His eyes were closed, his skin pale and translucent under the cold blue lights. His lips were grey and slightly parted, a tube running between them and down his throat. He had wires stuck to his chest and dark circles around his eyes, and was completely naked but for the thin sheet folded around his waist.
Megan sat beside the tank, her knees pulled up to her chest and her skin pale and translucent in the semi-darkness. Her eyes were fixed on her brother, at the scars on his forehead and his stomach, the grey-purple bruises blooming across his skin.
Two months down, four thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight to go.
It wasn’t really that long, when you thought of it like that.
But it was too long. She could spend as much time as she wanted curled in the semi-darkness beside her brother, who wasn’t really dead but might as well have been, watching over his sleeping, lifeless form. She could spend the rest of her life there, reading to him and scrutinising him for any sign of movement, or she could forget that he was here and move on.
She knew she would never be able to move on. He was her twin brother. He had been a constant, there by her side for her entire life, and now he was gone. She felt as though a part of her had been ripped away, torn unceremoniously from her body and locked away in some unreachable place, never to be returned to her. And yet she knew she couldn’t sit there forever.
The blue lights glowed and hummed around her, the only noise in the room other than the sound of her own breathing and the beating of her heart. She reached into her bag and extracted the letter he wrote her. She carried it everywhere with her- she’d scanned it into her computer and printed out multiple copies so she could keep his words with her all the time, and locked the original away somewhere safe so that she’d never lose it.
She held one of these copies now, the white paper too smooth and clean and impersonal, but the words all there, punctuated with smudges and blurs where his fingerprints had messed up the ink and his tears had fell on it. What kind of idiot wrote their final words in the kind of ink that would spread everywhere the second it got a little bit wet? Adie would, of course. He was the only person of their age she knew who would insist on using a cartridge pen. His desk drawers were full of the little cartridges of black ink, and he’d always come home from school with a bag soaked black with ink until his mother gave up buying him anything that wasn’t black to begin with. She smiled as she thought of him hunched at his desk, his hands smudged and grey with ink as he wrote his final words to her. It was authentic. It required effort. It felt real. Those were the reasons he’d always given for using a ‘proper pen’, right from the moment he’d been allowed to make the switch from pencil to ink.
Then her eyes found his face again, and she was cast back to the sudden and unrelenting cold of reality. She looked down at the paper in her fingers, at his words scrawled against the white, and dropped them in anger. “You shouldn’t have had to write this at all,” She shouted at him, stamping on the pages and glaring down at him with tears of anger in her eyes. “You had a choice. I know it was an accident. It wasn’t anybody’s fault and it was just something that happened, but did you ever stop to think about what would happen to the rest of us when you eventually went? Because you would have ended up like this anyway, wouldn’t you? Whether the accident happened or not.”
Adie didn’t flinch. He lay perfectly still, only the tiny rise and fall of his stomach any sign that he was still breathing. She knew his veins were flooded with chemicals to stop him from aging, to slow and discourage the death of his cells. There were bags of his blood being kept frozen inside the tank somewhere below him, connected and ready to flow back into his veins when the moment was right. A clear tube wound its way into his body through his nose, delivering nutrition in the form of a faintly glowing liquid flowing into his stomach. She assumed there must be an outlet for waste somewhere, but she didn’t want to think about where that one was stuck.
Hastings had explained most of it to her, perhaps in an effort to comfort her, but also perhaps in an effort to persuade her to join her brother. She knew she could never do that. She couldn’t leave her parents without any child at all, not if she had any say in the matter.
She grabbed her bag and got to her feet, not bothering to pick up the letter from where it had fallen. Her nose was burning again and her cheeks were wet with tears once more, despite her best efforts to stop them from falling. Come on Megan. This is how it is now, get used to it.
“I love you Adie,” She whispered, placing one hand on the glass of the tank. It was a barrier that stood for so much more than a protective layer between her brother and the passes of time: it signified his uniqueness, and the fact he didn’t belong in this world anymore. The inches between her hand and his would only grow, the distance becoming further and further apart as she aged and he continued to stay the same. He’d been there beside her, from the moment they’d been born, for every birthday and through school and every single moment in between. And now she was leaving him behind. Her next birthday would be hers and hers alone, as would the birthday after that, and every one after that.
“Megan,” Evan was stood behind her, silhouetted against the yellow light of the hallway beyond. He looked worse than the last time she’d seen him: he had ashy skin and dark purple bruises around his eyes, and his clothes were wrinkled and baggy around his skeletal frame. He’d shaved his head, and the skin was still mostly smooth but dotted here and there with rough patches that he’d missed. He held himself carefully, leaning casually against the doorframe but looking as though he could fall apart at any moment. “What are you doing here?”
