The headline in the Guardian UK reads: One was killed, the other injured. Then their identities were tragically confused
And the story goes on to explain that when the accident happened the police took the surviving victim but with wrong identification because the two girls were so similar. The survivor was in a coma for weeks while people who believed to be her family watched over her. When she woke up, the confusion was immediately straightened out. The part about the girl waking up and being with the wrogn family and called the wrong name caught my attention because I wrote a short science-fiction novella a few years ago about a woman who was killed in a car accident and her brain transplanted into the body of a young girl. When she woke up, the family bending over her was not her own, and they were calling her by a different name.
The news story has a happy / sad ending. The young woman’s real family is with her and have explained why they were absent when she woke up, and she is recovering rapidly. The family who cared for her is devestated by their loss, discovering that their daughter is in fact, dead. So there is both joy and sorrow in the tale. A tragedy, a dilemma, a resolution, and an ending that is both happy and sad. Those are the kind of books I love best. And you?
I have no recollection of the accident. Not even one of those fragmented pieces of memory that surges suddenly out of a half-sleep. No bits or glimpses of the tumbling sky or the shiny asphalt.
My three children were at home with their baby sitter and I was on my way to the city to see a play. I was going to meet my husband at his office. All that I can remember clearly. Then, mysteriously, darkness falls over my mind and the next thing I know I’m staring at an open window.
My first reaction is annoyance. It’s January and the window shouldn’t be open. Who left it open? I want to tell somebody to shut it, not to waste heat, but I am incapable of speech.
Then I realize that sun is pouring into the room and everything is bathed in its milky light. The breeze accompanying it is balmy and scented with spring. Confused, I look around. A slender woman is sitting in a chair next to the window, reading a red book. She’s dressed in navy blue, and is about thirty I’d say. Younger than I. Her hair is scraped back in a tight bun. It’s a soft yellow. She dabs at her red-rimmed eyes, and her hands on the book tremble slightly as she turns the pages. Otherwise she’s perfectly still.
My eyes are the only things that work. I try to open my mouth to speak, I cannot. My fingers don’t even wiggle. It’s as if I’m not part of this body lying so lightly on the neat bed. And yet I can feel the slight weight of the sheet against my legs and the pink woolen blanket is itchy under my fingers. I can feel myself breathing.
There are no machines around me to suggest I’m in a hospital, but I know that’s where I am. The white walls, stark and bare, are proof enough. There’s a television set in the corner of the room, and the woman is sitting on a folding metal chair. She turns another page and dabs at her eyes with the tips of her fingers.
Who is she? I make a huge effort to raise my hand, and a sharp pain, like a tiny needle, chases itself around my skull. It’s no use. I can’t move. Something is holding me pressed to the pillow. By shifting my eyes I can just barely make out the arm of some huge, steel contraption hovering over my head. It seems to be behind the bed. Suddenly I’m terribly frightened. I don’t remember the accident, but I remember my husband and my children. Someone must tell them not to wait for me. I picture my husband pacing in his office, and the children looking anxiously at the clock.
My panic grows, my heart starts to race and I’m drenched in cold sweat. Blood is pounding in my ears. The room darkens, tips, and I slide into unconsciousness once again.
This time my dreams are troubled. Voices I don’t recognize are all around me. Someone keeps repeating “Kelsey! Kelsey!”.
Who’s Kelsey? In my dream I’m sitting in a pink room. It looks like a little girl’s room. There are posters of ballet dancers on the wall and stuffed animals on the bed. A bowl of goldfish is perched on a white dresser. I can walk around, and I slowly drift from one thing to another, touching the stuffed animals, peering at the goldfish. I even dip my finger in the water, it’s tepid. I examine the posters on the wall. I pick up a doll and smooth her hair. I remember my daughter, only three, and I hug the doll tightly and feel tears sliding down my cheeks. My chest tightens. The room starts to vanish, but just before the scene fades completely away I see a little girl sitting on the bed. Had she been there all along? I didn’t notice her before. She looks at me. Her face is heart-shaped and grave. Blond hair falls straight to her shoulders. She’s terribly thin and pale. Her eyes, a deep, steely blue, hold mine. Then she slowly raises her finger to her lips. “Shhh,” she says. “Keep the secret.”
I opened my eyes.
I did it consciously. My eyes opened, and I saw a doctor bending over me. He was neither young nor old. He was Asian, and had gold-rimmed glasses. Behind him stood a rather stout nurse. And right behind her was the woman I saw reading. She’s the one calling Kelsey. She was looking straight at me and her hands flew up to her mouth.
“Kelsey! Kelsey, can you hear me?”
I don’t know who Kelsey is. My name is Vivian. But I heard her. “Yes,” I whispered.
The doctor smiled. The nurse took a startled step backwards. The woman gave a joyful cry and swooped down upon me. I realized that there was nothing pinning me to the pillow anymore. I was free. Only a whisper of pain remained. Tentatively I reached my hand up to my head. A bandage swathed it.
“Please,” I said. “What happened? Where am I?” My voice was raw and broken. Forcing it out of my throat hurt.
“Kelsey…” For some reason the doctor was calling me Kelsey too. “You’re in the hospital St. Anne in Nanterre. The operation was a success. We’ve managed to take out the part of your brain that was sick and replace it with a well part. Can you understand what I’m saying? Your cancer has been cured my dear.”
I nodded. The words were clear enough, but the meaning was obscure. “I had a brain tumor?” I asked weakly.
The doctor beamed and nodded. The slender woman was still holding my hand and smiling broadly. The nurse watched me strangely. Like a cat watches a viper I remember thinking.
“Kelsey darling, you’re going to get better now. Soon we’ll take you home.” The woman leaned over and kissed me. I was perplexed.
“Who is Kelsey?” I asked.
The woman gasped and jerked backwards. She looked at the doctor, her mouth opened soundlessly.
“You are,” he said gently.
“No I’m not,” I said firmly. “There must be a mistake.”
(To be continued…)