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Outside the snow is falling. White cottony balls float past the window. I lean
my head on the glass. The cold bites my skin. I like the hurt.
The first thing Jessica and I used to do when there was a covering of snow was
put on jackets and boots, go out and make snow angels on the lawn. We found a space
and lay down. Then with arms and legs wide, we carved wings and a skirt in the
snow. The trick was to step out of your shape without leaving a raggedy edge or
footprints. Then we would rush upstairs to view them from above.
“My angel is nearly as big as yours, Mummy.” Jessica had said last year. It
was true. She was growing tall. Nine going on nineteen. I grind my head against the
glass, taking pleasure in the cold pain.
The snow continues to fall, the candyfloss flakes dancing and twisting across
the garden, sticking to the wooden fence, the metal swing frame that creaks slightly in
the wind, and the trunk of the apple tree. Fat, hot tears tumble down my cheeks as I
cry for Jessica, and the snow and for the year we’ve lost.
She had gone to school as normal. It was the first day of term after the
Christmas holiday. She was listening to the new IPod Jack and I had bought her. The
police say maybe she didn’t hear the car, but that’s not the point, is it? He came round
the corner too fast and spun on the ice. The first thing we knew was when her friend
“I’ve called an ambulance … it’s … Jessy … Jessy is … is hurt! Mrs Andrews
… you’ve got to come straight away …”
Her voice trailed off in a wail and I heard the wail of sirens in the background.
My heart was thumping and questions sprang into my head that I couldn’t get answers
“Sally … Sally, where are you?” I screamed down the phone, but although I
could hear murmured words Sally didn’t talk to me again. I rang Jack.
“Jessica’s hurt … no, I don’t know where. Sally just rang … but she didn’t say
… way home from school I guess …” I was rushing round the house searching for my
car keys. I managed to get one shoe on as I hopped about with the mobile in my hand.
“I’m going to find them …” I said and didn’t wait for Jack’s reply.
I raced along the route she took. I saw the blue Audi crunched against a fence
post. I noticed the folded metal where the car had crumpled like paper and the paint
had flaked away. Please dear God, don’t let Jessica have been in front of that, I
The next few hours were hazy, as if I passing through thick fog. I drove to the
hospital. No one would let me see her. Sally was waiting outside but she just kept
saying, “He came out of nowhere, we didn’t see him.”
The police refused to give us any answers, the doctors rushed by in white
coats, stethoscopes swinging, a busy expression on their faces. Jack and I clung to
each other and looked on helplessly. Eventually a young female doctor urged us into a
corner of a waiting area. She motioned us to sit down.
“Jessica was hit by the car. I don’t know the details of the accident, but
somehow she hit her head. It was some blow. There is extensive bruising and she is in
a coma. We have operated and plastered her leg, but that is our least concern. We are
most worried about the head injury. We’ll do a scan tomorrow …”
Her voice went on, but I didn’t hear anymore. A coma. How bad was that?
Didn’t they put people into medically-induced-coma sometimes to help them recover?
Jessica would recover. She would, wouldn’t she?
I found Jack and the doctor staring at me, and realised I’d been shouting out
my thoughts. My fingers gripped the top of Jack’s arm, and he was prying them off
one by one. I was shaking so hard I could hardly stand but I pulled myself to my feet
“I’ve got to see her … see her,” I gasped. I knew what I wanted to say, but it
was really hard to catch the words that were flying around in my head.
“Of course,” said the doctor. “I just wanted to prepare you first.”
My fingers entwined with Jack’s, I walked stiffly after the doctor. The blood
was pounding round my body but I felt shaky and shivery.
Jessica was lying in the bed, white sheets, white walls, white skin and a
creamy crepe bandage wrapped around her skull. The scene was like an overexposed
negative. Her eyes were closed and wires attached her to machines, which bleeped
every minute. She looked so very peaceful that I felt a great knot in my stomach. I
crouched one side of her and stroked her face while Jack stood on the other side and
I don’t know how long we stayed like that. Minutes or hours maybe. We
returned to the same positions time and time again over the next few weeks. Our life
went on hold while we waited, hoped and prayed.
I think of that white hospital room as I watch the snow falling faster now. It
absorbs the sound in the same way that small room did.
“The scan shows swelling, but the ECG indicated a good level of activity in
the cortex,” the doctors told us. “We just have to wait and see.”
We went to the hospital every day, Jack and I. I read to Jessica. Her favourite
stories. Jack sorted out pictures to put on the bedside table, photos of her friends, her
stuffed animals, and he found her music on the computer and bought a new IPod to
We clung to each other, walking in and out together, sitting hunched together
over hospital coffee, eagerly approaching doctors who said “no further change,” to us
time after time. After two weeks, Jack went back to the office and I came alone. Each
time I saw Jessica I couldn’t believe it was her lying there. I thought she’d wake any
As the days passed she became thinner. Her eyes wore dark shadows and her
cheekbones pushed against the fine skin across her face. Freckles faded and she wore
the bleached look of over-washed clothes. If I was there when a nurse was bathing her
I saw how thin her legs had become. It was shocking how fast muscle wasted away.
