The murky fog, surrounding him, was like no fog he’d ever experienced. He felt buoyant floating not on top of the vapor, but within it. Occasionally Max heard voices in the distance, but he had no interest in them. The puddle of mist rocked him gently. The presence of his arms and legs lying curiously still, bobbing along with the ebb and flow of the misty cushion failed to alarm him. Max desired nothing more than to drift in this warm sea. A whoosh of noise rose and fell with the movement of his chest. Oxygen flowed through him, but he was not conscious of breathing. Was he dying? Did life here on earth end as it began—in the womb? Would the contractions of labor soon start or had they already begun pushing him through the birth canal into the arms of God?
Thoughts fled his mind as quickly as they formed as he floated along, whirling now and then. The warm sunlight filtered through the leaves dancing like fairies on the water. He watched it flicker on the current that carried him along creek. The sounds of his brothers’ voices scuffling on the bank ended with a sharp splash that rocked him on the old inner tube. Seconds later, he felt a thrust from beneath the water tilting him up, over and into the icy spring. He surfaced furious to encounter the laughter of Ed and Mitch who tussled with each other over the lone tube. Max splashed water on both of them and grabbed at the tube only to be upended again. Max raged to no avail against his brothers while Fred squalled from the bank for them to cut it out or he was going to tell. Hot headedness fueled Max so that making him mad was half the fun. If the tube hadn’t started floating away no telling how long the battle would have lasted.
He tried to reach for it but the hazy cocoon curled her fingers around him drawing him out of ear shot of his brothers. The rhythmic whoosh returned like the melodic beat of milk being hand pressed from a cow’s udder. His hands remembered the rolling motion that coaxed the milk into the bucket. Every morning and evening, but early on Saturday night, the Carnes brothers milked. Saturdays were special especially in the summer. The lot of them would finish up early, pile into the back of the back of Daddy’s old pickup truck and head into Trenton.
“Hey, Thad, Mary Ellen Bryson’s sweet on you. You plan on courting her tonight?”
“Golly, Mitch, I’ve got better things to do in town than hang around with old Mary Ellen.”
“Such as—Nothing!” Ed made wild kissing noises in the air, while the others hooted with laughter and good natured punches. Henry Robert and Donald sat backwards in the seat of the pickup cab, wedged between Walter and Opal, eyes wide with envy watching every movement their older brothers made.
The gray ocean shifted and moved, but Max’s body and limbs remained suspended. He felt nothing but the mild rocking of the waves, but he sensed the faintest of breezes and a mild fragrance he tried to identify only to have it drift away. The muted voices somewhere beyond the shadows returned. While they were indistinguishable, mere jargon absorbed by the watery haze their message soothed Max’s senses. Yet those hushed voices drifted in and out leaving only the rhythmic whoosh centering his being and those long past—the tires on Daddy’s truck, the spirited voices of his brothers and the community that gathered in front of the General Store in Trenton on Saturday night.
If Sophia had not known the form in the bed was Amanda, she might have excused herself and stepped out of the room. Most of the plastic apparatus had been removed, but the filth covering her face and clothing obscured her features. Sophia noticed a stench of ammonia not unlike what she had encountered in her visits to residents of some long term care facilities.
Amanda’s hair hung in tangled strands full of burrs, twigs and assorted other debris she’d picked up in her roll down the embankment. There were fine streaks on her face from crying, but her eyes were dry at present. Several deep scratches on her face, neck and arms glared as blood mixed with dirt coagulated. The sum of the parts rendered the picture of a battered child, but the totality of Amanda’s physical appearance could not capture the fragility Sophia sensed as their eyes met. She gasped before she even realized she had. Amanda’s lower lip trembled but she didn’t cry. Sophia wished she could take the gasp back, but could not.
“Dear, child, you look pitiful.” Then with hope of lightening the dismal scene, Sophia added, “You have got to stop rolling around in the dirt!”
Amanda tried to smile, but the attempt failed. The possibility of a comeback eluded her, but there was gratefulness in her eyes. Sophia moved quickly to her side and fingered one of her scratched hands avoiding the application of any pressure
“I am so sorry, Sophia. I heard you on the phone talking about my Mom and Granny Nan coming to get me. I am such an idiot. . .” Her words dropped as a sob rose from her throat. Tears pooled in her eyes rolling over the rims in sheets rather than drops.
Sophia grabbed a tissue from the night stand and patted gently at Amanda’s face while Amanda tried to catch her breath between sobs. Amanda grimaced with pain. Sophia jerked her hand back
“Did I hurt you?”
Amanda shook her head still trying to get her breath, “No, it’s, it’s my left side. They think maybe I have a broken rib or two.”
“Amanda, they need to get you x-rayed and treated. They have permission from your Dad. He’s really worried. Your Mother and Grandmother arrive in Greenville tonight.”
Amanda sniffed deeply, wincing each time.
“Max, what happened to Max?” She grunted in between gasps.
“The accident, when he hit his head—back in Tennessee–he has a brain bruise that’s gotten swollen. He passed out, had a seizure at the Rest Stop.” Sophia knew her words sounded rushed, but Amanda’s need for medical attention superseded any elaboration. “They are taking him to Asheville for surgery—in fact, he may be gone by now. His kids are meeting him there.”
Amanda tried to speak, but fresh tears appeared leaving Sophia to wave off any further questions.
“Later, Child, Lily and I will be here. You let them get you fixed up.” Sophia backed from the room bumping two attendants with a gurney. They obviously had been waiting at the door. A registered nurse followed them into the room.