• P.C. Rogers

Jack Broad Miniseries: Part 1


*NOTE this is a raw manuscript, guys. I wanted to get something up for you to read ASAP. I'll be revising and editing as the time goes by, so you get to watch that creative process happen in real time. Once it's done, this will actually become a printed book for sale. Until then, enjoy the free read! <3 *


Shannon was stirred awake by a relentless throbbing ache in her left foot and leg. It radiated in a cycle from her toes to her hip before shooting like searing hot lightning back down to her toes again. The hospital room was dark and quiet except for a little oscillating fan in the far corner by the window. In the dark, there was nothing to look at or focus on except her pity and lonesomeness.

Everything smelled sterile. Her bed was uncomfortable and noisy when she moved. Plastic crinkled under her ear on the pillow. When she remembered yet again that she was alone she hugged her middle and tried to drift off to sleep.

All she was hurt. And as bad as the pain from the car accident was, she was happy for it. It seemed to outwardly express the pain the couldn't manage to properly emote inside her. As she drifted off her mind walked her through recent events again, as though she might have forgotten and needed the reminder.

Collin, her husband, was dead. He'd been an airman stationed in Bahrain. He was a mechanic, far away from the war. And still, everything had gone so terribly wrong. She was only supposed to miss him. She never had to fear for his life. He would have been home in three months' time. Except for the supply helicopter, he was in crashed after an unexpected mechanical failure. And as if good fate had abandoned her, she had been in a car wreck outside Abilene, Texas on the way to his funeral over a week ago.

Inside her head, behind closed eyes, her skull echoed with her screams. It was ceaseless. She felt trapped between her ears, forever screaming in terror. Unable to think. She struggled to make her mind as blank and silent as the dark behind her eyelids. Finally, she escaped into sleep.

Her doctor awoke her sometime near noon. A nurse had been in during the night and given her pain medication which had induced a very unpleasant, heavy, sleep.

“How are you holdin' up?” He middle aged man asked, looking at her over a pair of reading glasses. He was stationed on the edge of her bed, her chart on a clipboard resting on one crossed knee.

“It hurts.” She mumbled sleepily.

He nodded sympathetically, “It will for a while.”

“My stomach hurts.”

“It's the medication. You're not eating and that doesn't help.”

“Why am I still in the hospital, again?” Her brain was foggy from the pain medication. Everything sounded like noises underwater.

“Myocardial contusion, which formed a clot.” She looked at him dumbly, “You hit your chest on the steering wheel in that accident. As a result you bruised your heart muscle. You then developed a clot in one of your major arteries that was removed surgically. Besides crushing your left foot- that had to be rebuilt in a manner of speaking.”

Shannon traced the tender raised line running down her chest and left breast. “I didn't forget.” She said, her speech slurred.

“I know.” The doctor patted her hand, “All this medication does terrible things to your thinking. How are you feeling emotionally? Are you okay? Would you like treatment for depression?”

“I'm not depressed. I'm alright.” She said indignantly.

He only nodded as he stood up. “No thoughts of suicide, then.”

She shook her head, her matted brown hair making rasping noises on the loud pillow.

“Next week we are going to get you started on some physical therapy for your leg and foot. How is the nerve pain today?” He continued.

“It hurt last night, but it's better than it has been. The nurse had to bring me medication, I didn't request any.”

“That's a trooper.” He noted it on her chart. “You get a roommate today. We have to put you with a man, it's not our usual policy but we're running out of rooms.”

Shannon only shrugged and rolled over.

“You're lucky to be alive, Mrs. Zwicker. In the end, you're going to walk away as good as new. And that is nearly a miracle.” He checked her vitals before leaving, reminding her again of her good fortune.

Shannon felt that any good fortune would have simply reunited her with her husband. But here she was, broken, having only nearly died while he had left her behind entirely. For all her sorrow and all the ache of losing Collin, part of her was bitter towards him. She'd been left behind. Left behind for his last tour and now left behind entirely by his death.

They were supposed to start a family. Supposed to live their lives together. She only had to wait those twelve months while he completed his duty to the military and their country. Shannon had been promised her every dream. She had a strong caring man whom she loved intensely. Everything was within their grasp. Children. A happy home. Standing by the man she loved. Now she had nothing and no one except his aging parents.

