Joe’s eyes popped open. He sat up in his bed and frantically searched the area he occupied: a plain, eggshell-coloured room. He squinted down at his lap as he felt a sudden migraine overcome him. He reached up to cradle his head and discovered medical bandages wrapped around his skull. The room was devoid of any other life aside from a startled, pale freckled-face girl. Joe hadn’t noticed her sitting out of peripheral vision at his bedside.
“Good afternoon. Bad dream?” she said.
“I guess. Am I in a hospital? Why am I here?”
“You fell down and bumped your head,”
“How did I fall?” he said. “I don’t remember.”
“You were jumping on the bed.”
“Did I trip?”
“Well, your momma called the doctor, and the doctor said ‘No more joeys jumping on the bed!’”
Joe scratched his chin. He realised he didn’t know the girl. She looked too young to be part of the medical staff. She wore a school’s uniform bearing a cross on her left breast. Her focus was on a novel.
“Who are you? Why are you here? How long have I been here? How long have I been unconscious?” he asked.
“You can call me Kiara. I've been visiting you for a month now, but you never remember me, Joe,” she turned to face him. They shared worried expressions. “At least remember a pretty face like mine.”
“Oh, so my name is Joe. Why can’t I remember that or what’s happened up until now?”
He settled down for a minute of thought. He hoped to stimulate some memories of his identity. He closed his eyes and concentrated, but nothing came to him -- at least nothing that was clear. The lack of information was frustrating. He looked to his right. A pile of freshly-picked dandelions laid in a pile by the window sill. The sun beamed in across Joe’s lap. He watched as the wind carried the dandelion seeds across the room. He looked to his left. He saw Kiara peacefully reading and shadows stretching in and out from under a closed door. On a nearby table were empty biodegradable trays, a column of Dole fruit cups, and a pair of tire-black glasses. He faced the blank wall ahead of him then released a cool stream of air. He felt a sudden pang of sentiment well up inside him.
“Was I that bad of a guy that I don’t have any more visitors?”
“Just mono y mono today,” Kiara said.
They returned to silence. Joe was starting to get wavering feelings on whether he would ever leave the eggshell-coloured prison. He felt as though he was fading from existence, and that he -- along with his unrecoverable memories -- would remain a lost fragment of a mundane life. He turned to Kiara for more interrogating.
“So, you weren’t there when I fell?”
“Nope, I was.”
“Where did I fall -- at home or in public?”
“Just outside the hospital, actually,” she said with a gesture toward the window.
A giggle resonated from her throat. “The funniest thing. You were running to catch a stray cat that stole your lunch. You didn’t take see the strip of black ice and you slipped.” She explained, laughing between sentences. “It was a hard fall. I think you slid halfway across the block. If there were more ice, you might have caught up to the thief.”
“Pathetic,” he murmured in a sigh.
He slouched against the cotton pillows and quietly stared at his bony legs submerged under the covers. Her heart ached for lying to him. Kiara leaned over, and poked both of her pinkie fingers into the corners of Joe’s mouth.
“You’ve always been a klutz.” She pulled his lips into a positive parabola. “Please, I can't be the only one smiling here.” Joe didn’t share his thoughts. He simply gazed into her sympathetic eyes. He noticed that her freckles resembled constellations, especially three consecutive dark spots across the bridge of her nose.
“Orion’s Belt,” he whispered. She showed a glimpse of awe. She roughly ruffled his unruly afro. “It’s a shame your thick hair didn’t absorb more of the blow,” she said then returned to her seat. “I have one of your favorite books, by the way.” She revealed the book’s cover. It read Mormon the Wizard in large font. “I’ll read it to you.”
Kiara read and Joe listened. It reminded him of music, each spoken word a note that reverberated in his ears long after its cue. They talked for hours about random things -- school, art, Joe’s fascination for Japanese video games. Kiara did most of the talking and Joe did most of the listening. They shared many laughs until Joe was droopy-eyed and yawning. The moon cast its silver radiance on the decaying dandelions. Kiara reluctantly checked the time. A nurse would soon come up to sever their reunion.
"Sweet kisses for your sweet dreams," Kiara kissed Joe's bandage-wrapped forehead then his cheek. "Take a good look at me. I'm coming back, space-cadet."
"I'll be waiting, dandelion."
She gathered her things and promised to visit the next day. He watched her go with ambivalent feelings of regret and excitement. That night Joe dreamed he was a gondolier travelling on a dandelion spore through Kiara’s starry visage. The next day, Kiara returned to Joe’s room. She replaced the withered dandelions with a bouquet of fresh ones. She held up the weed before her lips with closed eyes.
“Please return to me, Joey,” she said. She opened her emerald eyes and watched as her wish sailed through the open window in a wisp of pollen.
She took a seat beside the sleeping patient and continued reading. Kiara flinched when Joe abruptly sat up in the bed and scanned the plain, eggshell-coloured room. He reached up to cradle his head as he felt a sudden migraine overcome him. Joe hadn’t noticed her sitting at his bedside.