“Grandma and Grandpa are dying on Saturday. Mom wants us to bring dessert.” My sister Dana crosses her arms on the reception desk. I pull the patient forms out from under her and place them to the side so Mark Schwartz Center for Plastic Surgery is facing outwards. One of her elbows crumpled the top paper, so I ball it up and throw it in the trash can at my feet before straightening out the rest of the stack.
“Hello? Did you hear me?” she asks, waving her hand in front of me.
“They said they’re gonna die like five times now. Big deal.”
“I think they mean it this time.” Dana pushes up her glasses. She wears black thick rimmed glasses with fake lenses to cover the ugly scar between her eyes. When she was nine and I was seven, we had this huge oak tree in our backyard with crooked branches that stuck out in every direction. They were too high up for us to climb on, but in the winter, icicles would form on every branch and melt into sharp points. My parents would always catch Dana standing directly under the icicles and staring up at them, and no matter how much they yelled at her, she’d just wander back out the next day and stand under them again. I tried to tell her to look at them from an angle, but she said it wasn’t the same. When she stood beneath them she felt like she was in an ice castle, and she was the ice princess.
One day, an icicle broke off unexpectedly and landed on her head. My parents and I heard her scream from the house, and when we ran out, we found her lying on her back with deep red blood flowing from her nose onto the snow and a huge dent right on the bridge of her nose. Her eyes sloped towards the middle of her face like they were opposite poles of a magnet, trying to connect to each other. She spent hours in surgery, until finally the doctors emerged, heads bent and deep creases in their foreheads, saying they did everything they could, but the damage was deep. There was severe damage to her frontal lobe, so the sweet, even-tempered Dana would forever be plagued by erratic changes in emotion, intolerance to frustration, and aggressive behaviors. It could have been worse, they said. She could have lost her cognitive abilities and motor control. She could have been a vegetable. But still, taking that kind of damage at seven didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room in adulthood. And whenever I think of that day, my mind always goes back to the bloody snow that looked so much like a cherry slushie.
We couldn’t afford plastic surgery for the scar, so our mom originally tried to cover it up with Band-Aids, but that led to a constant barrage of questions everywhere Dana went. When she was eleven, Dana cut her hair and tried to give herself long bangs, and while they did draw attention away from the scar, she was instead made fun of for her awful haircut. Even the best stylists couldn’t salvage it. When she turned fourteen she tried to cover it with layers of makeup, but that only made it more pronounced. Eventually she found that glasses were an inconspicuous way to hide most of the scar, and even though she has 20/20 vision, she rarely takes them off, even in the house.
“I just don’t think they would die so early,” I say.
“They’re what, almost fifty years ahead of the average Age of Death? They don’t want that kind of reputation.”
“God, Cecilia,” Dana says, throwing her head back. “For once in your life could you stop being so dense? They’re bored. And tired. They don’t care about their goddamn reputation.” She’s yelling by this point and I try to subtly signal for her to calm down.
“Of course they do,” I whisper. “For our sake, for our family’s sake, they do.”
A woman, probably mid-seventies, eyes Dana up and down as she walks up to the reception desk. I sit up straighter and give her my most professional smile. Not so wide that my dimples pop out, but enough that she knows I’m happy to have her business.
“Hello ma’am, how are you today?”
“I have a 3 O’clock appointment with Dr. Schwartz.”
I glance at my appointment book as I relax my smile into a thoughtful grin. “Of course, Ms. Davis. He’ll be right with you. Do you mind filling out this patient form while you wait?”
With one last glare at Dana, she takes a form from the stack and sits on the edge of one of the leather chairs in the waiting area. I restack the papers so the pile is neat again.
“What a bitch,” Dana says loudly enough for the woman to hear. I nearly fly over my desk trying to cover her mouth with my hand, but she backs out of my reach.
“You need to control yourself,” I say.
“You need to get a new job.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose with my thumb and index finger and lean back in my chair. “You know I can’t do that,” I say. “I’m working for the best surgeon in the most profitable field. It’s amazing I could even get this job as an undergrad.
“You’re a 20-year-old receptionist at a plastic surgery office in Delaware.”
“Jesus fucking Christ… moving on,” Dana says after taking a slow breath while tapping her index finger against her lips. This is one of her new relaxation exercises to deal with her frustration. “You need to be supportive of Grandma and Grandpa. I knew you’d be in denial at first, bu—”
“I can’t be in denial of something that’s not actually happening.”
Dana takes another breath. “They bought the medication this time.”
“You will do anything to get a rouse out of me, won’t you?” I ask.
Dana shakes her head and takes more deep breaths. It must be really hard for her to stay so calm right now. She pulls out her phone and shows me a screenshot of the Delaware Public Hospital Registry. Everyone who was born in Delaware is listed alphabetically on the registry, and when I look at Dana’s phone I can clearly see their names, Roger and Miranda Abbott, with a check mark next to each of their names. In the comment section, it simply says “lethal injection” next to both their names.
I open my mouth so say something, but what can I say?
“See?” Dana says. “I’m not lying.” We’re silent for a minute. Our grandparents are only in their nineties. They can still take care of themselves, live on their own. If they died, our family would come under fire.
“Wouldn’t you want your family to support your decision?” Dana asks quietly, shaking me from my thoughts.
“If it was the right decision. If it was the proper decision.”
“Jesus Christ, Cecilia. There is no ‘proper’ decision.”
“You know there is.”
“Whatever.” Dana snorts and turns to leave.
“Hey!” She stops walking and cocks her hip to the side, like I’m the exasperating one, but doesn’t turn around. I leave the comfort of my desk and walk to her, trying to ignore the obvious stares from the waiting patients.
“What do you want me to say?” I ask. “That I want them to die? That I’m excited to throw their deathday party, even though they can still walk and talk and feed themselves?”
“I want you to fucking give a shit about something,” Dana says, “besides what our goddamn society tells you to give a shit about.”