She let the medication do its work and fell back to sleep. Feeling very depressed indeed but entirely unwilling to be medicated for it. How could they medicate a loss? Nothing would make it stop hurting. And she desperately wanted to hurt.

The cycling pain in her leg greeted her as she woke a few hours later to the sound of the phone beside her bed ringing. Her voice was coarse as she fumbled with the receiver and answered it.

“Hello?” She almost gurgled.

“Shannon? It's Bill, is that you?” Her father in law's voice questioned her in the way old men do.

“It's me, Dad.” She said, clearing her throat.

“How are you doing today, honey?” She very nearly started crying at the sound of his voice. He sounded so much like her husband. “Heather and I thought we'd stop in tomorrow to check on you again. She's just run to the store to pick you up some flowers. Do you want something special to eat?”

“No. I can't eat. This medication makes me throw everything up. I have to have liquids pumped into me.” She fingered the catheter in her hand.

“Are you up for visitors?”

“I'd love to see you guys. How's Mom?” Her own parents were long gone. She'd never known her father and her mother had died five years ago. Neither had even been able to meet Collin. His parents had become her own over the last three years of their dating and marriage.

“We're getting along. As best as can be expected. Some days are harder than others.”

“I know.”

“How are you?” He asked sincerely.

“I hurt. I miss Collin. I just...” Her voice grew tight and she had to stop before tears overtook her.

“You know as soon as you're ready you can come home, here. We'll take care of you while you get back on your feet.”

“I know. And thank you. It's... well. I'm afraid to leave here.” There was a pause on the other end as she struggled to explain what she meant. Collin had never been in the hospital. But he'd lived in Heather and Bill's house. It was a simple concept, but hard to explain.

“I think I understand, Shannon. Take your time. If they're not kicking you out then you just stay all you can.” He repositioned the phone and it creaked and rustled, “Mom and I will be over tomorrow morning to visit. And you promise you'll call if you ever need or want anything. We'll be over lickety-split to get it to you.”

“Alright, I'll see you guys tomorrow.”

“I mean it, Shannon. Any time. Day or night.” His own voice grew thin. She knew they needed her just as much as they needed her to need them back. But the pain in her own heart made it feel almost unbearable to be needed by anyone yet.

“I promise to call, Dad.” She wanted to cry for herself and them. She wanted to be what they needed but finding the strength to produce it was just impossible. She did love them. But everything, including breathing, seemed to remind her of all she'd lost.

She hung up the phone and pressed the call button for the nurse. She needed to pee and wanted to bathe desperately. She'd been asking every day for the last couple days to shower but the incisions on her chest and foot were too fresh. It was time to ask again. She craved something busy. Anything to fill up the space her thoughts fought for.

Sometime later, after her victorious cleansing, she was wheeled back to her room and helped into bed. Her foot and leg throbbed angrily, but she refused to take anything for them. She had begged the nurse to take some money from her discarded jeans pocket to buy her a hairbrush from the gift shop and comb her hair for her. It hurt her chest to lift her arms still and her hair was matted with blood and tangles from the accident and the surgery.

Her new roommate had been moved into the far side of the room while she was away. His nurse had pulled the curtain before Shannon had been wheeled in. She imagined he was probably an old Korean or Vietnam veteran. The elderly and geriatrics made up most of the VA hospital's long term population. She was indifferent to the thought of sharing her space with an old man.

It felt good to have her hair brushed. And there was almost a sense of friendship and normalcy as the woman made small talk and picked tiny bits of dried blood and old grass from Shannon's long brown trusses. The young woman even braided it tightly and bound it with her own extra hair tie when she was done. This nurse wasn't a regular, but Shannon wished she was. The nurses on this floor were mostly hard and cold, a casualty of dealing with death and medicated dementia day in and day out.

She wasn't exactly entirely clean and her hair still smelled of hospital soap and the metallic scent of blood but she was glad for it being brushed, anyway. Shannon thanked the nurse as she left. There was no noise from the bed beside her so she settled into reading a novel one of the other nurses had brought her the day before.

