The trill of the phone breaks into the night’s silence. My hand reaches out from under the doona to grasp my mobile before it buzzes off the bedside table.
‘Hello?’ My voice is sleep-croaky.
There is something about the voice that makes me sit up. At the same time, my heart races inside my chest. I look at my clock: 2:43AM.
‘Bess,’ I say. ‘What is it?’
‘Cat.’ She splutters my name. ‘It’s your uncle. He’s been in an accident.’
‘What kind of accident? Where are you?’
‘The ED at Alfred. Can you come?’
‘On my way,’ I respond, already pulling trackies over my pyjamas. I grab my runners and a hoodie, and I’m out the door.
Fifteen minutes later, I find Bess in the waiting area in the hospital. As I approach, she stands and we hug, fiercely. We grip onto each other like we’re a life raft. Bess sobs into my shoulder; when we eventually break apart my shoulder is damp.
‘Sorry,’ she mumbles, noticing the wet spot.
I shake my head at Bess; the last thing I’m worried about is my wet hoodie. ‘Where is he?’ I ask.
‘Come. This way.’
She leads me through the doors and we’re in the emergency department. We move past numerous bays with patients, some sleeping, others groaning. Bess’ silence gives me the creeps. I brace myself for what’s coming.
She pulls back the curtain. Tim is on the narrow emergency bed; he’s a mangled mess of his former self. His leg in a cast, suspended above the bed. A bandage is wound around the top of his head and all his hair has been shaved off. His eyes are closed. A machine appears to be helping him breathe.
I gasp. My most cherished relative, this man who loomed large in my childhood, the one I turned to when a boy broke my heart, the friend who let me cry a thousand times, doled advice in my troubled teen years, has been rendered a vessel.
‘It was a car accident,’ a voice from behind me says gently. I turn, surprised to find my dad.
Dad and Tim had a falling out twenty years ago. I was only seven at the time. Dad refused to talk it, even refused to use his brother’s name. I had never seen the two of them in the same room, not even at Gran’s funeral. But whatever had caused their alienation apparently ends here. Right now.
‘Honey, he’s not good.’
Bess is sitting in a chair next to Tim’s bed. Her top half bent over Tim’s midriff while she silently sobs.
‘He’d been out at the pub with his mates. They were walking home when a car went through a red light, ploughed right into him apparently. Tim was tossed into the air and smashed onto the road like a broken egg about ten metres further down. His mates called the police and the ambulance straight away. Then Bess. Then she called me.’
He shrugs. As if his spiel is going to explain the cocked-up mess of him and Tim, and Tim’s accident.
I open my mouth to speak, but am stopped by the doctor walking in.
‘Mrs McTavish?’ he asks. He knows which of us is Bess, it’s more to get her attention.
She sits up, holding Tim’s hand.
‘The tests reveal there’s no brain function whatsoever. I’m sorry.’
Bess howls. Her cry reverberates through the entire emergency department.
‘Bess,’ says Dad. He holds her, muffles her cries. ‘We’ll get through this.’
I sink to the floor as grief rises and threatens to drown me. Bess breaks from Dad and moves to me. We sit and mourn together.
Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash