Completely fine, that was how the first three days had gone. Victoria, aged seventeen years old, had been set to babysit her fifteen month old brother, Hamish, for a full week while their parents were away on a combination work and anniversary trip. She could handle it. They could be fine.
The week she spent watching her little brother, Hamish spent it teething, mildly miserable for the first three days. When he started to contract small fevers, Victoria wasn’t very concerned. Her parents said that she had gotten fevers too when she teethed. Sure, Hamish was whining a bit more than he usually was and squirming around a lot in his high chair, but Victoria didn’t think much of it. She figured that he was just being fussy, unable to really vocalize that he missed his parents. It was either that, or his nappy needed changing.
Sickness never crossed Victoria’s mind.
The first telltale sign that she missed came when she tried to get him into the bath. He whined loudly and arched his back in agitation. He never liked bath time. Maybe he was just being fussy about that as he flailed his arms and legs angrily, letting out a high-pitched wail of distress. The skin on his belly was red and blotchy. Maybe it’s just a reaction to something in the fabric, she thought. They were new clothes after all. She used to have reactions to certain fabrics, so it wasn’t like it was uncommon in the family.
She didn’t notice his steadily rising fever because she figured that he was just warm from the bath water and the swaddle of his pajamas. He fought her going to bed, arching his back again and reaching out his arms autonomously.
His fussiness was dismissed as exhaustion. Probable cause. There was no way he would have even gotten sick. She hadn’t taken him anywhere where he would have contracted anything.
She went in to check on him when he started to scream at two in the morning.
Through foggy-eyed vision, looking in to a room that was only illuminated by a star lights projected onto his ceiling, Victoria knew that something was wrong. Hamish never screamed like that, never. He was never that fussy. She should have paid more attention to it all. Should have known, should have known, should have known something was wrong.
She went to pick him up, seeing his lips and his fingers were a blue blackish color. She screwed up. She missed it. She missed all of the signs and now…
Hamish suddenly stopped screaming.
He stopped squirming.
Victoria was cradling her baby brother in her arms, sitting on the carpet of his bedroom with her phone pressed against her ear. Hamish was wheezing unsteadily, his lips the same turquoise as the one small streak in his big sister’s hair. He gasped, arms twitching and moving upwards in a jerky slam. He would go still for a second, his eyes crossing. His pale blue irises went backwards, and he erupted into as great a wail as he could muster with so little oxygen in his lungs. He sputtered on sobs as convulsions ripped through him.
As she held onto him, seizure through seizure, Victoria felt her world shatter in earthquakes. The dispatcher on the phone picked up, and the teenager could barely get her words out.
“Please... Please, I... I missed-I... I missed all of the... My brother, he... Hamish, he’s not... I need help... I should have... He’s having... Oh, god, Hamish, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry... I’m so so sorry.”
Her brother let out another raspy, blood-curdling wail as his convulsions ceased. His eyes moved dazedly, looking like displaced marbled that didn’t have a track to follow, and fixed themselves onto his mobile. The stars were still spinning around in circles, but the music had stopped playing hours ago. His chest rose and fell shakily and rose again but didn’t fall. Victoria pulled him up to her chest and sobbed into the pair of starry pajamas he had sweat through. She stroked back his dark curls of hair and begged, pleading, for the sirens to hurry up.
Hamish was on his eighth night sleeping in a hospital crib that looked more like a cage. He didn’t look like a patient. He looked like an experiment, swamped by tubing in his nose and wiring on his bare belly. Monitors beeped periodically to let the doctors and the nurses and his parents and his sister know that he was still alive.
Victoria had been told to sleep at home while her parents spent the night with Hamish, to make sure he made it through, but Victoria couldn’t sleep at all. She couldn’t sleep with the silence in the house.
She couldn’t sleep knowing that the pastel-blue bedroom across the hall was quiet when it should have been full of giggling and squealing and fascination at a Fisher-Price fish bowl nightlight on the white-chipped-painted changing table on the other side of the room. Victoria couldn’t sleep because she was so used to the routine of having to get out of bed and tiptoe on the hardwood floor and pull open her door, push open his, and tell her baby brother to go to sleep. Now he was sleeping all day and all night and no one knew when he would stop dreaming, when he would wake up and be let out of the medical cage and go home and hug his big sister and be okay. No one knew if he would be okay.
At half-past two in the morning, Victoria trudged out of her bedroom and slumped into Hamish’s nursery. She reached into the crib, grabbed his blanket and sat down on the floor. She pressed it to her face, just about holding back from crying again.
“I’m sorry, Mishy... I’m sorry...”
Victoria couldn’t sleep because her baby brother was being too quiet.
He was too far away to be heard.