The hours ticked by into evening time and when she tired of reading she sat herself on the edge of the bed and let her feet rest gingerly on the floor. There was little to do except sit and replay life's many miseries and go near-mad with boredom. She'd not stood since the accident. Nurses had lifted and sat her in different chairs and beds as she's requested. But she'd not been allowed to stand. The tedium of the day had her convinced she could manage to at least stand erect on one leg.

She could certainly do that much on her own. There was nothing else to do anyway, and it couldn't hurt to try. Besides, she was cleared to start physical therapy in only a few more days. Laying around was driving her bonkers. Her bed wasn't even near the window.

Shannon pushed a little weight onto her good leg and foot. It felt fine. Finally, with a deep breath, she pushed herself off the bed and onto her right leg. And promptly fell into a pile of explosive searing pain on the floor. Red hot fingers scratched up and down her lower back and shot like bullets down her left leg. She screamed out in pain before she could stop herself.

In a moment a group of nurses swarmed her and lifted her, crying out with hurt, back onto her bed. She looked at them guiltily. They knew what she had done but no one said anything as all but one left. The remaining woman looked at her sorrowfully.

“Don't do that again.” She said, her scrubs were printed with hearts and flowers and she smelled like vanilla even from across the room.

Shannon nodded silently.

“Are you ready for some pain medication, after all that?”

Shannon nodded again, this time tears of shame and frustration burnt her face and she wiped them away without making a sound. The woman walked away to fetch the pills and Shannon struggled to regain control over emotions. She was embarrassed. Her pride hurt almost as much as her body.

By the time the nurse returned Shannon was more composed.

“You're doing really well, Shannon. Just that you made it most of the day without pain medication is amazing. You are accomplishing things and you are making progress. Don't push yourself yet. It's not time.” She handed her the little cup of fat white pills, followed by another filled with cold water.

Shannon took both and nodded after swallowing their contents. “I hope I didn't ruin anything...” She carefully touched her thigh.

“I doubt it. If it starts hurting worse or swelling call me, okay? I'm on the night shift tonight. I'll be here until four in the morning.” She gathered up the spent cups and left.

Shannon pulled the sheet up over her shoulders, reclined her bed, and waited for the medication to lull her to sleep. She felt utterly defeated.

~*~

“I'll be home in a couple of months, Baby. I miss you.” Collin's deep voice sounded thin, like it was from a telephone speaker placed in a soda can.

Shannon held him close and pressed her ear against his chest. Part of her was troubled by his presence but she kept telling herself that she was okay, how didn't matter. He was there. She had finally woken from the terrible dream of everyday reality. He was back, even if her husband's voice sounded odd, it didn't matter. She could live with that- just as long as he was home.

“But you are home.” She said, listening to the comforting beat of his heart.

He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her in that familiar way she was so used to. She reveled in his being there. Where ever there was... she hadn't bothered to look yet. “We're home” she assured herself, closing her eyes tightly.

Without warning the tempo inside Collin's chest doubled. The throbbing sound echoed through his ribs and seemed to physically hit her head. His breathing grew loud and heavy and his arms tightened uncomfortably around her. All at once he shrieked out in terror and she struggled to free herself from his rigid body.

At length, her already open eyes opened again. Confusion swirled around her like a living thing as she slowly began to recognize the heavy breathing and beating heart as her own. She sat up in bed as the unsettling shout of a man in terror rang out through the room.

“Mister Broad! Jack!” A nurse was whispering loudly to the man on the other side of the room. She flicked on the wide fluorescent light above the head of his bed as a male nurse breezed through and pushed the dividing curtain out of the way.

“Jack, wake up. You're alright.” The nurse said again. Shannon watched as she smoothed his upper arm, “You're at Dallas VA hospital. It's alright.”

“Are you in pain?” The male nursed asked.

The man in the bed grew still and silent. He shook his head and rolled over. “Leave me alone.” He pushed their hands away when they tried to get his pulse and vitals, “I said leave.” Shannon recognized the slurred speech induced by pain medication.

The male nurse left and the woman turned the light off before slipping back out into the hall. They left the door to the room open and the lights from the hall and nurse's station flooded in. Shannon stared at the figure in the bed across the room.

