What Happened Next

After the Storm

Late in the afternoon, storm clouds blew in off the coast, bunched up, and shouldered themselves over the western range before pelting the valley floor with heavy rains.  Gusting winds pushed the squall across the valley.  The cloudburst spent itself rapidly, and the winds pulled the tattered remnants of clouds over the eastern hills before dying out.  After the storm passed, the sky was a washed out water-color blue, and the sun angled low towards the hill tops.

The streets were thick with the leaf drop from the big elms, and the clogged storm drains backed up the gutters, leaving a slick hump of pavement between sluggish streams along the curbs.  A boy wearing shoulder bags stuffed with newspapers maneuvered an old cruiser bike along the street, across and back, across and back, dipping the front wheel into the streams as he tossed wrapped newspapers onto driveways or sodden lawns.  He kept a steady rhythm of back and forth, and a rooster-tail of water spun off the front tire.  His breath came out in puffs of steam, and his gloveless hands were red on the bare chrome handlebars that no longer had their plastic grips.

The boy rounded the corner and headed west.  The sun dipped low and burned through the branches of the denuded elms.  He pulled down the visor of his cap, kept his eyes on the street.  Glaring sunlight kicked up from the wet pavement.  As he came along the cluster of parked cars at the corner, he swung slightly to the right, tossed a paper, then he pushed hard on the pedals and cut to the left to the sidewalk.

It was still raining as the girl stood in the breezeway at her middle school.  She watched the other students run to the bus, or to the cars of waiting parents.  After a while, she slung her pack over her shoulder and ran to the sidewalk, then another seven blocks through the pounding rain.  By the time she got to the house on Wimbledon Street, she was drenched and goose bumps rose on her skin, but she was barely winded.  She had a key on a lanyard around her neck.  She unlocked the heavy front door and pushed in.  She dropped her book bag onto the entryway tile floor and went to the back, opened the door and let in a dog, a chocolate Lab.  The dog nearly muscled her to the floor as he danced around and rubbed against her legs.  She toweled him off before he could shake mud and water all over the walls, gave him a rawhide strip; she went upstairs to her room and changed from her wet clothes, put on a running suit and a pair of house slippers.

She had a desk in her room.  The desk top was beat up and had a chip in the laminate on one corner.  She did her homework for an hour, then looked out the window onto the backyard.  The sun was out and the water drops caught in the bare branches of the trees lining the street sparkled in the angular light.  She closed her books.  She pulled on her running shoes and laced them up, then skipped every other step as she headed downstairs.

"C'mon, Bosco," she called.  The dog whined and barked until she leashed him, then headed out the door.

She breathed deeply.  The air was still cold, but scrubbed clean by the rain.  She walked to the corner and stretched while Bosco buried his head in shrubs, then marked territory.  When she was finished, she turned and faced the sun.  She jogged to the corner at Foster road, turned right, then picked up speed with nothing but clear sidewalk ahead.  Bosco kept pace at her left heel as she approached the corner at Utah Street.  She looked at the big puddle along the curb behind the parked van.  "Jump!" she called to the dog, and she leaped from the curb.

What the Neighbors Saw

"Saw the whole thing," one neighbor said to the cop who questioned him.  "Kid had no business riding on the sidewalk," he said as he nodded at the boy who sat on the curb holding his shoulder.  Another cop was with the boy.

"Lightman, you were pushing your walker a good half a block away from here," another person said.  "You didn't see anything."

"I told them to leave her alone," another woman said.  She pointed at a couple of men standing near the bike.  "I was a school nurse, and I knew they shouldn't pull the bike off her."

"Who is she?" the cops asked.  "No ID on her.  Not even a cell phone."

No one could place her.

"Could she be that girl from up Indiana Street?" a woman asked.

