Cecilia stuck her head out the car window. The wind flowed through her auburn hair and it tickled her lips. Sunlight balanced the cool touch on her pale skin. This was a good day.
“Honey, get your head back in here,” said Derrick.
“What? You think one of those trees are going to reach out and take my head?” said Cecilia.
“No, but you’ve been out there for ten minutes. You’re going to get sunburned before we even get to the beach.” Derrick pulled her inside and closed the window while he steered through a winding section of the road. He was a reliable man with a strong chin, broad shoulders, and a growing business.
How did he become my husband? Cecilia recalled her first time falling in love. It was pleasant, but it was a high school crush that made her life dramatically more difficult.
“Mommy, are you a doggy?” said Jacob. “Only dogs like car windows.”
“Well, not exactly.” Cecilia chuckled as she reached into the back seat, tapped his nose, and curled his blonde hair with her finger. “My dad used to call me his little puppy. He would drive me in his truck to put me to sleep and I wouldn’t shut my eyes, unless the windows were open.”
“But you’re big now.” Jacob snapped his teeth at her finger and he barked. “I’m the puppy!”
“Yes you are!” Cecilia tickled him. Jacob laughed. Derrick reached one of his arms back and joined in the fun.
Then the car jerked and an explosion rippled through her body. Debris flew everywhere and her head bounced in the blind chaos. Cecilia couldn’t scream for Derrick or grab Jacob.
Her world was contorted with the black flames of reality.
Derrick blinked and found a mummy’s hand. It was wrapped with clean bandages, but he could see how thin and gnarled it was. He stared in awe, until the pinky finger twitched.
“Oh, shit!” Derrick jumped and the hand pursued him. He waved his arm to smack it away and as he did the hand moved. The mummified hand was his arm—it was covered with bandages and his chest was also wrapped up.
He flexed his arm and compared it with his other one. The skin was tight and the muscles spasmed when he forced it move. His other arm moved without restrictions and it felt alright, but he couldn’t see his forearm.
As he wiggled his invisible fingers, he tried to grab them with his bandaged hand. The fingers felt and grabbed nothing. His arm was a stub cut off at the elbow.
“Aaagh!” Derrick dropped to his knees and scrambled along the floor. He crawled toward a door and it opened.
A woman who had blonde hair and wore a sweater grabbed his hand. “Derrick! Why were you screaming? Did you need something?”
“My arm! Where is it?” Derrick tore at the bandages on his stub. The woman tried to stop him, but he shoved her away and ripped off the wrappings. Scarred skin had formed over the wound. He pulled down his pants—blotched skin had spread across his body.
“Please stop!” The woman embraced Derrick. He struggled to push her away, but he was too weak to free himself. Although he was torn and frightened, her warm caress and floral perfume granted him some relief.
“Sorry,” said Derrick. “Everything is… different. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
The woman released him, smiled, and said, “It’s okay, you didn’t scare me, but you did make me worry. Let’s get you back to bed.” She helped him pull his pants up, took his hand, and lead him out of the room.
Before they left the room, Derrick noticed the pink walls and dog posters. “Was that a child’s room or was that your room?”
“Both,” said the woman. “It was my childhood room. We’re at my parents’ house. I would’ve brought you to mine, but I don’t have enough room at my apartment.”
Derrick stopped walking and said, “Pardon me, but are you my sister? What’s your name?”
She frowned for a split second and replaced it with a smile. “I’m Sheryl. We’re in-laws… Come along, I’ll explain more after we get you to bed.”
They walked through a hallway filled with pictures. One picture had a girl riding a horse while another showed a different girl with a soccer trophy. Majority of them consisted of the young girls and their parents.
After going through the hall of memories, Derrick was taken to a bedroom. The room was rather small, but it had a clean shaggy carpet, polished wood chair, and a queen sized bed. Sheryl fluffed the pillows and tucked Derrick into the bed. He tried to help, yet his arm resisted his attempts to move.
Sheryl sat in the chair, beside the bed, and asked, “Are you comfortable? Do you need to eat or drink something?”