She had nearly forgotten that her room would be shared now. The man must have been wheeled in while she was in the height of her medicated state. And he was not an old man like she had been used to see at the VA hospital. He was her age. His back was turned to her and he kicked the sheet off himself and out of the way of his legs. The bed was too narrow for him, really. He looked like a man in a toddler's bed, his feet hanging awkwardly off the end. She drifted back into her own drug induced sleep as he rolled onto his back and grew as still as death in the darkness.

There was no sense of time in the hospital. Shannon regularly lost track of hours and days. When she woke again a little while later she had to take a couple of seconds to determine if this was the same night or a subsequent one. She had no memory of daylight since she last woke. It was the same night.

She stared at the oblong ceiling tiles for a while, trying to decide why she was awake. Her leg throbbed but not so much that she couldn't ignore it. Someone had turned the oscillating fan on high and it whirred happily, turning in rhythm to both the beds in the room.

Jack sat up in his bed. The noise startled her. He moaned a little as his legs swung onto the floor and he shuffled towards the bathroom by the door. He didn't look in her direction as he passed and he closed the door quietly behind himself. She grew groggy and dozed off before he came back out.

She woke a little later, without having dreamed, as a nurse helped her new roommate shuffle back to his bed.

“It's not humiliating, Mister Broad. These things happen, your roommate fell earlier today too.” The nurse watched as he got back into bed, “Do you need any pain medication?”

Shannon heard his head shake on the noisy pillow under it.

“I need to get your vitals, I'll do that now so I don't have to wake you later.” She bent over him and attached the blood pressure cuff around his upper arm. It squeaked as she pumped it up. “Are you experiencing any chest pain or difficulty breathing.”

“No.” He said quietly.

“Are you in any pain?”

“Yes. But I don't want any damn medication. I can't stand how it makes me feel.” He said quietly.

“Alright. You're all set. Push the button if you need anything.” She paused to check on Shannon as she passed but didn't stir her as she believed her to be asleep.

Shannon listened as she stared at the ceiling. Jack's breath huffed irritatedly and he shifted in the bed every few seconds. It kept her awake. Eventually, she rolled over and stared at him in the dark. All she could make out was his silhouette. He was awake, turning and rolling and huffing discontentedly. A tiny flash of relief dawned on her. It felt good not to be alone in the room. She wondered if he was glad for the company as well. It seemed unlikely.

“Did you fall down in there?” She asked quietly.

He didn't respond. But his body grew rigid and still at the sound of her speaking so suddenly in the quiet.

“I can't sleep.” She ventured.

He grumbled to himself before turning his back on her. Shannon felt embarrassed for disturbing him, and for her humiliating mistake being recounted by the nurse. She rolled over also, staring at the light from the hallway that flooded across some cabinets just inside their room's door. In the blink of an eye, she was alone again.

His reaction really hurt. Everyone's actions and reactions hurt. The nurses, the doctor, her in laws. She felt like crying; about everything and nothing. All the world was foreign and terrible. She didn't even feel like she belonged in it. There was no place for her. She began thinking about the terrifying prospects of leaving the hospital. It would happen soon. The pain that awaited her at her in laws was almost incomprehensible but she'd be forced to face it. It was inescapable.

The smell of Collin was there. His things. His pictures; their pictures. She had years of memories the two of them had made there. They had lived with his parents after getting married until he got them a place on base. But he was deployed three weeks later and shortly after she grew lonely and moved back to his parents. That had been almost a year ago now.

Shannon needed to cry so much it ached her throat and made her body tense and painful. She went through the motions. She shuddered a few breaths and squeezed her eyes shut. She even tried making a few squeaky sounds. But nothing happened. She longed to cry, but her body refused. Eventually she fell asleep knowing her mother and father in law would be there in the morning to force her through the memories she so very much dreaded to remember.

Her doctor woke her again. The curtain was still pulled back in the middle of the room and the sun shone across the white tiled floor. Jack and his bed were missing.

“The physical therapist will be in to see you this afternoon. Probably around one.” The doctors kind face stared at her. “You have some more blood work today, and an ultrasound too. It's going to be busy.”

