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Fiction

           Jasen doubled over in his patio chair, clutching his abdomen, a bead of sweat glistening in the mid-afternoon sun and swelling in the furrow between his brows. His raspy groan hit her like the blare of an air horn at close range.

           “Jasen, you okay?” she asked, breath leaving her.

           “Jolly good. Just a…a smidge of pain…”

           “I’m calling 911.”

           “Oh, don’t—“

           “You need it, Jasen.”

           As expected, he continued to argue. She ignored him, grabbing her purse from the filigreed wrought iron table, her phone from her purse. Dialing with trembling fingers. Telling the dispatcher what little she knew.

           Where did he hurt? the dispatcher asked.

           “Jasen, where do you hurt?”

           “I…my side. Right side. Pretty far down. But it’s fine, really…”

           She relayed it to the dispatcher.

           “Ok, ma’am, sounds like appendicitis. I’m sending help your way.”

           Appendicitis. Her stomach plunged. She’d heard horror stories about that. People died from it. What if Jasen died? What if she’d called too late?

           She thanked the dispatcher, hung up, tossed the phone back into her purse, and turned to Jasen. His face had gone as red as a persimmon, bluish veins swollen and throbbing in his temples. He made no sound, but she could see screams rising in his throat, bobbing his Adam’s apple. Even now, he had to employ the traditional English “stiff upper lip.”

           She scanned the yard, a verdant square bordered by clouds of purple aster and pink hibiscus and red and yellow and white chrysanthemums, and, beyond, the mature oaks interlacing their tired arms. She glanced back through the sliding glass doors that led to the deck on which they sat. The kitchen’s granite counters held a porcelain bowl of red delicious and Granny Smith apples and a box of Icy Hot pads; the dark cherry table that matched the cabinets, only his sun and moon-shaped salt and pepper shakers. Nothing of use.

           “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God…” she chanted, tears welling, chest heaving. The ambulance wouldn’t come in time. He’d die right here, right now, in front of her. She’d have to go to the wake, the funeral—to see him in a casket, as still as a cliff, as pale as a willow wisp, in no way resembling himself. She’d have to tell how it had happened again and again. The listeners would blame her. Rightfully so. She hadn’t done enough, hadn’t seen signs that must have flashed right in her face, hadn’t acted quickly enough once they’d made themselves impossible to miss. She’d run over and over it in her head, composing scenarios, all of which would’ve ended better than the reality. She couldn’t bear the heat of it, the weight of it. Poor Jasen would never get to do all the things he wanted to do, would have his life cruelly, agonizingly, cut short. She’d have to live with that, if one could live with such a thing.

           Tears streamed down her cheeks. Sobs wracked her. She couldn’t lose him.

           No, she corrected herself. She could, and would, lose him; just not without losing everything and everyone else, too.

           Sirens sounded, progressing from a low hum to a blaring like daggers shoved into her ears. She told herself to get up and meet the medics. Her legs refused. So, instead, she shouted, praying that they’d hear.

           They did. By this time, Jasen’s face resembled a wet cherry, tears like sequins suspended in the furrows of his squeezed-shut eyes. The medics loaded him onto a stretcher, and she forced herself to rise, to follow them to the ambulance.

           Inside the cab, she again collapsed. The medic who’d stayed there turned to her. She told him not to worry about her, to concentrate on Jasen. She leaned her head against the wall, closing her eyes, feeling as if having ice picks thrust into her skull. She felt the vehicle moving, but not fast enough, surely not fast enough. Jasen would die before they reached the hospital.

           She reviewed the day before his collapse. She’d come just to hang out, and they’d decided to enjoy the nice weather. Jasen had brought out a plate of doughnuts whose recipe he’d cut from an issue of Family Circle and pasted into his leather-bound recipe book, and they’d chatted. He’d asked how she was doing. She’d said fine. She’d asked him how he was doing. “Oh, you know,” he’d said, “swings and roundabouts,”—one of his favorite phrases, one to which he had, in fact, introduced her when they’d met shortly after he’d moved across the pond. Had he felt any pain during that conversation? Had she missed a cringe, a wince, the twitch of a vein? Had he sweated than a normal, given the temperature? Had he moved stiffly, slowly, or awkwardly? She couldn’t recall. She hadn’t paid attention. And, now, he would pay with his life.

           They reached their destination, a brown brick tower, windows eyes leering down at her, automatic glass doors a mouth telling her that they’d come too late. She struggled to her feet and followed the procession into the waiting room, a seashell-white box filled with burgundy burlap-upholstered chairs that, despite lacking objective resemblance, carried the air of a jail cell. The medics ordered her to wait there. She collapsed into a chair, trying to savor what she knew would prove her last look at her friend alive.

