Reaching Rachel - One
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“What do you remember about the accident?”
I stare past the police woman’s face, the stern set of her mouth and the hardness in her eyes. The woman who introduced herself to me as Sandy last night, I focus on her instead. The soft smile, the round cheeks laced with sympathy. I tap my fingers against the starchy cotton of the hospital sheet and shake my head to clear it.
“I don’t remember anything.”
“Nothing?” Her tone is disbelieving.
“Do you think I’m lying?”
She switches tactics, setting her little tape-recorder thingy down at the end of the bed, by my foot. The one that’s wrapped in layers of pristine first-aid cloth, completely immobilized. I follow the line of her arm as it comes to a rest there, fascinated by the way my toes poke out the end of the white wrapper. I wiggle them but don’t feel it.
“You can tell me, Rachel,” she continues in a soft, assertive tone. She grazes my wrist with her other hand, and I wonder if them sending a female officer in to get my account of the events was strategical. I can just see them now: a group of three or four law officers, gathered in a cold, gray room somewhere off the highway, debating whether Tony or Tim or whoever should come or Brandy—that’s the officer’s name—should. Well, obviously Brandy because this poor, traumatized, temporarily-motherless child wasn’t going to risk dissolving into a puddle of tears in front of a guy when she went through the excruciating story.
I guess they don’t know me very well.
“I really don’t know,” I articulate slowly, but a swell of emotion accompanies the lie and sends my eyes squinting and the last word breaking off into a gasp pleading for relief. Please, can somebody end this nightmare.
“It’s kind of a nightmare.”
“For Hannah, yes.” Mom tapped her ragged fingernails against the steering wheel. She’d forfeited her weekly Saturday manicure in favor of a trip to Greenwich to judge how her sister was doing for herself. She’d been biting them all week, a nervous habit of hers that surfaced from time-to-time when necessity called. I was hoping this visit would finally quell that and she would move on.
“And you,” I added softly, half hoping she wouldn’t hear.
“Mom, you’ve been worried about this all week. It’s killing you.”
“Hanna’s just a baby, you know?”
“A thirty-year-old baby.”
“Goodness.” She reached out to tug at my ponytail. “Somebody hasn’t had enough attention paid to them.”
“You didn’t even come to my art show.”
“I had to miss that. I had to work.”
“Because you spent the morning talking to Hannah and postponed, yeah.”
She worked the tie from my hair in the gentle way that only she could, until it came cascading down against my ears, soft as silk. She ran her fingers through it, combing the stray bits into place.
“You have such pretty hair. I wish I had your hair.”
My smile was reluctant. Mom poked my bottom lip, set even thinner than usual in its hesitance to turn up at the edges. I rolled my eyes and grinned at the ceiling, out the sunroof, towards the bright blue sky.
Just like that, the police woman stands and surrenders her war against me. “Tell you what, Rachel. Give us a call sometime within the next week, when you’re feeling up to it, and we’ll take your account of the events then, okay?”
“Fine,” I agree, voice warbling. I close my eyes and keep them that way until I hear the door click shut. They open to the sight of Sandy holding out a tissue for me to take. I do, dabbing at the corners of my eyes. I’m usually so dependable, so in control of what I’m feeling, but the painkillers have done a number on me.
“Do you want to talk to me about it?” Sandy offers gently. I’m not stupid. The policewoman put her up to it.
“No. I said I can’t remember.”
She leans away, considering me for a moment. Finally, she nods. “Okay. Well, I’ve got to be on my route, but buzz if you need me. All right?”
I sink into the pillows, wishing for the one I left at home.
Or, actually, in the car.
Did that mean it was destroyed? My favorite pillow?
The thought worries me more than anything else has so far, ridiculous as it is. I imagine it—the soft, blue cotton pillowcase, the stuffing inside—I’ve had that pillow since I was five. It was a present from my Mother along with my “big girl” twin bed which still sits in my room, safe and sound.
I should have left the pillow home. But how was I supposed to know we were going to get into an accident? How was I supposed to know?
My eyes slide open reluctantly. I stare at Sandy, not a flicker of emotion crossing my face.
“Did you hear me?”
“What?” My tongue is so dry. I realize I’m pressing the morphine button on my IV and let go involuntarily.
“Buzz for me if you need anything. Okay? That button.”
She points to one attached to my bed rails, but it’s blurry and I can’t discern if it’s purple or red. The tears are welling up, and I want her to go away. I want my pillow.
“Yes! I heard!”
If she’s taken aback by my impatience, it doesn’t show. “Good. That’s all I wanted to be sure of.”
I watch as she leaves the room with an air of calm surrounding her. How can she stand it? I’m breathing heavily, incensed. Why does everybody keep asking me questions? Questions after questions after questions.
“I have a question.”
I turned my head enough to see Mom’s profile—her crinkly blue eyes, her full-lipped smile, the little bump that juts from her nose and makes me tease her sometimes,when I’m in one of my sillier moods.
“How bad is it really, Mom? Be honest.”
“Oh…honey…” She tightened her grip on the wheel. “Probably not as bad as I make it out to be. You should ask Hannah. Not me. You become biased when you’re the older sister. It’s like I have two kids to worry about. Not just one.”
“You worry about me?”
“What are you asking?Of course I do. All the time. It’s my job.”
I slap my hands against my cheeks, trying to chase the memories away. I don’t want to remember. I know what comes next—I ask for my pillow, because I’m uncomfortable. Mom turns around to get it. Her hand slips on the wheel. We swerve into the next lane. The cars come out of nowhere.
Crunch. Shatter. Crash.
I scream and she—she tells me to grab onto the little bar that juts from the ceiling of the car. She tells me to breathe. Somebody hits us from behind and it’s like—it’s like you can feel the car folding up around you, and it’s so hot. I’m so hot, and I think something is on fire, and when I yell for her again—
That’s what I remember.
- - -
My eyes open to a curtain of red hair. Arms surround me, and somebody sniffs into my shoulder. I raise my arm. It’s numb from the way I was holding it, but I rub it against Aunt Hannah’s back anyway.
“Rachel! Thank God you’re okay!” She pulls away. Her eyes are watery, her orange eyelashes almost translucent. She must have come this morning—she didn’t even bother to put on makeup.
“Almost okay,” I amend, tipping my head toward my leg. Both my arms are tied up, wrapped around her, and I’m reluctant to let go to this little piece of what’s still the same.
“Is it bad?” She leans away and gathers her hair back into a bun, expertly sliding a chopstick through the whole thing. Hannah always carries chopsticks with her, in her gigantic tote back that’s full of various, half-used things. I don’t know how she keeps organized. Probably due to Rich.
That makes me wonder where he is, and I ask Hannah.
“He had to go to work,” She explains, plainly apologetic. “He told me to tell you he’s sorry, and that he’ll see you later. Okay?”
“Later…” I’m concerned. I try and fail to push myself into a sitting position. My leg is dead weight. “What do you mean, later?”
“Here,” Hannah grabs the little remote that is connected to my bed by a cord, and she raises the back up. I know she’s stalling.
“Hannah,” I say, ignoring the fact that she’s still pushing the button. I start to tip over, and she laughs.
“Okay, sorry,” She says, bringing it back down. She tosses the remote from hand to hand, biting her lip. The room fills with the sound of her stubborn silence. She hates to do what’s hard.
“Hannah,” I repeat, a bit hysterical.
“You’re coming home with me,” She blurts, clenching her teeth.
“Oh. That’s not…so bad.”
“No. It’s not.”
“What about Mom?”
She raises her shoulder, waits a second, and lets them drop. “I don’t know.”
Her voice is shaky. I see the tears welling in her eyes, and I know she’s trying to be strong. If it’s for me, or whatever her noble intentions are, it’s not working. Hannah’s always been sensitive.
“She’ll be okay,” I say, even though it’s absurd for me to assure her. They haven’t told me anything about Mom, not even when I’ve asked.
“I know,” She says, turning away. She hunches over on herself for a minute, arms crossed.
“Come on, Hannah,” I try, as soft sobbing fills the room. “You can’t do this. The stress is probably, like, bad for the baby.”
She doesn’t even glance at her protruding stomach. “I’m allowed to cry, Rachel.”
“Of course you are. Just don’t freak out or anything. You’ve got to stay healthy.”
“Ugh.” Finally, she turned around, wiping tears from her eyes with the collar of her gray t-shirt. “You sound like Cheryl.”
“She’s been rubbing off on me.”
Somebody knocks on the doorframe. I twist my neck toward the noise. Sandy comes in, followed closely by Dr. Harris, the guy who did my stitches when I came in yesterday morning.
“Rachel. How are we holding up?” He asks, bending over my leg. He begins to undo the wrapping.
“Fine,” I say, transfixed by the way the bandage is winding off, so easy.
Sandy’s carrying a tub of different things with her. She sets it down on a little metal table and pulls a pair of gloves on. Then she motions Hannah over.
“Since you’ll be her guardian for a bit, you need to wash your hands and grab a pair of these. We need to show you how to change the bandages.”
“Oh.” Hannah looks a bit queasy. “Well…actually…she’ll only be with me a couple days.”
“You still need to know.”
“What?” I demand again. Hannah refuses to look at me.
“First, you’ll need to unwrap the bandage,” Dr. Harris starts up. “Then you’ll remove the gauze.”
“I don’t know…I’m not good with blood and stuff.”
“It’s fine, Mrs. Logan. There’s no blood.”
“What do you mean, Hannah?” I ask. My words fall on deaf ears.
“Then—” Sandy steps forward and starts peeling the gauze off. I feel a pinprick of pain.
They all finally look at me.
