Read I'm Still Here (Je Suis Là) Online

Authors: Clelie Avit,Lucy Foster

Tags: #Fiction / Contemporary Women, Fiction / Romance / Contemporary, Fiction / Literary

I'm Still Here (Je Suis Là) (14 page)

BOOK: I'm Still Here (Je Suis Là)
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Chapter 20
THIBAULT

I
look from my watch to the clock on the wall of my office and back again about every three minutes, as though one of them might have lied to me. It's been like this all day. I haven't turned a page of the file in front of me since I put it down there earlier. I'm not sure if I've even touched it, to tell the truth.

I know what's going on. I have a yearning that won't go away until tomorrow, because I didn't see her yesterday. Well, I did see her, but only for two minutes, and it took all the gentlemanliness I could muster not to stay and monopolize her for the whole hour as I had envisaged. I spent the time wandering through the corridors of the hospital, and passed back in front of room
52
several times. I also passed in front of my brother's room. My mother had left the door ajar to tempt me again.

Eventually I was tempted. I went into the room without saying anything. My mother was occupying the one uncomfortable chair left in the room for visitors. So I picked up a magazine and sat down on the floor in the corner. They tried to get me to talk but I didn't even raise my eyes toward them.

I listened to their conversation with one ear while skimming through the magazine, a compilation of wacky news articles, several weeks out of date. I didn't even notice when my mother went out. It was only when my brother cleared his throat that I lifted my eyes at last and noticed that we were alone. We stared at each other for a moment, in silence, and then my brother spoke. He started with small talk and then launched into what was really on his mind:

“Why do you never come and see me?”

“Do you really need to ask?” I replied flatly.

“Well, no… not really,” he said with a sigh. “You think I deserve whatever's coming to me. But I'll ask the question another way. What do you do all the time Mom's in here? Do you stay in the car?”

I closed the magazine, glanced at the door, and decided to tell him everything. Without pausing, I recounted my spells of despair in the stairwell, my angry rages, and then mistakenly walking into room
52
two weeks ago and meeting Elsa. I told him about all my moments of indecision, and also about the moment when I realized that I was in love with the girl in the coma. I also told him that I still couldn't get my head around the idea that my brother had killed two people, just because he'd been too pig-headed not to get behind the wheel.

I let him have all the information at once, in whatever order it occurred to me, but he followed the story. At one moment I even thought I could see his eyes shining, but no, that was impossible.

“Are you still as angry with me now as you were at first?” he asked after my monologue.

“I don't know what you mean.”

“I mean, what's made you come here now?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean what are you doing in my room? Did your girlfriend not want to see you today?”

I leapt up and, in less than two seconds, was on top of him, my hands on his chest, my face a few inches from his.

“Don't you dare speak about her like that! You, of all people.”

My eyes held his for what seemed like a long time, until he looked away. What he said next gave me a shock.

“You really are in love.”

It wasn't said nastily or with any sense of mockery. He was envious. I couldn't understand what was going on. Especially when he continued to speak.

“You're really in love and I envy you. Not just the being in love, but being able to experience that kind of emotion. I've never really been serious or… profound, yeah, that's the word. I've never had any profound feelings about anyone. I don't know. Maybe I've been afraid they wouldn't love me back? Or maybe I just couldn't be bothered. Anyway, I realize now that that's pathetic, and that maybe no one will ever love me back. But even realizing it doesn't mean that I can actually feel any of the emotions I've realized I don't feel. I'm still in the same place I was before. Does that make sense, Thibault?”

I stayed still while he spoke, until I was sure he had finished. I was utterly taken aback. I didn't give my mother enough credit when she told me that my brother had been thinking about what had happened. Maybe I should have.

“You only need to try,” I said to him, going back to sit in my corner.

“I would like to,” he said, without elaborating.

“What are you waiting for?”

“I don't know.”

After that, his gaze wandered outside and he didn't speak until my mother came back in. He did look at me for several seconds when we were leaving. The strangest, most chaotic, mixed-up look I've ever seen. He had such a confusion of emotions in his eyes that I wondered how on earth he could tell me that he didn't feel anything. Then I nodded a good-bye, or perhaps it was meant to be encouragement, I don't know. His response was even more underplayed than mine, and we left it there.

In the car, my mother tried to find out what we had spoken about during her ten minutes' absence. I almost had the impression that she had left us alone on purpose. When I dropped her off, she wanted me to stay with her. For once, I said yes without hesitation. I wasn't going to ask Julien to come and keep me company again. With Clara's christening on Sunday, he'd probably got better things to do than administer advice to his pathetic best friend.

