I thought I had finished this one, but then my agent looked at it and pointed out all the reasons it didn’t work, so it went back into the “Works in Progress” folder. I’ve worked out how to finish it, I just haven’t done it yet.
The two girls were sprawled on the floor in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn between them, giggling madly, when the phone rang – not a cell phone, but the landline Madison’s parents still used. Neither of them paid much attention as Mrs. Fernwright answered it, but when Mrs. Fernwright said, “Yes, she’s here,” Emily realized it must be someone looking for her – probably her mother.
“Oops,” Emily said. “Sounds like I’d better turn my phone on.” She reached for the pocket of her jeans.
“But it’s just getting good!” Madison protested. Then she sighed and hit the pause button. “I suppose you better see what’s up.”
“Emily?” Mrs. Fernwright called from the family room door, and Emily stopped what she was doing, phone in her hand. Mrs. Fernwright’s voice was unsteady – really unsteady. Something was badly wrong, for an adult to sound like that.
“What is it?” Emily asked, sitting up and turning to face her friend’s mother.
“Emily, there’s been an accident.” Mrs. Fernwright’s face was white, and Emily began to be genuinely frightened.
“What kind of accident?” Emily asked.
“Your mother’s been hurt.”
Emily’s general unease suddenly solidified into a horrible fear that clamped around her belly. “What’s happened to my mother?” she asked.
“She was hit by a car,” Mrs. Fernwright said. “I’m… we’re going to the hospital to see her.”
Emily swallowed. “The hospital?”
“Yes. St. Luke’s.”
“That’s where she works,” Emily said, but after the words were out she wasn’t sure why she had said them.
“That’s not why she’s there,” Mrs. Fernwright replied. “She’s in the emergency room, as a patient.”
“Is… is it bad?”
Mrs. Fernwright looked miserable and trapped, not like herself at all. “Very bad,” she said.
“Oh, no,” Madison whispered.
Emily swallowed. “How bad?” she asked.
“We need to go now,” Mrs. Fernwright answered. “Did you have a jacket or coat?”
“Then come on.” Mrs. Fernwright picked up her own purse from the table by the door and gestured for the girls to follow her. “Hurry! Both of you, move it!”
“Why is there such a rush?” Madison asked.
“I told you, it’s very bad,” Mrs. Fernwright answered. “Anne… Emily’s mother is seriously hurt.”
“How bad?” Emily demanded, as Mrs. Fernwright opened the door to the garage.
“Why are we hurrying?” Madison asked.
Mrs. Fernwright sighed. “We are hurrying, Maddie, in hopes of getting there while Emily’s mother is still alive. Now, come on.”
Emily could not say anything in reply; her eyes grew wide and her throat seemed to close up. She climbed into the car without another word, and Madison got in beside her, eyes wide. Emily sat back, trying to press herself into the seat cushions as Mrs. Fernwright started the engine.
Mrs. Fernwright murmured, “It may not be…” She didn’t finish the sentence; she looked as miserable as Emily felt.
They had gone several blocks when Emily finally gathered enough of her wits to ask, “What happened? Who was that on the phone?”
Mrs. Fernwright didn’t answer immediately; she was focused on her driving. When they had cleared the next intersection, though, she said, “That was your father. He said your mother pushed someone out of the path of a car and was hit herself. The car went right over her.”
“Oh,” Emily said, feeling very small and frightened.
A few minutes later the car pulled into the parking lot of St. Luke’s Hospital, and Mrs. Fernwright cruised along three rows before finally finding a space not too far from the emergency room entrance. She pulled in and turned off the engine, then unbuckled her seat belt, opened her door, and got out.
Emily sat frozen in the back seat, vaguely aware that she should be moving, she should be doing something, but she didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. If she stayed here in the car it wasn’t real yet. Beside her, Madison was also motionless, staring at Emily.
“Emily?” Mrs. Fernwright said, opening the door beside her. “We’re here.” She reached in and patted Emily’s shoulder.
Suddenly Emily saw something that had nothing to do with the inside of the car, nothing to do with the hospital, nothing to do with her mother. For an instant she was somewhere else entirely, looking down at an old woman lying face-down on the floor of a hallway, sprawled across a small Persian rug. The woman was wearing gray slacks and a loose top in a bright floral print; her snow-white hair was cut short in a style Emily had never seen before.
The woman wasn’t breathing.
Then Emily was back in the car, and everything was just as it had been. Mrs. Fernwright was holding the door, and Madison was looking at her with a worried expression.
“Are you all right, Emily?” Mrs. Fernwright asked.
“I don’t know,” Emily said, not looking at her friend’s mother.
Mrs. Fernwright’s hair was dark brown and shoulder-length, and she wasn’t really very old at all, but somehow Emily thought it had been Mrs. Fernwright she saw lying dead on the floor somewhere.
It had been her imagination playing tricks on her, she told herself, that made her see that dead woman. The stress of being rushed here without any chance to prepare herself, the news that something horrible had happened to her mother – that had made her hallucinate. That was the only rational explanation. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before, but it had to be her imagination.
Madison and Mrs. Fernwright were both staring at her, she realized. She swallowed, and spoke. “We left your TV on,” she said. “On ‘pause.’”
She had no idea why she said that. She had needed to say something that wasn’t about her mother or weird hallucinations, and that was what came out.
“It doesn’t matter,” Mrs. Fernwright said. “Come on.”
Emily forced herself to move, to get out of the car and stand on her own feet. Mrs. Fernwright reached out a steadying hand.
Again, there was a momentary flash of somewhere else, some other time and place, and a white-haired woman lying dead on the carpet, but it was briefer this time, less disorienting. Emily ignored it and started walking.