This story is by Marie Miller and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The return from the dead was easy: Admittedly, the boundaries between the ‘Me’ and the ‘Everything’ had disappeared, but there was no standstill. Far below the levels of consciousness ‘Something’ was trying to find a shape, the contours of an entity, glimpses of memories that once formed the ‘Me’. It took an eternity, an ocean of subconscious travel before the first sense returned, a flash of light, and the sudden realization that ‘I’ would be judged.
But for what?
My first unaided breath ended with a huge cough stretching and twisting tubes in my mouth and nose. The acidic smell of a sterile room was so offensive it kept me in a coughing fit long before I noticed the pain in my head, throbbing as if an axe had split my skull. The bright daylight in the room was reflected from the white walls to the white curtains to the white hospital bed beneath my body. My instinct made me want to scream and run, but my legs did not follow my command.
My struggle seemed to have set off an alarm in some type of machine close by and I concentrated on the beep. Two long ones followed by a short one. The sounds were both a g-note on the musical scale, and it only struck me later that a perfect pitch had a significance in my life ‘before’.
A door opened, and someone came in, not dressed in white, but in red and blue. My eyes found relief in holding onto and following around the only colors in the room but then she pointed a finger at me:
Her voice alarmed me more than my breathing problems. I did not recognize the face coming forward from a blur.
“Why, why, why?”
I could not gesture and appease her with my two bandaged hands, and I only tasted blood and soreness in my mouth. Her soft brown ringlets belied the steely ferocity with which she directed her finger at me. I could not turn away, only wiggle. I sensed she had noticed my discomfort when she lowered her finger abruptly, blurting out a simple, almost deflated,
“Why did you not stop at the red light?”
The blank canvas in my brain desperately wanted to be colored, but I had woken up to fog – only having a deep-seated feeling that my identity had something to do with the state I was in.
“I’ve got quite a few papers for you to approve for insurance, once you pass their capacity test. They said you can blink, two blinks for yes, one blink for no. The agent was a bit funny about it, talking about ‘patient empowerment’, as if I don’t know how to handle this.”
Her face was so close now – nausea overcame me in the mists of her heavy perfume.
“Bernie, you will need to remember for me, me, your Martha.” Her brown eyes were piercing.
“B-e-r-n-i-e.” I tried to formulate the name in my mind. No pictures nor people appeared upon my canvas, but Martha did not seem to be bothered by my unresponsiveness.
The doctor was peeking over Martha’s shoulders while disclosing my ‘encounter’ with a Range Rover: fractured hips, my right foot pounded to a pulp, a severe concussion and jaw fractures, later followed by a brain aneurysm, inducing a week-long coma.
“No walking or talking for at least another eight weeks!” he added. “Mr. Waters, if it hadn’t been for an alert pedestrian yanking you back…”
Martha interrupted the doctor with a glare. “Let’s not get Bernie too agitated, shall we?”
“You have a caring wife,” whispered the night nurse, as Martha drew the curtains. I remembered the finger in my face and the perfume, and I felt guilty for some reason.
Martha remained the link between my routines in the weeks following the coma. She acted as the interpreter of my wishes, and, what was more, as the sole messenger to my previous life, our life.
“Honestly, Bernie, I won’t lie. You and I – before your accident – we had a bit of a rough patch. We had started couple therapy.”
She blushed, and I decided straight away to take the weight of her revelation onto me. After weeks of immobility, I desperately wanted to be useful.
It had been my fault and my fault alone to cross the road in that fateful second.
“His family let him down as well. It’s not the first time” Martha declared when the doctor suggested my exposure to friends and family.
“No, no colleagues, he just retired from being an investor, and I am glad he did. A reminder would stress him out before he learns how to hold a spoon, wouldn’t it?”
Martha seemed to forget my presence in those conversations, but I forgave her. It was hard to remember that someone, a person, was hiding in the silent cocoon that I had become.
In a desperate attempt to jumpstart my memory, the doctors hooked me up to a portable neurofeedback station, while Martha told her stories of our past. My brain, however, showed no significant reaction despite her many clues about joint dinners, art exhibitions, and trips we had taken.
“Something just doesn’t add up yet” one of the neuro specialists had to admit. She suggested a kick-start of my memory with more rigid methods that would integrate the sensory experiences of touch, smell, sight, hearing and even taste.
I achieved a small success in one of these ‘sensory sessions’ when I was listening to Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. My neurofeedback went ballistic with fired-up brain areas everywhere. I knew -simply knew- that the main parts of the opera were in D-major, giving the opera a light-hearted festivity.
Martha had never said anything about my predilection for classical music. But she was pleased with my progress.
“Tomorrow will be your big day, the capacity test”, Martha announced on a sunny morning in July. “All you need to remember, Bernie, when this insurance agent comes” she pointed to my eyes, “is to blink two times for a yes and two times for a no.”
She was waving a document. It showed an insurance policy for Bernard Waters, previously known as Bernard Most, birth place in Salzach, Austria. A big lump sum of 100 000 Dollars was supposed to be paid out to Martha – if I consented.
“Bernie, hon, this will end our struggles…”
She winked at me. “But today we will relax.”
For the first time in ten weeks, Martha pushed my wheelchair out of the white hospital.
I was blinded by the brightness of the summer sun and mesmerized by the deep blue sky at the same time.
“Your brain activity is off the charts” Martha grinned while pointing at my neurofeedback station.
“Goodness, the heat, though!”
She wiped her forehead while pushing me along. The café was only three blocks down the road, but the scorching temperatures turned the journey into a battle against the heat.
I was drenched in sweat by the time we arrived, but no one looked up when my wheelchair was rolled in.
I heard Martha curse the heat before she made her way to the bathroom without noticing the sweat dripping from my forehead. Drip, drip. I would sit it out, no problem.
A strawberry blonde woman approached my table. She asked again, leaving no doubt that she meant me.
“Adam?! For crying out loud, where have you been?”
My heart missed a beat, before pounding relentlessly fast. I recognized the voice! I had recognized it even before I looked at her. It was Anna, a musician.
“Don’t you recognize me?”
“It’s Anna, first violin! Is this where you have been? Tucked away in a wheelchair?
“The orchestra had to write off my violin and cancel my solo concerts without your financial backing.”
“Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,” I remembered.
“Who on Earth brought you here?” She looked very concerned now. “The ambulance driver said something about a ‘wife’ who would be looking after you.”
“Adam, let me put it bluntly, are you married ?!”
Something rigid broke deep inside me, flooding my mind with memories of worldwide concerts, rapturous applause and Anna’s smile in all of them. And there was a net of lies. Lies to Martha about my double life and lies to Anna about the same.
The streams of tears mixed with my sweat left large stains on my shirt. Somebody wiped my face with a napkin.
“Excuse me Miss! I need to look after my husband!”
Anna freaked out when she noticed Martha. “She pushed you, Adam!” “This lady pushed you into the road. I swear I was there. I yanked you back.” “Adam!”
Anna’s witness might have been my way out of trouble at other times, but not then: My world had broken down long before that. It was my time to pay, not to pick sides.
Unsurprisingly, I lost both, Martha and Anna.
But I am still smiling at my re-found memories.