In the race between three drops of water on the window, the largest reached the bottom first. It was in the lead the entire time, giving no chance for the other two to come close and leaving them to battle for second and third place. In the end they were still so far behind that when the largest reached the end they gravitated towards each other and became a single drop that slipped away.
Taeyeon knew all this because she watched them. For the past twenty minutes she simply stared at the window, listened to the pouring rain, and acted as if nothing outside of that was real. If she stayed like this for long enough, she reasoned, the world around her as it was right now would fade away and she could get her old life back.
Her old life was nothing spectacular, but it was safe. It had bad moments but it had a lot of good, too. This, what she was stuck with now, was not something she wanted to keep. The further away she could get from it, the closer she could be to returning to the place she was before. The place that felt like her home, with the warm feeling of summer and cosy blankets in winter, the smiling people and the dancing sunlight. That place where she used to run outside in long grass with her two dogs – and her two feet.
Even just that thought, that image that melted through to be shown to her in the centre of the cold rainy window, caused a twinge in her throat. She inhaled deeply, feeling the shakiness of tears that were about to be born. Without wanting to or deciding to, she looked down.
Taeyeon was seated in a wheelchair. It was black, demure, nothing interesting. It supported her body, her back rested against it with shoulders down to arms, her hands lay in her lap, her knees curved from her thighs to lead on to her legs, and then there rested a single foot.
She pulled her gaze away. She looked back at the window, wanting to see that image again, that dream of a happier time; anything but the sadness of a foot without its pair, smothered beneath a hospital blanket.
A knock on her open door interrupted her search for the past. She tensed, and made no move to look behind her.
“Taeyeon?” a timid voice questioned. Another person unsure of whether it was safe to disturb her or if she wasn’t disturbed enough already. But the voice was not as familiar as the tone.
Taeyeon frowned. She steeled herself and turned the wheelchair around.
A young woman stood in the doorway with a chocolate milkshake in one hand. Upon meeting Taeyeon’s curious gaze, she smiled and bowed slightly. She seemed relieved to be received.
“Hello,” she said. “I brought you a milkshake, would you like to have it?”
Taeyeon blinked. “What?”
The girl blinked back, confused. Then she smiled again. “Oh, I’m sorry, I should introduce myself. Hello, I’m Tiffany. I’m a patient, just down the hall. Well, I’m being discharged today.” She gestured to her casual clothing with her other hand, and that was when Taeyeon noticed there was something different.
Though the long sleeve of Tiffany’s jacket covered her hand partly, the fingers seemed unnaturally stiff and pale.
She couldn’t help but stare, and Tiffany glanced down at her hand briefly.
“Oh, this. Yeah, it’s new.” She lifted her arm and waved it around a bit. “Not as heavy as I thought it might be. But then I guess my upper arm is used to having something of substance attached.”
She wandered further into the room and took a seat on the plastic chair by the window, putting the milkshake down on the small table beside Taeyeon. Then she rolled up her sleeve, revealing the rest of her artificial forearm. She tapped it with the nails of her other hand, and ran a finger over its surface.
“Very smooth,” she commented. “They say I’ll get used to it after a while. I don’t know if I’ll ever really get over the cognitive dissonance of having something like an arm attached to me but being unable to connect with it. It’s there but it’s unreachable. I can swing it around but I can’t really move it. You know?”
Tiffany rested her arm beside her, and then nodded her head towards Taeyeon’s feet – or rather, her foot and the space where her other foot would have been.
“I’d think a prosthetic foot would be more useful than a prosthetic arm, though,” Tiffany said conversationally. “A foot can support your body. This thing I have doesn’t really serve any practical purpose; I can’t use it for much.”
“Why’d you bother getting one, then?” Taeyeon asked. Her voice was quiet, thick. She hadn’t spoken much lately, and it felt weird.
Tiffany tilted her head, considering the question. A strand of her black hair drifted in front of her eyes and she tucked it away with her real hand.
Then she shrugged, looking back at Taeyeon with her head still tilted. “Vanity, I suppose. I don’t want people to know I’ve only got one full arm now. Even though this thing is hardly subtle…”
She lifted her arm again, and pulled a face at it before conking herself on the head.
