I stay in the small, stuffy room and I try once more to remain calm. Try to stop the panic rising within me. I think of my kids. Arno in all his teenage glory and rebellion. Margaux, a creature of mystery at fourteen. Lucas, still a baby at eleven, compared to the other two and their raging hormones. I simply cannot imagine myself telling them: "Your aunt is dead. Mélanie is dead. My sister is dead." The words make no sense. I push them away.
Another hour creeps by. I sit there, my head in my hands. I try to sort out the mess building up in my mind. I start thinking about the deadlines I need to keep, tomorrow is Monday and after this long weekend, there are many urgent things to be done, that unpleasant Rabagny and his God-awful daycare center I should not have taken on, Florence, that hopeless assistant I know I have to fire. But how can I possibly think of this, I realize, appalled at myself, how can I think of my job now, at this precise moment when Mélanie is somewhere between life and death? I say to myself, with a sinking heart: why Mélanie? Why her? Why not me? This trip had been my idea. My present for her birthday. That fortieth birthday she was so upset about.
A woman of my age comes in at last. A green operating blouse and one of those funny little paper hats surgeons wear. Shrewd hazel eyes, short chestnut hair touched with silver. She smiles. My heart leaps. I rush to my feet.
"That was a close call, Monsieur Rey," she says.
I notice small brown stains on the front of her uniform. I wonder with dread whether those stains are Mélanie's blood.
"Your sister is going to be all right."
To my horror, my face crumples up, tears spill out. My nose runs. I am acutely embarrassed to be crying in front of this woman, but I can't prevent it.
"It's OK," the doctor says. She grips my arm. She has small, square hands. She pushes me back down into the chair, sits beside me. I bawl like I used to when I was a kid, deep sobs that come from the gut.
"She was driving, right?"
I nod, try and tidy up my damp nostrils with the back of my hand.
"We know she wasn't drinking. We checked that. Can you tell me what happened?"
I manage to repeat what I told the police and the ambulance people earlier on. That my sister wanted to drive the rest of the way home. That she was a reliable driver. That I had never been nervous with her at the wheel.
"Did she black out?" asks the doctor. The name on her badge reads: "Docteur Bénédicte Besson".
"No, she didn't."
And then it comes back to me. Something I had not told the ambulance people because I only remember it, just now.
I look down at the doctor's small tanned face. My own face is still twitching with the crying. I catch my breath.
"My sister was in the middle of telling me something She turned to me. And then it happened. The car drove off the highway. It happened so fast."
The doctor urges me on.
"What was she telling you?"
Mélanie's eyes. Her hands clasping the wheel. Antoine, there's something I need to say. I've kept it back all day. Last night, at the hotel, I remembered something. Something about Her eyes, troubled, worried. And then the car driving off the road.
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