A teenage boy wearing all black, and with dark eye makeup on, rolled up on his skateboard.  He pulled out his cell phone and started a video capture of the scene.  First he crouched down and panned the crowd, who stood in a semi-circle, looking at the scene on the street.  Then he zoomed in on the tangled wreck, the bike, the girl under the bike, the edge of sluggish water from the puddle lapping at her hair, then a close up of her face, of her mouth, her open mouth, the chrome handlebar that had somehow gone into her open mouth and pierced her right cheek, then the trickle of blood from the wound that streamed along the wet pavement to mix with the puddle.

The cop with the boy sitting at the curb looked up, saw the teenager and yelled, "Hey, cut that out!"  The teen grabbed his board and skated off.  The ambulance arrived then and the cops cleared the crowd while the EMTs worked.

The neighbor holding Bosco's leash pushed his way to the front.  "What about her goddamn dog?" he asked the cops.

The cop looked at the dog.  Then he checked the dog's tags.

The cop called the station when the ambulance left.  It was 4:37 p.m.

What Her Parents Were Doing Before They Knew

The woman took the last sip from her cocktail.  Her eyes focused on the clock above the bar: 4:37 p.m.

"C'mon, Jackie," the man sitting next to her at the bar said.  "Just a hundred bucks.  I swear I'll make it up to you."

"You blew all your money at craps," she said.  "I saved up all year for this trip, Kelly, and you aren't going to blow mine, too.  Besides," she said, "you're the one who wanted to split the room and food costs to 'be fair', mister."  She wagged her empty glass at the bartender.

"Another Cosmo?" the bartender asked.

She nodded.  The man peeled the label from around the neck of the near- empty beer bottle before him.

"Thanks," she said when the bartender brought her drink.  She tipped him when he brought change.  "Here," she said to the bartender, sliding another twenty to him.  "He can buy beer from this.  Any change is yours.  And no charges to the room," she added.  "I'm going back to the slots," she said to Kelly.

"Tight fucking bitch," Kelly said to the bartender as she walked away.

She walked up the strip to Bellagio, drink in hand.  She followed the signs to "Loose Slots" and took a seat before one of the machines.  She played six times without a payout, then moved to a new machine.  When a waitress came by, she ordered another Cosmo, then plugged a coin into the machine and hit the Spin button.  Her cell phone vibrated and "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas blared from the tinny speaker.  She read the message from Kelly, then turned off her cell phone.

She moved to another machine; instead of the Spin button, it had a handle.  She plugged in another dollar and pulled the handle and was rewarded with a small payout.  "Now I'm hot!" she cried.  She moved from that machine to the next after her sixth try.  At just after 11 p.m., she counted her winnings.  She was ahead by almost a thousand dollars.  She went to the cashier for her payout.  She turned on her cell phone as she walked up the strip back to her hotel.  She checked voice mail, and deleted every message from Kelly.  She listened to the next message and stopped on the sidewalk; she fumbled with the buttons until she found the return call feature.

He pushed the paring knife along the joint of the leather spine of a sammelband of 18th century maps of Europe and the Americas, then the knife slipped.  The beveled edge skipped over the spine and cut across his left palm beneath his thumb.

"Crap," he swore as he dropped the knife.  He stood at the bathroom sink holding his hand under the cold tap, watching the blood run from the long cut in his left palm.  He dressed the wound with heavy gauze coated with thick antibiotic lotion, then he went back into his bindery.  He looked at a small framed photo above his workbench of a young girl with her arm around the neck of a chocolate Lab.  He picked up the paring knife with his uninjured hand and looked at it, front and back, then looked at the clock: 4:37 p.m.  He held his injured hand to his chest as he cleared the workbench of small tools: bone folders, the paring knife and sharpening strop, the stick of jeweler's rouge.

