Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy unblinking eyes. Deep and haunting. Surrounded by the blood pouring down her forehead. Her left hand reaching for my forearm as I work feverishly to undo her seat belt. Her breathing is laboring, a gargling sound with each heave of her chest. My mind races with the endless possibilities I am currently facing. I find myself in this perilous situation alone on a long stretch of south Louisiana country road in near total darkness. Her phone, still in her right hand, provides me with the only light inside the car. It lights up with every text received from someone who is a total stranger to me. “911!” I think as I pull myself from inside her window and reach in my pocket for my phone. I run my finger across the screen to unlock it. The light now reveals my home screen streaked with her blood and the zero coverage sign on the top bar. “Shit, what do I do?” I say out loud. I look both directions on the highway and see the beautiful stars among the large oak trees towering above us. “The heavens” I think briefly. The sound of movement inside the car reminds me of the grave situation I find myself in. I stick my body inside and feel her chest rise against my ear as I reach for the seat belt a second time. I hear that deep gargle sound again and a faint “I don’t want to die.” She she is aware of the situation. “How do the hell I help her?” I think as I wrestle with the seat belt. I am just a 16 year old farm boy returning home from my grandmothers house when I stumbled into this awful situation. Now, in what seems like only seconds since I arrived, a life before me is slipping away in front my very eyes. I take a deep breath as the seat belt finally unfastens. My brain finally registers the smell of burned rubber, gasoline and alcohol. “What do I do?” I yell as I again pull myself from inside the window. I attempt to open the door to the car to no avail. “Miss! Miss!” I say in a panicked voice. “Can you hear me?” The only response I receive is yet another laboring breath. My mind goes blank. Suddenly I hear a man telling me to get in my car and drive to the next house for help. I oblige and race to a farm house about two miles south of the accident. I quickly exit my car and run to the front door. I knock vigorously. “I need help!” I yell into the door. I hear footsteps between my gasping breath. I look at my feet as the door opens and the light from within shines upon me. As my eyes slowly work their way from my feet to my shirt and dangling arms I notice I am covered in blood. I hurriedly tell the man of the situation as he hurriedly pulls me inside the foyer. He yells to his wife, still out of sight to me, to call 911 while he quickly puts his boots on. “You stay here with my wife while I head to the scene.” My body trembles as I notice the injured lady’s handprint on my blood covered forearm. The farmer’s wife calls me into the living room where she ask for the number to call my parents. I stood in silence waiting for their arrival.
Now, two days later I stand next to this painting in the hallway of the town funeral home. I am staring at it intensely oblivious to my current surroundings. I am here at the request of the parents of Shelia Dowling, the young lady I tried to assist on that dark country road. The funeral home employee has gone to tell them of my arrival. I am scared beyond belief. I don’t know anything about her injuries or eventual passing. I didn’t read about the accident though my mother told me it was on page two of the daily paper and the internet. I feel just as helpless as I did that night. If I leave these men in the painting and walk down the hallway I will certainly see the body of the lady I struggled alone to help. I have never seen a dead body before. “What do I say to them?” I think to myself. I was absolutely NO help to their daughter. And I know no one here. I am alone. My mind not able to erase the vision Shelia’s eyes accompanied by the sounds of her struggling for air. I am shaking as the parents approach me. The employee quietly introduces us. “Micheal, meet Evelyn and Sterling Dowling. They are Shelia’s parents and are very happy that you came today.”
Mr. Dowling is the first to extend his hand for mine. As we shake hands I look at the face of Mrs. Evelyn and notice the red cheeks and swollen eyes. After my hand is freed, I reach out and hug her. In a trembling voice I say “I am so sorry.” I then let out a river of tears accompanied by my loud wailing as if it was my own family member loss that evening. I feel the father’s hand on my back and here his words “We are so proud how brave you were to offer help to our daughter. I am sure your presence gave her much comfort and for that we are forever grateful.” Mrs. Eveyln held me tightly and stroked my back. “Wipe your tears Michael,” she says calmly. “You are a wonderful young man and I wish you nothing but the best in your future. You will forever be in our thoughts and prayers.” I wiped my face with a kleenex offered by the funeral home worker. The visit is brief. The mother kisses me on the cheek and says thank you once again. I promptly turn around and walk out into the hot and humid Louisiana air. As i walk to my car, I understand that I was forever changed. I will be forever connected to Sheila Dowling though we only came into contact for five minutes of my sixteen plus years on this planet. I will never forget her. I hope to meet her again.
This work of fiction was written for The Speak Easy #162 at Yeah Write
Peter lived a lonely life. A young soul conceived not through love but through lust. A one night stand caused by alcohol. High schoolers whose life would become all hard work with minimal reward. A life of constant unhappiness and loneliness. Add the stress of raising an unwanted child in a catholic dominated town that shuns out-of-wedlock conception. Peter never had a chance.
He understood his lot in life. He was a loner. A pimpled faced teen with very few friends in a small town that lauds macho high school players and prom queens and cast out those who are different. He grew into a man all alone.
