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Steve’s heart was beating rapidly. He lay there in the dark for a moment, every nerve tingling and every hair standing on end. He closed his eyes again and let out a huge sigh to calm himself. It was just a dream. Nothing happened. If I got on the phone right now she would pick up, tired and pissed off.
He couldn’t shake the feeling, though. In the dream she had been lying on the side of the road, dying. The blood was everywhere, and her car was on fire just beside her. Her cries of pain had been almost too much for him to bear. In the end, the car had exploded, sending him back into the real world. Oh, Sandra, I wish I hadn’t left. It’s so lonely all the way up here.
In answer to his thoughts, the cold Yellowknife wind blew outside, howling its frustration against the side of his little trailer.
I’ll see her soon enough, at least. Just a couple more weeks....
The wind picked up again, this time sending some piece of debris into the side of his trailer with a big thump. He started at the sound but instantly it was forgotten against the foreboding in the back of his mind. He closed his eyes more tightly this time and shifted into a more comfortable position, hoping some better dreams would come. They didn’t.
He was wandering through sterile white halls, past doors beyond number. Harsh fluorescent light glared off the walls as he continued. The doors were all closed to him but he could hear the suffering behind some – the crying of a woman or moans of some child. He shuddered and continued. There was nothing else he could do. He had to find her.
Soon he was calling her name in his dream voice. Sandy? Where are you? You have to be here. You have to. Sandy!
The halls rang with his voice as he went, but nobody seemed to notice him. The staff just walked right past him. He tried to reach out to one of them but it was no use. They were always too far away, even when they were right beside him. Please, you have to help me find her. She needs me right now or she’ll die. I need her right now.
Finally he heard a faint whisper above his own screaming. “Steve? Steve, are you there?”
He straightened, listening for the source, then he turned and ran back to the room the voice had come from. He looked inside and saw her, lying there on the bed. She looked so small and broken then, with tubes and bandages and the blue slip the hospital gave her. She kept calling even after he was in the doorway.
“Steve, where are you? Steve?”
He tried to say I’m right here, baby. Nothing is going to happen to you, I won’t let it. I love you, Sandy.
He also tried to go to her, but his legs wouldn’t let him. He was stuck on the outside looking in. Finally a nurse came in and changed the dressings on her wounds without so much as a word. He tried to say Talk to her! She needs someone right now. She can’t…
“…can’t be alone at a time like this.”
The sun was beaming in through the window but it hadn’t reached his face yet. He could feel its warmth on his feet and legs through the blankets. The bare little room was aglow with its light. Despite the warmth of the sun, he was shivering. He looked over at the clock. It read 8:47. She should be awake by now, and if she isn’t that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Maybe I’ll call her and we can have a good laugh over all this.
He tried to laugh to himself but it came out a little hysterical and a lot fake. He rolled over in his bed and reached for the phone on his night table. He picked it up and punched in the 11 numbers for the call. The phone rang and rang for what seemed like forever. It was only about four rings but it felt like more. Finally it was picked up and a sombre, almost sad voice came on.
“Hi,” He said eagerly, “is Sandy there?”
A short, choked sob punched its was across the line, hitting Steve in the heart. Oh my god, what’s happened? It was a stupid thought to have. He knew what had happened. He was there when it happened.
“What is it, Mrs Evans?”
She tried to stop crying but couldn’t. Between sobs she managed to say, “I was going…. to call you. There’s… been an accident, Steve. She’s in the hospital. Steve… it… it doesn’t look good.”
His heart sank. How could it be true? It was just a bad nightmare, that’s all. He didn’t wasn’t to believe it but how could he believe otherwise? Maybe this is a dream, too. He punched himself in the face to check. The pain and taste of blood told him otherwise. As he sucked on the blood pouring from his broken lip, he realized that he still had Mrs. Evans on the phone.
“Thank… thank you Mrs. Evans. I’ll be down in a day or two. My boss will understand.”
Steve wasn’t quite sure if his boss would understand, but he also didn’t think it would matter in the end, either. Mrs. Evans thanked him and said her traditional long goodbye. After he hung up Steve sat in his bed for a moment and cried. By then the sun was a little further, sending splash of light on his pillow. He wiped his eyes and cheeks and stood up.
He dressed quickly, trying to regain his composure for the hard with his boss. After fixing his hair a little he picked up the phone to see when the man would be in. His secretary answered, “Why, he’s here right now, want me to put you through?”
“That would be great, thanks.” At least he wouldn’t have to do it face to face.
“Hello, Mr Donnerman. I need to speak to you about getting some time off.”
“Yes, and your name is?”
“Oh, Steven Barry.”
“Ok…” Steve heard some typing on the other end of the line, ending with the pronounced thunk of the enter key. “Here you are. It says you have only been with us a month and you already want a holiday?”
“No, no it’s a family emergency. I’m needed back in BC for a few days.”
“Oh, is that so? Well, I’m busy right now so I’ll just give you the week. Just be forewarned, if I find out you spent it in Tahiti you can kiss your job goodbye.”
“Thank you, sir. I have to go now, though. They’re waiting.”
“Goodbye, Barry.” Steve could hear the smile in Donnerman’s voice. It was a comforting sound.
