She has the flu. Still. It’s been six months and she’s papoosed in her duvet, mounds of tissue boxes and magazines and half-finished bags of jellybeans around her like memorial cairns. She props her laptop on her knees and chain-watches YouTube videos, forcing hollowed coughs to remind me that she’s still sick. Then she’ll forget and the volume on the laptop slinks up and through her bedroom door I hear cotton rustle as she dances in bed. My foot creaks the floorboards by her door and pip-pip-pip as the volume goes down. I unplug things as loud as I can to prove I’m not lurking, then make her tea, two sugars, to sweeten my guilt.
She is not Roxxi now. She is Moira McKnight, Twiglet-armed and cowlicked, 14 years old before she reached the mainland. Moira fought over cereal with her brother and thumbtacked posters to her ceiling; Roxxi put pompoms on her pigtails and danced to Japanese pop across her bedroom floor. 1+1=1 but Roxxi iPhoned and YouTubed until she had 1.5 million views and boxes of Wasabi Cup Noodle and photobooks covered in Airmail stickers. Moira still walked home alone. No mother could compete with 1.5 million pairs of eyes: friends are electric and comments are love. Moira smiled easily but Roxxi yawned at Pop Tarts and zoo trips and TV soaps. Kneesocked schoolgirls squealed in acronyms until agents emailed us tickets to Tokyo.
On that new island, Moira slept and Roxxi glittered. Six months of 1.5 million friends and streetsmiling and stagedancing and her pointed chin and sealblue eyes shining from magazines. Six months of sleeplessness and bones pushed to aching. Six months of being Roxxi, until Moira woke up. And then the crying. The whisper of viruses. We’re back on our island and Roxxi’s agent calls from his island and I say flu. I say still. I say tomorrow. I put sugar in her tea and try not to creak the floorboards. I check the pitch of her coughs and the rhythm of her sleeptwitching legs. Moira is an island girl but so is Roxxi, and it’s not right to keep a girl from home. So I wait. Viruses are resilient.