By Albert Kivak
The first thought that struck Karen wasn’t a thought at all, but a Chevy Impala that was traveling thirty miles per hour. The car hit her across her hip as she crossed the intersection and she flew in the air before falling flat face in the snow. It was a good pile, and for the past few weeks the icy pellets collected on the Tandy and Landmark (where she got off from work at a fast-food restaurant) created a fine cushion. It was a soft kind of snow, crystalized, not compacted or hard. She was wearing her black uniform for the night, under her purple sweater and black jacket, and she wondered if that was a bright idea. Apparently, it wasn’t.
No more than two feet off the curb, she heard and engine roar and she glimpsed a tinted windshield, and two burning headlights that looked like eyes and a sneering snout. She had only a fraction of a second to tilt her head, and it was already on top of her, bearing down. She swung. She was flying. It was a good flight. The crack she heard must’ve been one of her thigh bones because that was where the impact of the front end grill came in contact. Suspended in the air, Karen felt weightless, and then, she came crashing down. She plowed face first in a heap of snow on the sidewalk.
It happened so fast and so sudden, no thought sparked in her brain. Only a numb silence penetrated every sensory nerves and muscles as she breathed in the clumps of ice. Stupid was the second thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid—how could I be so stupid? She tasted blood in her mouth and a cram full of diamonds. She heard a scream and approaching footfalls, someone’s heels crunching in the snow. She pulled her head up like a cobra and watched blurry images of the street light and the variegated closing signs. It was ironic how Karen’s last name was Snow, and now she eating a fistful of it. Someone else got out, a slam of a door.
“Is she dead, Mom?”
A presence hovered over Karen Snow.
“Lady, oh my god, are you okay?” a voice spoke to her. Karen tried moving, but couldn’t raise her leg. Cambering her head in a nod, she wanted to curl up in a ball and scream soundlessly. Did it look like she was okay? For all she knew, she could be paralyzed. Stupid is, stupid does, she thought. Now how was she going to pay for this? Whom was she going to call? When the ambulance arrived pulsating its red strobes, the paramedics who mended her, asked her the most ridiculous questions.
“Do you remember what happened?”
Karen snorted, puffing in the snow.
“Do you know where you are?”
She answered in a muffled voice, “I’m upside down and staring across the street at a building.”
“Well, that’s good.” The black emergency response crew replied with blithe smugness. “Can you move your arms?”
Karen moved her arms, first the left one, then the right. She was making snow angels,wheee…
“How about your legs?”
She couldn’t move those and she really thought she was paralyzed, this time. She started crooning a song under her breath to keep the panic away. The song was called Secret by the Pierces, and it was a song her daddy sung to her when she didn’t fall asleep. She sang it now, and the EMP leaned over and asked, “What was that? What are you trying to say?”
“I’m trying to lighten the mood.” Karen said and laughed. “Why am I so stupid?” Then she burst out crying.
“What’s your name?” the black lady asked, acting so kind. She patted down Snow’s slacks. The injured woman felt the rough, stubby hands feel around her hips, thighs, and shins. Karen hated to admit it but she was turned on in a weird way. It had been years since someone had touched her like that.
“No, Karen Snow.”
“Karen , do you have any kind of identification with you?”
“My bag,” she answered, swiveling her head in the snow. A tuft of winter ice had enmeshed in her hair and was turning slick like mush. “Where’s my bag? My phone’s in there.”
After fetching the bag, two male paramedics lifted her on a stretcher with a neck brace and slid an oxygen mask over her face. Cool, moist air flooded her lungs each time they pumped the apparatus.
“Breathe,” one of the male’s voices said. Karen’s eyes twinkled as she gazed at her rescuer. He was quite the gentlemen. He even stowed her safely in the backseat with the leather straps holding her down. She wondered what it’d be like if she painted his face on her canvas. Would he appreciate the gesture?
She pointed at her mask. The other male nurse craned in her field of vision.
“You need something?” he asked.
