?” she whispered. “Jay, it’s Wren. I’m here.”
Jay was afraid. Even after so long of viewing that approaching specter of mortality, it did not help. He was afraid, even as his sister held him. He did not want to die, and he clung desperately to life, even when it was filled with passive doctors and foul treatments.
To die; to sleep; no more. And by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks.
Her brother trembled, air escaping through a tight throat in despair. He was crying, tears running down eyes open to desolation. And hers as well, the salt water comingling on their cheeks as she held pressed her lips to her cheek. A nurse poked her head in and promised to call their father and no more, for there was no more. Not for Jay.
To die, to sleep; To sleep perchance to dream.
Jay wanted to believe in heaven, in angels, and in God, but his short life had stolen from him such faith. It was but him and Wren in a bleak, dark world, and even now, he was fading. He could see it reflected in Wren’s clear, liquid eyes. He was melting, into oblivion.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.
Wren and Jay had been the closest of friends. Their home was often empty besides the two of them, with their father working most of the time. They grew up teasing, chasing, playing with, and fighting against each other. In every childhood moment, there was a touch of Jay, as equal parts compatriot and conspirator. Wren felt as if she could not breathe.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.
The panic was fading now. The world grew still, but not dim. The borders of objects blurred. Wren’s face disappeared amongst the ceiling and walls. He could still hear her, just barely. She was whispering some lullaby from when they were young, when there was no one but her to tuck him in at night. He was not so scared now. It was calm. There was a peace he had not known since his first doctor’s appointment. It was just him and his sister’s song, which was fading even now, quietly stretching into infinity.
The rest, is silence.
Her brother did not breathe. No heartbeat murmured within his chest. His body had lost its warmth many months ago, but somehow it seemed colder; it seemed heavier. She couldn’t breathe; she couldn’t breathe. She forcefully relaxed her arms around him, lying him back on the pillow. She pulled the covers to his chin. His eyes were closed, as if asleep. It was as if she was but tucking him in to bed, one last time. She kissed his forehead.
Goodnight, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Her father came an hour later, after they had already removed her brother. Her book sat on her lap as she stared past the world into eternity. It was wrong that life could be wrest from those so young. It was wrong. The world was wrong. Life was wrong. Her father had to touch her shoulder to wake her to his presence. She jumped; the book fell to the floor to which it was already well acquainted. Her father picked it up and noted its title.
“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow,” he said.
She looked up at her oft absent father with hollow eyes. His face was gray and thin, but such was the norm. She could not remember the last time she had seen her father smile. She could not remember the last time she had done the same. “No. There is no providence in death. I defy augury,” Wren said fiercely, wrenching away from him. She shouted silent accusation with a glance. They need not leaver he lips to sting him. Where was he? Why had she been alone in facing this? How come he could not save her brother? Did he not care? She had her mother’s ferocity, but a tear still clung to the young cheek.
A countenance more in sorrow than in anger
He collapsed, onto his knees, suddenly the child once more. His tears came swiftly with his sobs. All tragedy broke forth as if from a dam. He could not help himself. Each denunciation met its mark.
O! What a rogue and peasant slave am I!
For the first time, Wren saw her father’s resemblance to her brother who had been heretofore all memorialization of their mother. The curve of their cheeks was the same, the crinkle at the edge of their eye, the shape of their ears. The man, suddenly shrunken before her so that she now towered over him, was as much kin as her brother was. He was more than that. He was her father, and he grieved deeply. He felt the pinch of death just as sharply. She hugged him.
Doubt that the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.
When father and daughter left, the sun was brimming across the mountains into the valley, filling the bowl of land in red rays like tomato soup. Their hands were enlinked, their expressions, solemn. Nothing could replace the void within their hearts. Nothing could stop the pain. There existed no shield against the grief, the torment of loss that clawed viciously into every thought and moment. Yet, even though poor recompense for what they suffered, they had one another.