Her body was splayed across the windscreen, it was so grotesque she couldn’t stop staring.
No, this cant be happening, she thought, its all just a bad dream, and I’ll wake up any second now, but she didn’t as the ambulance came roaring down the road, its siren wailing and lights flashing. Someone pulled at her arm, but all she could do was stare at her— her best friend splayed across the cracked windscreen. There were slivers of glass sticking out of her head.
But she was alive.
She had to be. Surely haven’t people survived worse? She drew nearer, pushing her way through the crowd, “Katia!” she shouted, expecting the girl to jump up at any moment and scream, “Got you!” But she didn’t. One finger twitched feebly.
She reached out a shaking hand. Suddenly she felt an irresistible urge to grab her friend by the shoulder and shake her.
“Katia, get up! It’s not funny anymore!”
Just as she grasped her best friend’s shoulder, someone pulled her back.
“Honey, I know you’re in shock, but you can’t touch her, it’ll only make her worse.” And she was dragged away. She watched feebly as the ambulance men bent over her friend. They seemed to move in slow motion. The girl was lifted onto the stretcher, and they walked towards the open ambulance, as though walking through water. And all she could do was watch as they took her friend away.
But she’ll be back, she thought vaguely, she still has two of my books.
And then she remembered something else. She hasn’t signed my yearbook! Somehow, that thought calmed her down. She even smiled weakly. No, she wouldn’t leave without signing it, of course not!
She found she could move again. Darting forward, she reached the ambulance just as the doctor was closing the doors. He started saying something, but took one look at her face and let her climb into the back.
Katia lay on her back on the stretcher. Motionless. But that was okay. She’d be okay.
“Katia, I know you can’t hear me, but I’ll bring you my yearbook tomorrow, okay?”
No answer. Except the low beep of the ECG machine. But she’ll be okay. She still hasn’t signed my yearbook.
And then they started losing her. Only a mile from the hospital. One fucking mile. By the time they had reached the hospital, her best friend was already dead. The ECG gave one final beep and fell silent.
But that’s okay, she thought vaguely as tears streamed down her cheeks, she hasn’t signed it yet.
She woke up in the dead of the night, sweat streaming down her face. Turning on the bed-side lamp, she felt for her mobile, and dialled Katia’s number.
No answer. And for one terrible moment, she really did think that her best friend was dead. And then a sleepy voice said, “uh, hello?”
“Katia! It’s you!”
“Yes…it’s four in the morning, you know.”
“I had a dream that you were dead, and I actually thought you were…so, you’re not dead, are you?”
“Yes I am, you’re just imagining this.”
“What—but, but you…you CANT be…”
“I’m just kidding Eilis!”
“Anyways, nitey and I’ll see you in school tomorrow.” A pause. “ Or possibly on Tuesday.”
“Hey! Katia, you are not staying home tomorrow and leaving me alone in physics and English…and maths. AGAIN!”
“Awh, but I don’t feel like going to school tomorrow. Anyways, goodnight.”
That had been almost a month ago.
Strange, she thought. She had been having that dream more and more often now that school was over for the summer. Her mobile rang.
“Hey, it’s me. Anyways, you definitely able to make it down to the train station on Saturday?”
“Yeah, my dad said he’ll give me a lift down.”
“That’s good! So have you started on the report-thingy-majigy?”
“Well, you know, the thing I asked you to compile about the last year or so. The research for the book I’m starting? Remember?!!”
So..have you started?”
“Okay, I’ll start it now. Don’t worry, I’ll have it done by Saturday. So what is it you actually want?”
“Well, anything you can really think of—our random jokes, all the funny or stupid things our group has done, you know. Anything really. Oh, and especially anything you can remember ‘bout the Gealtacht or Spain, okay?”
“Thanks, I’ll see you Saturday then. And don’t forget to bring it with you!”
“I won’t—I’ll write it on my hand.”
And then Eilis sat down, thought for a little while, and began to write…
She remembered all their random jokes in school, all the crazy things they had ever done. And then she remembered sitting on the back of a steel bench outside, one sunny break, arguing about imaginary friends, and Katia had said “Imagine if I wasn’t actually real, and you were sitting here talking to yourself!”
That had sent shudders down her back. Her throat seemed dry all of a sudden.
“Yeah—that’d be so weird!” she had croaked out.
What if it’s all true? She’s imaginary!
She had looked over at her friend, as if expecting her to have vanished into thin air.
For hours she worked. She wrote down all she could recall from their trip to the Gaeltacht, then Spain. And then sixth year…
She paused. Something didn’t feel right. She remembered how she began to notice strange little things, such as how their maths teacher had walked right past Katia’s desk, as though she didn’t even exist. In fact, he hadn’t asked for her homework in almost a year. And how all the teachers avoided asking her questions about Katia’s absence when she was ‘sick’ at home.
“What’s going on?” she whispered to herself, beginning to get paranoid. “Where is Katia?”
Sighing, she turned off her bedside lamp and went to bed.
Half an hour later she was sitting up in bed, shivering. She had had that dream again. Of Katia dying.
What’s happening to me?
And only then did she realise that she would never see Katia again— they would never go mad in Dublin together, or drool over Johnny Depp, or loiter in the shops scaring people. She would never ever see her going ‘bbzzzt, bzzzt, bzzzzt,’ and then pretending to get sick on her shoulder, fly-style. Actually, she didn’t know if THAT was a good or a bad thing, but she would miss everything else.
And she didn’t even sign my yearbook.
A tear trickled down her cheek. She reached for the phone, but then thought, okay, she’ll kill me if I ring her again. Still shivering, she curled up in bed. Sleep would not come.
