Just Let Me Die Here (A Serialized Novel) 32
It has been two weeks and still nothing. There are too many questions that I can’t answer. Too many things are building up in me that I have to get out. I need clarity. I need some peace. My own investigation is just piling on the questions rather than the answers. I feel like I’m balancing on a very sharp edge, about to fall one way or the other and the tension is ripping me apart. My body is beginning to feel better and I figure I can’t do any real harm with just a short run. I need to run.
Luckily, the suitcase that Tucker left behind has my running gear in it. I throw on a couple layers and do a few stretches in my room, mostly upright, not wanting to spend much time on the motel carpet. The longest part of the process is putting on and tying my shoes with a slightly incapacitated arm. Not being able to lift it above my head also makes putting on my beanie a bit challenging. I keep my injured arm in the sling and tie it up close to my body. As I begin to run, I keep it tight against me, hugging myself across my center as I let the other arm swing freely to pull me along.
I cross the train tracks and head through town along Eight Street. The shop doors are all closed to the cold and very few people walk along the sidewalks. The open space is mine and I start to pick up the pace. I feel the icy air bite at my face and I breathe in the freshness that I have been locking myself away from in my motel room. I am taken back to the top of the mountain. Before everything happened. Before the accident. Before Tucker left. Before Millie was gone. Back to that perfect moment when the snow-covered trees stretched out before me and all I could see was the brightness of my future just on the horizon.
Now it all begins to twist and swirl around me. And as I continue to run, I can see them. Tucker and Millie, and myself as well. The ghosts of what we were and who I thought we would be. I see us walking together on the other side of the road, stopping to look in the window of an art gallery. I see Millie stretch up from Tucker’s arms to brush the snow from a leaf that hangs on a downturned tree branch. I see us sitting in the warmth of the cafe on the corner. Millie bouncing in my lap as Tucker and I drink coffee, Tucker absent-mindedly scrolling through something on his phone. I see Tucker playing with Millie in the park. I see Millie and I crossing the street just up ahead. She is an older version of herself, maybe four or five years old, but dressed just as she had been the last time I saw her. Her purple ski suit now joined by matching penguin snow boots. For a moment, the me I see with her turns back to look at something behind us and Millie’s hand slips from mine. She lets go and runs across the street. She runs and runs until she is gone and I, the other me, am frozen in the middle of the street. Looking back. Unaware that my child is gone.
You let her go.
You don’t love her enough.
I turn left at the end of the street and run towards the river. Faster and faster, the thoughts chasing me, twisting around me, squeezing tight on my lungs. I race from them, the distant sound of rushing water drawing me closer and closer. I run from the town, from the memories, from the ghosts that haunt me, from those last few days where my final moments of happiness will always stay.
Leave it all.
My body cries out in pain, but I push on. Harder. Faster. All along the river, the water rushes, splashing over rocks and frozen pools. I reach the bridge and climb up its curve until I am at the top of the arc. In front of me, on the other side of the bridge, the dirt trail turns and heads north to Banff. Below me, the river is parted by the bridge’s large steel post, the stream of water splits and then crashes back together on the other side.
I stand, resting my body against the railing, staring into the water and trying to catch my breath. My shoulder and side burn and my body and mind plead to stop. After a short rest, I decide to walk the stretch of river until it curves and then head back.
Just at the end, when the river narrows and starts to break away from the mountains, I come across a pond that has completely frozen over and has now become the setting for a lively hockey game. Kids of all ages and even a few adults are scattered across the ice. I stand at a distance and watch. For several minutes, I am simply taking in the game. The joy on the faces of the children. The fathers who are naturals at the game mixed in with those who are not. And then, I catch myself searching the crowd for him. There is absolutely no reason that Tucker would be here, but I search anyway. He should be here. Here with me. Here with Millie. Why don’t I see him? Why did he bring us here? Why has he left? What has he done with my child? Soon, I cannot watch anymore. The absence of my husband and the glee on the faces of children who are not Millie is too much to handle. I turn and go.
Something comes to me as I sit on the motel bed, eating take-out from the Chinese place two blocks over. It is dark outside and the silent images on the TV, the only thing providing light to the space around me, promise two days of no snow. I am twisting a pile of greasy noodles around my fork when I remember a small detail that had previously seemed insignificant. The appointment with a vision specialist. Tucker had told me that he scheduled it for the Tuesday after we were supposed to get back from our trip. It was with a doctor named Ham-something. Hampton? Hamlash? Hammish! That was it. Doctor Hammish. I grab my phone and do a Google search for eye specialists in our town. And there he is. Three names down. Doctor Daniel Hammish. Pediatric Vision Specialist. Seems right. I’ll call in the morning.