“Did that hurt?” Dr. Harris asks, looking concerned.
“Um…” I give Hannah an beseeching glare. “Not really. I was trying to get her attention.”
“Perhaps you should wait until we’re finished to discuss personal matters,” He suggests, not unkindly. The underlying message is clear, though, in the set of his mouth: shut up.
So I do. I watch as they remove the gauze. The little, even rows of black are stark against my paler-than-usual legs. I need to move to get the blood flowing.
Hannah lets out a little cry of surprise when they peel the biggest piece of gauze off to reveal even more stitches. I stare, partially horrified, as they continue to reveal rows upon rows of stitches.
My whole calf is practically black.
“We decided your skin was…salvageable,” Dr. Harris explains, as we all just kind of take it in. This wasn’t me. This couldn’t be me. “We need to let it heal and then we can do skin grafting down the line, if you want.”
“Her leg’s going to be mangled.” Hannah presses a fist to her mouth.“Her whole leg.”
“Are you okay, Rachel?” Sandy asks, ready to reassure with a cup of water extended to me.
“At least I’m not dead,” I offer numbly, pressing the cup to my lips. Hannah squeezes my hand. I can’t find it in me to be happy that I’m not, not in this moment. My mother’s in the ICU and my leg is going to look a horror show when it finally heals. Life feels like it's over.
“Don’t say that,” She whispers, bending over to wrap her arm around me. “It’s not that bad.”
I blink, coming out of my self-pitying stupor. “I know.”
She continues to hold me as Dr. Harris shows her how to clean it, how to get the gauze back on. When they’re done, they ask me if I want to stand.
“Sure,” I say, and they come over to brace me—Dr. Harris on one side, Sandy on the other. I swing my arms around their necks and I heave to my feet. I put weight on my bad foot cautiously. It tinges with the greeting of fresh blood as I step forward.
They walk me around the room, in discouraging circles. I try not to see the white walls. I try not to notice the absence of flowers on the bedside table and Get-Well cards propped in the window sill, like the time I went and had my tonsils out when I was seven.
“What about Dad?” I ask, halfway through our fourth go-around. Hannah, who is walking in front of me, lowers her eyes. I see the guilt slide across her face, as stark as ink from a pen.
“I called him on the way over,” She says, motioning me forward. “He’s relieved you’re okay.”
“He’s not going to call?”
“He didn’t want to upset you.”
I roll my eyes. “Typical.”
“I think he was just trying to keep your health in mind, Rachel.”
I narrow my eyes, surprised. She never takes his side. Hannah is nothing if not loyal to Mom, almost as much as I am. I squeeze my hands into fists and grunt through the next step as pain slices through my leg, insistent and all-consuming.
Dr. Harris stops. “Are you okay?”
“It just hurts,” I mutter, shrugging. Hannah motions to the bed.
“She should probably lie back down.”
Sandy nods and begins tugging me that way, against my half-hearted protests. I flop down onto the bed reluctantly, pulling myself back with my hands until I’m in a comfortable position. Dr. Harris excuses himself when his pager goes off. Sandy starts checking my vitals and making sure every bandage is secure. All the while, I stare Hannah down, imploring her to speak.
“Don’t be mad at me,” She says once Sandy leaves the room. I cross my arms.
“What is it?”
“Rachel…” She pauses to massage her forehead. “You have to understand. I’m going to go on bed rest soon. I can’t…I’m not equipped to help you properly.”
“Could you just say it? Please?”
She sinks down into a chair across the room, crossing her legs at the ankles. “When they release you, you’re coming with me—”
“Then you’ll go with your Dad.”
“Wait…” I sit up, brushing my hair back from my face. “What?”
“But you’ll be with me today, and tomorrow—”
“You can’t! Hannah, you can’t. I’ll stay with you. I’ll help you out. I can clean and—and cook and everything. You need help, right? I can help. I won’t be in the way.”
I’m a sputtering, desperate mess in need of prompt saving. I can tell by the wayward set of her eyes that she’s not going to be the one to do it.
“Please, Hannah,” I resort to at long last, lowering my voice substantially. “Please.”
“Rachel…I can’t…” She starts waving her hands in front of her face, as if to shake me away.
“Please. I can’t be with him. It’s not fair.”
She stands up, slinging her bag over her shoulder. “Stop it.”
“Hannah, just think about it. Just please,” I beg, clasping my hands together.
She starts for the door. I straighten, unsettled.
“Where are you going?”
“Out,” she snaps. The door swings softly shut behind her.
I wait a while for her to return, to say she’s sorry and she’ll take me—it’s the predictable Hannah way—but she doesn’t. Which means I’ve really made her angry.
I lean back against my pillows and contemplate the ceiling, under the pretense that I don’t have anything more pressing to consider.
Because I don’t. I don’t, I don’t, I don’t. The idea of moving in with my Dad isn’t even plausible.
I’m not going.