Howdy readers. Here’s a short story I wrote last year. Hope you enjoy!
Sneezing and sniffling can be heard all over town. Puffy eyes and red noses abound. Green leaves, sunny skies and a rainbow array of flowers announce it is truly spring. An exceptionally wet winter allowed Mother Nature to put on a grand show.
Every yard is filled with orangy-red Indian paintbrush, delicate pink Primrose; tiny purple Prairie Brazoria peak from under the leaves of the Buttercups and Butterweed that threaten to outshine the others. Upon closer inspection, a few patches of lilac and blue can be found. Small thickets of Bluebonnets can be seen amongst the throng. All over the countryside children are reverently pulled away from these delicate symbols of their home state. Look but don’t touch; words every child hears from the time they are old enough to reach for the petals dancing softly in the wind.
Those who choose to look above them will also be rewarded. Grand magnolias slowly lose their blooms; the lofty petals release their subtle perfume as they drift to the ground. Wisteria climbs quietly in the shade, bobbing in the breeze to create a lilac sheet of fragrance floating on unseen waves. These flowers are the welcome bloomers, easy on the eyes and the allergies.
Then there are the Ligustrum; their trunks resemble crepe myrtles yet are covered in small white blooms that relinquish their hold quite willingly at the slightest provocation. People often stop short of the trees as if they’ve just run into an invisible wall. Their perfume potent.
People gather on the side of a country road to take family pictures in the blooms. Adults carry children awkwardly over the sea of color trying not to step on the stems so others could enjoy them after they’d gone. Traffic comes to a crawl. Some spots in the road are so congested only one vehicle can pass at a time. That was how the accident happened.
No one saw the toddler chasing the bloom being carried farther and farther away by the sudden breeze that had mothers clutching skirts and children jumping to catch butterflies suddenly taking flight. No one saw the frantic mother calling for her child, checking around every bumper; every open door.
No one saw until the squeal of tires pierced the peaceful lull on the grassy slope next to the country road. Heads suddenly bobbed up from the grass and car doors like prairie dogs scenting an enemy on the horizon. Children are scooped up and shuttled into vehicles, away from the unseen danger.
One person runs toward the sound, his girlfriend calling after him to stop. But deep down he knows he must check that everyone was okay. If not, he has the skills needed to assist until those with equipment arrive. Approaching the scene he sees the skid marks, black and staggered on the asphalt, the inky marks a sharp contrast to the colors on either side of them. Reaching the hood of the vehicle, he dreads what awaits him in front of the car.
Material billows in the breeze and a dark red stain slowly oozes from beneath the material. Mother and child are together, locked in an indistinguishable heap of torn fabric and scraped limbs. Gently the man places his hand behind her neck for support and feels a faint pulse. Exhaling, he slowly rolls her off the child, the heat of the car engine burning his hand. Laying the woman on her side, he sees the blood comes from her and not the child. But the child is motionless and he looks up for help.
A man from the crowd steps forward. “Can you tell who’s hurt?” He leans closer to the trio on the ground.
The muscles in the medic’s arm start to cramp, he shakes his head. “The mother is. I need you to help stabilize her neck so I can check on the child.”
The two men work together, moving the mother away from the child, keeping her on her side so the blood does not choke her.
“I’m Shane.” The man holds the woman against his thigh.
“Connor.” He nods once before turning. The child has still not moved, but he can find no visible cuts or obvious injuries. Fearing internal injuries he continues to check the child, gently checking her stomach.
“Someone already called 911. Should be here in a few more minutes.”
Connor looks up into the face of a young woman with clear green eyes that lack the fear or curiosity that normally surrounds these kinds of scenes.
“Thank you. Does anyone know these two?”
The woman kneels beside him and he can’t believe that he’s noticing her scent wafting on the breeze towards him. A purer form of the wildflowers that surround them.
“Not that I’ve found. A few of the men are directing traffic away from here and getting those that can’t or won’t help to move along and make room for the ambulance.”
Connor is relieved people have taken the initiative to help without being asked. Normally he would be better equipped to deal with the situation; having a radio at hand to call for any support that might be needed.
Checking the child again, he notices that the young woman is stroking the child’s hair, murmuring words that make no sense but are soothing all the same. Again, Connor thanks his luck. Glancing at Shane, he sees the man has shifted slightly to lean against the fender of the car that has been turned off now. The driver sits on the side of the road; elbows perched on his thighs as his head rests in the palms of his upturned hands. Even if the man wanted to leave, Connor didn’t think the man would be physically able to until the woman and child are taken care of.