I grab the remote from the bedside table and switch the channel to the only other station I have found tolerable since arriving. It’s a Canadian food network and the past two nights there has been a post-holiday marathon of a baking challenge show. I’ve always been terrible at baking and find it fascinating to watch people who actually know what they’re doing. I also find footage of frosting being piped on to cookies and cakes to be quite soothing.
Unfortunately, I have missed the baking show for the evening and the station is now playing a different cooking show. The man on the screen, a chef who I’m pretty sure is famous but whom I can’t quite place, is standing behind a big block island in the middle of his studio kitchen, chopping vegetables. And even though the sound is muted, I can hear the knife. With every chop, the blade knocks against my thoughts. Chop chop chop. “You know what you need, August?” Chop chop chop. “A vacation.” I am pulled back into our kitchen. And there is Tucker, chopping vegetables for dinner and laying out his idea for a fantastic family vacation. Chop chop chop. Why had I said yes?
All your fault.
This is all your fault.
I am sitting in the nursery, rocking Millie to sleep for her afternoon nap. A soft light drifts through the window. In the corner, a sound machine plays a loop of the sounds of the ocean. Waves tumbling softly on the shore. My baby is asleep and I am starting to lull off with the steady movement of the chair. The sounds of the waves get louder and louder, crashing through the air of the room. I pull Millie closer to my chest, hoping she won’t wake. And just when I don’t think the noise can get any louder, the doorbell rings and the house goes silent again.
I walk to the door, cradling the sleeping baby. When I open it, it is suddenly night outside and the flashing lights of the police car parked in our driveway blind me with reds and blues. Two officers stand on the doorstep but their faces are hidden, lost in the shadows of the night. At once, they both reach out and pull Millie from my arms. Without a word, they turn and step back into the darkness, disappearing into the blur of the flashing lights.
I stand, cradling the empty blanket in my arms, and watch as the world outside my door fades into nothing. I scream into the void, but no sound comes. I scream again, but there is still nothing but silence.
I wake in the bed of the motel room, the echo of my last scream filling the stale air.
“Good morning,” a cheery young woman greets me over the phone. “Doctor Hammish’s office. This is Denise. How may I help you?” In the background I can hear papers being shuffled and the light click of a stapler.
“Hi Denise,” I say. “My name is August Logan. I have an eye appointment scheduled for my daughter tomorrow and I just wanted to confirm the time.”
“Of course, Ms. Logan. What’s your daughter’s name?”
“Millie. Well, Mildred. Mildred Logan.”
“Mildred? Quite a lovely name. You don’t hear of many Mildreds anymore.” The paper shuffling has stopped and I hear Denise’s fingers clicking against computer keys. She definitely has some long nails.
“Thank you. My husband picked it out.” The mention of Tucker, calling him ‘my husband’, makes me cringe a bit. I know that legally, that is still what he is, but the idea of claiming him as my own after all this makes my stomach churn.
“Um.” I hear a pause in the keyboard clicking. “Is there any other name the appointment might be under?”
“I don’t think so. My, um, Tucker Logan, said he made the appointment for Tuesday, tomorrow. He booked it weeks ago. I think he said it was in the morning.” I hear more typing.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Logan. I don’t have anything here for a Mildred or a Millie Logan. I don’t even see a patient by that name anywhere in our system. Was she referred to us by a particular doctor?”
“I think so. I would have to ask my husband.” There are a lot of things at this moment I want to ask my husband. Nausea again. “Is this Doctor Hammish the only Doctor Hammish in the area? Maybe I got the wrong office.”
“Well, there is a Doctor William Hammish. But he is a dentist. Sometimes we accidentally get calls for him. But you said this was for an eye appointment?”
“Yes. We were told my daughter needs to be seen for a vision problem, I guess.”
“Well then this would be the right Doctor Hammish.”
“Oh.” This just doesn’t make any sense. “Ok.”
“Would you like me to schedule an appointment for her now?”
“Um, no thank you. I’ll have to get back to you later.”
“Okay, Ms. Logan. You have a great day.” The phone clicks.
“Thank you, you too,” I say into the silence.
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