Kent Freeman whistled while he worked. The simple tasks of dusting and mopping took up less than half of his attention, and he focused the remainder of his brain on perfecting the drumbeat in his newest composition.
He picked up a stray fork from behind the couch and absentmindedly tucked it into a back pocket. The pair of unmatched socks that he also found back there became puppets on each hand, singing along to the rhythm of the song in his head. All at once, the entire song snapped into focus for Kent, and he stripped the socks from his hands and dropped them on the couch.
He dashed to his office and played the parts that he had recorded so far. Yes. Perfect. A quick edit here, a little tweak there, and Kent’s newest masterpiece was ready to send out for rejection.
Kent leaned back in his comfy chair, prefatory to laced his fingers behind his head in satisfaction, and the fork he had forgotten in his pocket stabbed him just to the left of his spine. He straightened with a howl, wondering if by some mischance he had laid a jigsaw blade in his seat. His hands reached behind himself to comfort the hurt place with complete disregard for their own safety, and he grasped the fork in sudden confusion.
When he pulled the bent fork from behind him, he laughed in spite of the harm that he’d done to his favorite leather chair. The lesson was learned that day: no forks entered Kent’s back pocket for at least the next two weeks.
Tress looked both ways before she crossed the street, as she had always been taught. This procedure had never failed her before, so she stuck with it. But today was the last day of anything approaching normal in her life.
The van screeched around the corner, out of nowhere. Tress didn’t even have time to register the color before it struck her, and she immediately lost consciousness.
Tress opened her eyes to darkness and silence, aside from the steady drip-drop-drip of a leaky faucet. Her head ached more than anything she could have imagined before now, a steady throbbing like a helmet, along with the occasional sharp ice pick pain in her right temple. The ice pick was so unpredictable; that’s what made it so bad. She couldn’t brace for it.
She began to test her muscles, to see what her body was currently capable of doing. Her fingernails scratched at the rough sheet that she lay on. This seemed to be her limit. Her legs wouldn’t move at all, and her arms remained too heavy to lift. Even her pounding head would turn neither right nor left.
The sweat beading on her face told her that she couldn’t take any more exercise, as feeble as it was. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe slowly through her mouth. Eventually, she fell back asleep.
Eons later, she woke again. Light shone through her eyelids, and before she opened them, all she saw was red. She thought that was fitting. She felt red.
She opened her eyes. A bare lightbulb hung over her, dangling from a chain. Her head was still too heavy and painful to move, and her eyes wouldn’t travel much farther than straight ahead. She tried to move again, and her fingernails still scratched what felt to be the same bedsheet, but nothing else seemed to be in working order.
She felt a wetness building behind her eyes and in the back of her throat, and took some deep breaths to stave off the tears that she knew she hadn’t the strength to wipe away. This wasn’t a hospital. No one who cared about her probably knew a thing about her whereabouts. The deep breaths weren’t helping.
The single lightbulb shimmered behind a layer of tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks, desperate to seek the easiest route to the shells of her ears. Tress struggled to keep her eyes open as long as she could, but eventually, she had to blink, and the twin trails of moisture trekked their way downward.
This time, she managed to stay conscious until the tears dried, much longer than the first time.
The third time Tress woke to motion. Someone was pushing and pulling her body, dressing or undressing her. A brief panic gripped her heart before she realized that this had to have happened at least once before, because she could feel that she wasn’t wearing the long-sleeved blouse that she had left the house in. And it’s not like I could stop them, anyway, she thought. The mysterious person never moved close enough for Tress to see anything but a shock of unruly dark hair.
When whatever was to be done was done, the person left the room without a word. Tress heard the sighing of an old hinge before the click of the door latch. She wondered why tears were so far from her mind at this moment. Wouldn’t a normal person be in a near-constant state of terror?
The tears came as if called. This time not merely a single track per side; this time a measurable volume of tears flowed for minutes on end before she fell asleep again.