           Once they’d passed into the ER, she pulled out her phone and dialed. One ring. Two. Three. Come on, pick up, pick up…

           “Hello.”

           Again, she burst into tears. As if from a distance, she heard Dillon asking what had happened, telling her to calm down and talk to him. She didn’t do the former. She did, however, manage to eke, “St. Lucy’s. Come.”

           “St. Lucy’s?” he repeated. “What happened? Are you—“

           “Just come. Please.”

           She hung up. Shoved the phone back into her purse. Through her tears, she could see the shimmery shapes of three people entering the room and taking seats along the opposite wall. She felt them staring, not simply because of her making a spectacle of herself, but also because they sensed it, her guilt. That made her cry harder.

           The doors clicked open again. Another shape entered and came to her. She blinked back tears and looked him in the face, shaking her head. “Oh, Dillon, I don’t—I can’t—” More sobs. Dillon dropped into the chair beside her, placing an arm around her.

           “Kierra, talk to me. What happened? Are you okay?”

           “No, I’m not okay. I’ll never be okay again.”

           “Are you sick? Why aren’t they taking you in? Can you—“

           “It’s not me. It-it’s Jasen.” Through still more sobs, she explained what had happened.

           When she’d finished, he shook his head. “This is a really common operation, Kierra. No reason to panic.”

           “How can I not? He’s dying, and—“

           “He’s not dying. Chances are, he’ll be fine.”

           “You don’t know that. You didn’t see him—how bad he looked…”

           “The doctors know what they’re doing.”

           “It doesn’t matter.” She trembled, tears drowning her. When, finally, they subsided, she found Dillon glaring at her, jaw clenched. He knew that this was all her fault. He felt disgusted with her, and with himself for having gotten involved with her.

           He shook his head, sighing like a teacher whose student refused to follow the simplest instructions. “I can’t do this.”

           She drew a sharp breath. “What do you mean?”

           “You freaking out. Again.”

           She shook her head, confused. “He’s dying, Dillon.”           

           “He’s not. And it’s not just this. It’s when the power goes out. When your boss gives you extra work. A scratch on your car. Everything—everything’s the end of the world.”

           She sniffled, heart trembling like a massage chair. “What’re you saying?”

           “I’m saying, I can’t. I’m out.” He jumped to his feet. She called after him. He didn’t respond, didn’t even falter as he marched out the door and into the parking lot.

           She exploded. Wracking sobs. Everything wrong. A nightmare from which she had no hope for waking. No more Jasen. No more Dillon. No more reason to live.

           “Ma’am, are you okay? Do you need medical attention?”

           She sniffled and looked up to see a nurse stooping over her, concern flickering in her eyes.

           “No,” she said. “Nothing’s gonna—“

           “Would you like to talk to someone?”

           “No. No, I’m waiting for my friend—I’ve gotta stay here.”

           “Well, then, I’m gonna have to ask that you keep it down; you’re scaring the patients.”

           Just add that to my list of offenses.

           Cheeks burning, she assured the nurse that she’d try. Satisfied, the nurse left.

She kept her promise, pressing her face into her hands so hard that she couldn’t breathe, much less vocalize. She tried to imagine going on without the two most important people in her life, a task very much like trying to convince a cat to fetch.

           “I’m looking for whoever’s with Jasen Ellington.”

           Kierra shot up. She made a beeline for the speaker, a middle-aged woman wearing spearmint-green scrubs and an expression that she couldn’t decode.

           “He’s out of surgery,” she informed her. “We were able to remove the appendix with no damage to other organs. You can see him now, if you’d like.”

           The room spun. “Yes…Oh, God, yes.” She followed the surgeon down the hall, not feeling the soles of her flats tapping the scuffed oatmeal floor tile, the walls and doorways wavering, like a dream, albeit one liable to morph back into a nightmare at any moment. The doctor led her into a room where she found Jasen propped up on pillows in bed, pale and haggard but very much alive. She ran to him, tears much more welcome than their predecessors building.

           “Oh my God, Jasen, I was so scared…How’re you doing?”

           A smile, more playful than it had right to be, curled his lips. “Jolly good. You?”

           She returned the grin, warmth expanding in her chest. “Oh, you know.

           “Swings and roundabouts.”

July 22, 2022 17:12

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3 comments

Marie Mckenzie
09:48 Jul 28, 2022

I enjoyed the use of metaphors and I really connected to the feelings of guilt when someone I love is sick. My only wish is that this felt more like a story, not just a scene from a story. I enjoy the 15 beat story structure or Three act story structure. Overall, I liked it.

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Marie White
18:13 Jul 28, 2022

Thank you so much for the feedback! It's good to know that I could've made this feel more complete. I'll definitely keep this in mind in the future. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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Marie Mckenzie
20:52 Jul 28, 2022

My pleasure 😊

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