“I’m fine…” said Derrick. “What has happened to me? I had two arms. I was working on a computer program for my company. How—”
“The doctors told me that you could have brain damage.” Sheryl placed her hand on top of his. “Your status was stable, so we took you home. Maybe we should take you back to the hospital—”
“No, just tell me everything!” Derrick grabbed his head and he felt a deep scar on his temple. “Do you have a mirror?”
“You experienced a terrible accident two months ago.” Sheryl pulled out her smartphone and showed a picture to Derrick. It was the twisted and burned frame of a car. “Emergency services pulled you out before you were completely set ablaze.”
“I need a mirror,” said Derrick.
“I don’t think you’re ready,” said Sheryl. “Let’s work to get you better first—”
“Sheryl, please, I won’t be angry with you. I need to know what’s wrong.”
She hesitated, tapped her finger on her phone, and handed it to Derrick.
He held the phone and studied the moving object on the screen. A contorted jaw with exposed crooked teeth opened wider than humanly possible. His eyes were blood shot and the eye lids were nearly fused with burn marks. Also his hair grew in uneven tufts and a chunk of his skull was missing from his forehead.
After he gave the phone back to her, he turned his back to her and tried to cope. Sheryl mentioned something about food, rest, and doctor appointments, but her words were dampened by the tears and screams that he fought to contain.
Derrick fought to pull the blanket off his body. It was cozy for the morning chills, but it was a heavy quilt. He grabbed the cane next to the bed and shakily walked down the hallway to the bathroom. When he reached the toilet, he dropped his cane and relieved himself.
After finishing his business, he left his cane on the bathroom floor and trudged down the hall. Bending wasn’t worth the effort and the walls were all the support he needed. He braced his hand on the wall and walked until he lost feeling in his wrist and it twisted unexpectedly.
He threw his arm on to the wall to stop himself, but he knocked over several pictures and collapsed on to the floor. The glass in the frames shattered when his arm crushed them.
“Shit!” Derrick rolled off the mess. Shards of glass covered his arm and shimmered with his blood. The hall rotated with him as he tried to understand his broken mind and body.
Sheryl ran up stairs and tried to help him.
“Don’t touch my arm!” said Derrick. “I can stand, just give me a moment—”
“Stop, squirming!” Sheryl grabbed the stump of Derrick’s arm and walked him to the bathroom. She seated him on the toilet seat and used a pair of tweezers to remove the glass shards. The blood pooled on the tile floor, yet Derrick didn’t care.
“I lost my health, my career, and my mind…” Derrick stuck his foot into the red puddle and wiggled his toes. “What’s the point?”
“Try not to choke on your self pity.” Sheryl pulled out a shard from his palm and chuckled. “Sorry, I’m not laughing at you. I was quoting you.”
“Was that supposed to be sarcasm?” said Derrick.
“No, well, at least I hope not.” Sheryl removed the last piece of glass and took out a first aid kit from the cabinet below the sink. “You used those words to help me overcome the depression I had four years ago.”
“Sorry… Guess, I’m not a considerate person.”
“You did what you could. Let me return the favor.” Sheryl cut the bandages with a pair of scissors and peeled them off his arm. His flesh was burnt black and most of his skin was gone.
He frowned and looked away. Sheryl cleaned his arm and applied the bandages. The disinfectant bubbled and pricked his arm, yet she wrapped it without wasting time and the cloth clung to his limb rather than constrict it.
“It feels better. Are you a nurse?” Derrick flexed his fingers and moved his arm.
“I’m a trauma counselor, but I went to college to become a nurse.” Sheryl checked for other injuries and lent her shoulder to help Derrick walk.
After he returned to his room and sat on his bed, she left the bedroom and returned with a bowl of soup. She placed the tray on the bed and a set of folding legs balanced the steaming bowl over his lap.
“Chicken noodle soup.” Sheryl sat on the chair next to the bed. “It doesn’t have any meat, but it’s better than the goop that the doctor’s fed you through a tube.”
“Thank you.” Derrick scooped up a bit of the soup with spoon, yet his arm stopped part way to his mouth. He cranked his head forward and forced his arm to move closer. His hand trembled, spilling noodles, broth, and carrots.