“Do I have to leave soon? I mean, go...home?” She asked, rubbing her eyes.

“Maybe. I'll have a better idea after the ultrasound.” He pulled the sheet off her and examined her legs, checking the staples in her foot and chest. He made some notes on her chart. “Your leg is swollen. The nurses told me you fell yesterday.” He looked at her over his glasses, knowingly.

“Yeah.”

“Did it hurt much at the time?” He poked at it and she winced and clenched her teeth.

“Yeah, a lot.”

“This is significant swelling, Shannon. I'm going to have the ultrasound technician check this leg, okay?”

“For what?”

“Well, mostly because you just had a major surgery a week ago and we're still watching you for clots. But also to make sure there's no torn muscles or ligaments from yesterday.”

“Okay. But I can still do therapy today, right?”

“Oh yes. You'll do a few things in bed here today. Soon enough you'll go down to the physical therapy room.” He marked a few more things on her chart and wrote out an order for radiology, “Now listen. There is a chance this swelling is due to a blood clot. If it is we will monitor it, but the chance is always there that you'll need to have it surgically removed. I just want you to be prepared for that. It will slow your recovery time a little.”

Shannon nodded. It was a frightening prospect but she was secretly relieved at the thought of having cause to stay in the hospital longer.

“Brie will be in to take you to radiology in just a couple minutes.” He patted her hand as usual as he stood to leave.

“What happened to Jack?” The question occurring to her suddenly.

“He's fine. You'll notice him in and out a lot for treatment.”

“Oh.”

“Take care of yourself today. Don't try anything fancy, you're still healing.” He tapped the end of her bed a little with the clipboard and strode out of the room.

Then she was alone again. Shannon had had the room to herself since she arrived in it. It was silly but just a few hours of knowing that someone else occupied the same space with her had filled a void she didn't know existed. She felt like a tiny seedling vine spinning around aimlessly looking for anything to support itself.

She felt raw after her dream of Collin in the night. It seemed like it was ages ago because she had been woken so many times from her sleep. It only served to make the distance feel even more vast. She stared at the wall in front of her bed and tried to feel numb. Eventually she succumbed to her imagination.

The sun was warm on her face and the breeze was cool with spring air. People milled about quietly in a warm park. Collin sat beside her on a bench. She couldn't seem to imagine his face. But she could imagine the warmth of his body and the size of him against her. Even the feeling of his strong arm across the back of her shoulders was easy to summon. The daydream was welcome relief only as long as she fought back the knowledge that it was lost. That Collin was lost.

Her body jerked suddenly and she opened her eyes. A nurse was unlocking the brakes on her bed, preparing to roll her down to the elevator. She made small talk but Shannon really wasn't in the mood to communicate about weather or the paint being applied to the hallway and its stench. It had been a mistake to daydream about Collin. It hurt her heart. Yet she wanted to be left alone so she could drift back into her mind again. Instead the elevator door clanked shut and opened again and she moved on without willing any motion.

By the time the horrible ultrasound was over her entire left leg and lower back throbbed and radiated with pain. She couldn't help but cry as she was wheeled back to her room. The nurse met her with pain killers and a cup of water. Shannon could hardly swallow them fast enough.

They barely had time to take effect before the doctor paced into the room. He wheeled a computer cart with him and parked it beside her bed. The phlebotomist followed him closely with her cart and set about the task of drawing blood.

“Okay, Shannon. Your heart and arteries are doing great after the surgery. They look perfect. The downside is there's a pretty sizable clot at the top of your calf on that left leg. I'm fairly certain you've simply dislodged something when you fell and are not actually producing more clots as time is going by.” He clicked through the ultrasound images until he came to the one depicting the offending clot. “This is actually another blessing in disguise. I don't know how you're managing to do this, but you've fallen on some bad times and keep coming up smelling like roses, kid.” He chuckled with amazement as he looked at the image again, folding his arms as he did so. “We don't usually find these. Your lungs usually do.”

“Does it need surgery? What about physical therapy?”

