By Hannah Achorn
She could feel a scream building up, pressing against her insides, threatening to snap the thin strands of restraint left. In her head she could hear the smash, the shattering of glass, the splintering of bones against pavement, the crumpling metal frame of the car. Beneath her shaking hands, the dark wood of the desk was smooth and unscratched; the linoleum under her socks hard and cold. She couldn’t remember when she’d lost her shoes. Everything was white, the tiny office pristine, stark – no pictures or personal effects; only certificates and white paint.
Someone mumbled something to her in a blunt voice and hands pulled her down into a rough, uncomfortable chair. More words blundered past her but she took none of it in. She was staring past the man and his white coat and dull brown eyes, gazing out the window, into the corridor. The door across the hall was closed, the small window blocked by a shade. But that didn’t matter. She was imagining it perfectly on her own.
Inside that door would be another room, just as white and cold as this one. There would be more lights and machinery, mechanical beeps and blips interrupting the orderly chaos. Nurses and doctors would be bustling about, following procedures as usual, their brains going along for the ride, while deep inside their chests, their hearts would be wrenching, twisting. This was not normal. This one wasn’t going to make it. She could see it now, the table and its occupant, lying motionless on its sterile surface. He would be swathed in fabric, that ugly, blue, plastic-like fabric that coated all the medics. Stretches of skin would be uncovered though, and red would stain the white and blue of the room, screaming out against the bleached surroundings as little silver utensils poked and prodded, followed by the white-gloved hand. The vision became clearer and she could see, under the startling red, the pale skin, once so smooth and uninterrupted, now marred, ripped, torn by grazes, exposing that excruciating red. In her mind’s eye, she traveled up, past an expanse of blue plastic to his face. She saw his auburn hair, close-cut and ordinary, lying flat against his forehead, not quite reaching his eyes. And the eyes: also brown, but so deep and full of life and ringed with long dark eyelashes. His eyes were a shade of brown that went on forever and made people stop and stare. It was a living color, rich and endless. They might never open again, those deep, brown eyes. Their last glimpse of life might have been the blue sky as the car rolled, or the tall evergreens, lining the road. Or it could have been the hard cement as it rushed to meet his body, the wheels of the other car through the haze of pain.
The pain he would have felt ripped through her now, and she tore her eyes away from the door and back to the doctor. He had brown eyes too. She studied them for a moment. They were shallow and ordinary – a still, dull brown. That was all that could be said for his eyes: just brown. She jumped as a cold hand descended on hers.
Would you like to see him? He spoke in a deep, wooden voice. Would you like to see him? The question was so simple but her lips were as stiff as his voice. Of course I want to see him, are you crazy? A stab of adrenaline coursed through her limbs and she stood up, swayed slightly and then walked out of the cold, white room, following the empty-eyed man.
The knob was icy under her tingling fingers, but the door swung open easily, without sound or resistance. She stepped inside. Blue plastic nurses scuttled out of the way, their wrenching, twisting hearts hidden under the hideous fabric and careful smiles. She could feel the wary eyes of the two doctors on her back but could have cared less. In the middle of the room was the table. On the table lay the body. Swathed in blue, with patches of cream and scarlet blinking out, he lay still; almost. The rise and fall of his chest was faint, and the mechanical beeps slow, but they existed nonetheless. In that moment, all of her senses zeroed in on that white table. Everything else fell away.
His skin was still the same in places that had been untouched by the road or twisting metal: soft, smooth, and creamy. Fine, golden hairs speckled his arms and the auburn hair was still feathery where not matted with vicious red. The awful color spilled out of a slit in his lip and dribbled down his chin, staining the pale skin and faint stubble there. Her vocal cords stretched and writhed as she whispered his name, the air rasping through the cords, frozen by the cold, the white, and the fear. She repeated it – the name – put every ounce of strength that she had left into that one syllable, placing her hope, her faith and her love into that name. The figure on the table remained unmoving and unchanged, except for the shallow breaths that kept his chest heaving at a slow, irregular pace. Ignoring the red that seeped into her robe, not seeing the gashes in his flesh, she pressed her head into the crook of his neck, where so many times she had found comfort, and hugged his chest. A gagging, choking sound pried itself from her lips and tears leaked from beneath her closed eyelids onto the bare skin. She shook as she cried, and the doctors, for all their orderliness, could not bring themselves to tear her away.
She crumpled, like the car, leaning against the cold table, its white surface failing to break through the ocean of grief that consumed her. A firm hand clutched at her shoulder, and forced her to look up.
You have to leave now. The words rang hollowly in her ears, vibrating, echoing, but refusing to actually register. The operating room is ready. A shudder, starting in her shoulders, wracked down her spine. The firm hands pulled at her now, trying to take her away. Her fingers latched onto the blue plastic covering the table and the body. More hands came, each trying to pull her away in a different direction. Some tugged at her clothes and others latched onto her arms. She ignored them all. The cold and the white had seeped into her bones long ago, in the office with the empty-eyed doctor. Restraint and reason had been pushed aside. She refused to look back.
Amidst the chaos, calloused fingertips found the back of her hand, just barely grazing her skin, its intention not to pull, but to comfort. She slid her hand closer, listening to the warmth and the tenderness, and raised her head. Deep, living, endless brown met her, ringed with splotches of purple bruising. Lips split and peppered with scarlet, stretched stiffly, just barely revealing the lovely teeth beneath. A tear dripped down from the corner of a molten eye as it studied her own tear-stained face. A bubble had formed around them and she saw nothing but his familiar features and felt nothing but his warmth, his comforting touch. She gripped his hand, relishing the feel of his fingers as she curled and wrapped her own around his. It will be all right. She could see it in his eyes, that one statement, ringing true in those endless eyes. It will be all right. And she heard his voice, weak, rusty and scarcely audible:
“Just let go.”
Fingers uncurled. Brown eyes slid shut. Reopened. Just let go.
“It’ll be all right.”
It’ll be all right.
She let go.