The TV’s ethereal glow lit up the stark lines on her face. Her eyelids were thin and closed. He considered waking her, but it would only cause confusion. Her mind was not as it had once been.
Better she rest, he thought, grabbing his car keys from the hook by the door. Quietly, he slid the chain from its lock. She stirred briefly, the bright blue of her eyes hidden in a dream. Somewhere far away. I hope its a nice day on the beach, David caught himself hoping for her. Her mind had slipped away from so much, after everything. It was something David had carried around in the pit of his stomach for nearly thirteen years. Her decline into…into THIS.
“Can I buy a vowel?” Blurted a man on the television.
“Of course!” said Sajak.
“E!” He yelled.
“E for eardrums,” David mumbled, walking back to the table beside her chair. He picked up the remote and turned the volume down to an indecipherable mutter. Turning to leave, his fingers touched the metal of the doorknob. The tiniest bolt of static shot forth, shocking him.
“Shit!” He spat. The woman stirred again, and the glowing red-blue-green cast shadows through her graying hair. Once dark and pulled tightly into curls and ringlets, it had become wiry and erratic over time. Her forehead grew wrinkles upon wrinkles. She had become much older than she ever deserved.
“David!” She said, high and worried. Her voice came from some far away dream-land.
He scanned her face. Her eyes were still closed, brows cinched together.
“What is it, Ma?” He answered softly. Through the thin walls of the crumbling building, the sounds of other televisions made a tiny cacophony together—their vibrations threatening to dislodge more of the failing plaster.
“Are you awake?” She said, distantly. He looked over her. Once she had been so excited to find the dingy hotel. To take a gamble on a new life. If only she’d known that she was never to leave. That she and David would still be there, confined by electric noise and threadbare blankets. Her smooth skin had become paper-white and just as frail.
“Yes, Ma. I gotta go.” He answered, turning his eyes down to the floor. Looking at her was difficult. It was never supposed to have become like this. They had come as three. Now it was only the two of them.
David thought briefly of Daisy’s girlish dimples. Bitch, he thought.
“My lightning bolt,” Kay murmured. “Don’t let ’em pin you down.” Her voice faded off.
I won’t, Ma. He thought, feeling heavy.
Her chair was surrounded by various forms of paper. It had started years ago with the newspaper clippings from the fight. Headlines like “GIANT STOPS THE LIGHTNING BOLT” began to encircle her. Then it grew to empty food wrappers and envelopes. Bills from the hospital, the tax office, the insurance companies. They accumulated like fire ants seeking flesh.
When Daisy had vanished, something slowly began to change in David’s mother. Until that point, Kay had managed to maintain the notion that there was a fair explanation. Hope lingered in her expression during those fleeting times. She kept herself whole after the fight. After the hospital and the chaos and getting back to the run-down room full of nothing. After the phone calls. After the enormous medical bills and after trying again and again to find Daisy. To know where she had gone. To not suddenly be here, alone, with a near-dead son and a missing member of her covenant.
“She just got separated during the chaos,” she had said. “She’ll be turning up any minute now.”
She squeezed David’s hand from the bedside. The monitors beeped and clicked. He was too doped on the pain meds to manage a response. Having fractured ribs and displaced vertebrae was not something quickly or easily mended.
“After all…well, after all that mess…she ought to know that this is where we’d have ended up.”
A nurse poked her head in the door.
“Everything okay, Ms. Wymond?” She said. Young. Energetic. Cheery. David had lain before her in shambles—a mother’s son—and she dared sparkle like a star.
“It will be, I’m sure,” she said in a razor’s edge. But, though her tone was sharp, her eyes faltered, highlighting her dismay. The nurse didn’t fail to notice.
She took a half step into the doorway. Her voice dropped, quiet and somber.
“If you need anything, Ms. Wymond. Anything at all, you just press that red button on the bedrail,” she said.
Kay narrowed her eyes. The nurse’s puke-green scrubs practically glowed under the fluorescence of the cold building.
“I know how to press a button,” she said flatly. Her eyebrows hardened.
“I’m serious,” the nurse said in a small, earnest plea. “I’ve got everyone out there’s attention on this room. They all know who your son is. They all want the best.” She attempted a small smile.
“I appreciate your patronage,” Kay said coldly. “But, unless you have a child, … your child laying in front of you…” Her voice wavered. She tried to clear her throat, rather unsuccessfully. “Broken. You don’t understand.”
The young girl brushed a few blonde strands of hair back behind her ear. Her tiny frame grew smaller, as she looked down at the pale floor tiles.
“Do you have any children?” David’s mother said caustically.