“Can you take it off please?” Karen said. “I need to make some calls.” She sounded amorphously alembic with the mask on. She fidgeted with her phone on her outstretched thighs. Gentlemen in the blue outfits exchanged a secret glance. The good looking one shrugged. The one closer to her bent over and took off the mask. She was already dialing and heard the cell ringing six times before an elderly woman answered.
“Mom?” Karen croaked.
“What is it?”
“Mom, something happened.” She said and held her breath.
“I got into a car accident. I got hit by a car.”
“You got hit by a car…” the voice trailed off on the other line. There was no sense of urgency or worry in that tone, and Karen thought, why in the world would she care?
“It looks serious, Mom, can’t move one of my legs.”
“Why did you get hit by a car again?”
“Did you not hear me, Mom?” Karen said, rancor seeping into her voice. “Someone hit me in the dead of the night. And I conked my head on the sidewalk. It wasn’t my fault. It was a hit-and-run.” She tried to play it cool, lowering her inflection. But she was hissing more than whispering and she knew the paramedics had figured out something was wrong with this conversation. “Do you know what a hit-and-run is?”
“Um… Mrs. Snow?” said the handsome EMT as Karen looked up. The ambulance pulled out of the shoulder signifying its famous siren. “It wasn’t a hit-and-run. The person who hit you didn’t run? She stopped and gave her information to us.”
“Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea,” Karen said.
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing, just nothing.”
Why did I even bother?
“What is it you want?” Karen Snow’s mother asked in the handset. “I’m at work right now. You know how your aunt Angela is, been kind enough to let me stay for a little while. I don’t want to get fired.”
“Nothing,” Karen said, sighing. “Not a damn thing. I just wanted to let you know…”
“Well thanks for letting me know. Talk to me later.”
She knew it. Whatever condolence she sought after, she wasn’t getting any. She hung up and dialed her sister’s number. She picked it up on the first ring.
“Hey Katie.” She said.
“It’s a little late to be calling at this time, right?”
“I’m in an ambulance right now, going to the ER.”
Silence from his side, save for the soft breathing. Then she spoke up. “You okay? What happened?”
Karen rehashed the same incident of the car barreling down on her and flying in suspended animation.
“Did it hurt?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” Katie said. “That’s why I’m asking you.”
“Yeah, it hurt. It’s numb right now, but it wasn’t the impact that hurt.”
“Then what was it?”
“The fact that no one cares.”
“I care, sis.” Katie said. Someone called out to her out of earshot. “Are you hurting now?”
“No, you asshole, I can’t feel my legs. Do you think that’s a good sign?” Karen closed her eyes and breathed slowly, meditating. “Where are you right now?”
“I’m with Ray-Jay.”
“Which one’s this one?”
“You remember the guy who called me retarded and I didn’t know the on and off switch button for the lights?”
“Oh yeah—I know him.”
“I’m with him.”
“Why are you with him?”
“Cause I like him.”
Karen shook her head. “How many boyfriends do you have?”
“Six, not including the car salesman who wanted to hook up so he could give me a discount.” Katie said. “I meet him tomorrow. You want me to pick you up?”
“No, I’m already riding in the back of an ambulance.”
“Oh shit. Did you tell mom?”
“Yes, what do you think?”
“She didn’t give a shit?”
“Is there anything you need or want?”
What did she want? She wanted a good job. She wanted a better family, people who cared for her and what revolved around her life. She wanted Lydia to have a better life, to be successful with all the circumstances surrounding her. Karen wanted her to have a future that wasn’t like hers, and the freedom to travel. She had never once stepped out of the seven mile circumference between her work, school, and apartment home.
“No, I’m fine.”
“I can’t believe you got ran over by a car. Were you looking both direction?”
Karen rubbed her forehead. “Yeah, stupid, you think I’d just walk out onto the street without checking for traffic?”
“Where should I come to see you?”
“I’ll let you know when I get there.”
“Well, I hope—”
Karen hung up. She placed the mask over her face and rode the rest of the way to the hospital in silence.