This time, voices. She could hear them murmuring in the hallway outside her room. Tress wished desperately that they would open the door so she could hear, even if they were only going to continue to ignore her.
Her wish was answered. She welcomed the sound of the door hinge because it meant company. It meant possibilities.
It meant an injection in the IV in her right arm that she hadn’t been able to feel. As her eyes began to feel heavy, she heard the first voice in her room.
“Don’t worry about cleaning her up after. He’ll just put her in the incinerator with the rest of the biohazard. We’ll find another one; maybe they’ll work out better.”
Today we went to the car graveyard, formally Central Storage.
Wednesday night, instead of bedtime, we all got dressed and picked up Ian’s brother to go to the hospital. Ian’s parents had gotten into a wreck, and we didn’t know how they were or what happened until we got there.
Their truck was totaled, but they’re okay. Ian’s dad is only bumped and bruised, but his mom suffered at least two broken ribs and a loss of consciousness. She’s home now, against medical advice, but at least she stayed one night in the hospital.
This was the first time Ian and I had seen or spoken to them since April 5th, when they came to court with Leah.
I know Ian’s dad was glad to see me; we’ve always gotten along. We were both shy, quiet, smartass people who liked to listen to loud classic rock in our blue S10s. The S10s are both gone now, but the rest is the same.
His mom and I used to be friends; we even worked together until she left the blood center. Things got worse between us when she found out about Leah’s pregnancy, and worse again when we finally got to see Abby. At first it was comments about how Abby would be such a great big sister. Those graduated into questions about Leah, because ‘she’s part of the family now.’ About a year ago, I started hiding in our bedroom for their weekly visits to see Abby.
During the time Leah wasn’t letting us see Abby, we found out Leah and Abby were spending time with Ian’s mom’s side of the family. We also learned that I didn’t want Ian to have anything to do with Abby, and that I was controlling Ian. Hm, good to know. By our best guess, it was also Ian’s mom who told Leah that I can’t have children.
Ian asked and asked that we sit down and talk, but he was put off and put off until the April court date, which cleared a lot up. Ian’s dad hasn’t been a willing participant; more a reluctant bystander.
When we got to the ER, I dropped Ian and his brother off to find something out while Abby and I went to park the car. Abby loved the grand adventure of traipsing hospital corridors after bedtime, and when we got inside, Ian’s brother took us to see his dad first. He was discharged a few minutes after we got there, so we all went to the other side to see Ian’s mom, where Ian already was.
Abby held her uncle’s hand, and they left me and granddad behind since the EMTs didn’t grab his cane from the wreck. By the time we made it to her room, she was exclaiming over how big and articulate Abby is. I hung back by the foot of her bed to see if I’d be acknowledged; but nothing until we were leaving, when I got a ‘thanks, April.’
As we left, Ian said when he first saw her, one of the things she said was about wanting to talk to us, and I got pissed. I’m so glad they’re both okay, but it’s because they’re okay that I’m pissed.
My mom has changed quite a bit since she got really sick; the ‘I know I’m going to die, so let’s get into heaven’ mentality. My mom has said and done some shitty things, but she has always rooted for the home team.
I feel like this accident was Ian’s mom’s ‘come to Jesus’ moment. That she saw her chance to see Abby again. That if we did have a nice, polite sitdown, it would be a round table of insincere pseudo-apologies, since she’s told Ian many times that she doesn’t need to apologize to me because she didn’t mean any harm.
I have hated this time for Ian’s sake. I feel that I’ve forced him to choose sides. I don’t want it to be that way. I would be fine with hiding because his mom doesn’t like me, as long as she shows Ian that she cares about him. Sure, it would be great if we could all get along again, but my trust has taken too big of a hit to just accept an apology without some action to back it up.
I can’t have a talk without me talking, and I’m afraid if I say what I need to say, I’ll only encourage more animosity towards us. I’m tired of biting my tongue instead of asking Leah why she made up so much for the counselor, but Ian’s mom can’t take Abby away, so maybe I can get some answers.