“I could—” Sheryl paused when Derrick tried again.
He dipped the spoon into the bowl and lifted it. Then his fingers slipped and the spoon sank into the soup. His hand became a fist as he raised his arm to knock the bowl to the floor.
Before Derrick could unleash his rage, Sheryl stuck two fingers into the bowl and tried to fish the spoon out.
Derrick froze and his jaw dropped open. As he calmed down, he mumbled, “Don’t… You don’t have to—”
She saved the spoon, filled the spoon with soup, and blew on it before offering it to him.
He unconsciously took a bite and his tongue was delighted with the savory taste.
“Don’t waste food. This will help you recover your strength.” Sheryl scooped another spoonful and blew on it.
While Derrick ate each offering, something began to expand inside of him. Sheryl held the spoon with her burnt fingers and she didn’t shed tears. Her eyes were watery, but she continued to serve him with patience and generosity.
Tears trickled down his face and she continued to feed him. Once the bowl was empty, he held her hand and cried. They silently shared their sorrows and lost their regrets.
Derrick blinked. The darkness beneath his eyelids was deeper. A green glow from the alarm clock made the room bearable. It was 5:57 am. Two weeks ago, he could hardly wake before noon. He stood from the bed and tiptoed through the door.
Although there were tripping hazards in the house, no one would bother him if the lights were off. His weak muscles made him cautious and allowed him to leave his room without agitating the springs in the bed or the hinges on the door.
As he crept through the hallway, his eyes were fixed on the outline of Sheryl’s door. Sometimes she would wake early to get ahead start on the day, but her room was dark and silent today. He placed his hand on the door and stretched his legs. It was too risky to touch the walls and his cane made too much noise when it scuffed the floor.
He embraced the railing and steadily walked down the stairs. Each step creaked with differing volumes and it caused him to pause every second. Silence was key, but it was a tremendous labor to hold his breathe and climb the stairs.
Even though Derrick’s body wanted to cause trouble, he landed on the first floor and reached the dining room. He sat at the table to recuperate and found papers spread across the table. Then he brushed his hand across the mess and found a pile of torn open envelopes. They were letters, yet he didn’t have the light or the time to read them.
The exercise was more intense than he thought, so he grabbed the chair and used it to walk into the kitchen. He approached the stove and switched on the light. It allowed him see and the bulb wasn’t bright enough to catch anyone’s attention.
Then he pulled the chair to the counter and climbed on top of it to reach the top shelf of the cabinet. He shifted through the boxes and cans, until he found the package that made his plan possible. It was a one pound bag, yet it felt 15 times heavier. His wrist wobbled and the strain echoed through his body as he turned and twisted.
Derrick hopped off the chair and nearly twisted his ankle. He gritted his teeth and smiled. The rehab was paying off. Soon, he would be able to walk outside without assistance.
While Derrick tried to fix his grip on the bag, footsteps came from behind him. As he turned his head, someone walked through the kitchen. The facial features were impossible to discern, but the silhouette was a lanky body that had long arms and sharp protrusions jutting from its hairless skull.
A scream exploded from his mouth and he dropped his bag when he tried to throw it at the monster.
Sheryl leaped, landed on her stomach, and caught the bag of pancake mix. “You scared me. Are you alright?”
“I should be saying that,” said Derrick as he offered her a hand.
She stood, by herself, and placed the pancake mix on the counter. “Why are you trying to cook in the dark? You could’ve hurt yourself.”
I was fine, until you… Derrick squinted. Sheryl was dressed in her baggy blue top and yoga pants. The clothes made her appear bulky, but she was an average build. He rubbed his eyes on his sleeve and looked again. How could the dark make her into a monster? Was it a hallucination?
“Do you have something in your eye?” Sheryl held his face and stared into his face. “I don’t see anything. How does it feel?”
“I’m alright…” Derrick sat in his chair and said, “Why are you up?”
“I had to use the bathroom. We ran out of toilet paper, so I was going to get more from the down stairs closet.” She hugged Derrick and kissed him on the forehead. “You scared me.”
