Authors: Linda Welch
turned out to be one of those days.
phone call would bring Royal here in a jiffy. No doubt he’d change my tire
without getting a mark on his clothes. But I’m not a woman who summons her man
for every little thing. I call it preserving my independence. He calls it
am woman. Hear me roar. Though it sounds more like a whimper.
grunted as I gave the tire iron a final push to tighten the lug nut. I
get a flat out in the hills and the Jeep
end up in the mud when I
took her off the road. Slush and mud coated my jeans from the knees down. Muck smeared
my coat from maneuvering the flat off and putting the spare tire on. I didn’t
have gloves with me and my hands were mud-caked and freezing. Wrestling with
the wheel, I banged my forehead on the car body and now an egg-shaped bump
throbbed. The dazzling winter sun hitting my eyes didn’t help.
climbed in the Jeep and started her. She whined before the engine kicked over.
“Don’t you give me any grief,” I told her. “Not today. Not here.”
put her in gear and off we went.
we didn’t. The wheels spun in the mud.
no, no!” I thumped the steering wheel with my fist as mud and water fountained
behind the Jeep.
the gear into reverse, I tried to back up. The wheels got traction and moved
half a foot before sticking again. I put her in drive and hit the accelerator.
Jeep whipped on the road, hit the ice and snow and impersonated a whirling
I got her under control, we sat in the middle of the road, happily pointing in
the right direction.
I drew in a long breath. “Off we go.”
we reached the next bend in the road, the engine made a god-awful grinding
noise, followed by clunks, and died. The Jeep ungracefully slithered a few
yards before stopping altogether.
got out and slammed the door. Now what? I can change a tire but engines are a
mystery. I’d have to call a tow service to take us to a garage.
by snowy banks either side of the road, the wind screamed through the canyon.
The crisp air promised another snowfall. I fumbled my cell phone from my coat
pocket with numb fingers and thumbed on the screen.
course.” I looked skyward, waving my hands in the air.
turned on the Jeep and vented my anger by kicking the tire. Then I limped down
the road until my toe stopped throbbing.
fell thickly to blanket the buildings and sidewalks, wind whisked the white
flakes in my eyes as I parked on Twenty-Second and slogged to Royal’s apartment
and our office. Thankfully the Jeep was a quick fix. The mechanic tightened a
doodad and replaced a gizmo there on the roadside and I was good to go. I
didn’t need a tow but that I paid plenty for parts, labor and the guy coming
improve my mood.
a quick change of clothes, I arrived half an hour late for an appointment with
a new client. When I called Royal he said the client didn’t mind waiting, but
keeping them hanging didn’t set a good precedent.
paused at the bottom of the covered stairwell and wiped my wet face on my wet
sleeve. The bump on my forehead had swollen to a hard, pounding knot. I touched
my head. “It
be that big.” Probing the lump with my fingers made
my eyes water.
may be why, when I heard a
and chips of brick exploded from the
wall beside me, I only looked up through watery eyes, dazed. Another
and a blow to my head, as if a nail punched in my skull, an instant before my
Sweetheart. I’m here.”
know, babe,” I replied absentmindedly, distracted by my surroundings. Where was
I and how did I get here?
hospital room? I didn’t know they made them this big or this fancy. If not for
the bed and medical paraphernalia on one side, as if to distance them from the
comfortable, artfully arranged furnishings, I’d think I stood in a cozy living
room. Chocolate-colored, butter-soft leather couch and armchairs grouped near
an oak desk with padded chair. Vases of flowers, plants with silk ribbons and bows
on the pots and multicolored cards smothered a coffee table and end tables.
Light streamed through blinds on a floor-to-ceiling window.
toward the bed and whoever lay there, Royal sat on another padded chair, his
back to a large oak armoire. His black leather coat lay over the chair back,
his broad shoulders stretched a pale tan button-up shirt. From the angle, I
thought he held the patient’s hand. A kind of glow surrounded him. I am used to
the shimmer of his copper and gold hair but this was different and startling.
Colors feathered out from his head and shoulders and wisped away to nothing:
red, silver, gold, green, blue, pink, predominantly purple; a rainbow enveloped
beeped and hummed, soft background noises. Royal bent his head.
felt . . . weird. I couldn’t remember coming to this room, or why, or who lay
in the bed.
a minute, though. A blow to the head. I
recall that. I stood outside
the covered stairwell to the office and. . . .
must have been knocked unconscious, but what happened afterward? Who were Royal
and I visiting? And why did he sound so miserable when he said,
Sweetheart. I’m here.”
who is it?”
didn’t answer or look at me. I got a horrible sinking feeling. He must be so
grief stricken he couldn’t bring himself to speak to me.
he did a moment ago.
