SUSAN CLARKSON MOORHEAD
I heard my mother's voice. Whatever she was saying sounded important but I could not figure out the words. I couldn't see her either, the light coming and going the way it does in our house during a bad storm. I smelled the wool of Dad's jacket, the good way his shoulders smell when I hug him. My mother's voice joined the other noise, muffled in the background, and I tried to follow her. In front of my eyes were slow moving shapes like clouds in an overcast sky, gray and white, thinning out as I pushed towards the sound of my mother. It sounded like crying and I tried to call out her name, but I had no voice. I saw a car far below me driving on the icy blacktop of a parking lot and I flailed my arms frantically until I realized I wasn't falling any farther than where I was. Where I was, somewhere between the car and the clouds, I couldn't understand. Below me was my Mom's old green Subaru. Dad was driving. I saw his face through the windshield looking crushed and old. I saw my mother next to him bent over crying. I saw my big sister Karen's face at the window as they pulled out of the parking lot I was floating above. She was crying like Mom. The red blinker of my Dad's car flashed a left turn, snow on the roof of his car glinting like spilled diamonds beneath the shine of streetlights just coming on. Gray clouds feathered the edges of a sky the color of iron. There was a thin layer of new snow on the ground but I was not cold. I was so scared.
A white van passed Mom's car and I remembered. The feel of the road beneath my feet, how careful I was not to step on the yellow slashes of the crosswalk, bad luck, like stepping on a sidewalk crack. You could get eaten by bears or break your mother's back, some horror if you failed to pay attention, but I couldn't remember which it was. I was leaning towards bears, the picture in my head more Goldilocks picture book than savaging threats. I imagined a family of three cute bears, the Papa, the Mama, and the Baby Bear outside a cute white cottage with blue shutters. Window boxes full of red petunias. I smiled at my own silliness. I knew I was too old for these kind of thoughts but as long as the kids in school didn't know I still felt more fairy tale than cutting edge, I'd be okay. I heard a sound, something outside of my thoughts, outside of myself. I heard something coming like how a leaf must sense the approaching wind. My hair static, my skin meeting the push of air, and I looked up.
The immediateness of it, a block of white and silver, and a face blurred behind the windshield just kissed with the first snowflakes. There was a noise like thunder, a wet like rain, and the wind stopped.
Thickness, strands of pulled cotton, slow and sleepy like waking on a summer morning until I saw myself below on a long bed. I was not moving, my hands were half open, my fingers curled like flower petals just before they feel the sun. I was crooked and swollen, bruised and broken. I was wearing one sneaker only. There was dirt in my hair.
A nurse stood beside me, not much older than my big sister, dipping a sponge into a plastic bowl of water. She touched the sponge to my face and sound returned, buzzing of electric lights, the wall clock's slight tick, the sound of water wrung from the sponge, a voice on an intercom calling a doctor to the ER, the squeak of the nurse's white sneakers on the checkered floor as she turned to the sink and put fresh water in the bowl.
Her fingertips persuaded my eyelids to close over my staring eyes. She washed my eyelids and brows, my scraped cheeks, my bruised forehead, cleaned the blood from my mouth.
A tired looking woman, older than my mother, leaned in the doorway and shook her head. "You don't need to do that, you know, you're off shift. Now that the family said their goodbyes, the next crew will bring her downstairs." I saw her glance towards an enormous gray duffle bag resting on the floor.
The young nurse gave a half smile. "I know. I want to do this. Don't worry, I clocked off shift twenty minutes ago. I'm on my own time."
The other woman shrugged. "Up to you. A tip, sweetie - it's better not to get involved." She watched as the young nurse ran the sponge over my hair and smoothed it back. "Newbies," she muttered as she stepped away.
The nurse removed the purple shirt I had just gotten two weeks ago on my birthday. She cut my favorite jeans off with scissors. I watched her wash me down. I could not feel the water on my skin but I saw her hands careful and gentle as she washed the dirt and the blood off what had been me. As I watched her I began to understand I that I would no longer be returning to the home of my body.
I didn't know what I was going to be if not myself. I wanted to cry or even scream but I had no voice so I listened to the song she hummed. She brushed dirt from my hair. I was already starting to change into something else, something I am still learning, when she called in people to help lift me into the bag.
After they left the room, she pulled up the zipper until it reached the crest of my chin. She kissed her fingertips and touched them to my forehead. "Goodbye, sweet girl," she said.
I watched her drive out of the parking lot, the red blinker of her car flashing a left turn beneath a sky the color of iron. Already I was something else, going somewhere else. I watched the lights of her car down the road until I couldn't see her anymore. I was not cold and I was not afraid.