“Sorry…” Derrick wrapped his arm around her and appreciated the soft warmth. “I wanted to make you breakfast. I thought I was strong enough.”
“You’re getting stronger and I’m proud of you.” Sheryl grabbed a large bowl from the cupboard and took out the milk from the fridge. “Since my parents are still asleep, let’s make breakfast. I’m sure they’ll like that.”
He grabbed the whisk from the drawer and she poured the ingredients into the bowl. Thirty minutes later, they had cooked pancakes, eggs, and ham for the family.
Mr. McCoy was a solemn and straight nosed man. Mrs. McCoy was a sweet heart that tried her best to make people smile. Both were surprised to see Derrick and they thanked him for preparing the meal. Although they were a strange older couple, they showed him love by sheltering and feeding him.
Once the kitchen was cleaned, Sheryl put on a blouse and blue jeans. Then she took Derrick to his room to get him dressed. She helped him with slacks, jacket, and clove. He wrapped a scarf around his face, stuck a pair of sunglasses on, and wore Mr. McCoy’s hat. None of them wanted extra attention from the public.
Sheryl drove Derrick to the hospital and stayed with him during the meetings. He was examined by a surgeon, a nutritionist, and a physical therapist. They were the ones that saved his life and treated him for several months. While Derrick listened to the doctors, Sheryl took notes and asked how she could help him recover.
Their appointments were done within the hour and Derrick was ready to go home, but Sheryl had scheduled another consultation for him. They left the exam rooms and walked into the office of a plastic surgeon.
The doctor examined copies of Derrick’s pictures and said, “The damage is severe, but I can help you.” He went into his cabinet and pulled out a human head. It was a model that had half the skin bisected and removed to reveal the inner workings of the face.
As the doctor proceeded with his explanations about skin grafts and constructive techniques, Derrick crunched the imaginary numbers in his head. The doctor talked about five separate surgeries over a course of a year and Sheryl dug deep into the possibilities.
Before their meeting concluded, Derrick asked, “Is there prosthetic doctor that I can talk with?”
“Yes, his office is upstairs,” said the doctor. “I’ll give him a call. You should be able to catch him before lunch.”
Derrick thanked the man and left the office with Sheryl close behind him.
“Good thinking,” said Sheryl. “We can ask a few questions and try to make plan for next year—”
“I want the prosthetic arm. My face can wait.” Derrick walked to the elevator and Sheryl clung to the stump of his arm.
“I can take care of things.” Sheryl bit her lip as they took the elevator. “I know you want to get back to normal, but you have to take this one step at a time.”
He looked her in the eye and said, “How is the money holding up?”
She turned her eyes and mumbled, “It’s fine…”
“Those letters on the table weren’t advertisements.” Derrick stepped out of the elevator as fast as he could with his cane. “I bet my insurance dried up a while ago. You and your parents have been too kind. I can’t let you go into debt for my face.”
They arrived at the door of Dr. Garb, but Sheryl wouldn’t open it. Derrick handed his cane to her and opened it himself.
“A new arm can only do so much,” said Sheryl. “You can’t meet people looking like that.”
“I work with computers,” said Derrick. “I can even work, right now, with one hand, but I need two if I’m going to help you and your parents.”
“You don’t have to. I can take of everything.”
Sheryl dropped his cane and Derrick refused to move from the door way, until he made her understand. He couldn’t live with himself, if he made their family suffer unnecessarily.
“Pardon me,” said Dr. Garb. He was a balding man and he looked helpless as he stared at them. “I’m a rather limited man in my studies, however, I know someone who could solve both of your problems.”
Dr. Garb took out a folder and laid out an array of pictures. “Please, have a seat and look at these. This is the work of Dr. Fletcher. He doesn’t work here in the hospital, but he runs a tight operation.”
One of the pictures was an emaciated man with no legs. His legs were essentially torn from below his knees, yet the picture next to it was dated two months later. The man was muscular and smiling with a pair of strong legs.
“If you want, I can give you this young man’s number,” said Dr. Garb. “Dr. Fletcher is my friend. He’s a recluse, but he’s also a miracle worker.”