Tiff. Sweetheart. I’m here.
Why tell me when we
were feet apart in the same room?
skirted the couch, crossed to the bed and looked over his shoulder. He indeed
held the patient’s hand in both of his and his lips pressed on her knuckles.
covered her head. She looked pale, but so does anyone with so many tubes
attached to them. Her long arms and slender hands lay outside the thin cover.
I’m so sorry. Who is she?”
response. Irritated, I edged between him and the bed. A tiny muscle in his jaw
ticked and red rimmed his beautiful copper eyes. Eyes which didn’t react to me
blocking his view of the woman he seemed so concerned for.
was I, invisible? I waved my hand in front of his face. “Hey, anyone in there?
Royal!” Now more than aggravated, I shoved at his shoulder.
landed on my knees inside the armoire.
I swore the door was shut but it must have been unlatched and my staggering
around juddered it open. Then it closed behind me. How embarrassing. Thankful I
had room to move, I pushed up with my hands and shuffled in a hunch. No handle on
the inside. Obviously not; you don’t need a handle on the inside of a closet,
unless you’re a klutz who falls in one. “Royal,” I hissed, mortified, “come get
I pressed my ear to the door, I heard nothing. “Royal!” I slapped my hands on
stumbled past Royal, missed him by inches and landed on my knees again.
looked at the armoire over my shoulder
The door was shut. Fine, so I
shoved it open and fell out. But why didn’t I remember any sense of movement, or
hear the door opening and closing either time?
Oh man, my mind is scrambled.
I had a doozy of a concussion, I probed the lump on my forehead. It felt like a
regular old bump to me, but who was I to judge my condition? I should be in a
hospital bed somewhere in this place. I expected a nurse to arrive soon and
chivvy me back to it.
looked at Royal. He gently laid the woman’s hand on the cover, stroked it and
got to his feet. “The doctors want to speak to me. I’ll be back soon.” He spoke
low and harsh as if with the pain of loss and a sad little smile tweaked one
corner of his mouth. “Don’t go anywhere.”
Royal!” I yelled as he walked past me.
kept going, pausing to look back once before he opened the door and went
through. It shut behind him.
just one cotton-picking minute!” I strode after him.
got to the door and tried to push it open. It didn’t move.
The door lock must be faulty, the mechanism frozen. A frown creased my brow.
Since when did hospital rooms have locks?
looked closely at the door. Locks you couldn’t see? The door didn’t have a
lock. So, the whole damn thing must be jammed in the frame.
A lightbulb pinged on in my brain.
looked through the window to see Royal walk around a corner and out of sight.
Sure enough, a uniformed officer sat on a chair beside the door. Like Royal,
colors shimmered around the man.
room was in lock down. The patient must be important, or in danger.
My breath coming hard and fast from frustration,
I yelled through the door. “Hey! Officer! Let me outta here, will you?”
He didn’t move a muscle.
I winced and looked at the patient, worried I’d
disturbed her, but her eyes were still closed.
have heard me. Cops with
hearing problems don’t pass the medical.
Colors fanned from the few people who moved
along the corridor outside. This was getting crazy.
Putting my back to the door, I eyed the patient.
Attached by tape, a tube led from her mouth to two bigger tubes from a
respirator. IV drips snaked from catheters in the inner side of her elbow and
back of one hand and more coiled and wormed from under the cover. Another thin
tube went in her nose. She looked as if she lay in a nest of plastic spaghetti.
I recognized the respirator, and one of the other machines must be feeding her
artificial nutrition and hydration. Couldn’t guess what the other machines did
for her. And the line on one monitor, tripping up and down, sketching a
mountain range, must be her heartbeat.
She looked familiar. Maybe I’d seen her in
Sighing, I sat on the sofa. If only I had my
phone. In a rush, instead of bringing it and plugging it in the car charger, I
left it at home still plugged in the charger there. I searched my pockets but
they held nothing useful.
I wore my clothes and had my possessions, so I wasn’t a
patient here. Or maybe they recently discharged me.
But it didn’t explain why I abruptly found
myself in this room, couldn’t recollect anything beforehand, or why Royal
ignored me. I kept seeing him in my mind’s eye, striding out without a word or
a wave of his hand. As if I didn’t exist. Did I do something really, really
awful which made him so mad, he refused to acknowledge me?
god, why can’t I remember?
