by Elliott Bell
Sophie lay in her bed and, with almost guilty pleasure, enjoyed the feeling of the cool bed sheets against her bare calves for one last moment before she her closed her eyes.
When she opened them, it was morning.
She nearly fell out of the bed trying to get up, before she remembered. Impatiently, she used her arms to shift herself to the trunk at the end of her bed, where she got out a change of clothes. It was easier to get dressed on the bed than in her chair. She chose a skirt today – again. Pants itched against the stumps where her legs used to be, and she wasn’t yet confident enough to bare them to public view in shorts. Skirts were a decent compromise. She was just securing herself into her chair when her father came in.
“Morning, Soph. I see you got the day started without me.” The rings around his eyes looked darker today.
“Dad, I told you! I’m not a baby. I can get dressed on my own just fine now.”
His eyes searched her face intently, as if checking for the injuries that had faded months ago. She avoided his gaze and focused instead on fixing her hair in the mirror by the bed instead.
Grabbing the handles of her chair, he apologized, “Sorry, honey. But you’re always going to be my baby, you know that, right?”
She turned her head and smiled up at him. “Alright, Daddy. I love you.”
Sophie found herself saying that a lot, lately. It wasn’t for her benefit so much as his. Her father had been just as damaged in the accident as she had – only as Sophie healed and got better, he seemed to get worse.
“Is Mom making breakfast?”
“You bet. Pancakes today, she even cut up some strawberries from your Grams’ garden.”
“Mmmm.” She smiled at him reassuringly as he hoisted her out of her chair to carry her down the stairs. He carried her close to his chest and joked, “And you say you’re not a baby!” Sophie rolled her eyes and scoffed, but she was smiling.
She had been fit for prostheses’ last month, but they weren’t yet finished and the doctor told them it would be some time before stairs would be navigable to her. In the meantime, her father performed this twice daily ritual for her. He never missed it, though Sophie’s mom was strong enough for the task. Sophie had lost a lot of weight after the accident, after all. She liked to joke about her weight loss as coming “all from the lower legs,” but it was more than just that. Her appetite just wasn’t what it used to be.
Sophie’s mother was in the kitchen, and table looked beautiful. Her mother gave her a kiss on the forehead as she rolled to the table. Her younger brother, Ryan, was already halfway through a plate of pancakes.
“This looks amazing!” Sophie said as she enthusiastically poured syrup over her plate.
“It looks great,” her father agreed, carefully cutting his pancake into small squares. Sophie watched him eat a few bites and shuffle the rest around the plate. She wasn’t the only one who had lost weight this year. Ryan, however, was so focused on his plate that the rest of them might as well not be there at all.It was good to see him looking so healthy, although she hated how they rarely talked about anything.
“Aren’t you going to eat more?” her mother asked, eyes focused on her husband. Sophie’s father said nothing and the silence weighed down on everyone at the table. Sophie swallowed a bite of pancake and felt it weigh heavily in her stomach.
Finally he said, “I think I’ll just save the rest for later.” He picked up his plate and put it in the fridge, and left the kitchen. The sound of his footsteps headed upstairs, probably to his office, echoed softly in Sophie’s ears. Ryan abruptly stood and cleared his place at the table, vanishing into the kitchen with his empty plate.
Her mother looked on the verge of tears, although whether from frustration or worry Sophie couldn’t say. Sophie wished she knew what to say to make that look go away, to make her father come back down and eat.
“Are you ready for registration next week?” her mother asked abruptly, turning to Sophie.
“I think so. There are a few classes I still need to make up my mind about.” With some effort, Sophie managed to salvage the rest of the breakfast conversation with chatter about her upcoming enrollment at the community college. They had had the same conversation twice this week already, but Sophie continued on anyways, her mother nodding along as she methodically ate her pancakes.
That evening, Sophie let her father tuck her into bed again. Being waited on hand and foot made her feel both spoiled and helpless – but she couldn’t bear to turn him away.
“Dad?” she asked quietly.