“One way or another people will still know. Maybe this will delay the realization, give me a chance to be accepted… I don’t know, really. Everyone was recommending it. People assumed I’d want it.”
She stroked it softly.
“I think I’ll keep it.”
Taeyeon watched her for a moment. Then she turned the wheelchair around again to stare at the window. The rain was slowing down, becoming just a light drizzle, and leaving far fewer water races on the glass.
“How’d you lose your foot?”
Taeyeon’s head snapped around, her eyes wide with surprise. Tiffany looked sheepish.
“Sorry. I couldn’t think of another way to ask.”
No one had asked her yet. So far she’d only seen the hospital staff, her brother, an aunt, and an uncle, and they all knew exactly what had happened. They all knew exactly what she’d lost and she hadn’t said it out loud even to herself yet.
A grief counsellor was supposed to come see her sometime soon. She checked the clock. It was four in the afternoon. When she looked back at Tiffany, she tried to figure out what to say.
“Why did you bring me a milkshake?”
Tiffany shrugged. “It’s my last day here. I saw you when I went for a walk this morning.”
She hesitated, seemingly pondering, and then she met Taeyeon’s steady gaze and continued.
“I feel pain and loss. Not the same pain as you, not in the same way, not the same loss as you, not to the same degree. But I feel, and you feel. I guess I just wanted to express that in some way. And when it comes to expressing feelings, those feelings can dictate how they’re expressed.”
Taeyeon looked at the chocolate milkshake. Tiny drops of condensation were slowly moving down the plastic cup. She wondered if they would race soon. Eventually she reached over and picked up the milkshake, feeling its coldness in the palm of her hand, and she manoeuvred the straw to her mouth. It tasted good. Creamy.
Tiffany smiled at her when she glanced up again.
“It was a car accident.”
“Yeah. My mother was driving. My father was in the front passenger seat. My sister was beside me.”
She drank some more of the milkshake. It was very smooth, not as grainy as some of the milkshakes she’d had in the past. She remembered one particularly bad milkshake when she was younger, and she was so disgusted she’d spat it out and it had landed on her sister’s ballet shoes. That was one of those instant ‘oops’ moments. Her sister had grabbed the milkshake and splashed it in her face, and then not spoken to her for a week.
The mental picture of that ruined pair of ballet shoes rested calmly in Taeyeon’s mind. She put the milkshake on the table again.
“They’re all dead.”
The words were surprisingly empty. Taeyeon was expecting the verbal admission of truth would bring forth the waves of emotion she was keeping pent up inside, but instead she suddenly felt very hollow; draped in sadness, but ultimately empty inside.
Those waves of emotion had driven further inward, collapsed in on themselves, and created something of a deep dark hole in the centre of her chest.
Tiffany reached across and rested her hand on Taeyeon’s. It was obviously the real one because it gave off a comfortable sense of warmth that made Taeyeon look up at her. There was a searching look in her eyes, as if she wanted some assurance from Tiffany about something, even if she didn’t know what.
Tiffany smiled at her. It was a sad, small smile, and it carried a lot behind it; an understanding, empathy, sympathy, edged with a hopelessness that could have broken Taeyeon’s heart if she focussed too much on it. Instead she tilted her head back, turning her face upwards, and took a deep breath. She wanted to keep those tears back as they slowly soaked her eyes again.
“Let’s take a nap,” said Tiffany suddenly.
Taeyeon looked at her, and saw her glance at the clock.
“Just a quick nap to reset our minds, how about that?”
Taeyeon blinked at her. Outside, the rain was getting heavier again. It created a pleasant rhythm of noise. Tiffany squeezed her hand, and then relaxed in her chair, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.
After a few long moments, Taeyeon looked at the window instead. There weren’t yet any races between the raindrops that spread out over the glass. She knew enough now that she could tell how long she would have to wait to see what she wanted to see. Finally, she closed her eyes.
Under the blanketing sound of falling rain, Tiffany held Taeyeon’s hand in her good one, and together they slept as deeply as they could, in an attempt to reform their thoughts and feelings into anything other than what they had ended up with.