—FROM SELLING THE UNSELLABLE: AMERICAN ADVERTISING THROUGH THE YEARS, BY MORGAN DEMPSEY, PUBLISHED 2026.
Little boy with faith so thin,
Little girl so strong within,
I said I’d never leave you, and I’m sorry, but I lied.
If you’re set to pay the price,
Learn the ways of sacrifice,
Leave this world to grieve you, take a breath, and step outside.
The broken doors are waiting, down the path you’ve always known.
My darling ones, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.
—FROM DON’T GO OUT ALONE, BY SIMONE KIMBERLEY, PUBLISHED 2006 BY LIGHTHOUSE PRESS. CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT.
Iglared at the sheet of paper in front of me. The words that were printed there swam in and out of focus, seeming to actively evade my attempts to understand them. Joyce placed a steadying hand on my shoulder. “Deep breaths, Sal,” she said. “Let them come to you.”
“Yeah, because that’s going to happen,” I muttered, and kept glaring at the paper.
Learning to read again had been more difficult than learning to talk, and I still wasn’t comfortable with it. Apparently, I hadn’t been dyslexic before the accident. The old Sally Mitchell was a voracious reader. I preferred audiobooks, which didn’t change themselves around when I was tense or tired.
After several minutes of continued glaring, the recalcitrant letters began to obey me, assembling themselves into tidy sentences, which read:
THE PRESENCE OF PATIENT SALLY R. MITCHELL IS HEREBY REQUESTED AT SYMBOGEN INC. ON THE MORNING OF FRIDAY, AUGUST 20TH, TO DISCUSS ONGOING TREATMENT. PLEASE BRING ALL RECEIPTS RELATING TO HEALTHCARE EXPENSES INCURRED SINCE FEBRUARY 2027, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO HOSPITAL STAYS, TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM APPOINTMENTS, APPROVED SPECIALISTS (SEE APPENDED LIST)…
The words started scrambling themselves again. I stopped trying to read them. There was only so much SymboGen doublespeak I could take at any one time, and “requests” from the corporation were never really requests. They were commandments wearing their best Sunday clothes, and that didn’t make me like them any better. “I think I have everything they’ve asked for,” I said, and thrust the paper at her. “Can you please check the list? I can’t read this anymore.”
“You tried, and that’s what matters,” said Joyce, taking the paper and glancing down it. “It looks like we have everything. Now come on, Sal, it’s going to be fine. This is just your six-month review. They’re not trying to pull a fast one. They’re making sure they have all their paperwork in order and that you haven’t started hiding symptoms from them. This is totally normal, and that means it’s fine.”
“You know, I don’t mind so much when our parents talk to me like I’m six, but you need to cut it out,” I said. “You’re not the one who has to go to SymboGen and get poked at by their scientists for an entire day.”
“I’m also not the one who decided to play chicken with a bus,” said Joyce. “See, this is how a single bad decision can shape your whole life. I’m the good daughter, and you’re a cautionary tale.”
Despite myself, I laughed. Unrepentant to the end, Joyce grinned.
Joyce and I looked alike enough for our relationship to be obvious: we had the same pale Irish skin, the same round faces, and the same lanky frames. We even both had brown hair and eyes. But my hair was a middling chestnut, while hers was a dark red-brown that looked like it belonged in a shampoo commercial. Her eyes were light enough to be almost hazel, while mine basically matched my hair. We both burned in any kind of strong light, but my skin freckled, while hers eventually tanned. It didn’t take me long to realize that of the two of us, she was “the pretty one”—something I’m sure I resented when I was Sally and had to deal with growing up shadowed by a prettier, smarter, genuinely nicer younger sister. Now that I didn’t have any of that baggage, I could appreciate Joyce for what she was. That was nice. If I was going to have a sister, I wanted her to be someone I could like.
She was also a biologist, working with our father in his lab. I’d been going to college for a general Liberal Arts degree—something everyone I met assured me was useless—when I had my accident. Now I seemed destined for a long, productive life as a lab rat. So I guess we were in the same general profession, at opposite ends of the food chain.
“Now come on.” Joyce dropped the paper on the kitchen table and grabbed my hand. “You promised me an afternoon of mindless shopping at the mall, followed by a brainless summer blockbuster and all the popcorn I could consume. This is our sisterly bonding time, and I won’t let you out of it again.”
“Nope, no buts. I was promised commerce and togetherness, and commerce and togetherness I shall have.” She gave my hand a tug. “Come on, Sal. Live a little. Buy uncomfortable shoes and makeup that you’ll never wear in a million years.”
I sighed. “You really want me to go shopping with you.”
“You’d think that would have been obvious, from the way I’ve been saying ‘hey, let’s go shopping like you promised’ since you got out of bed, but yes, I want to go shopping. It’ll help you relax before your review.” Joyce dropped my hand. “Come on. We’ll go to the big mall in San Bruno. They have an Orange Julius!”
“Why didn’t you say so before?” I stood, stretching slowly just so I could watch the impatience blossoming in her expression. Joyce glowered at me. I smiled. “What? Am I not fast enough for you?”