I've resisted calling Julien for the last three hours because I have a feeling that tonight is going to be hard and I'm saving myself until then. I don't want to go back to my mother's because I know there will be a mountain of questions. I don't feel like going out with my colleagues because that would probably elicit even more interrogation. I just want to see Elsa.

The Book
activates in my head. It has stayed all day on page
100
, the “Blank Page.” And then it's as though there's a sudden gust of wind which blows the page over to
99
: “Do Whatever You Feel Like.”

What is stopping me from going to see Elsa tonight? Visits are allowed every day, it's just that the hours vary. It's Thursday. That means
3
till
6
today. There's my answer. I finish at
6
, so there's no way I can get there.

Yes. There is one way.

I don't even take the time to linger on page
54
: “Do Everything You Need to in Order to Succeed,” before hurrying into my boss's office. In
The Book
, it didn't say what you need to do to succeed, it just said
everything
. I choose partial honesty—I don't have the time to invent anything else.

“I've got something very important to do. Can I leave early?”

My boss looks at me with suspicion. I've never asked for any favors or special treatment since I've worked here, but my rages with Cindy when we split up have marked my personal record with a big red cross.

“What is it that's so important?” he asks with a sigh.

“It's complicated,” I reply, hesitant.

“I have a feeling it's you who is complicated, Thibault.”

“That's entirely possible.”

My response makes him smile and I see that I have won this round.

“What does early mean?” he asks, watching me already on my way out of his office.

“Right now?” I call back, telling myself that I only risk refusal if I turn around politely.

“Go on then. Get out of here. Tomorrow, in at
7
though.”

I nod my head to say yes, and then race back to my desk to collect my things. My heart is pounding, either because of my victory, or because I'm running down the stairs, I don't know. I don't really care.

I'm only interested in one thing.

I'm going to see her.

Chapter 21
ELSA

C
hristmas has come early. It's Thursday and Thibault is here.

He's already been in my room for a little while. He arrived, euphoric, and told me all about his strange day and even said that he had left work early to come and see me. I was slightly bewildered. I suppose because he hasn't really had this sort of conversation—if you can call it a conversation—with me before. His multicolored voice was full of glimmering shades, which all danced around until finally they settled into a luxurious velvety texture, and I couldn't take much in after that. I still don't really understand what's going on, to tell the truth, but it doesn't matter. I feel good, that's what counts.

In spite of the “minus X” scrawled on the clipboard at the end of my bed, I feel good.

What's more it seems that Thibault is the only person unaware of the “minus X” spanner in the works. That might be why I start to feel better when he's here, and why my senses come back in his presence. I love my family and my friends, of course, but… Thibault is the one I actually want to wake up for. There, I've said it.

Now it just seems normal that he is lying here next to me. He has reconnected my respirator badly, the same as last time, which will provoke grumblings from the nurse when she realizes. At the moment she thinks the tube is sliding out by itself. She would never dream that there was someone coming in here and disconnecting it regularly on purpose.

I think Thibault is getting more used to moving me as well. Either that or he's been working out. But it's only been a few days, so such a marked improvement would be surprising. I'm pretty sure that today he has pushed me all the way to the very edge of my bed, because I heard him sigh with contentment as he stretched out on the mattress. I don't think he's asleep yet though.

“Elsa…”

He's definitely not asleep. Or he's sleep-talking. But that voice sounded pretty wide awake.

“Elsa…”

I could shiver, I'm so desperate to answer him. His name has passed through my head more times in the past two weeks than any other thought over the last two months. It's the only thing I know for certain about him, his name. As for what he looks like, or anything else about him, I can only imagine.

In these hours of solitude I've had plenty of time to think about which senses I miss the most. At first, I was sure that sight was the most important one but, being isolated with only my ears for all this time, I've come to the conclusion that to be able to hear is a very great gift. I would love to know what Thibault smells like though. As I am thinking this, the little beep next to me jumps about for several seconds, so I return to my mental exercises. But no mental exercise is as effective as having him lie beside me. And today, more than ever, I yearn to see his face, the color of his eyes, to see the hands that sent me those electric shocks.

I would like to know what he feels like; if he uses aftershave; to recognize the smell of his skin. I would like to touch his body with mine from head to toe.

I leave the sense of taste aside for now, because the pulse monitor races too dramatically whenever I linger on it. Every time I have imagined kissing Thibault, bringing back the memory of his lips on my cheek, I hear the nurse rush in. When that happened for the fourth time in less than half a day, the doctor on duty told them to stop interrupting him with it. He said that he would call his colleague, my consultant, to suggest putting me back through the scanner. But then he saw the “minus X” in my notes and told the nurse to forget about what he'd just said.

