03/06/12 “Life”

From work in progress, Undivided:

The antiseptic smell of the hospital made Anna slightly sick to her stomach. The click-clack of her hard-soled heels on the surface of the glossy tile floor broke the tomb-like hush of the hallway leading to the intensive care unit. Beside her, James made virtually no sound as he walked and Anna spared just a second to wonder what sort of man made no sound when he walked. He reminded her of a jungle cat now, she thought, noticing his extreme awareness of his present surroundings. A trapped jungle cat.

The clerk at the desk checked Anna’s ID, and if she questioned why a licensed social worker from a community center should be requesting access to a comatose patient and his family, she said nothing, just pushed the button that opened the heavy double doors with a viperous hiss.

The large room beyond the doors was anything but quiet. A cacophony of beeps, dings, and whooshes assaulted the senses as they moved into the secured area. The boy lying on the bed in the second room looked so small, so pale, so lifeless, attached to an unbelievable assortment of tubes and wires. A tube emerged from his mouth, attached to one of the whooshing machines, obviously breathing for him. His eyes were closed. A slender woman sat at the bedside, her head resting on the mattress next to the boy’s limp hand, her eyes closed but her lips moving, perhaps in silent prayer. Anna reached out for support and found James at her side. She clung to him for just a moment and then, drawing a deep steadying breath, moved forward to touch Brad’s mother on the shoulder.

“Mrs. Ward,” she whispered. Then a little louder, she said gently, “Diane?”

Slowly, the other woman raised a tear-streaked face, taking a moment to register who had entered the room. “Oh! Ms. Jeffries,” she acknowledged, quickly wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“I came as soon as I heard. Is there anything you need? Anything I can do?”

“Oh, no, not really,” the boy’s mother responded. “I know Brad will be happy you stopped by. You should come back when he’s awake. I know he’ll want to see you.”

It was a normal reaction, Anna realized, to deny that a loved one was in a coma and close to death. It was always a little disconcerting, though, and she knew her father would question her faith. After all, he’d often told her, it was never over until it was over, and only God knew what kind of timeline He was working on. But at some point, Anna knew, even her father accepted that death drew near.

“What have the doctors said?” she questioned, gently trying to draw Brad’s mother into reality.

“Oh, well, you know, this and that. I never can understand what they’re talking about,” Diane grabbed a tissue and dabbed at her eyes and nose. “I asked questions but I think they got frustrated trying to give me the answers.”

“Is there anyone you need me to call?”

“No, I don’t think so.” Her lips tightened into a grim line and she nodded. “Well, maybe someone could call Brad’s father. He’s in New Mexico but I have his number somewhere.” She reached for her purse with trembling hands, cursing when she dropped the over-sized bag, spilling the contents onto the shiny white tile.

Anna wasn’t surprised that James moved quickly to help the distressed mother, noting that he winced as he stooped to pick up an item that had rolled under the bed. He stood with a brown prescription pill bottle in his hands and she saw him glance at the label. He frowned, anger hardening his eyes, and then his jaw tensed. He’d obviously seen something he didn’t like but she didn’t want to ask what in front of Diane Ward. He tucked the bottle back into the handbag and continued reaching for items that had fallen to the floor.

Brad’s mother picked up a small silver cell phone and opened it, pressing a couple of the keys. “Here it is,” she announced, handing Anna the phone. “This is his number. I think Bradley has it memorized but I always have to look it up. His name is Travis.”

“Diane,” Anna murmured, touching the older woman on the hand. “What do you want me to tell him? He’s going to have questions. Can you tell me what happened?”

“I got up for church today.” Diane sighed heavily. “I haven’t gone in a long time and I don’t know why I wanted to attend today. I knew Brad wouldn’t want anything to do with it, so I left him sleeping.” She faltered briefly. “At least I thought he was sleeping. When I got home, the house was so quiet. If Brad was up, he would have turned on his music. God, I hate that stuff he listens to. It’s so obnoxious!”

Anna nodded with understanding but remained silent, waiting for Diane to finish.

“I went to his room and knocked and when he didn’t answer, I thought he must have gone out. I was happy that he hadn’t left the kitchen all tore up like he usually does. But then I opened the door, and—it was stuck.” Her voice broke but she continued. “I pushed hard and got it open a little bit, and—and he was just laying there on the floor in a little ball up against the door. He was blue and so cold.” She drew a shaky breath. “I thought he was dead. I called the police and they came and the EMS came too, and they said he wasn’t dead, but really, really close to it. They brought him here . . .”

“Do you know what happened to him?” Anna asked quietly.

It took a long time for Diane to answer. When she did, her voice was so low she was hard to hear. “The police found some blue powder around his nose, and some pills in a little bag on the bathroom counter. He must have crushed one and snorted it, they said.”

Anna’s heart squeezed against her lungs with each beat of her heart. She wished she could have claimed surprise at this course of events, but truthfully, she’d known Brad wouldn’t stay clean—if he had ever really gotten clean after his last bust. Now she wished she had paid more attention to the fact that he’d tried to steal her car. She should have tracked him down to confront him. It might not have helped but now she would always wonder.


Watching the play of raw emotion crossing Anna’s face, Garret knew she was second guessing her response to the kid breaking into her car. He followed her out of the room as she went in search of the ward desk to call the boy’s father.

The call took less than ten minutes. Ten minutes to tell a guy that the kid he’d left behind when he’d divorced his wife was probably going to be dead before he could get on a plane and get there. Ten minutes to change someone’s life completely. She hung up with a sigh and sat perfectly still for a moment, eyes closed, breathing slowly. Her eyes flashed open and she met Garrett’s gaze, tapping her fingers on the desk as she seemed to size him up.

Finally, she spoke, asking the question he’d known she would. “What did you find in Diane’s purse? What were those pills?”

Meeting her eyes without flinching, he replied, “Citalopram. It’s an anti-depressive.”

“And so you judged her and found her lacking in some way?” Anna asked with a bit of chill in her voice.

Slowly, Garrett shook his head, pinning her angry eyes with his own, intensely aware that he was at a crossroads. He could turn this situation into an excuse for leaving, just by lying and telling her she was right and letting her objections start a fight.

“No,” he said softly, opting for truth. “I’m not judging her. I don’t like what I know about her situation but I don’t know enough to judge anyone. Not her. And…not the kid.”

It didn’t escape his notice that Anna never questioned how he knew about the drug in Mrs. Ward’s purse. That would have been one of his first questions, yet she’d accepted his knowledge without wondering how he’d acquired it.

After a long silent pause, Anna finally stood and walked to the room where the troubled teen lay in a coma. When they entered the little room, his mother was sleeping in a chair by the side of his bed, her head on the mattress next to his pale, limp hand. Anna backed slowly out of the room and walked back to the nursing station. She left a business card with the ward clerk, along with a request to call her if Brad or his mother needed anything or if there was any change in the boy’s condition.

They left the hospital with an uneasy silence holding steady between them. Garrett badly wanted to tell Anna everything. Several times he opened his mouth but the works wouldn’t come out. He couldn’t even tell her his name without placing his life in imminent danger…and hers as well.


6 thoughts on “03/06/12 “Life”

  1. Sherry Gloag says:

    ” just pushed the button that opened the heavy double doors with a viperous hiss.”
    Awesome description.
    And what a hook you ended with.

  2. Jean says:

    Love the viperous hiss of the doors. Great description of the scene and the emotion. Nicely underplayed to give it more impact. Especially at the end where you explain the two names so deftly. Beautiful!

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