Fortunately, Charlotte Hamilton was hit by a car

Submitted into Contest #127 in response to: Begin your story with a character having a gut feeling they cannot explain.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction

        When I regained consciousness, I was slightly startled to be lying on my back on damp, cool, rough cement, feeling mildly befuddled. Before even attempting to open my eyes to further assess my situation or see whose hands were resting on my shoulders, I paused to appreciate the absence of the mild but gnawing discomfort I had been having in my stomach recently, and the new presence of a feeling of satisfaction, as if something had been sorted out. I would have taken a few more moments to reflect on this contented feeling, but a nearby male voice was becoming hard to ignore.

              “Ma’am, ma’am, are you ok?  Can you hear me? Can you open your eyes?” the voice implored, kind but anxious. I opened my eyes.

              “Oh thank God,” he said, sounding genuinely relived, although I had never met him before (I never forget a face, especially not such a handsome one). 

              “What happened?” I asked, embarrassed to need an explanation from this stranger. I might be in my 60s, but my memory was sharp and I wasn’t prone to clumsiness. In fact, just the day before I had skipped down the sidewalk with Ruby, my granddaughter, on our way to her daycare.  

              “Um, you were in an accident. You got hit by a car,” the man explained.

              “My goodness,” I replied. That didn’t sound at all like something that would have happened to me.

              He continued, “We’ve called an ambulance, they should be here any minute. Can you move your fingers and toes? Does anything hurt?”

              “Of course I can,” I replied, twisting slightly to try to stand up, but the hands on my shoulders held me down, and the forearms on my ears kept my face pointing up towards the dull gray sky. A woman’s face, pale with freckles and smile lines around her eyes, appeared over my head. “Don’t move yet. You took a pretty bad tumble, you may have a neck injury.”

              My neck didn’t hurt but I suddenly noticed an intense throbbing on the outside of my right knee.  The freckled woman and the man with the face of a Roman statue exchanged a tentative glance before she continued gently, “You were crossing the street, with the light, and a man turning left hit you. You actually, um, went onto the hood of his car. I think you hit your head on his windshield and were out for a few minutes.”

              I nodded calmly before remembering I wasn’t supposed to be moving my neck. 

              Seemingly encouraged, she continued, “We stopped him, he was going to drive away! He smelled like he had been drinking. I mean we didn’t,” she gestured to the man at my side, “we ran over to you, but other people did. He’s not going to get away with this.”

              I am not a vindictive person, although ordinarily I might have been slightly interested in this reported man who attempted to mow me down with his car. At the time though, the sense of calmness and certainty that there was absolutely nothing to worry about overpowered any anger I should have felt. Perhaps a big sale had been finalized at the gallery? I was overdue for one and had been feeling more stressed than I ever would have admitted about paying the rent next month. Everyone thought owning an art gallery was glamorous, but they didn’t consider the financial realities, or the pitfalls of working with notoriously flighty artists and fickle clients.

              “What time is it?” I asked, figuring these two strangers already thought I was clueless, might as well keep asking questions.

              “8:53,” the man replied, just as the woman exclaimed, “oh shit, the ambulance is here, I have to move my car!” and sprung to her feet. 

              Immediately turning my head, neck injury be damned, I saw her slide into a maroon sedan that had been perpendicular to the road I was lying on. When her car moved, I recognized the stone front of the apartment building and knew we were just down the block from Ruby’s daycare. If it was 8:53 in the morning I should have already dropped her off, and surely I wouldn’t feel so calm if Ruby was in danger. 

              Just as I was about to ask the man if there had been a little girl with cornrows and pink rainboots with me when I got hit, the ambulance arrived, bringing a frenzy of activity. Before I could even ask for his name or thank him, I was strapped a stretcher being slid into the back of the wagon and whisked off to the hospital.

