The Good Goodbye(9)

By: Carla Buckley

“What else can I do? Should I come to the hospital?”

“No. The boys.” I struggle to latch on to something solid, routine. “Soccer. They have a game tomorrow.”

“I can take them.” She sounds relieved to have a task.

I press END, then redial. The hospital operator answers. “How may I direct your call?”

“Someone just phoned me about my daughter. She was in a fire…”

“Hold, please.”

The rain comes harder, pounding the roof. Faraway lights blur in the wet.

“Anything?” Theo’s focused on the road, his mouth set. The needle on the odometer nudges seventy-five, eighty.

“I’m still on hold.”

“Try Rory.”

Yes. She’ll know something. But Rory doesn’t answer. All I get is her merry voice telling me to Go ahead and do it. You know you want to. The beep sounds. I open my mouth to leave a message, but I’m suddenly flooded by all the things I want to say. Words clog my throat, choking. In the end, I hang up without saying any of them.

Theo puts his hand on my knee. “Hang on. We’re almost there.”

Your daughter has a tattoo? the man had asked.

Yes. A small green-and-purple butterfly.

In the distance, sirens shriek.

The emergency room’s a blaze of light. The woman at the information desk says she’ll get a doctor to talk to us; we just need to take a seat in the waiting room. Theo finds us chairs but I can’t sit. I want to run down the hall, banging on doors until one opens to reveal Arden. People in lab coats walk down the hall toward us. I look at each of them in turn, searching their eyes. Are they going to take us to our daughter? But they walk past. “What’s taking so long? Why don’t they just tell us where she is?”

“Someone will be out soon.” Theo’s face is ashen.

“She needs us.” The time Arden fell off her bike and split open her chin; the time she ran a fever so high she trembled, her eyes wide and fixed on mine. She must be so scared. Then I realize she’s not scared. She’s unconscious. I’m the one who’s afraid, who needs to see her face, to hold her, to cry.

“I know, Nat. They’ll tell us something soon.”

People are everywhere, sitting, leaning against walls, looking weary, looking defeated. A little girl holds her arm to her chest, her red tights ripped. College-age kids huddle in a corner, blankets draped around their shoulders. “Where’s Rory? She should be here somewhere.” Arden and Rory are inseparable. The two of them on the boat, their laughter trailing across the lake. Wait. “Maybe she’s with Arden?” Keeping her company until we got here.

“I bet she is. I bet that’s exactly where she is.”

Another man in a white lab coat strides past. He doesn’t look over. The TV plays silent jumpy images. Outside the window, a police cruiser flashes red and blue lights.

“Mr. Falcone? Mrs. Falcone?”

A woman in green scrubs is holding a clipboard. “Hi,” she says. “I’m Dr. Sisneros.” She’s young, plain-faced, and stocky, her brown hair scraped back from a square forehead. A green surgical mask hangs around her neck. “Let’s talk in the family lounge.”

What terrible thing does she have to tell us that she can’t say out here? But she’s already turned away, and so we follow her as she walks briskly down the hallway through a series of doors that swing open when she smacks the metal plate on the wall. The sounds from the emergency room fade and now it’s quiet. We are crossing from one world to another. At last we step into a room. It’s empty, a washed-out space.

“How’s Arden?” I ask. “Where is she?”

She looks at me with an odd expression. “Your daughter’s sustained several fractures and has second- and third-degree burns on her arms and torso. We haven’t ruled out spinal involvement yet. We’ve put a tube into her airway to help her breathe, but right now we’re mostly concerned with the swelling in her brain. We’re about to take her into surgery.”

Her spine, her brain. Arden’s rushing away from us, in bits and pieces.

“For what?” Theo says. “No one said anything about surgery.”

Also By Carla Buckley

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