The Good Goodbye(10)

By: Carla Buckley



“We need to insert a drain into her skull, but we have to have your signed permission.”

They want to drill a hole into my daughter’s skull. I’ve cradled that head in my hands, seen the shadowy soft areas Theo and I’d been warned to protect lying between thin cranial plates of bone. The world tilts. I sit hard on a chair, grip the cold metal arms. “Is it dangerous?” My voice comes from far away.

“Well, there are risks with any operation.”

I force myself to look up at her. Her eyes are pale blue, as clear as water. “But is it dangerous?”

“It’s more dangerous to let the fluid build up unchecked.”

I let out my breath in a whoosh, then nod. She extends the clipboard to Theo. After a moment, he takes it and clicks the pen. “How long will this take?”

“Not long. It’s a fairly quick procedure.”

Theo hands the clipboard back and sits beside me. I reach for his hand and knit my fingers with his, familiar and comforting. “Can we see her?”

“I’m sorry, but we have to take her in right away. You can see her as soon as she’s out of surgery.”

“Is she going to be…all right?” Is she going to die?

“We’re doing everything we can.”

“Are you the surgeon?” Theo asks.

“I’m the resident.” She’s at the door, wanting to leave. “I was here when they admitted your daughters.”

“Daughters?” I repeat.



The ICU’s a circular spaceship with glass-walled rooms radiating out. A large reception desk hovers in the center. Rory’s room is dark, the curtain drawn across the glass wall facing the hallway, tiny red blinking lights on various machines casting an amber glow across the bed against the wall. Beside it, a ghost rises from a chair. Gabrielle, her slight form swaying. “Natalie, our girls…”

“I know. I know.” I hug her close. Her head presses against my shoulder, her hair slippery against my cheek. She sobs, her shoulders shaking. The anger between us vanishes. This is what matters. “Oh, Gabrielle,” I say. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” She shudders, and I hold her closer. Over her shoulder I can see the bed, the shadowed figure lying there. Rory?

“My God,” Theo says hoarsely.

She lies flat beneath a heavy web of looping plastic tubes. A thick helmet is fitted around her head; the white cast on her arm glows dully. All I can see of her face is the rise of puffy cheeks and eyelids behind the plastic straps of the helmet. Her lips, curved around a dangling plastic tube, are grotesquely swollen.

This isn’t Rory. It can’t be.

“Oh, Gabrielle,” I say again, and she nods, pulls away. She snatches a tissue from the box on the nightstand and pats her eyes. “They say it’s the fluid they’re pumping into her. They say it will go down in a few weeks. But I don’t know.”

Should we be talking like this in front of Rory? It’ll only frighten her. She hasn’t moved since we came in. She hasn’t made a sound. “Hi, my darling,” I whisper, leaning close. I can’t see if her eyes are cracked open. “It’s Aunt Nat and Uncle Theo.”

“She can’t hear you. She can’t hear anything. She’s…she’s in a coma.”

I’d better prepare myself. This is how Arden will be when she comes out of surgery. “What do the doctors say?”

“She broke her leg. It’s quite…bad. They’re going to operate in the morning.”

Gabrielle’s accent is thicker. She’s stumbling over her words. I slide my arm around her shoulders and give her a reassuring squeeze.

“They’re worried about her lungs,” she says. “They say she breathed in hot air and did a lot of damage. They have her on a ventilator so her lungs can heal. I don’t know. Is that how it works?”

I have no idea. But Christine might. She’s a pediatric surgeon. “I’ll call my sister,” I say. “I’m sure she can explain a lot of this.” Can Christine come? But she has that surgery coming up, a pair of conjoined twins flying all the way from Brazil. Christine’s been preparing for months. Is it fair to ask her to compromise other people’s lives? I don’t know.

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