Denise gasped as she lurched into the office.
Laura half rose from behind her desk. “You OK?”
Denise caught herself, and bent down to remove her right pump. “Drat! My heel broke off. And it’s a new pair, too.” She put her shoe under her arm and ran a harried hand through her short brown hair. “Ever have one of those days when nothing seems to go right?”
“Sure.” Laura sat back down and waved toward the chair across from her. “Tell me about it.”
Denise sank into the chair with a grateful sigh and placed the file she’d been holding on the desk. She kicked off her other shoe and leaned back. “First, the alarm didn’t go off. Sheila usually wakes us up every morning before our alarm goes off, but wouldn’t you know it? On the one day that the alarm doesn’t go off, Sheila oversleeps! We had to wake her up to get her ready for day care.”
“So she’s whiny the whole time?”
“You got it! And then when I’m all ready to go, she flings her spoon into her cereal and it splatters her with milk and Cheerios. She thought it was so funny, that she flung some on me as well. I had to change both her and me from head to toe.” Denise glared as Laura bit back a chuckle.
“Sorry. Go on.”
“Luckily, it was Jim’s day to drop her off at day care, but I was still late. And as soon as I walk into the building, who do I bump into?”
“Oh no, don’t tell me, let me guess. Masters?”
“You got it again. Heavens, I stayed late three times this week, and he bawls me out for being ten minutes late today. Then he hands me three hundred pages to go through, which he needed done yesterday.”
“Definitely not your lucky day.”
“Yeah, and it only went downhill from there.” Denise puffed her cheeks and blew out a burst of air. “Anyway, here’s your report.”
“Thanks. And cheer up. At least the day’s over.”
“Over?” Startled, Denise glanced at the clock on Laura’s desk. “Oh my gosh! Is your clock right? I’m gonna be late to pick up Sheila!”
Barefoot but for her stockings, Denise poured some oil into the large pot of boiling water on the stove. She opened a large package of noodles and stirred it into the bubbling liquid. She’d meant to put more effort into supper, and instead, here she was cooking a huge pot of pasta so she could freeze some for leftovers. But it had been a long day and she just didn’t have the patience for more than that. A twinge of guilt had her take out the chopping board so she could at least upgrade the noodles a bit with a nice sauce. Not that Jim would have an issue with it. Luckily, Jim never complained about what she served on the nights that she was in charge of putting food on the table.
“Mommy, Mommy! Look at my picture!”
“But Mommy, you didn’t look!”
Denise gave it a cursory glance. “Very nice.”
The sound of angry bubbling called her attention back to the stove.
“Mommy,” came once again.
Denise snapped. “Not now, Sheila. Go to Daddy!”
Denise winced at Sheila’s expression. She rarely lost her temper with her daughter, but it did provide the necessary effect. Sheila left without her usual arguments.
Denise shut off the gas and lifted the pot from the flame. Just as she turned towards the counter, the pot handle broke off, spilling the boiling, oily water and pasta all over her body and onto the kitchen floor.
Her shrieks brought Jim running.
Denise didn’t remember much about the frantic ride to the emergency room, only the excruciating pain which invaded her body, rolling over her in waves of dark agony. She drifted in and out of consciousness, her body’s only defense against the intensity of her suffering.
Bright lights. Soothing voices around her. Someone giving orders in the background.
Set up an IV!
…remove her rings.
Cut off what you can of her clothing.
The pain. Oh the pain. Blackness again.
Scraps of conversation filtered through the darkness.
“Lucky …nothing… face.”
After two days, she noticed that she was processing more of what was going on around her.
A touch on her good arm woke her.
Denise peered through thickened eye lids at the blue hospital gown and licked her lips. “Jim?”
His beloved face looked down at her, drawn with concern.
“It’s OK. I’m gonna be fine.” Her words slurred together.
He gave her his lopsided grin. “That’s my girl.”
“I wanna see her.”
“They’re afraid of infection, honey.”
Her eyes teared up. She blinked to wipe them away and swallowed. “Tell her I love her.”
“I will.” Jim reached for her hand, then flushed and dropped his arm. Between her bandaged left hand and the IV, there was no hand to hold. He stroked her forehead instead. “What can I do for you? Anything you want me to bring ? A book? Something?”
“Can’t read. Can’t concentrate.” Denise shifted and groaned.
Her eyes lit up in answer. “And juices. They want me to drink.”
Although they lessened the pain killers, the nurses still sedated her for the torture sessions during which the nurses sloughed off damaged skin and refreshed her bandages. She continued to doze off throughout the day, but there were increasing moments of lucidity.
She had no patience for television. Friends and family dropped by for short visits. Jim brought her kindle, and she managed to read a bit. She listened to her music. But most of her waking hours she spent in thought.
Towards the end of the week, Laura breezed in. Denise gratefully laid down her reading.
“How are you? Everyone at the office is asking about you.”
“I’m doing better.”
“Well, pardon me for saying so, but you don’t look so hot. More like something the dog left over.”
Denise’s lips twitched. “And here everyone is telling me how wonderful I look.”
“Well, maybe in comparison to everyone else in this joint.” The two women laughed together. Laura slipped into the armchair beside the bed. She leaned forward and dropped her light air. “You don’t have to laugh for me. I can see that you’re in pain. Can’t they give you something for it?”
“It’s getting better during the day.”
Laura raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Okay. Maybe I’m just getting used to it. Besides, I don’t want to take too much.”
“Too much? If I were in your shoes I’d be yelling for drugs. Just knock me out!” Laura wailed.
The corners of Denise’s lips lifted, though the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “What’s happening at the office?”
Laura chatted on, filling her in. Denise closed her eyes.
“Am I boring you?”
Denise shook her head. “I’m listening.”
Laura’s voice softened. “Are you in pain again?”
Denise grimaced and nodded.
“Why don’t you ask them to bring you something?”
“I don’t like the way the meds make me feel.”
Laura hesitated for a moment. “Y’know, when I heard what happened to you, I kept on thinking of that conversation we had in the office that day. About your bad day and all. And then this to end it! What terrible luck!”
Denise opened her eyes and shook her head. “No. I was wrong. I am the luckiest person alive.”
Laura gripped the armrests and her jaw tensed. “Sure.” She didn’t sound convinced. “Maybe you mean lucky to be alive.”
“No, seriously. I’ve had so much time to think about things here. It was such a trying day, with one thing after another. By the time I got home, I had no patience for my own daughter.”
“But you see, Sheila is always with me in the kitchen when I make supper. Only that evening, I was so short tempered, I kicked her out of the kitchen. The pot handle broke seconds later.”
“Oh. My. God!” Laura said, eyes wide.
Denise nodded. “Exactly. If not for that lousy day, she would have been injured, or worse. The pain, it reminds me of the suffering she was spared.” Her voice choked as tears welled. Denise swallowed, and spoke in little more than a whisper. “And thinking of how she was spared, that gives me the strength to carry on.”
Laura studied her, then leaned over and kissed her cheek. “You’re right, Denise. You’re the luckiest woman in the world.”