Home > Gun Shy(6)

Gun Shy(6)
Author: Lili St. Germain

I watched in horror as the paramedics rushed my mother past me. She looked dead. Her lips were blue, half her face was melted like a wax crayon left too long in the sun, and the paramedics were yelling at each other over her still form. One of her legs hung off the stretcher at a strange right-angle and blood flowed like muddy rivers out of her mouth and nose, carving tributaries through her burnt flesh.

People were talking to me. I guessed they were asking which ambulance I wanted to travel in. As if in slow-motion, I looked between the two vehicles with their flashing lights and bright red sides. The two people I loved most in the world.

I opened my mouth to speak. Closed it again. I couldn’t hear anymore. Everything was a staccato hiss, everything the sound of the rain as it hit the rocks I stood teetering on. The world tilted suddenly as my legs disappeared beneath me, I heard a loud thwack as the back of my head hit a sharp rock, and then nothing.

 

Later, in the sterile white of the hospital hallway, I started to hear things again. Two rooms, side by side, where teams of doctors worked on the two people I loved most in the world.

I started to hear things I did not want to hear.

My mother was in a coma.

She was almost certainly going to die.

My boyfriend was awake.

He had burns on his arm and a concussion.

My boyfriend was holding his hands out; wrists suddenly handcuffed to the stretcher he was sitting up on.

Leo. The guy I was going to marry.

This was all his fault.

 

* * *

 

The cop shifted to the side after cuffing Leo, and he spotted me in the hallway. “I’m sorry,” he mouthed, his eyes glassy and red.

I looked down at my own arm, bandaged from the burns, and wished I’d left him in his car while the flames took over.

“It should have been you,” I said loudly, my hand burning with pain from where the fire had licked at me. “It should have been fucking you.”

 

* * *

 

And so we sat, bleary-eyed, on a row of hard hospital chairs. Damon held an icepack to my bleeding skull and we waited. There was so much waiting. For news, good or bad. At that point, we still didn’t know if my mom would make it out of surgery.

I fell asleep on the chairs, concussed and still wearing my Dana’s Grill uniform, a hot pink shirt and navy blue skirt. I’d taken my sweater off, the sleeves ruined from the fire, and while I slept somebody had wrapped me in one of those emergency tinfoil blankets and covered me with Damon’s dark green SHERIFF jacket. I woke up with a start, muffled words piercing my exhaustion as the back of my skull lanced with pain and I felt fresh blood seep through my matted hair. I needed stitches, but I refused to let anyone near me until I’d heard about my mother’s surgery.

“I think we should speak in private,” the doctor was saying to Damon, eyeing me with one of those pity looks that I became so accustomed to in the aftermath of the crash. Everyone was so fucking pitying, it was nauseating.

“No,” I said, sitting up suddenly. I sounded drunk from the Percocet they’d given me. “You can’t leave me by myself.”

Damon squeezed my hand. “It’s okay,” he said to the doctor. “She’s old enough.”

The doctor ushered us into a blank room. Bare walls, bare floors, nothing except three hard plastic chairs and a wooden cross hanging on the wall, crooked. Where was the furniture? This was like an interrogation room, not a place of refuge. The only thing to focus on was Jesus’s face, contorted with agony, crucified for a lopsided eternity.

I sat in one of the hard chairs. Damon paced.

“Sheriff,” the doctor urged. “Please. Sit down. You’re both exhausted.”

Damon turned and gave him a look so scathing, he took a step back. Pride blossomed in my chest at his outrage. We’re in this together, I remember thinking.

We hadn’t always gotten along, Damon and I. My mother had often been a mediator between the two of us when he first moved into our house. But now, we were a single unit. We would pray for my mother to wake, together. Such was the power of our love for her.

“Sheriff—”

“Damon.”

“—Damon. Your wife was gravely injured. Did she often ride without a seatbelt?”

Not does she. Did she.

As if she were already dead.

“What?” Damon choked, his bright blue eyes pooling with tears. “No, she always wears her belt.” I was too shocked to process the information properly. My mom was thirty-eight years old. She couldn’t be dying.

“Is she going to be okay? Is she dead?” I asked, hope overriding the reality written all over the doctor’s infuriatingly kind face.

“She’s alive. The machines are keeping her body functioning. Her brain sustained what we believe to be irreparable injury.” A pause. “I’m so sorry.”

Good news and bad news all wrapped up in one neat little sentence that took the air from my lungs. Your mother is alive. PUNCH. She might as well be dead. PUNCH.

“Are you sure?” Damon asked.

I reached for his hand again, his palm damp with sweat, his fingers crushing mine as he squeezed.

The doctor looked at me apprehensively. “The swelling makes it impossible to tell concisely right now…” he trailed off. He cleared his throat, adding in a half-whisper, “It doesn’t look good.”

My mind spun as I tried to process what was happening. Beside me, Damon was doing the same. He scrubbed his hand across his jaw, his stare vacant. How could this happen to us? “I am so very sorry,” the doctor repeated. I wanted to throw up. My hand burned where Damon was gripping it. I’d been burned by the flames, and now his touch was like agony.

I stopped hearing things at that point. I focused every ounce of my attention on the pain in my fingers, the burned skin that was being crushed by Damon’s stronghold. It was an odd comfort, the way the pain distracted me.

It can’t get worse, I kept thinking to myself. It can’t get worse than this.

I was wrong.

 

* * *

 

The next morning, I remember Chris, Gun Creek’s Deputy Sheriff, and Leo’s friend, leading Leo away in handcuffs. How could a hallway be so long? It seemed to stretch on forever. Damon pulled me tighter to him, his arm slung over my shoulder, and I sagged into his side. We both watched on, dazed and battle-weary, as Chris led Leo away. They walked and walked until they were pinpricks, and then they were gone.

 

It’s my fault, I would say to myself, over and over. As I held my mom’s hand in the ICU, her face already starting to hollow with death. She was still hanging on, and they’d said any brain swelling needed to go down before an accurate prognosis could be given, but she was already gone. I know it now, picking that memory out of my own brain, folding it over, tearing off the waxy film of denial and hope that marred my view at the time.

I don’t have that now, and I can tell you that my mother, God rest her soul, exited her body at the moment Leo’s car plowed into the creek and her untethered body smashed into the front dash.

I’d argued with Leo before I left for work that afternoon. Had yelled at him for something trivial before I stormed off and drove away, leaving him there in the parking lot with balled fists and that horrible longing, that thirst in his eyes that had never really gone away since Karen. I don’t even remember what we fought about now. It was something ridiculous, for sure, minor enough I can’t even recall.

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