Mum’s not a bad person. It’s not a cool thing to say about your mother, but it is true. Like the time she met Jane’s youngest brother and thought he had Downs Syndrome because his face was all puffy from allergies to a bee sting. Poor Philip had no idea why this stranger was complimenting him on his English or acting as if he was a little kid when he was sixteen at the time. She puts her foot in it more than anyone else I know; she’s probably why I almost never do, not wanting to be her. Y’ know?
But this morning wasn’t like the other days, I guess. St. Patrick’s day is all about green and luck and bad Irish jokes. With my hair, so I like it about as much as kids born on April Fool’s Day like their birthdays but you had said we’d be doing something special this year, last year. Birthday party to end all parties, the sweet little sister sixteen. You know, I don’t know anything about Saint Patrick? There’s the day, and people always making jokes about how red hair means I’m Irish, but I don’t know anything about him. I figure it’s probably safest, as one guy became a saint for murdering a woman and then putting up with her ghost haunting him for twenty years. I learned that from the hospital chaplain. You’d like him.
So I’m thinking about that and not googling things on my phone to figure it out when a blind kid walks by us. Dark glasses, white cane, about ten or twelve. That age when it’s hard to tell how old a boy is, holding a Starbucks tray in one hand with two drinks, moving easily around people and humming to himself. Off-tune, whatever it was. Normal enough, really, but mum must have been thinking about St. Patrick and luck as well.
“The poor child; he can’t see,” she said to me, as if I’d somehow not noticed. I’m not the smartest cookie in the jar, but it’s a bit hard to miss the cane and glasses both. Knowing mum, she was probably going to say how worse off he was than us, and then apolgize to me. The boy stopped, turned. He didn’t frown, just look up toward mum.
“I’m not poor.” No shouting, no histrionics, just firm and polite. Then he grinned. I’ve never even seen a baby grin like that. It was wide and friendly and so pure I thought for a second that the kid was a few cookies short of a jar. “Because,” he continued, and threw the word with excitement at us, “I have tons and loads of friends, and there’s a lot of humans who have eyes and don’t see and I don’t mind not seeing because it means I listen more even if Charlie might not believe I do because I still talk like a Jay but I’m listening like one too and you can learn a lot from silence that you can’t even from bindings and I’m lucky all the time because I’m Jaysome and I have great friends!”
I think he said all that, maybe even more; I don’t have a clue what he meant by ‘bindings’ at all. He talked pretty fast, all animated and as happy as a normal kid dropped into a vat of speed. I couldn’t help but grin back. Yeah, yeah. I’m serious: I did.
“I didn’t mean,” Mum began, and the kid scowled a little at that.
“Everyone means stuff, even the things they don’t mean are things they are, things they own,” he said. “I’m Jay, but we’ve never met and you don’t even know me and it’s a lot of kinds of mean to tell someone you don’t know that you’re sorry they’re alive.”
“Oh,” Mum said. Foot, mouth. “I’m sorry.”
“But sorry doesn’t help. Not doing wrong things again helps. Sorry is a word that doesn’t fix cuz it justifies and justifying things is easy and people use it so they don’t have to explain themselves to themselves,” Jay said.
Honest, that’s how the kid talked. It should have been silly, but there was something. I don’t know. It’s not like he was intense, but it’s like this other girl I met in the hospital, the one with the fragile bones? Hannah had broken her arms and legs so often it was only a joke to her by that point, but when she talked you listened. Because she said things worth listening to. Lessons she’d learned, passing them on in hopes you wouldn’t have to learn them yourself. Heh. She’d laugh to hear me say that, but it was true. And this kid was young and – I don’t know. He was like that somehow. Not like he’d been through pain but that he would, that made what he said have some kind of weight. Like I said, it didn’t even make sense then. I think it makes even less now.
“That’s the thing about humans,” the kid said, as if he wasn’t one, as if he was responding to words mum hadn’t even said. “It’s like the worst one are the ones who never think they are monsters? Like the ones who set out to Do Good for others always do the most damage and it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad it’s not even sad-funny!”
There was a cough behind me at that. I guessed the new arrival at about eighteen or so? Ex-goth sort of look to her, and Jay turned and grinned toward her. “I was all bringing the coffee, but you were busy and I was making friends!”
“I don’t think this is making friends,” she responded mildly, but the kid blinked.
Jay opened his mouth, closed it, and then looked as if he’d been punched right between the legs. “Oh!” And he turned to mum, and said: “I think I kind of hurt you by accident because you made me a bit cranky and I’m the kind of sorry that’s more than sorry –.”
“Jay.” His friend didn’t move, but Jay gulped audibly.
Mum looked. I don’t know. Dazed, I think. “What are you?” she said, and I figure asking some blind kid what he was would send anyone over the edge, but the kid just repeated his name.
His friend coughed louder, and Jay walked over to her and handed her the Starbucks tray. “See? The coffee isn’t even cold, Charlie, and –.”
“And?” Charlie didn’t move.
“And maybe someone acted like blind meant stupid in Starbucks and I sorta lost my cool here over it but I didn’t mean to!”
Charlie sighed, and said: “Go,” and Jay was past her and down the street, making a beeline to the Days Inn.
“What?” I said, certain I had missed something. I always had that in the early days last year, when mum and dad talked to the doctors. Still do, some days, but I think – I think now it’s more that I want to miss things.
“What is he?” mum asked.
“Jay,” Charlie said, her smile resigned and an echo of the kid’s. “He does things with bindings.”
“My Jennifer. She’s – she’s my only daughter,” mum said, and rested her hand on my shoulder. “Can he help her?”
And Charlie crouched down a little, met my gaze. Her eyes reminded me of Devon, at that one party when Eric slapped you and he grabbed Eric’s arm and looked ready to break it then and there. Like she could be Devon, but was holding back. “If Jay could help you walk, he would have said,” she told me, as matter-of-fact as if a miracle wasn’t even that at all. “Probably,” she added as she stood back up.
And Mum just nodded, as if that made any sense at all. Anyway, she’s down in the cafeteria so I came up here alone, Alice. They keep saying you won’t wake up from the coma, and I kept not believing. Until mum said she had only one daughter and I felt – oh, God. Part of me says it’s just mum putting her foot in it again, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But what if you don’t wake up? What if these machines just hold onto you until you’re dead?
What if I can’t say it’s not your fault, that I survived even if my legs didn’t. Like Jay said about eyes: there’s people who have legs and never use them, and I’m doing things now I never would have before. Not that I wouldn’t change it. If I could undo it all, I would. But I have to move ahead, to move on. And most of that is knowing it’s not your fault and I’d give almost anything if you could hear me say it, if you knew it wasn’t your fault.
I’d say sorry for the fight before the drive home, even if sorry doesn’t mean enough. I’d say everything I say to mum and dad now that I should have always said to everyone before, but especially to you. I love you so much, sis. So much. Today is Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s been almost a year, and I didn’t even think of looking for clover. Not for either of us. I guess this means I know. I think mum is waiting for that. I don’t know what dad is waiting for anymore at all, but that’s not – not important right now.
I was so damn lucky to have a sister like you, and I think maybe I need to put m foot in my mouth a little more. Just to see what happens. Because we never know, do we? We just never know.
We never know.