This episode gave me a brief hope that I had a chance of showing the world that I was still here. Except I'm being regulated by such basic monitors that not one of them records any sign of cerebral activity. But I am alive!

If only I could scream out. I am alive!

“Elsa… when do you plan on waking up?”

Thibault's voice makes me want to cry. I can even feel my tear ducts trying to spring into action. It seems crazy to be able to sense where they are. I don't suppose it would be seen as any great victory if I woke up and declared proudly that I can locate and feel my tear ducts, but to me it's heavenly to be aware of the different parts of my body. To feel anything at all is another step on the road to movement. That's a little mantra I have invented for myself. My brain is capable of receiving information. Now I just wish that it could also send it.

I'd also like to be able to answer Thibault's question. But the fact that I don't have the answer makes my spirits plunge again. I know that it'll take more time for me to wake up. But I don't have time. The “minus X” on my clipboard turns “perhaps soon” into “I'm racing against an unspecified countdown.” And even if I hope that this unspecified countdown is as long as possible, I know that it won't be infinite. Making this decision must be eating away at my parents. They haven't been in here since their unpleasant exchange with the doctor, so I know they must be thinking about it. And, in their place, if I knew that I had to finally reach the “yes” conclusion, I don't think I'd want to drag it out too long.

“I want you to wake up.”

These words, in the sweetest whisper I have ever heard, remove me from any negative thoughts. I'm torn between the natural, sarcastic response: “Yes, me too, funnily enough, Thibault!” and an emotionally charged “Thank you.” I imagine myself saying either one or the other. My body seems to understand this desire, because I hear myself sigh. I can almost feel my diaphragm shift inside my abdomen, even. More progress. If only Thibault could be nearby at all times.

I imagine him curled up here every hour of the day and night, breathing, shimmering, always here. I think again of his lips on my cheek. My heartbeat speeds up on the monitor, but not alarmingly. My thoughts, left unattended, go to the thing that I have forbidden myself to think about for some time, but I can't help it. The beep accelerates again and I marshal my brain to control it. I suppose it works.

After that my imagination goes completely off the rails. Completely.

And then everything coagulates.

A sensation goes all the way up my legs.

I'm cold.

“Elsa. You've got to wake up, and it looks as though you're going to have to put your back into it!”

His mocking tone surprises me as much as the cold sensation. What is he talking about?

“I've just allowed myself to take a peek at your legs. I hope you're not cross. I lifted the bottom of the cover. Nothing inappropriate, I only saw from your ankles to your knees. I was just wondering what they were like.”

I want to laugh. He's interested in the shape of my legs!

“I suppose I wanted to see what it really was, this alpinism. Hearing about it all, I imagined you to be incredibly muscular! But, my gorgeous girl, you're going to have some work to do on those spindly legs when you wake up!”

Once again, I want to laugh out loud, and to tell Thibault that I'll do whatever he thinks is necessary when I wake up, and that for the moment I don't care if my calves look like tree trunks or like twigs. I don't care! I'm cold, Thibault! I'm cold! Do you understand?

“I'm in love with you, Elsa.”

One. Two. Three. Beeeeeeeeeeeep!

The pulse monitor lets out an almighty screech as my whole chest stiffens. The muscles in my neck tense suddenly, my head falls lightly backward. My shoulders drop, my back arches, my breath stops. And then I fall back down.

My entire body is tingling, like an aftertaste, or should I say an after-feeling.

For a whole second, I was conscious of my entire body. Say it again, Thibault, I beg of you. I want to be me again.

“Elsa… I… I think you just heard what I said.”

Yes, I heard you, Thibault! Of course I did! I've been hearing you for two weeks! And I'd like to hear you say it again and again. To wake me up, to reassure me, just for the pleasure of knowing.

Knowing that someone in the world still believes in me.

But instead I hear a great noise of sheets moving and the weight of a body disengaging itself from the mattress. I hear my own body moved and put back into the middle of the bed. Then Thibault puts on his shoes and outer clothes. I know the ritual by heart. The sweater, the jacket, the zipping up, the scarf, the gloves, the hat in the pocket, and a hand through the hair.

His weight on the edge of my bed.

“I know you can hear me, Elsa.”

His lips against my cheek. The pulse monitor beeps with the contact.

“You keep proving it to me.”

At that moment, I hear running footsteps outside my door, but they pass my room without stopping. It seems to remind Thibault of what he was preparing to do.

“See you tomorrow…”

Another kiss and he's gone.

My brain has stored away more information than ever. Now, to work.

BOOK: I'm Still Here (Je Suis Là)
9.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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