She examined him closely as he went around her room, straightening up the already straight items on her dresser that she hadn’t touched in months – she couldn’t reach that high anymore.
It’s Dad, she told herself. She gently pinched the sensitive skin on her upper arm under the covers. The bright tingle of pain reassured her – This is real. He’s real, Mom’s real. They’re alive even if they’re not perfect, they’re alive…
“Everything okay, honey?” He was looking at her now.
“Yeah. I love you, that’s all.” I wish he didn’t look so sad when I say that.
“I love you, too. Sleep tight.”
“I will.” She closed her eyes.
When she opened them, it was morning.
Bright sunshine flooded her room. In one fluid motion, she swung her legs out from under the covers and onto the floor. The carpet was cool and soft on her toes, and for one moment her mind was empty save for the enjoyment of the sensation, before she remembered.
She dressed quickly in jean shorts and a t-shirt, and ran downstairs. Fifteen minutes later when her brother came down, she had a plate of hashbrowns and a few fried eggs ready.
“Again?” Ryan asked, shoving his books into his bag and pulling on a wrinkly hoodie.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to go to the store yesterday. I’ll go tonight after work, though.”
“It’s fine.” He took one of the eggs and ignored the hashbrowns entirely. He’s too skinny. She bit the inside of her cheek. Is it really Ryan, though? She held her teeth down harder and harder on the tender flesh of her cheek, until pain blossomed into a tinge of iron. Tastes real.
“You want pancakes tomorrow?” she asked hopefully. He shrugged.
Nonchalantly, she asked, “So, are you going to ask Laura out or what?” He blushed, and she grinned at him.
“Come on, you think I haven’t noticed how much you two hang out after school? “
The corner of his mouth turned up as he said, “Yeah, I guess so.”
“You guess, huh? Well, I like her too.” Without thinking, Sophie added carelessly, “She reminds me of Mom a little.”
As soon as it was out of her mouth, her heart dropped. The silence hung in the air, and Ryan looked at his shoes. She bit the inside of her cheek.
“Yeah, I guess so.” Looking up, he added, “I miss her, y’know. Both of them. Laura gets it.”
Sophie felt her face burning, as if he were accusing her with unspoken words. But I don’t get it, do I? How can I? I just saw them. I see them every time I close my eyes.
But Ryan just picked up his bag, and gave her a hug before heading out. It caught her by surprise – he’d never been very touchy-feely before the accident.
“Ryan!” She called out as he stepped out the front door.
“Yeah, sis?” He looked back at her, the familiar dark rings under his eyes. Just like Dad...
“I love you.”He smiled, just a little, but enough. Before the accident, Ryan would’ve made some snarky comment and ran off to his friends at the bus stop, but Ryan had changed. So had she.
“I know, Soph. Love you too.”
One Year Ago
The warm rays of late afternoon sun shone through the leaves of the old oak in Sophie’s front yard as they pulled up into the driveway. Ryan jumped out of the car, and ran inside, eager to be out of the car. They’d just been on a three-hour long drive from Gram’s, and her parents went to the trunk to unload their bags. Sophie stepped out of the car and stretched a little, enjoying the light breeze as she turned to help.
As she took that small step towards her parents – such a small step- a black pick-up truck veered into her line of sight. In a sudden moment that seemed to take a long time in her memory, the reflective windshield loomed and expanded in front of her.The pick-up went over the curb and directly towards her parents.
and split in two.
She watched the truck smash into the open trunk of their family sedan, with her parents between. She saw their bodies disappear into shards of metal and a red mist. And then darkness.
She slammed her entire body against her parents, felt as they fell forward two steps – such small steps- and Sophie flooded with relief.Then came an instant of shattering, blinding pain. And then darkness.
As Sophie lay in bed that night, she rubbed her legs together. She’d gone on a run today – something she did a lot, now. She lay there and concentrated on the sensation of her lower legs – the feel of the sheets, the pleasurable pain of sore muscles, the warmth of her calves, each snugly fitting into the other.
This might be real.
She remembered her parents, and closed her eyes.
When she opened them, it was morning.