The doctor uncovered her feet and pointed out her purple-hued left foot to her. “Yes. And you'll have to wait a day or two for physical therapy, I'm sorry, I know I promised. I'm having some blood work done to make sure there's no sign of you producing more clots. But you'll be out of surgery before the results come back.” He explained to her the risk involved with her type of injury and the surgery itself. She was on blood thinners after the heart surgery and that posed a very real bleeding risk for her during this surgery. “But this is not in your femoral artery. And that does make it a bit easier in this instance.”

The drugs had kicked in before he finished his explanation. She was unable to care about the situation and simply nodded in acknowledgment of his words. Shannon barely noticed as she was prepped for surgery. A man in green scrubs placed a plastic mouthpiece over her airways and the cool flow of oxygen and sedatives filled her lungs. She felt the motion of being moved out of the room and down a network of hallways. And then there was nothing.

Shannon came to with a terrible stomach ache. She was back in her hospital room. The little printed pastoral scene of the picture across the room seemed to swell and shrink. There was no pain at all in her leg. Or anywhere in her body. In fact, there was no sense of feeling at all. Except someone holding the fingers of her right hand.

She turned her head clumsily. A wrinkled and gray haired Collin smiled up at her.

“The doctor said you did great.” His voice was rough but familiar and it sounded like he was talking through a tin can again.

“Collin? Why are you so old?” She slurred.

Her heart felt like bursting at the sight of him. She wondered if this hospital stay had all been a series of drug induced hallucinations. Maybe they'd had a full life together, perhaps her own hair was as gray as his. She tried to recall their life together, the passing decades that had lead to this. He looked at her quizzically and she reached a hand out for his face.

Instantly the confusion cleared from her mind. Her hands were soft and young. This was not Collin. Her mother in law, Heather, laid a hand on her shoulder from the other side of the bed as Bill looked away. Without thinking Shannon cried. She was exhausted from the pain she'd been in. From the situation. And especially from her mind trying to grasp at different possibilities why none of it was true.

“Shhh. Honey don't cry. You make me cry.” Heather soothed, her eyes filled with tears.

Shannon struggled for a moment and finally managed to get herself under control. She felt guilty for wishing they'd never come. They had always been so good to her and yet she was now unable to make herself reciprocate.

“I'm sorry Mom. It was the drugs. I didn't recognize you guys. How are you?” She pushed herself up on her elbows and pressed the button that sat her bed up.

“Tired mostly.” Heather answered.

“Worried about you.” Bill answered.

“I'm alright. Really I am. I'm just tired, too. It takes a lot out of you, you know?”

They both nodded in agreement.

“The military sent some paperwork to the house. It's time sensitive. We filled it out for you, all you need to do is sign it.” Bill said.

“And read it, of course.” Heather chimed in, pulling a small stack of papers from her bag nearby.

“I figured they would.” Shannon said, bemused. It was like they were cutting her a check for having spent Collin's life. Repaying her for its value. They could clear Fort Knox for all she cared, it still would be a drop in the bucket to fill the void he left.

She read the insurance and benefits papers and signed them. Her doctor came in to check on her and the kitchen sent up a meal tray of less-than appetizing food. Bill made small talk about the house and events of the last week. Heather cried when he talked about the headstone being placed on Collin's grave. As the sun set they eventually ran out of things to say.

They both kissed her forehead and patted her hands as they said goodbye. Shannon was exhausted and glad to see them go. She saw Collin in Bill's motions and heard him in the inflection of his speech. Ever her mother in law's brow and chin reminded her of him.

Despair seemed to course through her veins after they left. There was no plan for her life, she couldn't even think past the end of the week. Where would she go? How long would it take for her to be fully functional? Most importantly she began to wonder if she could even care about any of it ever again. She flicked the light off on the wall behind her bed and sat in the dark looking around the room.

A cough and groan came from the other bed. She hadn't noticed Jack was in it until that moment because the curtain dividing the room was pulled. She wondered where he had been all day. He seemed further along in his recovery than she was. The thought of him being able to go to physical therapy while she moved backward into surgery for the day made her a little jealous.

Confused hopelessness and ebbing boredom flowed through her and the room like a tangible element. There was nothing else to do besides sleep, read, and watch television. Watching television seemed bland and dull and there was rarely anything of interest on the few hospital channels anyway. She gave up and fell asleep.

