Last night was my second night at my new job. I showed up knowing that I was the only closing driver, but what no one had told me was that I was the only driver from five until close.
So I started off easy, but then it got a little busier. I took a single run, then a double, then a triple, then another triple with another triple waiting to be cooked.
When I pulled up at my eighth delivery, I got out and started to trot up to the front door. I heard someone calling, but they weren’t near enough for me to make out what they were saying. I looked around, and I didn’t see anyone. I ignored it, because jeez, I’m in a good sized neighborhood around dinnertime. There’s all kinds of hollering going on.
I hopped up the steps and knocked on the door, and I heard it again. It sounded like they were possibly talking to me; I heard a woman’s voice calling ma’am, ma’am. My customer hadn’t answered the door yet, so I turned in a circle, scanning up and down the street.
Half a block away and across the street, nearly hidden behind a blossoming tree, I finally caught a glimpse of someone in a dress, outside with a dog. Help me. Was she struggling with the dog? I couldn’t see very well, since the tree was in the way. She started walking, slowly.
I watched the girl stagger out into the street, and I could see that she was splashed with red stains. She was holding her left arm out in front of her body, and there was a large dark stain near her wrist. It felt like I was watching the scene unfold on a screen before me; I mean, who hurts themselves inside and then comes outside for help? Phones are inside. She wasn’t running; she wasn’t acting at all like a person had hurt her. She wasn’t afraid of someone catching up to her and doing worse to her.
None of this was making sense.
My customer, an old woman walking with a cane, opened her door as the girl began calling again. Ma’am. I asked if she had her phone with her, as I had left mine in my car. I said it looked like the girl was covered in blood, and that I thought calling 911 would be a good idea. My customer shuffled out onto her porch and peered around the corner.
“No, I didn’t bring my phone with me to the door but–” Her eyes widened when she saw the girl. “I’ll get it.”
I was still standing there, holding the pizza like an asshole.
The girl was coming closer, the dog with her. She paused every few steps to call the dog back to her. When the girl was on the sidewalk next door, the dog broke away and ran up to me, on the porch, and tried to get into my customer’s house. She shooed it away with her cane, and I blocked it from the doorway while she talked to the emergency services dispatcher.
The girl was now in front of the house, pacing back and forth, talking more, shifting her complaints in rotation. It hurts. I can’t feel my hand. Please, my dogs are killing each other. I’m moving. It hurts. My dogs.
My customer and I encouraged her to sit down right where she was, as she was beginning to sway. Another neighbor from across the street came outside and I reassured her that my customer was on the phone with 911. The girl was begging someone to call her dad, and the neighbor ran to get her phone and call the girl’s father.
I opened my trunk to see if I had any towels, old shirts, anything to apply pressure to her wounds. I found a small dishtowel, but I estimated that it was large enough.
I was finally able to get a good enough look at the girl; she was definitely in shock. She’d been bitten quite badly on her left forearm, at least twice, but the bleeding on one had stopped long enough to have dried, and the other was oozing slowly. Her palms were both the dark maroon of dry blood and gray and white bits of fur were plastered to them. Her dress was bloody and furry. She was crying again that her dogs were killing each other inside her house and would someone please go stop them.
Obviously none of us were willing to go deal with those dogs, seeing what they’d done to her.
My customer was still on her porch, leaning on her cane, hollering advice, trying to calm the girl down, and pointing out that she’d ordered a Dr Pepper with her pizza. I’d forgotten her Dr Pepper in my car, so I brought it to her. She put it inside the door and slowly made her way down the sidewalk.
I stepped back out into the street to see if anyone was coming yet. A police officer had just turned onto the street, so I waved to let him know where we were. I told the girl that he was coming. When he pulled up and got out, her dog ran straight up to him, and I felt a moment of panic when he reached for his gun.
The girl screamed no, the dog turned to run back to her, and the cop relaxed. The neighbor took the girl’s dog and dragged it back towards her own home, to keep it out of the way.
Sirens sounded nearby, so I looked back up the street and the fire truck was turning our way. They slowed at a corner a couple blocks up, checking for addresses, so I waved to them as well.
The cop asked what happened, and she told him that her dogs were fighting. The fire truck pulled up and the EMTs rushed to surround her. The cop took a step back so I grabbed the opportunity and asked him if I needed to stay, because I was at work. He took in my hat and shirt and nametag, furrowed his brow, and asked, “You’re at work?”
I told him yes, that I was delivering here, and pointed at the house. I continued my synopsis: while I was at the door, this girl came out bleeding, and I asked my customer to call you since my phone was in my car, but you’re all here now, and well, I actually have another delivery in my car that I’ll need to call the store about if I need to stay.
Since I hadn’t made the 911 call, he agreed that there was no need for me to stay. He wrote down my name, birth date, and phone number and thanked me.
I hope the girl is okay.
At my next stop, my customer made a joke that they hoped I hadn’t gotten in an accident with their pizza; they’d heard the sirens. Yeah, ha-ha. Good one.
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.”
War and Peace rested solidly on her nightstand, glaring blindly, innocuously at her. She felt a twinge of sadness at not having picked it up for weeks, after reading six pages and six pages alone. She reached out a hand and lazily caressed the cover, tracing the letters with her forefinger.
“Soon,” she whispered.
She couldn’t remember when the title had first come to her attention; something about it being an extremely long novel. It seemed like a challenge, meant for her, but it was never a book that crossed her mind at any of the bookstores, never suggested by Amazon when she finished another story on her Kindle.
Then last month it was there, in a place of honor on one of those long tables at a yard sale, waiting patiently for her to show up and bring it home. Waiting for her to lavish hours on the words inside, curled up in her reading chair, toasty warm beneath her reading blanket.
The nurse knocked once before entering the room, pushing the tower of vitals monitoring equipment.
“Honey, you know you have to leave your patches alone if you want to heal up well and be able to read that book. Lie back and let me tape them back, please. We just want you to get better.”
She sighed, and with a last longing glance at War and Peace, lay back and closed her eyes for the nurse.