He stepped to the shelves next to the work bench.  He slid the heavy lithographer's stone to the edge of its shelf.  He squatted down till his waist was level with the shelf, then he pulled the stone's edge against his hip and stood up.  He shuffled over to the bench, rose on tiptoes, and maneuvered the stone over the bench top and let if fall with a thump.  He softened the bristles of a boar's hair brush in rice paste, then coated the stone.  He rolled out a piece of leather slightly longer and wider than the original spine.  He coated the fresh leather on the skin side before flipping it to coat the flesh side.  When he was through, he rubbed the palm of his left hand with the thumb of his right.  The bells on his entry door clattered and he turned around.  His dog charged into the shop, pulling a city policewoman.

"Mr. Mitchell Casswall?" she asked.

He stepped forward.

The Scene at the Hospital

The ER doctor showed Mitchell X-rays.  CAT scans.  "She was unconscious for a short while," the ER doctor said.  Mitchell signed consent forms.  "There's no hematoma, though," the doctor said.

"What's that mean?" Mitchell asked.

"She'll need some rehab, but should be fine," the doctor said.  "It's fortunate that the handlebar missed her jaw and only broke a couple of teeth," he added.

"She'll be in surgery for a while," the doctor told Mitchell.

"I'll wait."

He scrolled though his cell phone numbers till he found "Ex-wife" again, then pressed the call button.  This time when her voice mail picked up he said, "Goddamn it Jackie, quit fucking your boyfriend, put your panties on and get your sorry ass back here.  Lucy's in the hospital."

In the operating room, the anesthesiologist, Nathan Stein, Dr. N. Stein according to his name tag, spoke to the anesthetized girl.

"If she can hear you, Frank," the plastic surgeon said, "then you aren't doing your job."

"Don't call me Frank," Dr. Stein said.

"What a mess," the plastic surgeon said, looking at the flap of skin where the handlebar had punched through the girl's cheek.  "What do you think, Mason, Led Zepplin?" he asked the surgical nurse.

"Do a good job," Mason said, "not a fast job.  The White Album."

"Cue it up," the surgeon said, and the screaming jets of "Back in the U.S.S.R." poured through the OR speakers.

The surgeon talked throughout the operation.  Near the end he said, "You know, I put that pack of motel matches in my pocket, even though I don't smoke.  I'm not sure who does the laundry at home, my wife, or the girl she hired to do the cleaning.  What do you make of that, Frank?"

"Don't you ever shut up?" the anesthesiologist said.

Back in Her Room and What Happened There

Lucy wakened in Post-Op and Mitchell talked to her for a few minutes before she drifted off again.  Lucy was in and out, in and out, and the doctors wanted her in—awake and lucid—before letting her out of Post-Op.  Finally she stayed awake and could count from one to ten and back again, so she was moved to a room.

Mitchell sat in the plastic upholstered chair next to Lucy's bed, Lucy trapped in a web of wires from softly glowing machines.  Nurses came and went, checking the clear tubes that fed Lucy, making notes on charts, changing the urine bags.  The nurses automatically turned to him and said, "She's all right."  Now they let her sleep.

Mitchell held onto a cup of cold coffee and stood at the window in her room and looked down on the jaundiced lights of the parking lot, then he sat down and watched television.  The pennant races were over, and some rookie was refusing to sign a pro football contract unless the team double-downed.  He picked up his cell phone when it rang.  It was Jackie's sister.  She told him she had not had luck reaching Jackie.  "She's supposed to keep her phone on 24/7," Mitchell said.  "That's the divorce deal."

"Maybe her battery's dead," the sister said.

"Screw it," Mitchell said.  "I'm turning mine off, now."  He hung up, grabbed the remote and flipped through the channels, finally stopping at Wheel of Fortune.  He scrunched down into the chair and pulled his jacket over himself, tried to follow the game.

When he woke up the room lights were dim and the noise from the nurses' station was muted.  The cup of coffee was no longer in his hands.  He stretched and rubbed the gritty sleep from his eyes.  He looked at Lucy, sleeping.  On the other side of the bed he saw Jacqueline sitting in a chair, holding Lucy's hand.

He looked at her.

She looked back at him.  

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