The Other Girl
She was surrounded by Misery, filled to the brim by a deep, penetrating, abiding Sadness. Its bittersweet song of loss reverberated in her bones and hummed in her blood. She did not know why.
And then she was floating in a sea of snow, surrounded by hard, uncompromising crystals that glimmered and sparkled like glass. She shivered though she could not feel the cold, shivered precisely because she could not feel it. Bewildered, she shrank into herself, huddled for warmth as though it were actually the snow she was feeling and not stark Nothingness.
In her hospital bed, on the sixth day after the accident, Sarah woke up.
"Why are you upset?" the nurse asked, patting Sarah lightly on the cheek.
"Get them away from me!" Sarah exclaimed.
"Get what away from you?"
"But they are your arms, dear."
"They're not my arms!" Sarah said, and she burst into tears.
"I don't understand," she told the doctor who came to visit later, voice rising in panic – only it wasn't her voice, of course; it was that terrifying Other voice that wasn't Hers. "This isn't my body. This isn't my hand or my face or my mouth."
Doctor Diaz offered her a tissue and smiled kindly. "Perhaps I can explain."
She was in the body of a girl whose brain had been irreparably damaged. The doctor probably said more, but that was all she really comprehended. Large words were tossed about the room like potatoes on a skillet, as the neurologists and medical specialists who had worked on her case congratulated each other on their miraculous feat of technological ingenuity. Sarah did not pretend to listen.
"Eat something!" the doctor said cheerfully, thrusting a miniature box of Fruit Loops in her face. Sarah glanced at the grinning toucan on the box and looked away.
Little by little, she felt herself start to die.
The girl's name had been Miriam, Doctor Diaz told her. A name and a body. That was all Sarah knew.
"I'm sure she was a lovely girl," the doctor said. "After all, she did agree to donate her organs to science if she was in an accident – as, of course, she was."
But, asked Sarah, what did she do? Who were her friends? Was she a good student, or a poor one? Did she have hobbies? A boyfriend?
Doctor Diaz could not answer.
It wasn't that Sarah had loved her appearance before the accident. If anything, Miriam was prettier than she: large, curling eyelashes set in a heart-shaped face, curling gold hair that was so different from her former lank brown.
It didn't make a difference. Sarah could move Miriam's arms, could feel Miriam's hands touching the pages of a book, or perhaps the smooth, cold surface of the bottle of the pills she had to take every day to prevent organ rejection. She could run and jump and paint and read. But it was as though she was just an observer, seeing the world dreamlike, through another's eyes.
Gradually she stopped leaving the house. School had no meaning for her anymore either.
Because, of course, she was not herself. She was just a girl occupying someone else's body. People she had known well before did not look up when she passed them in the street. She was dead to them, just as though the truck that had destroyed her body had also taken her life.
"Eat some more spaghetti!" her father said bracingly, about a month after the accident. "You're skin and bone."
She pushed the plate aside and went to bed.
They didn't find the empty pill container until the next day, a few minutes before they found Sarah, formerly Miriam, lying flat on her bed, hands folded as though in supplication. What a tragic twist of fate, they said. What a shame.
A few miles away, at the Emerson Research Center, Doctor Diaz smiled cheerfully at the listless patient sitting in front of him, whose scar was just beginning to fade above his temple. "You've been through a rough time, my boy, but you're through the worst of it. Now you'll be able to walk and ride a bike like a normal kid; isn't that great?"
Outside the tinted glass window, snow began to fall. It glittered and glistened like glass as it whirled through the air to blanket the icy winter ground below. Hard, cold, immutable, the flakes covered the earth, waiting for spring to arrive, for warmth to melt them.
It would be a long wait.