I walked past your place the other day. I looked up, half expecting to see the beautiful white orchid you always kept in the window. But there was no orchid.
And you don’t live in that apartment anymore.
Your apartment is where we drank tea, legs entangled on the couch, trying to solve the mysteries of the universe. It’s where you introduced me to qi gong and Adele. It’s where I saw your do-not-resuscitate sign for the first time, taped to the wall just above the stainless-steel cappuccino maker and for several seconds forgot how to breathe.
Your sun-streamed apartment was where you walked in on me furtively looking through your collection of books about death and the afterlife, the ones that had replaced books about cancer and healing, that had, in turn, replaced glossy publications about architecture and travel.
“Looking for a book?” you asked. I sheepishly admitted that I was and quickly chose a few.
“I won’t keep them for long,” I said, suddenly desperate to understand a concept I’d studiously avoided. You were contemplating the possibility of coming back in another body. This was now a source of hope for you. Thinking about that made me miss you already and feel jealous of whoever would be lucky enough to encounter you in this new form. If there really was an afterlife, you could be out there without us even knowing it.
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“That’s okay,” you said about my book selections as you carefully lowered yourself onto the couch. “I don’t need these things back.”
“No,” I insisted, refusing to accept the implication. “They’re yours. I’ll return them.”
You gave a tired shrug. “Okay,” you said.
You were lying on the couch in your apartment while I rubbed your downy head.
“Why you?” I asked.
“Why not me?” you replied. “If not me, then…somebody else.” And I was reminded again about how little I know.
We sat next to each other in your window watching the city turn green when I nervously tried my hand at honouring the next part of your journey: “So, do you think there’s an afterlife?” I asked. (You had been expressing some late-stage doubt.)
You stared ahead in reflection. “I think so,” you replied. “But maybe there’s just blackness. And that’s okay too.”
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We sat quietly, you on your side, me behind you, while I tried to ease even a fraction of your pain. I gazed out the front window. I could see the park where you used to greet me, coffee cup in hand. You loved to watch your niece swing upside down on the monkey bars.
“I love you,” you said simply and sweetly in the fading light, breaking the silence and my reverie. Tears streamed down my face — I couldn’t stop them.
“I love you too,” I finally replied.
It was in your third-floor apartment that you told us you weren’t doing well.
“I think I need to go back to the hospital,” you said.
Having just brought you home, we were loath to return you so soon.
“For how long?” we asked, disappointment washing over us.
Out on the sidewalk, I gaze up at your apartment, and I remember that song by Everything but the Girl: “I look up at your house / And I can almost hear you shout / Down to me / Where I always used to be.”
I cross the street and keep walking.
This story first appeared in Broadview’s March 2022 issue with the title “My sister’s apartment.”
Chris Deacon is a Toronto writer, screenwriter and television director. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Chatelaine and Today’s Parent.
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