“For Kris, who will always be the light of our lives”
“You know, Matty, in the Chinese New Year, people put red paper cuttings on doors and windows for good luck.”
While I sat by his bed in the rocking chair, Matthew lay on his side facing the opposite direction. The late afternoon light trickled in from the window. He groaned as he rolled to face me, half asleep. His engorged stomach popped out from under his shirt. He signed with his hands for pink Nesquik, so I went to the kitchen, made some in his sippy cup, and brought it back to him. We were alone in the house as our parents ran urgent errands. I added the latest crimson paper flowers that we’d cut out to the mobile that hung from the roof.
“What do you think, Matty?” I spun it around in my fingers. He nodded, smiling.
I felt like I’d been sitting, staring at the wall of the locker room for hours in complete silence. Noise from the hallway snapped me back to reality, so I took my scuffed sneakers off and put them neatly inside the locker in front of me. Focusing on my breathing, I took clothes out and got changed, aware of noise growing louder. Thoughts rushing, the ragged hole in my tights stretched larger as I put them on. Noise erupted, and the room filled with women, bursting in, chatting, laughing, trading stories. I tried not to meet anyone’s gaze as I secured my locker, walked towards the door.
“Hey!” Several of them waved cheerfully.
I pushed the door open and walked down the corridor, into the studio. A few of them followed, started stretching, chatted. Thumping in my chest. Collapsed onto my hands and knees, gasping for air, tears streaming down my cheeks. I threw up bile.
Matthew lay on his side. I breathed deeply, carrying in a tray of his favourite cookies and his sippy cup full of Nesquik. He was cutting out paper flowers, watching Ninja Turtles. There were dainty, crimson paper flowers scattered on the bed and floor around him.
“Do you want cookies?” He shook his head and signed, “Hungries.”
“Okay Matty.” I smiled as his face lit up. “Let’s get Hungry Jacks.”
The doctor interrogated me, his voice sharp with purpose. He analysed the computer screen for a few seconds, then looked right into my eyes. He politely suggested tests, requested ongoing appointments, talked me through what I was experiencing. His speech was peppered with ‘from now on’
He prescribed pills, interviewed me regularly—everything the government could do that was free. This took some arranging. My routine changed. Instead of exerting myself, I went to counselling, lived with my mother and her latest husband for some time, got used to a new normal. It seemed that pills and therapy equalled function.
I got to see Matthew more. I was blessed with time. He played video games when he was awake, slowly tending to his growing paper garden. The mobile that hung from his bedroom roof grew fuller. We went to Hungry Jacks a handful of times as a ‘family’ on his better days. Every time we made it there, his eyes lit up when I handed him his tray of food. The four of us sat at the same table every time. The one outside the restaurant, near the playground.
One day, he handed me a straw that signalled a need for me to puncture the firm plastic lid on his lemonade.
“Thanks” I signed. Though in no shape to be out of bed, he loved this place so much, for reasons none of us could fathom. That morning he had begged to go, promising to eat all his chippies. We couldn’t have cared less if he ate. The light in his eyes was enough to convince us to take him.
We watched the kids running around, chasing each other, climbing in and out of the tunnels.
I continued to make him food that he never ate, watch movies with him that he never stayed awake for, and perform any duty he ever signed. I learned what he needed quickly, often before he needed it. No more walks in the park. No more birthdays. No more summers. ‘Comfort care’ only.
Six months later, I packed up his Ninja Turtles DVDs and sipped a glass of pink Nesquik. I took the mobile down, which was crammed full of crimson paper flowers. As I hung it up in the doorway of my room, passing time, soaking in a moment of quiet contentment, I thought about having Hungries for dinner.
Author: Jes Schefe is a queer, neurodivergent freelance editor who prefers correcting other peoples’ grammar to putting stories on paper. She’s been studying at QUT for way too long and loves playing 90’s rap while she appraises manuscripts. She writes to wipe out mental illness taboos and stigmas, and has been an admin and advocate for the QUT Abilities Collective and the QUT Queer Collective for a few years. Her work can be found on the Loving Her Facebook page, The SPAWN Exhibition, Flunk Magazine, Glass Magazine, and a few others. You can also find her at @jesmassiveattack
Artist: SaBelle Pobjoy-Sherriff is a third year visual arts student minoring in film. Her art practice has an in depth focus on ideas of narrative and mythology, and tends to border on the obscure. She utilises illustration and sculpture to create vibrant worlds and creatures. You can find more on her Instagram @SaBelleeee.