The whir of the machines made it difficult for me to sleep, but I didn't mind. I was tired, yet restless. Fading away, yet awake and alert. My body may have been failing me, but I was perfectly conscious of my surroundings.
The night nurse saw this when she came in to check my vital signs. "Can't sleep?" she casually asked.
"I dozed off a little this afternoon, after the kids left."
"That was sweet of them to visit." She pulled out a tablet and used a stylus to write something in my electronic chart. After checking the various wires that were attached to my body, she gave my pillow a light fluff and her gaze locked into mine again. "Do you need anything? Are you comfortable?"
I searched her deep blue eyes, trying to correctly interpret her inquisitive stare, and something clicked. "I know why you're here," I told her. "I know who you are. What you are."
"I know I'm not supposed to know. But it's okay. Your secret is safe with me." She didn't confirm nor deny anything; she just kept looking down at me. "How much longer?" I asked.
It would have been easy to write off my questions as the delusional ramblings of an elderly woman and I could tell she didn't want to answer. A few moments passed before she spoke again. "About ten minutes."
Resigned to my fate, I could only nod my head. I watched her check over the medical equipment that flanked my bed until I sensed some movement in the hallway out of the corner of my eye. Another flash of enlightenment pierced through my mind and everything made sense. Of course she would be here. I patted the nurse on the arm, getting her attention. "Tell her it's okay to come in."
I reached over to the nightstand for my glasses, putting them on as the newcomer entered. It had been over seventy years since I had seen her last, but she looked exactly the same. Time was meaningless for my older sister. While my life had progressed along its expected path – aging me, teaching me, shaping me – she was unchanged. The eternal eighteen-year-old stood at the foot of my bed, unsure of what to say. "Hey, Reg," she finally offered.
"Hello, George." The nurse found something to occupy herself on the other side of the room as we found ourselves trapped in an awkward silence. "I figured you would be here eventually," I said.
Communication had never been easy for us when she was alive, and it had only improved marginally since her death. "I'm sorry, Reggie."
Her gaze shifted, never staying in one place for longer than a moment. She looked at each machine in turn, the bag of IV fluids that was dripping into my arm, and the nurse in the corner. Finally arriving back at me, she shrugged her shoulders helplessly. "For this. All of this."
"Don't be. I'm old as shit, it was inevitable."
A rare smile appeared on her lips. "Glad to hear you haven't lost that sharp tongue in your old age."
"Never." We went back to staring at each other in the dimly-lit room. "I didn't think you were supposed to be here."
"I'm not." George never was one for following rules.
"I did what you said, you know."
It's impossible to remember everything that happens over the course of a lifetime, especially when that lifetime has spanned nearly a century. What we think will turn out to be meaningful can be blurred over time, becoming murky smudges at the edges of our memory, while tiny slivers of what others would regard as insignificant are recalled with the sharpest clarity. "When I was feeling so utterly miserable, you came to me and you told me how to live my life. It may not have meant that much in that very moment, but it stayed with me for a long time."
As expected, she tried to downplay this revelation. "You were about to slam my car into a fucking wall, I had to tell you something," she said, looking down at the floor.
"I know." I'd just make her more uncomfortable if I got overly emotional, so I tried to keep my voice steady. "I did it for both of us," I told her. She glanced back up at me. "I knew I would never fully get over how unfair it was that you died so young, but after you knocked some sense into my pitiful teenaged self, I thought…I thought that maybe I could make up for it somehow."
"As long as I didn't fuck up your life too badly." She tried to laugh. "So it all worked out the way you wanted it to?"
"I'd say so, yes." I smiled at her. "I tried to follow your instructions the best I could. I went to college and eventually found a great job that I was good at doing. I fell in love with a man who treated me like a queen until the day he died. I have children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren!" I narrowed my eyes slightly. "But you knew all that, didn't you."
"I did," she admitted.
"I always knew you were watching out for me." A thought that had been floating through my head for the past several decades came to the foreground. "Was it you?"
"I'm ninety years old. Not a lot of people can say that. I want to know, was that your doing?"
"No. I never had control over any of that, as much as I would have liked to, sometimes. I guess you were just one of the lucky ones. It was just the way things were supposed to be."
The nurse came back over and nodded to George. I wasn't sure if they had known each other previously, but it wasn't important. All of a sudden, I was a scared little girl again and I turned to my big sister for reassurance. "Is this going to hurt?" I asked in a small voice, trying not to panic.
The nurse rested her hand on my shoulder. "You won't feel a thing," she answered.
George moved to the other side of the bed. There were some cracks starting to appear in her usual mask, the stoic façade that I had never seen break down in all our time together. "I'm glad you were happy, Reggie." Her eyes grew shiny and I fought to hold back my own tears. "I'm proud of you."
Before I knew it, I was standing next to her, looking down at my lifeless body. "What now?"
The nurse extended her hand to me. "It's time to go," she simply stated.
I let her lead me to the door of my room. The hallway had been completely transformed and I knew that once I stepped over the threshold, I would be gone, gone forever. I wanted to go, but I turned around one last time. "Will I see you soon?" I asked my sister.
"I don't know. I really don't."
"You've always been with me. I don't see why things would change now."
"Maybe you're right." Neither one of us had ever cared for tearful farewells and other poignant moments, and she tried to smile at me. "Go. Go continue to be happy. I've heard it's great out there." I reached out to her, but she waved me away. "Go."
I knew it was useless to try to argue with her. "See you later, George."
I didn't know what exactly would be waiting for me, but I hoped to see familiar faces that had been lost to me long ago. Even though none of us could be certain, I remained faithful that my sister would be among them one day. After looking back one last time, I left the room and let the warm, gentle light envelop me.