The nurse looked back up, withdrawn.
“No,” she muttered. “I don’t.”
Above them, the electric white of the always-burning, gas-filled bulbs hummed quietly. Constant. Pervading.
“Exactly,” Kay said stonily.
One of the monitors made a louder beep than usual, its oddly moving line jumping up and down. Kay’s eyes flashed to the screen. An orange icon lit up in the corner and started blinking rapidly.
“What is that?” Kay said, her voice changing from stone to a worrying wind.
The nurse cleared her throat with a dainty cough.
“Ms. Wymond, that’s an EEG. It’s monitoring his vitals. The icon just shows that its time for the nurse, well, me, to change out the fluid in that bag, there.” She pointed to a bag of clear fluid hanging from a stand of metal hooks. Her nails were cut short and plain, and her fingers were slender and delicate. “You needn’t worry,” she added.
“Well, change it then!” Kay snapped. The young, blonde nurse froze for a moment. Her blue eyes danced curiously in their sockets. She unfroze, scrunching up her forehead and throwing her hand on her hip.
“Listen,” said the nurse, beaming with youthful light. “I may not know what it is like to have children. You may be right about that. And I know for a fact,” she said, her voice gaining momentum, “that I don’t and won’t ever know what its like to be in someone else’s shoes.”
Kay’s worry again began to give way to anger, but the girl continued.
“But, in the same way, no one else will ever know what its like to wear mine.” Her shoes were clean, white sneakers. Small but planted firmly.
“Sometimes, Ms. Wymond, you have to put your trust in strange people. You never know for certain how your path and my path may have come to cross. You see, Ms. Wymond…Kay, can I call you Kay?”
David’s mother was too drawn back by the little frail blonde to come up with a response. She had trusted Daisy, after all, and where was her response? The nurse offered no chance for responses, anyway.
“Tonight, I was technically off of work, Kay. I was two tiers down an on-call list, and pretty much had my night set. My husband and I had tickets, you see. Tickets to a fight. Do you understand why I’m here? Do you understand why I want to just…just let you know…that we are all looking out for your son?”
Kay’s heart sunk, falling deeply and darkly to somewhere far away. She closed her eyes. Her head swam in smoky circles. This girl, she thought. She saw them beat my boy. She saw it. She was there. Water was rushing from some unseen tap toward her head. She could feel the edges of tears forming along her eyelids. Taking a deep breath, she cleared her thoughts and opened her eyes, letting the luminous, sterile lights of the hospital room come back to her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know.”
The nurse smiled. Radiant.
“It’s okay. I didn’t know you were there either. Do you always go?”
Kay sniffed, wiping her eyes and nodding, and mouthed the word “yes.”
“It was awful,” she heard herself choke out.
“It was,” said the blonde. “Some of them out there heard on the radio, some of them heard from friends. It was a spectacle on the local talk show. There’s just no way,” the nurse said, shaking her head, sending the ear-trapped curls back into disarray. “There’s no way that a man can do that much damage with his fists alone. We all know something was wrong with how it happened. It looked wrong from the beginning.”
Kay stammered. “He just…he just, beat him! Just beat him and broke him and crushed him! I was sick. I’m still sick!” She was shaking her head, sending her dark curls bouncing and springing. “Something isn’t right with this. My boy is better than that. My boy doesn’t deserve that…” Kay trailed off, hanging her head, feeling as if her stomach might turn at any moment.
“It will get better. We know what to do,” the nurse said matter-of-factly.
Kay looked up wearily, wiping both of her hands through the corners of her eyes. She sniffed a deep breath of the stale, recycled air. Then she nodded, her dark hair shining.
“You fix him,” she said softly. “You’re a good girl. You fix my boy.”
Monitors beeped. The nurse changed the IV bag. The lights glowed perpetually white, in stark contrast to the multicolored, neon Pavilion that had damned Kay’s son. Kay’s son, David, who remained somewhere far away, much like a dream, where the sounds of his mother’s voice were drifting in as if on rolls of distant thunder.
I’m gonna be okay, he was thinking back at her. I’m gonna be fine, Ma. Kay looked at David, bandaged and unconscious. He was strong. Even laying there she could hear his strength in each machine-assisted breath.
“He’s gonna be fine, you know.” Kay said to no one in particular, looking down at the sickly tile floor. She thought of David smiling in the sun. She thought of Daisy, vanishing somewhere deep in the Pavilion’s hidden corners. The nurse smiled, turning away from her patient and looking again at his mother.
“I think so, too.” She said, answering the dark-haired mother who’s anger and worry and love had transformed into something that more resembled a storm-cloud than a person.