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She was searching inside her handbag for her cigarettes when she heard Ron hiss, "Jesus Christ!" and glanced over to see his face reflected, twisted unnaturally white in the glare of oncoming headlights. His hands were a blur, spinning the wheel. The brakes screamed. Everything that happened, each motion, was distinctly encapsulated in its own fragment of time. She turned her head to see what was happening out there, ahead of them on the road, her hands motionless now within the confines of her bag. David Gates was singing "If." His voice emerged with a surprising clarity from the stereo speakers, pure and positive behind the steady shrieking of the brakes. Her body was lifting. Instinctively, she sought to free her hands as the windshield seemed to move inexorably toward her.
She soared through the glass as if executing a perfect dive: neatly, with no hesitation, nothing to interrupt her body's flow as it broke through the barrier. She flew, aware of a crescendo of conflicting sounds. Her body a tumbler's precision instrument gone out of control, she somersaulted off the hood of the car, bounced very high, it felt, into the air, then collided with metal before bouncing again - a stone skipped across high-breaking waves - and then landed.
She could see the pebbly surface of the paved highway, and could feel what might have been many small, jagged rocks beneath her. She heard the unmistakable sounds of fragments of metal falling all about her and, incredibly, David Gates singing how you and I would finally fly away; the music wafting into the stratosphere. Shouts and cries and the sounds of feet pounding - their reverberations jarred in her skull. She thought, inconsequentially, randomly, of Indians placing their ears to the ground to detect the sound of hoofbeats; of people putting their ears to railroad tracks in order to feel the vibration of oncoming trains. It was almost funny, and she thought she might be smiling. She felt ridiculous and decided she'd better get up. She would make some joke about her hitherto unknown acrobatic skills as she sauntered back to the car, and to Ron.
She closed her eyes for a moment, concentrating, and then tried to move. She couldn't. The effort of her attempt caused pain to flare throughout her body. It was all at once terribly important that she get up, and again she shut her eyes briefly before making a second, failing, attempt to rise. She rested, hearing voices and the continuing burr beneath her ear of cars passing on the far side of the highway and feet moving very near to her. Someone was murmuring, "Jesus, Jesus!" over and over again. Someone else was moaning close by. There was too much noise. It interfered with her concentration. She wanted to think about the problem of her inability to move, but the voices and now, the far-off whine of sirens, got in the way. She knew absolutely that if the noise could just be made to let up, if she could be free to concentrate, she'd be able to relocate her mobility. The idea that she was lying, probably in the middle of the road, was both peculiarly satisfying and horribly embarrassing.
Summoning all her strength, she managed to turn slightly, but at once hands stayed her and a voice ordered, "Don't move! Just stay still!" Something - a coat or a blanket - was draped over her and she gave up, shut her eyes and let them stay closed. She'd been freed by that command from the responsibility of movement. She could remain as she was, mentally trying to sort out her possible injuries.
It seemed a very long time before people came, and hands shifted her. She was turned over, at last. As she was carried on a stretcher toward a waiting ambulance, she could see the scene of the accident. There were so many cars! She wasn't sure what she'd assumed, but it in no way involved what appeared to be the remains of four or five cars. And where was Ron? She strained, twisting her head in an effort to locate him.
"Just relax!" a voice said from behind her head. "Take it easy now."
"Where's Ron?" she tried to ask, perplexed by her lack of control of her facial muscles. It was much the same sensation as the aftermath of a dose of Novocain: thickness through which it was difficult to speak. She repeated her question slowly, striving for distinctness.
Voices conferred behind her, then someone responded, "He was in the first ambulance."
Ron had been injured. What if he died? She wouldn't think about that. He couldn't possibly die. He'd been perfectly all right. She could see him clearly, spinning the wheel, cursing under his breath as he fought for control. He was bound to have established it. He was always in control - of situations, of people, of stereo equipment, and automobiles. It was, in large part, what had attracted her to him initially: his easy authority, his aura of capability. No piece of machinery, no automobile could deprive Ron of his control. The possibility that he might have been critically injured, might even have died, was too upsetting to contemplate. She gazed steadily at the roof of the ambulance as one of the attendants checked her heart and blood pressure, then looked searchingly into her eyes.
The man's expression was completely non-revealing, as if he'd worked years to attain total mastery of his features. She found this reassuring. It was confirmation of something, perhaps that she was not seriously injured. If she had sustained serious injuries, she reasoned, she'd be unconscious. There was pain, though, more and more of it as the ambulance raced toward the hospital. And she felt very cold, so cold she began to shiver. The shivering seemed to accentuate the pain, heightening it, perhaps even causing it to spread because it was beginning to seem as if every area of her body was now afflicted, most especially her face. She longed to free her hands and explore her features, again recalling her astonishing flight through the windshield. If she closed her eyes, she was again in flight, breaking effortlessly through the glass.
Awareness returned to her in the emergency examining room, and she looked up into the face of someone she knew. She thought she must be in Fairhaven, if Barbara was here.
"Barbara?" It had become even more difficult to speak.