The faintest sounds of crying woke her a little after midnight. The curtain between the beds was still pulled, so she couldn't see anything on Jack's side of the room. Everything else was silent, making his quiet sounds seem loud. Even the fan that usually ran was switched off.

Shannon stared at the curtain, waiting for him to either grow silent or make a cry for help. The minutes ticked by but neither happened. She wondered what his trouble was. If he was in a situation similar to hers. Alone, broken. Battling despair by himself. In every type and sense of pain possible.

“Jack?” She said quietly at the curtain between them.

No reply came. He simply grew silent. And still. There was no sound from the noisy bed or pillow. He likely wanted privacy. They were a couple empty pits of needs to be sure. And she desperately needed something to focus on besides herself.

“Are you awake?” She asked, barely above a whisper. He still didn't reply, or move. “I had surgery today. A blood clot was blocking the flow of blood to part of my left leg.”

Still there was no movement. Or reply. So she went on.

“That darn leg had been hurting so bad. I crushed the foot, messed up the nerves. But since they took the clot out if feels a lot better. I'm starting to wonder if it was there all along causing most of that pain. Its been two weeks of it now.

“They took one out of my heart too, a few days after I got in here. I bruised it. My heart, I mean. In a car wreck.” She paused to take a breath and situate herself more comfortably on her side. “Did you grow up in Dallas or are you just stationed here?”

There was still no reply.

“I grew up in Sweetwater. I lived there all my life until I met Collin and got married. Then we lived at his parents. He was in the Air Force and they sent him to Bahrain. So I've lived there with them by myself since then.” It didn't sound so sad to talk about it as it did in her head. “His helicopter crashed three weeks ago.” She chuckled a little at the irony, “He'd be coming home in six weeks from tomorrow. But came home in a box instead.”

The bed next to her creaked a little as Jack shifted his weight around on it but still, he didn't say anything. He didn't respond to her questions. But he also didn't ask her to be quiet, either. She changed the subject.

“You know, I could really go for a chocolate bar. It's the only thing that's sounded even remotely good for the past few days. I tried some of the food here today. First time since I got in; the medication makes me too sick to eat. It's really not that bad. The hospital food. Have you had it yet?

“I used to cook a lot for Collin and his parents. They're pretty old, I think my mother in law enjoyed the break. I cook pretty good stuff too. Collin loved meatloaf, which is funny because on television its always the bane of the husband's food-life.” She stared off into space for a few minutes, thinking about the fun her and Collin had when they were together those few weeks after getting married.

“I think the nurse forgot to turn the fan on. It's really stuffy in here without it. The air conditioning just blasts all night from the ceiling. My head gets cold but my feet sweat.” She shifted subjects again. “I don't think there's a vent on your side of the room, is there? You can always have them open the curtain if you want, I don't mind.

“Have you had visitors in yet? My in-laws came today. I love them, but it just hurts more than anything.”

She sighed a little, it was like scratching a scab talking about it all. Painful yet somehow satisfying. Suddenly she wasn't even talking to Jack or anyone. She was just saying all the terrible things that were too big to think about.

“I don't know what I'm going to do when I get out of here. I don't have anywhere else to go but back home to their house. And that sounds only marginally less terrifying than dying from a blood clot.” All the little thoughts in her mind that she'd been wrestling with seemed to spill out of her mouth. They all seemed a little less overwhelming after being spoken, “I wish I could just get into physical therapy and get functional. I really would prefer to just leave here and go out on my own... Or something. It's amazing how complex someone's dying suddenly makes the world.

“Anyway, I just figured since we're in here together and you keep waking me up we might as well be friendly. By the way, I'm Shannon. And I'm tired, I'm going to bed now... since there's such a wide variety of other entertaining things to do, and all. Night Jack.”

Shannon rolled over. There still was no reply from her roommate. She managed to sleep the whole night through from that point on. When she woke up to the bright morning sun pouring in the windows the dividing curtain was pulled back and the fan was on. Jack's bed, though, was missing again.




(TO BE CONTINUED...)


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