As the wail of distant sirens pierces the hum of voices, Connor feels the child stir beneath his hands. The mother still has not moved and Connor reaches over to check her pulse again. Still thready and her breathing has become more shallow. Moving closer, he feels around her ribcage to see if he can feel anything out of the ordinary. Finding nothing, he breathes out as the ambulance sirens become deafening then silent. The blue and red orbs continue to flash on top of the emergency vehicle.
“Shane, if you can keep her steady until they can get a collar around her neck. You’ve done a fine job keeping her still.”
“No problem. I hope someone would do the same for my wife if something like this happened.”
Connor notices the small drops of blood staining Shane’s clothing, but he doesn’t think Shane has noticed. Shane is more worried about helping however he can until the medics take over.
Connor sees his girlfriend, Barbara, standing next to the passenger’s side of the vehicle. She is not happy and he knows they will fight again about his job. He loves being a medic but she hates it and wants him to quit. Trying to concentrate on the situation, he relays the information to the medics and the police officer that arrived with them. They rush the mother and child into the back of the unit and he asks if they need any help getting them back to the hospital.
The medics refuse saying they will have the second officer drive the unit back into town. Lights of another patrol car come into view and Connor knows they will take statements and get the road cleared.
Connor turned to thank the woman, but she disappears into the crowd. He was going to ask her name but forgot while he watched her soothe the child. He asked a few others at the scene if they saw the direction the woman walked in but most say they didn’t see a woman with him.
Thinking they are confused, he walks back toward his own vehicle and the angry Barbara. They will be late for dinner at her parents and no excuse will be good enough to ease the chill that will surely accompany the meal. As predicted, Barbara tries to start a fight, urging him to quit, saying she can’t take having to stop her life every time he sees someone who might need help.
He decides not to pursue the discussion and simply answers “You know how I feel about my job.”
Barbara starts to cry and then turns silent when she realizes her tears no longer have the desired effect on him. He learned early in their short relationship her tears were simply a way to get what she wanted and it was easier to endure the silence than to give into the constant insipid demands. Even before the accident, he had decided their relationship could go no further if she couldn’t accept who he was. And what he did for a living was part of who he was. He had spent too many years dreaming, planning and studying to get where he was.
Weeks later Connor sat reading the morning paper in his now empty apartment. Barbara moved out a few days after the accident and while he missed having someone to talk to, the constant strain of her drama made up for it. Connor had followed the stories about the accident wanting to find out how the mother and child fared. He knew the hospital would not give information to non-family members.
Having finished his morning run, his eye strayed to the front page of the paper. One article caught his eye as he wiped the sweat from his brow. A picture of the mother and child he’d helped accompanied the main article. Beside their color photo was a black and white picture of the woman who’d helped him at the scene, comforting the child.
Connor sat and spread the paper out, smoothing the fold. Beneath the black and white photo, the caption identified the woman as the accident victim’s mother and that she’d been dead for decades. The interview had been conducted at the hospital where Sarah, the mother, still recovered. Sarah remembered hearing male voices and the warm breath of life surrounding her. She’d told the reporter she’d heard the voice of her mother humming to her child, just as she’d done to her when she’d been frightened.
Connor stopped short. The “warm breath of life” was probably the warmth of the running car behind her. But the woman? Was it possible the trauma had caused Sarah to hallucinate? Connor didn’t believe so. The woman in the photograph had been on the road. But why had she said she didn’t know the names of her family lying on the ground?
It didn’t make sense. But proof stared at him from the pages of the town’s newspaper. Reading further Sarah went on to tell the reporter that her child kept asking for “fowers” or flowers. Sarah had thought that the child meant the flower they had been chasing when the car struck them. She had come to believe the child asked for the grandmother she’d never met.
Sarah’s mother had always worn perfume that smelled like the wildflowers in the spring. Her father had taken her to that field to smell the flowers every spring after her mother passed away. Sometimes she could almost hear her mother’s laugh on the breeze.
Since the birth of her own child, Sarah had driven to the field so she could tell her child stories of the grandmother she would never know and let her be held by the fragrance of the wildflowers.
Connor folded the paper and set it back on the table. He would never look at wildflowers the same again.