Steve hung up the phone and packed a few days’ worth of clothes in his little suitcase. None of the clothes matched each other but that wasn’t a problem. He wasn’t going for looks. He was just going.
Within 20 minutes of his call to the head honcho, he was out of there, speeding along the nearly deserted highway in his little brown station wagon. The only sound in the car was that of the engine, which was bellowing with the effort Steve was forcing on it. He kept thinking of what he would say to Sandy when he finally saw her. That was, if she was still….
No, I can’t think of that right now. If I do, I’ll never get there. I’ll just end up driving of a cliff or something.
He considered that for a second but then he dismissed the idea as crazy. Besides, she was still alive. Her mother had told him that.
But, if she’ alive, why was Mrs. Evans so sad. She must be hurt bad, maybe even disabled. I have to go, go, go…
He drove, thinking and wondering and worrying nearly all day until grief and exhaustion made him stop on the side of the road. He let his seat back and closed his eyes. Just a few hours, then I can get on with it. I just need some rest.
Thankfully, he did not dream, or at least when he woke he couldn’t remember any dreams. It was still dark when he opened his eyes and at first he didn’t know where he was. He looked around at the blackness and then a huge truck sped by, dangerously close to the side of his car. Then he remembered. Sandy.
He put the key back in the ignition and started the reluctant old beast up. Soon he was back on the highway, headed home and only a couple hundred kilometres away. The miles seemed to go on forever. He had ceased to think about anything other than going as fast as he could. It was still so slow. He needed to go faster. Faster.
When he finally pulled into town, it was dead in the morning. Dawn had just broken and only a few cars were crawling along the streets, toward the early shift at the old sawmill, presumably. He drove straight across town to the hospital, not stopping to say hello to his parents on the way through, or visit Mrs. Evans to see how she was doing. He knew exactly where he was needed most.
He pushed through the heavy doors of the hospital and trotted to the lobby down a short corridor. He had to stop and take a breath to keep from yelling at the woman at the counter. Where is she? Take me to her!
“Hello, sir, what can I do for you?”
“Do you have a Sandra Barry here?”
“Are you friend or family?”
“Okay, hmmmmm… let me see.” She typed for what seemed like forever on the noisiest keyboard ever created. “Yes we do, in room 248. Would you like me to take you to her?”
“Yes, please.” He spoke eagerly. Perhaps too eagerly, he judged, from the odd look it got him from the woman.
Too eager or not, she led him down a long hallway, past closed doors. The sounds of suffering were plain to hear. Steve shuddered at the memory of his dream. The sounds made him afraid of what he might find when he got to room 248. He had to make an effort to keep himself from running up ahead of the nurse.
Finally, they came up on the door and the woman opened it for him. “The nurses will be over to change her bandages and check her vitals in a while but don’t worry about them. They won’t bother you.”
She closed the door behind him as he slowly advanced on the bed. He could see the tubes coming off her, just as they had in the dream. He held his breath as he approached, unable to speak, unable to think.
He came to the edge of the bed and let out his breath in a sort of reverse gasp. Lying limply on the bed, she was broken and fragile. Her face was marred by scratches and deep purple bruises. Her soft features were slack with pure sleep. Most of her beautiful golden hair was hidden by the bandages over her head. He took the hand that wasn’t in a cast in his and squeezed, kneeling beside the bed.
“She’s been like that since the accident.”
Steve turned, startled. He had not heard the door open or the footsteps behind him. It was his mother.
He looked up at her with blurry eyes and held out his arm for a hug, not letting go of his wife with the other. They hugged long and hard. When they moved apart she told him everything she knew, crying herself, too.
“The doctors say she might never wake up. The damage is bad, but her vitals are stable. Now that you’re here I think she has a good chance.”
“Mom, could you let us be alone for a while? I have some stuff I need to sort out.”
“Of course, just stop by when you’re ready.”
With his mother gone, Steve just sat on the edge of the bed and held Sandy’s hand, praying that she would wake up. He wanted that more than anything else in the world. He sat there for a couple of hours until his lack of sleep caught up with him and he could stay awake no longer. He crossed the room and pulled the empty bed on the other side over to hers. Then he lay down on it with her hand in his and slept.
In his dream, he was sitting in empty white space. He was conversing with an unseen and unheard speaker.
“I do. I know what it means, but what if it didn’t have to be; what if we went together? Could it happen? Please, I need to speak to her.”
She appeared in front of him, whole and awake. Her fragile frame still draped in the hospital gown. He smiled. “Is this what you want, dear?”
“Yes, if it is what you want, but what about everyone else?”
“They will know we are happy. Isn’t that all that matters?”
“Yes, I guess it is.”
“Now, give me your hand.”
He took the hand and turned toward the unseen speaker.
“Do you remember the vows?” he asked her.
He nodded back and started forward.
Hours later, worried friends and family came into the room to find the two still laying side by side. There was a big smile on Steve’s face, and a much weaker one on Sandra’s. The heart monitor had flatlined. Nurses came in, shoving aside the horrified onlookers to get at the patient. They tried every trick in the book but nothing seemed to work. They gave her a shot of adrenaline, but nothing. And all through it Steve never moved. He just laid there with that smile on his face like he had died and gone to heaven as they fired the defibulator over and over. It wasn’t until after they gave up hope on reviving Sandra that they realized that he had.