My little girl looked like labour camp victim.
“Is she eating enough?” I worried at the staff.
“She is having the minimum calories,” they assured me. “It is OK. As soon as
They carried on believing in her. I found it more difficult. I stopped eating. It
became too difficult to prepare meals, and the excuse that I was at hospital made it
easy. Jack ate at the office I think, but I didn’t ask. Getting out of bed each day
became an ordeal. If I could stay asleep or hover on the edge of consciousness I could
pretend everything was just as it was a few months ago. Jessica was still whole and
we were a happy family. A terrible weight kept me pinned to the bed as if the covers
“Are you going to see Jessy today?” Jack would ask as he put a cup of tea
beside my bed. “And please eat. I’ve left you a biscuit here. You are looking as thin
as Jessica.” I’d sigh. As soon as he had left, I would scrabble around in the bedside
drawer and take a Prozac. Gradually I would work myself out of bed and into the day.
For four weeks we waited for a sign that things might improve for Jessica.
Then one day I was reading her Winnie the Pooh. Pooh and Piglet were trudging
through the snow and as I looked up at her I thought I caught a flicker under her
eyelid. It was so gentle I couldn’t be sure, but I felt my heart beat faster. I took her
hand and squeezed it. There was nothing. I carried on reading but there was a catch in
Later though, when the nurse came in, I told her.
“That’s good!” she said. “I’ll let the doctor know. Maybe she is starting to
The following day we noticed the eye movements again. Tiny movements.
Jack and I gripped hands with each other, beaming at this small miracle.
Daily the movements became a little stronger, but still her eyes didn’t open
and her limbs remained motionless. After the initial hope I sunk back into despair.
“Do you think she’ll ever get better?” I asked anyone who would still listen to
me. People who had rallied round at first had drifted away. It was difficult for them to
know what to say. How many platitudes can you shower on people before they
drown? We had no news to reassure them with either. People wanted news, not
Jessica opened her eyes for the first time nearly three weeks later, just for a
second. She screwed them shut again as if the light hurt her, and when I called her
name she was asleep again. It took further weeks for her wake for a few minutes and
then weeks to stretch that time into quarter and half hours. By early summer she was
able to sit up for a few minutes each day. She was confused, and stared about her.
“She is disorientated and has no idea what has happened to her,” the doctors
told us. “She will need considerable rehabilitation. When we are sure she is fully
awake we will consider moving her to a centre where they can help with her speech
I gasped. It hadn’t occurred to me that Jessica wouldn’t be Jessica when she
woke. Too many films with happy endings, I suppose.
“It could be a long road ahead,” the doctor said, “but it is important to stay
Jessica couldn’t speak. She couldn’t feed herself. She wasn’t interested in
anything she had known before. She didn’t recognise friends. I think she recognised
us, but it was hard to know. Jack and I visited her with fixed smiles on our faces.
Sometimes when I left the room my cheek muscles ached with the pain of smiling and
laughing. We had to teach her like a toddler.
In the autumn they moved her to a rehabilitation centre. A speech therapist
worked with her every day, trying to help her remember the vocabulary she had lost.
A physio had her walking and playing in a pool to build up the wasted muscles. Her
legs were bone thin, her skin as transparent as dragonfly wings. She fluttered all the
time between the real world and a stagnant space where we couldn’t reach her.
I take my head off the cold pane and gulp back the tears, trying to shake
myself together. After months of rehabilitation Jessica is showing such signs of
improvement that the doctors have allowed her home for Christmas. I wasn’t sure we
could cope as she needs so much care, but it is wonderful to have her here.
I left her with Jack, reading Winnie the Pooh together while I came upstairs
for something. I’ve forgotten what it is now as I watch the snow. I do that a lot at the
I turn to go downstairs when I spot Jessica coming out into the garden. She
isn’t wearing a coat. What is Jack doing, letting her out like that?
I’m about to rush downstairs and scold him. She is so fragile, but as I watch
she stands and looks at the snow. She puts out a hand to catch stray flakes. She sniffs
them and touches them to her lips. She takes a step, an extra large step as if she isn’t
sure what she is walking into. Then as she reaches the grass where the snow has
drifted slightly, she lies down and moves her arms up and down and her legs
outwards. Carefully she stands up, brushes down a little snow from her sweater and
leaps lightly back, away from the shape she has carved in the snow.
She looks up at the house and sees me watching. She waves a hand at the
I feel breathless and lean my head against the window, shuddering with
excitement. She has remembered. Jessica has remembered the snow angels.
With a heady lightness I bounce down the stairs to share this news.
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