"This is a hell of a way to get to see me, Caley," Barbara said with a soft laugh. "Other people make dates to meet for lunch or dinner or something."
"I went through the windshield," she articulated carefully, somewhat wonderingly.
"I know." Barbara's voice remained hushed as, with a pair of surgical scissors, she sliced away Caley's shredded clothes.
"How is it?" Caley asked, all but exhausted now by her efforts to communicate.
Barbara finished cutting one of the sleeves before answering. She dredged up a smile and patted Caley lightly on the shoulder. "You're going to be fine. Rest now. They'll be in to see you in a minute."
"We'll get you warmed up," Barbara promised, then silently escaped.
Outside, the scissors still in her hand, Barbara sagged against the wall, one arm wrapped around herself. In her eight years as an O.R. nurse she'd seen her fair share of accident victims, but never anything quite like the destruction of her friend's face. She didn't want to go back inside and assist in the preliminary examination of Caley Burrell. She didn't want to be the one to reveal to Caley the extent of her injuries, and she was bound to give it all away if she had to spend one more minute in there.
She went to the desk and swapped with Karen Moore.
"She's a friend of mine and I can't hack it. Do me a favor, and let me take your patient."
"That bad?" Karen asked, willing to make the change.
Barbara simply nodded.
Just before she received the anesthetic, it occurred to her that she'd been afraid, and was even more afraid now. It was fear, she thought, that had held her internally immobilized, in a transfixed state, as her body had been sent rocketing from the car.
Why hadn't Barbara come back? she wondered. Did her failure to return mean something?
Trussed, entrapped in wrappings like a package of meat on display in a market, she was agonized, anguished at her inability to move. She screamed silently in protest and struggled upward from sleep, determined to rid herself of the effects of the anesthetic. She wanted to be fully conscious, to be able to tell someone that she had to be freed, had to have some degree of mobility restored to her limbs. The anesthetic, though, like powerful lips sucked her back into damp darkness, into amnesia. Four times, five, she fought to open her eyes and, at last, succeeded, only to discover that her eyes refused to focus. It intensified her anguish. She told herself she would not again succumb to the temptation of that enticing darkness, and fixed her eyes on the ceiling light, striving to bring it into definition.
If she could just be repositioned, her head elevated, she'd be better able to survey the landscape of her immediate self and determine the possible extent of any attainable freedom. Her tongue floundered inside her parched mouth, seeking to create the moisture that would enable speech. Swallowing, she was aware of the stripped sensation at the back of her throat. It was as if someone had forced her to ingest razor blades.
Sensing a presence, she shifted her eyes, trying to catch sight of whoever was there. The person came within her viewing range. It was a woman. "It's about time you started coming around," she said. "You've been out for seven hours." A pause, and then she said, "I'll get you some water. It's anesthetic dehydration."
A glass straw was insinuated between her lips and Caley tried to draw water up the length of the straw. The effort aroused so much pain that tears flooded her eyes. The straw was withdrawn and a moment later a wet cloth replaced it. Her tongue touched gratefully against the moisture. The water tasted metallic, rusty.
"Dr. Morgan's on his way in to see you. He'll be here in a minute or two."
"Am I tied down?" Caley tried to ask, distressed by her inability now to maintain her eyes' focus.
It took a few seconds, and then the woman seemed to understand. "Restrained," she corrected gently. "Now that you're awake I think we can get rid of these." She proceeded to release a series of straps, and at once Caley's anguish diminished.
"Sit up?" Caley begged, distraught at the hybrid sounds issuing from her so unintelligibly.
"Try to stay calm."
It was a needless admonition. Her brief effort at speech had drained her. It was as if she'd been silent for years and the attempt to speak for the first time was unfamiliar and infuriatingly difficult, her mouth, her entire face protesting. She returned her eyes to the ceiling globe and swallowed experimentally, only to confirm that the rawness was still there.
When next she opened her eyes it was to see a man standing beside her bed. Beneath his white coat, which he wore with undeniable panache, his puffy chest was covered by a white shirt with thin red stripes. Knotted to Windsor perfection around his neck was a burgundy silk tie, and framing both the tie and the somewhat tight-looking collar of his shirt was a stethoscope. A subtle white-on-black tag on his coat lapel identified him as Dr. M. Morgan. He was looking down at her with slightly narrowed eyes, as if debating whether she was worthy of his time.
"I'm Dr. Morgan," he announced abruptly, seeing that he had her attention. "They called me in last evening to attend to you." He paused, and she felt she should say something, but didn't, couldn't. He appeared to be a man of more than usual impatience and she had no desire to irritate him. He exuded a quiet anger that might be prompted to flare by less than meticulously chosen words.
"Dawson called me in for a con-sult," he went on, breaking the final word into two distinctly separate syllables. He was addressing her as if she were on parole, or possibly on a suspended sentence. Even before he continued speaking, she'd decided she didn't like him: didn't like his Rolex watch, or the Gucci belt with the telltale back-to-back Gs; she disliked his gold tie-tack and the rigidly starched cuffs peeking from beneath the sleeves of his white coat. Everything about him shouted of vanity and of an insistence that all matters in which he might be involved should be directed solely to his satisfaction. Yet despite her immediate dislike, she was momentarily intimidated by his authority. He was, after all, a doctor.