“I think it’s obvious,” She said softly and slowly, but still not without hate. Evan had told her the whole story, and she’d begun to accept that it wasn’t entirely his fault, that he wanted to do his best for Adie and that it had all just happened too quickly for him to change anything about it. But still, she couldn’t really look him in the eye. Instead she focussed on a point in the air a few inches to the right of his face.
It felt late. She dug in her pocket for her phone so that she could check the time, but extracted Adie’s instead. It was another thing she’d taken to carrying around with her, even though the screen was cracked beyond repair and it wouldn’t even turn on anymore. It was in all ways absolutely useless, but it was a part of him, and so with her it stayed. She dug in her other pocket, took out her phone and looked at the time without really taking it in. It was a routine, a habit. The time didn’t matter anyway. She just didn’t want to stay.
She adjusted the way her bag hung from her shoulder and stepped towards the door. Toward Evan. “I’m going to go now,” she said warily, and he moved out of the way to let her pass. He also had a bag with him: one of his old schoolbags that she recognised from years before, though instead of being stuffed with books it hung suspiciously empty at his side. She took less than five steps up the length of the corridor before she turned around, unable to just walk away and leave him like this. There was something wrong with him, a darkness deep inside that she couldn’t see but could feel, a part of him that wasn’t really him. “Are you alright?”
Evan was still standing in the doorway. His eyes were glassy and unfocussed, his lips parted and his shoulders stiff. Without the doorframe to support him he appeared to sway on his feet, too light and thin to hold himself up. He looked as though he hadn’t slept in weeks, and it was possible that he hadn’t, and each step he took into the room seemed to take forever to complete.
“Evan,” Megan said again, dropping her bag in the hallway and following him into the room. She helped him into the chair beside Adie’s tank and knelt on the floor, her hands holding his arm, though she wasn’t exactly sure whether that was for his benefit or hers. “Evan, please.” Her heart twisted in her chest, as though someone had reached through her ribs, took hold of it and was squeezing it tightly in their fist. She’d lost her best friend and her brother, but Adie was missing from Evan’s life too. And she had the rest of her family at her side to help her through. Evan had no-one.
“It’s my fault,” he whispered slowly, reaching out to rest one hand on the glass. “I did this.”
Megan sighed. She took his hand in hers and squeezed tightly, resting her head against his upper arm and gazing down at her brother. Evan had begun to rock slightly in his chair, and he was crying silent tears that tumbled down his cheek and splashed in his lap. “Hey,” she said, wiping at them with her already damp sleeve, “there’s no more crying allowed in this room today. I used up the whole quota.” She tried to smile, but it came out as more of a grimace. “I forgive you, Evan. It wasn’t your fault and I’m sorry I’ve been blaming you all this time.” She didn’t know it was true until she said it, but the moment the words left her lips she believed them with all her heart.
Evan didn’t reply, but after a moment or two of silence he found the energy to squeeze her hand. He was broken, and he could feel it in every inch of him and he didn’t know whether he’d ever be okay again. He had with him his birth certificate, his passport and his life savings. Nobody would miss him, and he was ready to do what he had to do.
They sat in silence for a few moments more, until Megan’s phone rang loudly in her pocket and she had to fish it out and explain to her parents where she was. Ever since the accident they’d been on her like a hawk, unwilling to let their now only child meet the same fate as her brother. “I have to go,” she said softly, squeezing Evan’s hand once more. She’d had the side of her face pressed against his arm, and the pattern of his jumper had impressed itself into her cheek. He nodded, letting go of her hand but still not saying a word, his eyes fixed on Adie and Adie alone. She got to her feet and walked back towards the corridor, pausing for just a moment in the halo of yellow light to look back at the broken, empty boy she was leaving behind.
“I’m going with him,” He said softly, turning in his chair to face her. “He was all I had. Without him, I don’t know who I am or what I’m doing with my life. I had plans of what I wanted to do: get married, have kids, get my own place and grow old. I know it’s boring, but whenever I imagine myself in the future, whatever kind of future that might be, he’s right there at my side. I need him.”
Megan nodded, understanding completely but at the same time not really understanding at all. She’d had plenty of boyfriends and even a girlfriend or two, but she’d never felt that way about any of them. “I can’t stop you, can I?” She asked, half talking to Evan and half to her brother. “You’re doing this regardless of what I can say to try and make you think differently.” Evan nodded. She finally met his eyes. “Then good luck,” she said simply, looking into his face and seeing all of his pain reflected in his eyes. “I mean it.”