This story is by Retta Bodhaine and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Red coats the back of my eyelids as I hide my burning eyes from the harsh florescent lights and reflective white surfaces of the emergency exam room. Footsteps, rubber wheels and machines create a cacophony of background noise. The snippets of conversation I attempt to hear through the paper-thin walls blend with the other sounds, but briefly Doppler on by as the staff and their unfortunate patients bustle past the closed wooden door.
My efforts to distract myself from the indelible image of my abnormally bulging bicep and the agony associated with it are failing. Not even the cloying smells of disinfectant, damage and death can make more than an annoying scratch on the surface of my thoughts. I forcibly remind myself again of my brothers who are both working the narcotics anonymous program after forming addictions to their doctor prescribed pain medications. I take a deep breath and try to focus on anything external while cursing the ineffectiveness of Ibuprofen.
The fluctuations in the hum of the lights are failing as a distraction when the door to my room opens. My mother leans heavily on a wooden cane as she comes into the room. Her eyes and cheeks are sunken, her remaining hair is listless, and her skin looks like mottled tissue paper.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” Worry coats my voice, finally the pain is not the first thing in my mind. “Did Charles call you?”
“Calm down, Jeanie.” She limply waves my concerns away, “No, your brother didn’t call me. I just happened to be visiting him when the call came.” She painstakingly lowers herself into the chair beside my bed. “He did try to cover for you, but lying has never been Charles’s strong suit.”
“Mom, you shouldn’t be here; you’re just starting to recover from the chemo, and the doctor says I’m going to be fine.”
My voice doesn’t change pitch, my face stays relaxed, and my eyes are directly on hers, but my mother still gives me the look. She’s given it to me every time I’ve so much as stretched the truth since I was three. That look is never wrong.
“Well, he would have said I was fine. The only thing that has him worried is our recent family history. Which has nothing to do with me stupidly overestimating my upper body strength.”
“What has him worried about our history?”
“With me, Charles and Dwayne ending up in the emergency room multiple times in the past year, He just wants to run some tests and see if there may be any connecting causes.”
My mother drops her gaze from mine. “Jeanie,” she starts but lowers her voice and begins again, “Jeanette, there’s something we need to talk about. If I’m right, I think they’re going to find a connecting cause, and I don’t think it’ll take them too long either. Have they checked your iron levels yet?”
“Iron levels?-” My voice trails off as my ears register the click of the door handle.
The lights faintly flicker as my father steps into the room. His blue officer’s uniform looks darker than usual and a chill runs up my spine as I register what it means. He’s back to active duty.
“When did you get cleared?” The words come out before I decide to say them.
He arches his eyebrow and quirks a quick grin. “You’re sitting in a hospital bed and you want to know when I got off desk duty?”
After an odd moment, I realize that I’m staring at his face, at his grin. It’s not the grin I grew up with. It seems pointier and predatory. I shake off the absurd thought. It’s just a game my emotions are playing with my mind. Ever since a delusional perp attacked and nearly killed him a year ago, I constantly feel like I’m ten and waiting for dad to get home.
I purposefully blur my vision, making the incongruous details fuzzy. I try to not see his uniform at all; a stranger shouldn’t be wearing it.
“I’ll be fine dad. I tore my tendon, but it’ll heal.” I reassure him. Movement in my periphery vision has me looking over at my mother. Her knuckles are white, and her sunken eyes almost seem to glow with anger.
“What did you do?” She asks him in a menacing voice that seems at odds with her frail appearance.
He sighs heavily and enters, yet another, battle of wills with my mother. It hurts me to see them like this. They used to be so in love, but somewhere between his injuries, her cancer, and our medical bills, they drifted apart.
“Shouldn’t you be at home Nadine?” He responds dismissively. “I’ll call a cab to come get you.”
“I’m right where I should be,” She stands and takes two shaky steps towards him. “between you and my children.”
“Our children, dear.” He keeps his tone detached and condescending.
“No, mine. You’re just the monster that feeds off them.” Spittle punctuates her accusation like sparks.
“Go on deny it! Did you really think I wouldn’t figure it out?”
“Mom,” I try to interrupt her but she barrels through.
“I thought you were my Marlon. Even when you had nearly sucked me dry, I thought it’d be worth it because I was saving him.” A tear forms, but doesn’t fall from her eye. “But you can’t be him. My Marlon never would have hurt our kids. He’d have died first!”
“Dad?” My unspoken question is clear. He moves around her to talk to me, slightly jostling her in the process. Her cane falls to the floor and snaps.
His gaze bores deeply into mine. I can’t look away. “Your mother has been-” He explodes in to ash before he can finish his sentence. My mother stands behind him holding the broken point of her cane where his heart used to be.
“Your father has been a vampire,” She wipes away her tear. “But he’s free now.”