Louise catches a glimpse of herself: gown, mask, face shield. This is what they should have warned me about, she thinks. Penelope, not yet on a ventilator, looks herself, just pale and small. I look like a character in a science fiction movie, Louse thinks.
“Pen?” she offers, quietly. Penelope turns toward her.
“Lou,” she answers, takes two quick gasps of breath. “If they let you in, I must be in rough shape.”
“You are indeed.” The sisters were far past the need to soft-peddle truths with one another.
“I’m glad you came, Lou, but I don’t want you to come again. So let me tell you this now.” Penelope pauses, catches her breath.
Louise listens. What else can she do? She wants to shout at her sister, tell her to shut up, never mind, they can deal with it after. But she knows better, so she listens.
“I’m sorry, Louise. I’m just so sorry.”
“For what, Pen? You’ve got nothing to apologize for.” Not because you never hurt me, Louise thinks. Just because, well, we’re past the need for apologies, too.
“I think I was a terrible sister. I cast a big shadow.” Penelope struggles for each word. “I wasn’t there for you. I only thought of myself.”
“Stop, Pen.” Louise reaches a gloved hand toward her sister’s arm. “Stop, and listen to me.” She takes a deep breath, painfully aware her older sister cannot do the same. “Yes, you thought of yourself. I thought of myself, too, you know. We lost dad, and mom, and for a long time, we lost each other. I used alcohol to fill the gaps. You couldn’t have stopped me from doing that. My demons were inside me. Yours were inside you. We made our way, battled them as we could. But, Pen, we found each other again. And you brought me Douglas. Your stupid matchmaking, your micromanagement of my life, brought me the love of my life. All is forgiven, all is let go.”
Penelope smiles. The nurse enters, motions to Louise. The ventilator is wheeled in.
“I love you, my sister.”
Louise sees the answering “I love you too” in Penelope’s eyes.
She heads out, stripping the protective gear as she goes, shedding years of resentment and pain, praying for her sister’s recovery.