“While you were sleeping” by Amy J. Kirkwood


There was nothing we could do while the fluids crawled down plastic tubes and wriggled their way into your system like globules of pale phlegm.
We weren’t allowed to stay with you overnight, but we couldn’t go back to the hostel, either, because the sheets were stained with your blood.
So that night, Rob and me, we went to the beach.
I remember the way I gripped at his shirt on the back of the motorbike. The air was wet-hot and my hands left sweat patches like claw-marks on his back, and I knew then that if I could stop him leaving me eventually by raking at him with my demon-talons, by scratching my name into his flesh until it scarred, that I would. The realization was sharp and painful, like a razor blade scraping at the inside of my stomach, and I began to cry, pressing my face into his shoulder.
He thought I was crying about you.
I let him think it.
It was long past midnight and the roads that folded their way around Koh Samui in gentle meanders were empty. We tore down them like hell-fiends, the bike’s engine ripping through the peaceful silence, creating our own wind that slashed at us and filled our ears with white noise. But I could still taste the stale imported chocolate from the hospital vending machine; a bit of it was stuck in my teeth and though I pushed and pressed at it, contorting my tongue, I couldn’t dislodge it.
I yelled at Rob to go faster.
When we reached the coast, he led and I followed down a path where trees stretched up tall either side of us, sentinels in the darkness–and I wondered if you could see them, too, from your sterile white bed on the fifth floor.
The smell of salt filled the empty blank space inside of me briefly and I closed my eyes. When I opened them, Rob had walked on towards the sea, far beyond me, not waiting for me now or ever.
I trailed after him, slower, more considered. Stars powdered the night sky, flour dusting a kitchen counter, and the sea was plaited blue and green and villain-black, the colors mingling and flickering. The closer I got, the more overwhelming the deep shadowy patches of water became until everything was black except the cool white sand under my feet.
I caught up with Rob. We stood next to each other in silence, watching the waves lick gently at the shore. We had stood here yesterday, all three of us, looking out at the horizon and arguing about where to fly next–but tonight, there was no horizon, just blended darkness.
Our fingertips touched. He looked at me and there was a moment–a pulse beat, one that might have been measured by the machine next to your bed–when I thought he would tell me everything was alright.
He moved his hand away.




Amy J. Kirkwood writes MG/YA fiction. Her debut YA manuscript, Blazers, was commended for the 2017 Pageturner Prize. Her short fiction has appeared most recently in The Mechanics Institute Review: Volume 14 and InkTears 101. She lives in London and can be found on Twitter.


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