Peyton – Past
The blood red color glistens wet and sticky down my arm leaking from the small white cloth covered hand. I feel an occasional sharp pain, nothing significant. I’m crying, but not hard—a hiccup, a whine here and there.
Mom stands to my left, leaning forward, holding my hand in front of her, looking green and queasy. “Here, I can’t…” and she passes my hand back to me. I’m left carrying half of my left index finger—bleeding profusely from a cut between the bottom of my nail and knuckle—hanging by a thick layer of skin.
I vaguely remember anecdotal grumblings from both mom and dad about an accident with an unattended hatchet that left a faint scar because of an incompetent doctor. What parent allows their child to play around hatchets, you might ask. Yes, well, better hatchets than guns. Of course we had those too hidden around the mountain like nuggets of buried treasure.
Mom grabs her bulky Kmart purse—a garishly green seventies color with silver loops dangling from the front pockets; all plastic; all fake—and shoves me into our blue Ford truck with large wheels covered with mud and we make our way down the mountain to the small Podunk quack that sits in the center of town near the local Kroger. Her hands shake as she switches gears. When I try to talk, she barks at me to be quiet. I watch her carefully. Her mouth thin and tight, pursed in concentration. The little girl senses her fear and sobers preparing for whatever is ahead.
“How old are you?” Doctor Quack asks.
“Four,” I reply snotting my way through another hiccup. I drag my snot-covered schnoz across my sleeve and Doctor Quack jerks my small arm away. His thin upper lip curls at me in disgust. I feel my small face contort in scorn. I don’t like him.
Most four-year-olds would be screaming their heads off with their finger hanging by a sliver of skin and blood everywhere, but I’ve always had a high tolerance for pain and never did see the point much of crying since having learned at an early age it served no real purpose except to anger the woman burdened by my existence
“This isn’t that bad. Stop crying. Big girls don’t cry.” Fuck you. “I’ll bandage it up for you so you can go back outside and play. Hopefully more carefully.” He gives mom an arched eyebrow shaming her. Her face flares crimson in embarrassment—a dramatic complement to the nauseatingly green from earlier.
Her small voice arrives from an even smaller place: “But…” mom starts to question and challenge. The look of confusion curling in the center of her forehead is one of a child’s and I feel a pang of sympathy for her. Use your words, mom. Her incredible bashfulness, inability to communicate, ignorance, and fear of confrontation leave her immobilized to help me, her young daughter, and she fails to speak out against what she knows is inadequate care. This, I remember, will happen repeatedly in my life and baby brother’s.
Doctor Quack interjects. “She’ll be fine. Remember, I’m the doctor.” The white-haired doc lectures mom with a condescendingly nasal redneck twang. Fucking quack! He instructs her on redressing every few days. Mom wanders off in a daze while the doc babbles and pushes both parts of my finger back together wrapping it tightly in a bandage. Something mom could’ve accomplished easily on her own. She may be uneducated, but she’s not dumb. The young me looks around and I take the opportunity to find evidence of some type of bogus medical degree. I see a couple of cheaply framed diplomas displayed that look suspiciously like counterfeits with some obscurely named medical university.
Another blink and I arrive at a new location, another person? Or is it the same man? From before? Yes, the same man; the one from the jail. The disdain, disgust, and rage has turned into…something else. I restrain my emotions to focus on where, why, when. There is nothing here but silence…and darkness. His mind is empty—a chaotic meld of nothingness. It’s familiar to me—this looming sense of nihilism and powerlessness. I feel contentment in the ambiguity and loss of control—he feels imprisoned. I thrive in the darkness—he panics to the point of immobilization.
He stands in a forest. The tall trees erect like sturdy soldiers, unable to move, awaiting orders. Their unflappable uniforms, stiff with starch like bark hardened by sap, canvas their stern bodies. Cascading needles collectively scrape and stir restless with the wind like a long rolling dress-blue cape. The fleecy dank soil beneath my feet breathes with life the scent of earth and ember, the last remnants of coals from an overnight guest as he walks through scattering the fragments of ash sending it hovering and dancing in the air. He walks to the base of a bank of falls flowing over a bluff in precise form—almost too perfect. The water eases forward, nearing the mouth, meandering out into the big cerulean blue pond that merges unending like an ellipsis and a sigh.
He continues walking while I enjoy the smell and feel of nature. The air around me mild with moisture as the ocean before me swims back and forth assuaging the earth’s tilt and the moon’s pull—cosmic gravity; their sway and togetherness, commingling, surviving together symbiotically. I stop, ponder, and peruse watching the saltwater inch closer to me. I lower my body onto the sand, legs crossed, hands dangling over knees, eyeing the water go to and fro, frothy and bubbly, the sand below it silky and smooth sliding out and in again. I stick my imperfectly manicured toe—a man’s toe from a man’s dirty feet—into the water feeling the warmth and wishing for more. The sea—salty and soggy—brushed with the shades of a rainbow, fusing with the sky, enfolds and receives the grand golden crown as it takes its last impressive turn of the day. Seagulls soar around me. Their cries animated hang on the wind like feathers. The womb of water I embrace as I stand and start into the sea fully clothed. The water—warm like a bath—coats my clothing with the bite and bitterness of salt. The acidic tangy taste leaves a film of chalky substance behind that surrenders a layer of pleasure in a memory that I can evoke time and again, but this is not pleasure that wraps its cold tentacles around me in this man. I feel the familiar tug of darkness inch into my consciousness, of misery, and the numbness of cold everlasting pain in his body and mind. The realization of something deeper dawns on me as I continue walking into the sea, the wave tugging me back to land. I continue onwards undeterred. This is not a leisurely swim; this is a death dive. I swim far and stop. “Forgive me.” His voice rough, deep, and desolate, old and tired and a flash of a sin past that has eaten him raw. Darkness closes in around me as we sink to the bottom. Bubbles of air float towards the faded light above. I feel no fear only the release of something greater within this body: The uncoiling of relief like a spring in his chest. And peace.
© 2018-2019 Pamela Gay Mullins