Peter longed for the voice of Freddie or Stevie. The ability to capture an audience and give them a feeling of escape if only for three minutes. The talent to use his fingers on a guitar or piano and sooth the pain of those who look to music to escape the brutal reality of their own life. He longed for the talent to write words that inspire readers searching for healing. Words that he could express for those who understood yet never are able to write themselves.
An unloved soul searching for acceptance in life. He searched the end of the rainbow only to discover a deep, empty cauldron. His only reward was the brief view of the optical phenomenon of droplets reflecting their light. An illusion which parallels his life.
His smile hides the tracks on his skin. His escape from the brutal truth. One conceived without love can’t be loved. His pedantic life is followed by a single set of footprints on a sandy beach. Only to be swept away by the tide into the vastness of the ocean. Never to be seen again.
Yet Peter was a great actor. He walked the streets of his southern town with a beautiful smile. Content to those who knew him. A superficial expression of happiness to those who didn’t. His life a slow and painful death.
Arlene awoke in the middle of the night. She rose to her feet. Quietly she grabbed the journal off her dresser and walked to the bathroom. She retrieved her slippers and robe then marched down the dark hall into the kitchen. She turned on the light and placed the journal on the counter. She reached in the cabinet for a wine glass and gently placed it on the counter. She opened the fridge and grabbed the bottle of red wine. The quiet of the house was interrupted by the banging of the bottle against the thin glass. The wine pouring into the glass sounded like a running river. She was mesmerised by the red wine pouring into the glass. Her mind wandered. Did the blood pouring out of her mortally wounded son look like this?
“Shit!” she said as the wine spilled over the edge of the full glass onto the counter. Her attention span has been short. The journal has been home for five days and has reopened lots of healing that had taken place since his death. She hardly can function normally. Why did he send it to her? It’s a question that won’t leave her mind. She takes a sip of wine and grabs the journal.
Leaving the kitchen light on she walked into the adjacent living room and sits on the couch. She takes another sip of wine and places the glass on the coffee table. She settles onto the couch with the journal is on her lap. She sits quietly staring at the red wine in her glass. Then she grabs its and takes another sip. She removes the rubber band wrapped around the plastic bag containing the journal. Her hands shake as she touches the journal itself. She places the plastic to her side and holds the journal before her. She reaches into her robe pocket for her reading glasses. With the journal clearly in view, she opened to a random page. With light from the adjacent kitchen she maneuvers the journal so she can read.
10 November 2004
My sweet mom. Day three of our sweep through Fallujah and it’s getting tougher by the minute. Death if all around. Nothing can prepare you for this. No book. No veteran. No movie. NOTHING. This place makes hell look like Disneyland. That’s why we are the best mom. But worry not. I am safe in the hands of my Marine brothers. We have fought our way into town and my platoon is holed up in a convenience store we nicknamed the candy store. We are getting 12 hours a rest at a time which we must square away our gear but it also serves as a breather from the reality outside these walls. Before I wrote this I was thinking of how hard war is. But I am made for this. I understand it just like my fellow Marines. You just are born with this inert ability to stare death in the face and maintain your bearing. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong. I am reminded a line from Tom Hank’s character in “A League of Their Own” when Gina Davis tells him that baseball got too hard. His reply:
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Not everyone can do this. The Marines can. We are special. And we will win and I’ll come home and be a better man.
Time to get back to cleaning my gear so I can get some rack time. Worry not. I am safe. In the candy store.
Till we meet again. You son Michael PFC USMC.
She manages a quick smile that shifted the streaming tears from her cheeks across the edges of her mouth. He was brave. She understood that before he joined the Marines. That is what scared her the most. She knew he enjoyed that movie yet she was surprised at the quote he chose. “It certainly fit his situation,” she thought.
A quick moment of pride was washed out by the agony of his words. Through her tears she reached for her glass and drank the remaining wine. She laid on the couch in a fetal position, crying herself to sleep. She was reliving his death all over again. When will her pain end?
This is fiction written for Daily Prompt Silver Screen. This work was inspired by the prompt and written for the ongoing story The Journal of PFC Patterson. Stop by and read more about a mother dealing with the loss of her only son in Iraq and the turmoil created after reading his journal.
With Anthony gone, Arlene sat alone on the couch staring at the journal on the coffee table before her. Her eyes glanced up from it to the window. The rain ran down the panes like blood must have on her son. She took a sip of wine and placed the glass next to the journal. The plastic bag holding it was worn and dirty with grains of sand that once touched his hands. The room was eerily quiet. Her emotions swayed from anger to sadness.
Why did he send the journal to her? Wasn’t losing him enough! Now must she read his own words. She was frozen in the moment. Too scared to open the journal, she stood up and walked towards the wall holding his pictures. The pain of losing Michael was as agonizing now as it was when two Marines in uniform delivered the devastating news last November.
This is fiction written for VisDare. This work was inspired by the photo and written for the ongoing story The Journal of PFC Patterson. Stop by and read more about a mother dealing with the loss of her only son in Iraq and the turmoil created after reading his journal.