              The EMT busied herself checking my blood pressure and oxygen level and starting an IV. While she was doing those things, I had the opportunity to think. I had almost certainly walked Ruby to daycare and dropped her off at 8:30 and must have been walking back towards the gallery when I was hit. I remembered everything from the day before perfectly, but the morning was hazy. Maybe I had an email from the client who had been considering purchasing the series of chain link paintings (which I thought were hideous but could see how they would fit a certain brutalist space quite well). That would solve my cash flow issues for the month. The thought of email made me wonder where my phone had gone? Or my handbag? There were so many things to worry about and yet I felt completely calm, as if a burden was being lifted. 

              After we arrived at the hospital and I was prodded by what seemed like dozens of people, it was established that because I had a brief “LOC” and “tenderness to palpation of posterolateral ribs 5 though 9 on the right” meaning I needed a “pan scan” before the “plain films of the left knee”. It all seemed like overkill given how good I felt, but these doctors sounded very certain, and I didn’t want to be a noncompliant patient. I had already answered a litany of questions about my past medical history (hypothyroidism, well controlled on medicine for 25 years), past surgical history (hysterectomy for fibroids), personal habits (one glass of merlot most nights, no cigarettes since the 80s), and current complaints (pulsating left knee pain and a developing headache) and hoped to still make it to the gallery for the afternoon, so thought it best to continue to comply.

              Within minutes of returning to the room in the emergency department from the CT a solemn-faced young woman came in and closed the door gently behind her.

              “Hi Ms. Hamilton. I’m Dr. Sullivan. How are you feeling?” she asked, easing herself down into the mauve plastic and metal chair next to my bed.

              “Oh I’m fine, thank you doctor,” I replied.

              “Good. Do you need any pain medication? I can have the nurse bring some in if you do,” she asked.

              “No thank you, just some soreness in my knee, but the icepack is helping.” I eager for her to clear me to leave I could make it in to open the gallery and check my messages.

              “Do you have any family you could call?” she asked.

              Perfect, this was her way of saying I could go. The scans must have been fine, and maybe they decided they didn’t need knee x-rays after all. “Oh yes, my daughter is at work downtown, but she could leave on her lunchbreak to come pick me up I’m sure. I just need my handbag, I’m hoping they brought it in with me.”

              Dr. Sullivan shook her head slowly, suddenly seeming extremely young. “Um, you’re not being discharged yet, I need to talk to you about something.”

              She probably had the wrong patient, but I was too polite to question her. She must already have a hard time of it, being a doctor but looking like a teenager. After glancing around the room for my handbag and evidently not seeing it, she pressed on.

              “The CT scan didn’t show any bleeding in your brain or broken ribs.”

              “Well that’s good news!” I exclaimed. Maybe she was just one of those smart people who was also awkward, and perhaps was about to tell me about some policy of observation after a head injury that would keep me captive in this room for another hour or two. I could deal with that, as long as they brought me a snack.

              She inhaled deeply before continuing, “The scan did however show a mass in the head of your pancreas. Have you been lost weight recently?”

              I replied, “Well yes I’ve lost about 30 pounds, but I’ve been walking more now that it’s cooled off, and I started doing Zumba a few months ago. It’s really fabulous – I felt silly the first few times but that goes away quickly.”

              She nodded slowly, “And have you had any abdominal pain?”

              “Oh no,” I answered quickly. Reconsidering, I went on, “Maybe a little discomfort for the last month or two, but things at work have been stressful. It actually feels much better today. Overall, I feel great. I can just get the pancreas thing checked out another time? I really need to be getting to work.”

              “The thing is, the pancreatic mass, it’s… cancer. It’s very small though, it was caught early. We almost never see it at such an early stage. You’re a great candidate for surgery, and may not even need chemotherapy depending on the final stage.” She smiled encouragingly. “It’s often metastatic when people present with serious symptoms, and then tends to be much less treatable. In a way, it’s lucky you were hit by that car and came in today, it probably have saved your life.”

              I processed what said, that I have cancer of the pancreas, an organ whose function I certainly could not explain. The feeling of peace settled into my bruised ribs, along with the absolute clarity that the universe put me in the path of the car that day as a gift, a way of buying myself more time with my daughter, and with dear Ruby.

January 07, 2022 06:12

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