Behind him, in the background, she could see the woman who'd spoken to her earlier, the one who'd released her from the restraints. Her presence now gave Caley a measure of confidence. Both women waited as Morgan prepared to speak again, reading now from a clipboard he held to one side with his left hand and to which it was obvious he intended to refer.
"Has Dawson been in to speak to her yet?" He addressed the other woman, as if Caley were incapable of answering even the simplest of questions.
"Not yet," the woman answered, and Caley could see that she, too, was negatively affected by this rather florid-faced, angry man. "He's due."
He returned his attention to the clipboard, and, only incidentally, to Caley. "There are," he declared momentously, "fractures to the clavicle, the left femur and left tibia, and a pelvic fracture. The facial damage is of a more serious nature: a displaced fracture of the malar bone, comminuted compound fracture of the nasal bones with avulsion of the nasal skin. We have, of course, addressed the various fractures. In particular, I have created a temporary nasal skeleton with side-to-side wires holding bone fragments in place; external lead plates either side of the reconstructed nasal bridge, and a split skin graft from the hip for resurfacing." Again he stopped and looked meaningfully at Caley, as if expecting some enthusiastic response. When she once more failed to speak, he tucked the clipboard under his arm and leaned slightly closer to her. "I'm a head-and-neck man, cosmetic surgery, reconstructions."
He was presenting himself like a used-car salesman, she thought.
"I did your facial work," he declared proudly.
He was insane, she decided, trying to turn her head to avoid the minty smell of his breath. The other woman took several steps, then stopped, closely watching Caley. "Perhaps we should wait for Dr. Dawson," she began tentatively.
"Get out!" Caley mouthed.
Morgan whirled around at the sound of her words, his mouth ready to emit more technical jargon.
"Get out!" Caley managed to utter the words distinctly.
"You won't touch me again!" Each word provoked a new and different sensation of pain. "Go ... away!"
He gaped at her, a flush overtaking his too-small features. "The woman's clearly confused," he told the other woman.
"She doesn't seem to want you here."
"This is absurd!" He turned and stomped to the door where he collided with Dawson coming in. "Get yourself another man!" Morgan bellowed. "I disassociate myself from this case."
Dawson watched Morgan storm off down the corridor, then turned and entered the room, asking the woman, "What's going on, Hannah?"
"He was his usual diplomatic self," Dr. Hannah Lincoln told him. "Just marched in with a list of fractures and a recitation of the details of his procedure. Another minute and he'd have dragged out a mirror so she could more fully appreciate his skills. The whole thing sounded like Anatomy 404." She smiled and shrugged.
"I understand Dr. Morgan upset you," Dawson said, approaching Caley. "He has an unfortunate manner, but he really is a good man."
"I don't care," Caley whispered, trying to get a grasp of some sort on the implications of reconstructive surgery. "Tell me in English," she said, at ease again. Dawson had been her physician for more than six years.
"What he did was partially temporary and partially, we hope, permanent. Basically, he rebuilt your nose." Apologetically, he went on to explain, in readily comprehensible terms, how her flight through the windshield had had the effect of reducing her nose to pulp. Along with the other facial fractures, a fair amount of skin had been sheared away. "It's not an uncommon procedure, Caley, but in this case he apparently didn't have a lot to work with. We're keeping our fingers crossed that we'll avoid any infection."
It meant nothing to her. Words came from his mouth and bounced off her consciousness like ping-pong balls. Yes, her face hurt. But she could not relate the ongoing pain to the descriptions he offered. She was concerned, suddenly, with Ron's whereabouts, and interrupted him to ask, "Where's Ron?"
"He was discharged a few hours ago. He'll probably be in to see you this evening. He was lucky. A few cuts and bruises, a badly sprained shoulder, and that's about it."
"He did come by before he left," Dr. Lincoln added. "But you hadn't come around yet."
There were more words but Caley didn't listen and, finally, the two doctors left.
Late that afternoon, she asked for and received, from one of the nurses, the Stamford Advocate. She read the account of what had happened and then studied the photograph of the accident scene for quite some time. It didn't seem real or possible that she had been involved, especially when she now knew that the driver and passenger of the other car - the one whose headlights she'd seen coming at them - had died. Their car had gone out of control, crossed the median, and struck them. In swerving to avoid the oncoming car, Ron had side-swiped another car, and a fourth vehicle had rear-ended both these cars. "Caley Burrell of Stamford, a passenger, is listed as in serious but stable condition at Fairhaven Hospital suffering from multiple fractures and facial injuries." Ron was credited with fast action which resulted in his sustaining only minor injuries.
She allowed the newspaper to slide from her hands. Her eyes drifted over the ceiling. She'd decide how she felt, what her reactions to all this were, when she saw Ron. Until he came, everything was held in suspension. Her eyes closed and the words "reconstructive surgery" shunted relentlessly through her head until she slid deeper, and slept.
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