By Alea Giordano
“I’m going to need you to get up on the scale Mrs. G; let me help you.” The doctor took Jane’s frail hand and assisted her onto the platform.
The glowing blue numbers flickered before settling on a decision. She was down to 105 pounds. It had been a tough two-year battle with cancer, but at 84, Jane was a warrior. She’d survived extensive surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and was still full of life. Her body had been trying to give up, but she wouldn’t let it.
“One last surgery on your lymph nodes, and you should be in the clear.”
Jane thought about her doctor’s appointment as she climbed into bed that evening. She’d always been a petite woman, hovering around 5 feet tall, but she hadn’t weighed 105 pounds since high school. As Jane drifted off to sleep, she thought about how approaching the end was similar to approaching the beginning.
The next morning, Jane woke up feeling better than she had in years. She momentarily paused to stare at the ceiling, knowing she’d be unsteady as soon as she tried to stand.
“I call first!”
“I call second!”
Jane abruptly sat up. That was strange. She could’ve sworn that she’d just heard her two younger sisters, Bett and Sis, calling their turns in the bathroom. For some reason, Jane was slightly disoriented, so she took her time getting out of bed. Her vision was blurry, which was odd because she’d never needed glasses for anything other than reading. However, when she put her feet on the floor, she felt incredibly sturdy.
It was a pleasant surprise for Jane to reach the bathroom so quickly. As a habit, she sat down but didn’t need to pee since the cancer had taken her bladder. She stood up and moved her hand to the side of her stomach, searching for the urostomy bag, but nothing was there.
“What the heck?” Jane said out loud. The bag had gone missing. Could it have fallen off in her sleep? As Jane continued to feel around her body, she also noticed that her abdominal muscles were extremely firm, muscularly firm, in fact.
Jane darted over to the foggy mirror. Had she taken a shower and forgotten? She used her hand to wipe away the cloudy vapor.
“Oh, my God!” Jane said as her vision came into focus.
“Daddy! Jane just said the Lord’s name in vain!” Sis called out.
There was no time to think about her sister tattling. Jane’s reflection was incomprehensible. Staring back at her were the eyes of her 16-year-old self. She immediately looked down her nightgown and saw two perfectly prominent breasts. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. “I’m either dreaming, or I’m dead.”
Jane walked back to her room as if in a trance. She ran her index finger along the seam of her green chenille bedspread and then walked over to her window seat. As she looked out, she had a clear view of Rambling Stella and Lovely Lady being guided out by the stable hand for their morning exercise. Jane smiled. Her fondest childhood memories were the ones where she was riding horses.
How could she be 16 again? Jane got up and walked over to her dresser. She used the soft-bristled brush to pull her hair back into a ponytail and then teased out her bangs that had clearly been set with a sponge curler. The next logical step was to get dressed. A short sleeve button-up blouse with a Peter Pan collar and a navy blue poodle skirt would do the trick. As the final touch, Jane wiggled her tiny feet into a pair of saddle shoes. They were much stiffer than she remembered, and Jane was glad for the advances in footwear since the 1950s.
The room that Jane grew up in was the biggest of the three sisters and had a door to a separate stairwell that went down into the kitchen. Before she descended, she could smell the eggs, waffles, bacon, and maple-brown-sugar steel-cut oats. Her breath lodged in her chest as anxiety began to overtake her, but Jane forced herself to fully inhale. In her real life, Sis was the only other living member of her nuclear family. Her mother, father, and middle sister, Bett, were all deceased. She had to keep going to see them with her own eyes.
Sure enough, everyone was gathered around the kitchen table. Jane’s mother was standing by the stove in a full blush-colored floral dress with an apron overtop. Her father was seated, wearing his usual shirt, tie, and vest. Jane’s sisters sat on either side of him and talked excitedly as he read the paper. If Jane was dead, then she couldn’t imagine a better entrance into heaven.
“Jane, are you alright?”
Jane turned her head. “Yes, mother.” It had been nearly thirty years since she’d last uttered those words.
“Sit down then and have some breakfast.”
The remainder of the day was precisely the same as any day of Jane’s junior year of high school, from cheerleading practice to making out with Paul in the parking lot. Her father had even had his one after-dinner cigarette before they’d turned in for the evening. Only now could she appreciate how wonderfully monotonous this part of her life had been.
The next morning, Jane realized that it had all been a dream. A beautiful dream, but a dream nonetheless. She placed her feet on the ground and headed to the bathroom to start her daily routine.
As Jane opened the door, she was greeted with a shrill scream.
“Jane! Try knocking!”
A thousand thoughts flooded her mind as she stared at her 14-year-old sister perched on the toilet. Embarrassed for both of them, she quickly shut the door. A new anxiety caused her breath to catch. If yesterday wasn’t a dream, then was she really stuck being a teenager again?
* * *
Alea grew up along the shores of New Jersey, where she developed a close relationship with her grandmother, who now doubles as her best friend. Alea spent the last fifteen years building a successful career in scholarly publishing and is passionate about Open Access. In addition to her profession, Alea is currently enrolled in the MFA Creative Writing program at Rosemont College. Alea deeply loves all things antique, including buttons and glass goblets. She currently resides in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband, two young sons, and four cats.