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Midnight Messages with Rachel

by Sam Cooke

The anti-biotics weren’t working. The advice of “put a warm compress on it” was useless. Even the age old solution of drinking plenty of fluids and maybe sleep more than five hours a night was null and void. 


What did work was my sister, Rachel, straddling the back of my legs with a needle she had just sterilized with an old lighter she’d dug up from our junk drawer. 


“Is it going to hurt?” I asked, my voice muffled as I lay face down on my full sized bed. 

“Probably. It’s a cyst in your asshole,” she said.

“It’s not IN my asshole, it’s my lower back,” I argued, as she poked the spot right below my lower back with a needle. I squeezed my pillow. Screamed into my sheets. Begged for a shot of tequila. She studied my back- all she needed was a flashlight, and it could be out of a scene of a Ted Bundy made for TV movie.

“Is this what giving birth is like?” I wailed.

“This is way more disgusting,” she said, and I felt her near her face closer to this dime sized cyst that had appeared on my, and I will insist this until the day I die, LOWER BACK. 

I felt Rachel press a hot washcloth against my newest friend, the growth that had shown up after I had spent a summer night drinking Bud Light and sliding down a blow up bounce house slide to celebrate someone else’s graduation success. This was the outcome of falling asleep in a wet bathing suit, the Doctor had told me, but made me feel better by saying at least I didn’t have a yeast infection. Here, take this pamphlet on HPV vaccinations while you’re here. 

“I’m just going to stab it, because digging in your ass crack was not on my list of things I wanted to do on my day off. Hold still. Breathe.”

  She pulled back. Poked me with a needle. Laughed as I flinched. “One…Two…” Of course she wouldn’t count to three, I reasoned, as she stabbed me with the needle, releasing a pool of whatever weirdly colored fluid it is that had been causing me to walk with a limp and call out of work three days in a row. 

  “Oh, that’s really nasty,” she said, getting off of my legs and dropping the wash cloth on my now bursting cyst. She walked out of my room, mumbling about how I had refused to be in the hospital room a year earlier when she’d given birth to my first nephew, but she would gladly attend to my puss. 

  With a two year age difference and the same sense of humor that funneled pain and an emotionally debilitating childhood into art, Rachel and I had been more than sisters. We were best friends, sidekicks, cohorts in a messy upbringing, partners in theatrical endeavors, and though at different times, both had a fling with musicians in the same Queen cover band.  If life is the result of a bad night in a bikini, Rachel serves as the warm compress and needle that drain away the pain, fluffs the pillow for the mistakes, and bandages up the wound so that one day that hurt is just a distant memory. 

Her wisdom does not end with the advice of “Hold still. Breathe.” It comes at midnight when I know she will be awake with her newborn, me troubling her with tales of existential dread about my future. It shows up in a video clip she sends to me of our favorite scene from the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall when she knows I had a bad day. It whispers truth when she tells me that one day I’ll look back on the trivial heartbreaks with a full house of beautiful blue eyed babies who look nothing like me, because even though one would think our genes are dominant, her blonde hair, crystal eyed sons were a physical manifestation of the hope that love from the right man would stitch up the pieces a lesser left behind. 

  Most mornings, I wake up to texts from Rachel. Sometimes they’re as simple as “Tell me why I am sobbing thinking about the scene in Selena where her husband slides down the hospital wall.” to “Owen just pissed on the floor. Don’t have children.” And my most recent favorite “We bought a new fridge.”

My sister, now a mother of three, a small business owner, and a first year law student, sees importance in caring for others. Her messages are small reminders that in the early morning bustle of school drop offs and late nights of pouring over philosophy text books, she still finds the time to think about my well being. With compassion about most things and brutal love about the rest, Rachel was my small glimpse Of happiness in a lonely childhood, an example of light through adolescence, and a model of love now in adulthood. But, this is not some makeshift Maid of Honor speech I never got to give because she got eloped in someone’s Living room, this is my realization that if I didn’t have Rachel to pop the puss, much of my Life would exist only in passing. There was a time when I wouldn’t take a breath without asking For my sister’s advice, and now, surely she has to be sick of it. “Should I get bangs? Should I buy a houseboat? Should I adopt this really cute puppy I found?”,all meeting me with a resounding “NO.” With the heavier things, she doesn’t spit out motivational quotes she read online, instead choosing to pose my questions back to me. “Well what would you tell me if I was asking you this?”, she says, and it’s almost as if I’m sitting next to her, falling asleep comfortably in the giant bean bag chair she has in her living room, the chaos of her three kids and two dogs fading into background noise. “I’d tell you to trust yourself, I guess,” I say, and if it’s possible to see a shrug via text message, I see her shoulders reach her ears.

The last time I visited Rachel, on Christmas Eve, I asked her what her biggest wish for her children was. She took a sip of her wine, looked at her two sons pushing their little sister around in an empty box, and said, “I hope they love each other enough to not think twice about popping an ass cyst.” I held up my glass, “cheers to that.” 

About the Author

Sam Cooke is a fiction writer who enjoys writing about love, the beach, and what happens when those two things collide. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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