This is the sequel to Girl in a coma; it turned out there was more to be said for that story!
My sister was sat in the same chair by DeeDee’s bed when I came into the hospital room as she had been when I was last here. I propped the guitar up in the corner of the room, just next to the bedside table and the vase of daffodils, and sat down on the other chair. Which squeaked, and woke my sister up.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you were asleep,” I said. I felt guilty, my sister had most likely been sitting here by DeeDee’s side twenty-four hours a day.
“No! No, it’s a good thing. What would DeeDee think if she woke up and found me here asleep?” She took DeeDee’s thin, pale hand in her own, and I realised I could barely tell the hands apart. My sister’s were slightly larger, but otherwise they could both belong to coma-patients.
“You have to sleep--” I began, but my sister’s eyes narrowed and she tightened her grip on her daughter’s hand.
“Don’t tell me what to do. It’s not your daughter lying here unconscious. Hah! You’ve never even had a long-term relationship, so how could you possibly know what it feels like? You and your books and your stupid words and your sanctimonious-- what’s that?” She pointed with her free hand at the guitar. In the bleak white fluorescent hospital lighting it looked black rather than midnight blue, and the tattoo-like sigils drawn on it were invisible.
“Are you going to sit here and play songs for DeeDee? Is this some New Age nonsense you’ve got going on now? All Kum Bah Yah and Cthulhu Blah? Have I told you how much you disgust me?”
I recoiled as much as is possible when you’re sat in a plastic hospital chair pushed up against a radiator. My sister’s face was twisted with anger and exhaustion, her eyes were flashing with rage and trying to close at the same time, and I began to realise that she’d been pushing herself further and further, willing DeeDee to wake up. With no-one else to visit except me she’d been on her own, and she wasn’t coping well.
“Often,” I said, hoping that the admission would surprise her enough to let me speak for a minute. “That guitar is that last thing DeeDee touched at the gig, I think it might have something to do with her coma.”
My sister looked at me and some of the anger drained from her face. Her shoulders relaxed a little, and she exhaled. Her fingers around DeeDee’s hand went from bone white to just blue-white and I wondered if she’d crushed DeeDee’s fingers at all.
“Play something then,” she said. “It might wake her up. Play something.”
“Oh, well, I don’t think--”
“Why did you bring it if you’re not going to play it?” She stood up and immediately staggered, putting out a hand to catch herself. She half-fell over the bed, across DeeDee’s legs, and I got up myself to help her up. She waved me away. “I’ve been sat down for a while,” she said. “Standing up will do me good. Why did you bring that guitar then?”
“Er, well, I can’t play the guitar,” I said, hesitating as I tried to find something to say that wouldn’t anger her any more. “I just wanted to show you that I’ve been looking into it, I think something did happen at that gig.”
“I told you that.” She stretched, the vertebrae along her spine clicking and popping. “I really hope that the reason I’ve not seen you here for the last few days isn’t that you were planning on telling me that.”
“No.” I stopped. My sister knows that I went to Finland some years ago as part of an expedition, and she thinks that it all went as well as these things ever do. Museums, for her, are like graveyards: they contain dead things and you go to pay your respects. You don’t touch, you don’t try to buy anything, and you listen to what the man in charge tells you; then you go home. She knows nothing about the Ilmatu, nothing about the strange things that exist on the doorstep of humanity, and certainly wouldn’t understand what I’ve gone through in the last few days to get that guitar, or why I won’t let it out of my sight.
“Fine.” The mean look was back in her eyes. “Well, let’s see what the stupid thing can do then, maybe it doesn’t need to be played.”
I stared in horror as she crossed the room with four quick steps and seized the neck of the guitar. She lifted it from the floor and inspected it briefly before drawing her thumb across the strings.