I walked down Elmer Street with a bouquet of sunflowers, mulling over my dream. It was of Elaine. Blue eyes, curtained by strands of black, and hands that were always balled into fists resting on her laps. Her eyebrows were furrowed and one corner of her lip was slightly pulled back, as though she had just taken a bite out of a wedge of lemon but was trying to play it cool—as she does with most things. But I knew that she was only chewing on the inside of her cheek.
I’ve never dreamed in black and white before, but for some reason, I did last night. Thinking about it, it could’ve been a scene straight out of a movie. We were driving along a suspension bridge, a glowing cityscape in the distance. Elaine was in the passenger’s seat, absentmindedly humming something to herself. We didn’t seem to be moving anywhere.
A blur of yellow appeared and the next thing I know, her fist landed on my cheek.
That was when I jerked awake.
It was the most realistic, most vivid dream I’ve had. Not that I’ve been dreaming much of anything lately. And not that Elaine would actually wallop me in the face while I was driving, either. She might be unpredictable and a tad bit violent, but she’s would never do something that dick-ish.
It was this game that she liked to play. There’s not an ‘official’ name for it, but she called it ‘yellow car’ The rules are simple: hit the person—with reasonable force—closest to you every time you spot a yellow car. She was a master at it, but given that she’s had five years of experience, that was only natural. She’d always joked that she should put that under the ‘additional information’ section of her CV.
I sighed. The sun has yet to rise and everywhere was mostly deserted. Only the sound of the occasional car driving past and my own breathing filled my ears. I would’ve driven to where she was, but my car was in no shape to take me anywhere. And for once, my earphones weren’t plugged into my ears. I had too much on my mind to let anything distract me.
I pulled my phone out of my jeans pocket to see if I was headed in the right direction. Round the corner and straight ahead for three-quarters of a mile and I’d be at my destination. The quiet started to gnaw on my nerves and the earphones were soon back in its proper place.
But instead of listening to my usual playlist, I played one of Elaine’s favourites. Sounds of guitar and glockenspiel filled my ears as I walked up a hill. My calves began to burn as soon as the singing began. Considering that I drove to most places, it never properly hit me how hilly this town was.
I looked up just as soon as a yellow sedan drove past. Moments later, I saw another one on the side of the road. Only a sliver of its roof was visible; everything else was obscured by a red car parked in front of it. If Elaine were here, she’d smack me on the arm before both cars were even properly in view.
“How come I only spot the cars when you’re not around?”
Elaine laughed, her fingers twiddling with her IV. “Fate. Here’s the thing I’ve learned, right? If you’re actively look for the cars, it never shows up. As with most things in life.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Yeah, but you can’t deny that it’s sometimes true. So just go with the flow, innit.”
I chuckled at the memory—hearing Elaine say ‘innit’ in her pseudo-American accent was always a hilarious thing to witness. But at the same time there was a pang of sadness in my chest. As funny as Elaine can be, her pessimism was something I never really knew how to react to. Was she being sarcastic? Sarcasm had always been lost on me. Or maybe she was just being realistic and I’m reading too much into this? What if it was both?
We’ve known each other for two years. I haven’t seen her in nearly a year and I’m still mulling over her like a coin I was about to flip. If I did, would she land on heads or tails? I had a hunch but I was hesitant. She was a chance I was too chicken to take.
My palms began to sweat as I neared my destination. It took me this long to realise that The Saltwater Room had ended and it was halfway through an aggressive rock song. I put it on pause but the earbuds remained. A light, chilly breeze swept my hair over my eyes and I pushed them back. I ought to get a haircut soon.
The sun peeked from behind a slanted roof. The streets were beginning to wake.
We were sat next to each other—her on the hospital bed and me on the chair that I’d dragged from the corner of the room. Sharing earbuds, listening to Emeli Sandé, neither of us saying a word. Sunlight streamed it from the window, filtered by a gauzy, white curtain. There was only the sound of our breathing and the sweet music. My head was rested against one hand, her fingers a hair’s width away from my arm, as I lazily skimmed through the pages of a book I was reading. I couldn’t remember what it was called.
My phone buzzed. I got a text from my sister; she’d just finished football practice and needed me to come pick her up. I then felt a firm tap on my temple. Looking up, I saw Elaine grin at me. She lifted a finger towards the window.
I turned my head but saw nothing but multiple black cars zipping past. “Where?”
“Went by already. You were too slow.” When I raised an eyebrow at her, she rolled her eyes and said, “Just take my word for it, alright?”
“Listen, if I were to lie about anything, it would not be over a yellow car.”
“You know, one of these days I’m going to get you.”
She scoffed. “Good luck.”
I gave her a look and, with a hand over her mouth, she laughed. It was impossible for me not to join her.
“When are you thinking of leaving, by the way?”
I threw my phone between my hands. “Um, might do in a bit. Why? Can’t wait to get rid of me?”
“Psssh, nah. You’ve just been here for ages. Don’t you have better things to do?”
“This is a better thing to do.”
She smiled—but in a nanosecond, a look of seriousness crossed her features and lightly punched me on the arm.
I didn’t want to leave that moment. If it weren’t for my sister’s impatience and multiple phone calls, I would’ve stayed until they kicked me out. I could listen to her laugh all day.
That was the last time I properly spoke to her. Her health gradually worsened since. Her trips to the ICU became more frequent and our conversations less so. She was finding it harder and harder to stay optimistic.
On the last day I ever saw her, she spent most of it curled up against her pillow. “I’m scared,” she’d whispered. She was trembling.
And I couldn’t find the words to make her feel better.
I wish I hadn’t been so chicken then.
I walked through the iron gates that opened up to rows of headstones.
I knelt by the one with ‘Elaine Amanda Cosgrove’ engraved on it.
I laid the sunflowers down.
And as a streak of yellow flew past the corner of my eye, I balled one hand into a fist and gently pressed my knuckles against the headstone.