An Evening in Purgatory

emergency room

Everything is white noise and antiseptic odors. Malory stares at the faded, mint-green tiles of the examining room. She is shaking but she does not notice it. Her heartbeat is a hammering rhythm deep in her ears and she can actually feel it in her jaw. She stopped crying an hour ago. Why cry when the only voice in her head is a persistent, angry, panicked scream?

That is all she has heard, beside her heartbeat, for over an hour. Since Tom came to the hospital. His eyes were rage and blame and eager for violent release as though this had happened to him and not her. He could not look at her and that sent her already fragile psyche crashing down around her. It was not the straw that broke the camel’s back. No, that spine had been shattered earlier at the office holiday party by a team member she thought of as a younger brother. This was the blow that shattered the remaining vertebrae to splinters. It felt like he was blaming her, and that she was now unclean. Better to swear vows of revenge than offer words of relief.

So she fell, deep within herself. No articulation of what was happening, the accusations and apologies to come. No blame for anyone, just a complete surrender to her fear and grief, to the nausea that expands from her chest and grips her mind and somehow she is keenly aware of both spinning and of being absolutely still at once. The examination room has become her whole world and beyond the door is hell.

Another hour goes by before her mind returns to her. Police come with questions and her parents have arrived. Behind them Tom stands, eyes down like a child that has just been taught a stern lesson. A hand on her shoulder, she does not know whose, makes her jump a little and the questions begin. She knows there will be others, far less kind, but for now the pain eases, just a little, for now, she can muddle through. Maybe that is all she will ever have.

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