Tears welled, blurring my vision.
I am not given to tears but felt uncomfortably emotional. I wiped my eyes with
my fingers until I could see.
I inspected my fingers, my
delicately touched around my
eyes. Did I feel moisture when I wiped?
. But I did feel it in my eyes.
losing it, Tiff.
I compressed my lips and pulled myself
A knock on the door and a nurse came in. Why do
hospital staffers knock when coming to see an unconscious patient? It’s not as if
they are going to say “
,” or “
just one second
Mostly pink, a halo of color surrounded the
nurse. He breezed to the bed and . . . I didn’t notice what else he did because
he brought company.
Mel zipped toward me. “Sorry we took so long, but you know how it is.”
we saw the news, we were frightened to
,” Jack said.
watched me expectantly.
I see, you’re waiting for a laugh. Okay. Ha ha, very funny, dead people
. Your drollery slays me.”
I know you’re okay when you use big words,” Jack said snidely.
squinted to peer at me. “Yeah, you look fine.”
looked normal, no colors surrounded them. “What news? Why are you here?”
papers said you were shot in the head and. . . .” Jack’s voice trailed away.
my god!” from Mel.
eyes went wide and his fisted hand went to his mouth. He moaned through his clenched
fingers. “She’s dead.”
can’t be.” Mel joined the nurse at the bed and looked at the patient. “See, the
machines are still bleeping.”
you can call being in a vegetative state alive.” I said.
how come she’s here?” Mel asked.
Isn’t this the best place for her?”
gaze whipped between me and the patient. “The machines keep everything going
but she’s not in there.”
face crunched up. “You’re right,” she wailed.
decided we spoke at crossed purposes. “Care to let me in on what you’re talking
were on me in a second. “You don’t know,” Jack stated.
honey,” Mel’s brows drew together. “You’re dead.”
am not.” Of all the crazy things. I put my hands on my hips.
worry, sweetie,” Mel said. “Everyone goes through the same conflict when we
die. One second we’re convinced we’re dead, the next we’re positive we’re not.”
alive, I’m positive I’m
Okay? And what’s wrong with your faces?”
are dead. You are so dead,” Mel jabbered. “I’m not sure if I’m sad, or glad we
can be together.”
out of it, Tiff. You are dead and you’d better come to terms with it.” Jack
felt his cheek. “And what’s wrong with our faces?”
You have expressions.”
rolled his eyes at the ceiling. “Sure we do. We always have.
one who couldn’t see them.”
you’re not whispering,” I continued, enthralled.
As a living person, you lacked perception. You didn’t see
us as we actually are.”
nurse patted the patient’s shoulder and headed for the door. My chance to
escape the room; I’d sort out Jack and Mel later. I darted after him and grabbed
the edge of the door as it swung shut.
missed again. Man, what shitty equilibrium! I couldn’t set my hands on anything.
Jack said from behind me. “Pay attention now. You are dead.”
swung to face them. “I am not dead.” I swept one hand up in front of my body. “See?
Me. Alive and ready to kick butt. Your butt.”
were shot in the head, Tiff,” he pointed out without a shred of sympathy. “In
the head. Check it out.”
backed away from Jack, who stood way too close. “I was
on the head.”
My hand went to the side of my head.
sticky matted my hair. I felt it, but when I checked my fingers they were
clean. “What the merry hells?”
were shot,” Jack said. “There isn’t much blood.”
wrung her hands and spoke in a small voice. “I didn’t want to say.”
fingers tentatively probed my scalp and encounter a ridge. I jerked my hand
away, I didn’t want to explore further. “I have a hole in my head!” I laughed
uneasily. “I can’t have a hole.”
where the bullet went in,” said Mel, her voice firmer.
I strode to the open bathroom door and inside. The mirror above the sink showed
me. . . .
cocked my head one way then the other. I stepped to the side and slanted my
body to peer at the mirror on an angle. Then I shuffled to the other side and
suddenly darted in, trying to surprise my reflection.
didn’t have a reflection.
fingered my head again. According to the mirror I didn’t exist, yet I felt a
humongous crater above my ear.
looked over my shoulder. “So you died in the hospital?”
natural presumption if I really were dead, as shades remain at the location of
remain, either in place or able to move inside specific
boundaries, for they don’t understand they can breach those limits. A bouncy
little shade from England taught Jack and Mel they could.