She kept on thinking of the bleeding body lying on the windscreen.
The next day she resumed her notes on the rest of sixth year. She wrote down all the plans they had had for the future. They would be going to the same college in September and already had neighbouring rooms booked in a hostel in Maynooth. They would be each others bridesmaids at their weddings, and godmothers to each others kids. She remembered their vows to never ever grow apart.
Another thing she recalled vividly was the day Katia had given her a silver best friend pendant as a birthday present. When she had opened the box, the two chains were tangled tightly together, so that it had taken a good few minutes to untangle them, and she had smiled and said, “must be a sign!”
The next day when she was washing the dishes, something made Eilis pause. She glanced at the calendar. 2nd of July. She frowned.
That date was important. Somehow.
Uh oh, whose birthday have I forgotten?
But the doubt kept on nibbling away at the back of her mind. It’s not someone’s birthday, she thought, it’s something far more important..but what?
Eilis got up and rang Katia.
“She’s been on the phone to her for an hour. A whole hour! Do you still think that nothing is wrong?”
“I know, I know, but we have to give her time.”
“For God’s sake, it’s been a whole year, and the only thing that’s happened is that she says that they’ve become even better friends!”
“Okay, I know that, but please calm down.”
“How can I? My daughter’s out in the hall having a conversation with someone who isn’t even ali…..”
“Don’t you shush me! It’s not like she’s a five-year-old who’s just invented an imaginary friend, she won’t grow out of it! The longer we leave this, the worse she will get. Katia is dea..”
“Mum?” Eilis pushed the door open.
“Yes dear?” Both her parents jumped.
“Who were you talking about?”
“Um…. Oh never mind, just some Chernobyl kid the Moores got over.”
She looked doubtfully at her parents. “Okaaaay, so will one of you give me a lift down to the train station, please?”
“Oh sure!” her dad volunteered, too lightly. “And who are you going to Portlaoise with?”
“Oh, just the girls, Debbie, Maria, all them.”
“And Katia?” Her mother asked a little too warily for her liking. “Is she coming with you?”
“Yeah, of course, she’s the one that organised it all.”
Her parents exchanged worried glances.
“Okay, what’s going on?”
“Nothing, we’re just…worried.”
“Look, we can talk about this later, or else you’ll be late for your train.”
But she kept on thinking about it.
What was wrong? It was about Katia, she guessed.
But what did her parents have to worry about? That her best friend would lead her astray? That she was a coke-snorting alcoholic junkie slut, who managed to get A’s in almost everything despite her habit?? She shook her head. Her parents were mad. But she couldn’t get rid of her growing paranoia.
Her doubt kept on growing throughout the day. Katia hadn’t showed up. She hadn’t called and told her she wouldn’t be able to make it, she just hadn’t appeared at the train station.
Had she missed the train?
She bit her lip. Maybe she’ll call…Eilis stared at her phone the whole train-journey, waiting for it to ring. But it didn’t.
And what was worse, was that none of the others had said anything. It was as though they hadn’t even noticed.
Or had and didn’t want to say anything.
When she got home, they were all waiting for her in the living room. She looked around herself. Goosebumps crept down her spine. Her parents, brothers and sisters, godparents, relatives, they were all there. Even her friends Teresa and Ita stood in one corner.
“Eilis,” her mother stepped forward. Her face was grim. “Eilis, it’s been one year. You have to move on, she’s dead, do you understand me?”
“Who—who’s dead?” her voice was barely a whisper.
Silence. Her mother handed her a dog-eared article cut from the newspaper.
“Scandal— girl knocked down on zebra crossing,” was the title.
Her insides turned to ice.
“On the 2nd of July, 2006, Belrussian student Katia Tikhoniouk was knocked down on the zebra crossing outside the school. She and her friends had been at the zebra crossing when a red BMW appeared in the distance. The said girl stepped out onto the road, but onlookers say that on seeing the girl, the driver did not slow down, but rather accelerated. According to eyewitness accounts, one of her friends called her and she turned back. The car hit her at approximately 70 kilometres per hour. She sustained massive head injuries and serious internal bleeding and died on the way to the hospital.
The Gardaí are leading an enquiry into her death. The driver, Sean O’ Donnell, 23, is remanded in custody until tomorrow…..”
She couldn’t read any further. Her vision blurred with tears. “Wh-what sort of stupid joke is this?” she choked out.
“Eilis,” her mother looked her in the eye, “Katia is dead, you have to admit that she’s gone. She’s been dead for exactly a year now.”
“No, she’s not, SHE’S NOT! She didn’t even get to sign my yearbook!” she was sobbing openly now.
Someone tried to hug her, but she pushed them away. A scream escaped her throat and she dashed out of the room. And suddenly the world spun and everything went black.
Eilis woke up in a white room. It smelled of antiseptic. But this was no ordinary hospital—there were bars on the windows, and the door was made of reinforced steel. The room was empty, except for a beaten cabinet and another empty bed.
Her mobile beeped. She turned to it and stared at the small screen. It said, “1Msg Received; From Katia.”
She opened it.
“1 day u’ll be surprisd 2c me bside u,
just u+me laughin
u+me holdin on, 2gether…
just u nd me in a FUCKIN MENTAL HOSPITAL!!!!But ill still luv u my mental friend, even tho I prob wont know hu da fuck u r!”
She looked over at the empty bed to her left. Katia beamed back at her.
“Didn’t I tell you we’d end up in here one day??”
Eilis’ mouth stretched into a loop-sided grin. “So you’re gonna stay here?”
“Yup! Friends forever, eh?”