“Miss Adner, calm down. Miss Adner.”
“We’re going to have to sedate her again.”
“We can’t, it could be dangerous.”
“Get the restrains.”
Hands were pulling on me, holding me down into the darkness. Screams filled the room, my screams. Two hands cupped my face and I recalled the thing’s hand on my neck. “Miss Adner, open your eyes, look at me.” That voice. It was familiar. Whose was it? It wasn’t Mom, Jason, nor Kohl… Wasn’t that the surgeon’s voice? It coaxed again, pleading for me to open my eyes, and finally I did. Rather than darkness I was welcomed by a soft look on a freckled face, a strand of fiery red hair fell and curled by the surgeon’s amber eyes. I was reminded of Mom by her eyes. She instructed me to breathe and fitted a cold stethoscope under my hospital gown and to my chest, I inhaled deeply and exhaled. I wasn’t able to shake the dream, and everywhere I looked all I saw was creeping darkness and I felt the ghost of my imagined pain.
They slapped another beige bracelet onto my arm (my dominant right one) before typing cryptic codes onto a screen outside my room. The familiar nurses and the surgeon left, and a man wearing a suit came in shortly after. He told me the hospital had to assess whether or not I was a public safety concern. If I were deemed normal, I could choose to leave or receive further treatment. Though he phrased his words to sound like options, I knew I had no real say in this—nineteen or not—and so I simply signed the disclaimer.
For hours I sat in my hospital bed, trying to seem interested in the flat screen across from my bed; they gave me no new medication, of which I was aware, and unrestrained my arms. I still didn’t feel capable of getting up.
A short while later another man came into my room, he wore a tan coloured trench coat he laid over the back of the chair. He had one pale blue eye and one the colour of whiskey through a glass, his thin lips were set into a faint smile. “Good morning, my name is Dr. Liam Aylestock. How are you feeling today, Miss Adner?” he asked, pulling a patched blue chair next to my bedside.
“Please don’t call me that, everyone here keeps saying that but they talk to me as if I were a child,” I replied, sizing him up and trying to figure out why he was here.
“What would you prefer I call you?”
“Persephone,” I said. He pulled a thin tablet from his satchel and an accompanying pen. At that point I began to get nervous, the other doctors hadn’t made notes—at least not in front of me. Was he the one who would be deciding whether or not I could go home? “Why are you here, Dr. Aylestock?” As he wrote something down, he kept his intense eyes on me. It was incredible what different shades they were: for a moment I was distracted by their beauty, before his voice pulled me back.
I shook my head slightly, trying to clear my thoughts. I had to seem normal, that meant I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of blanking out. “I just want to talk to you, Persephone. I understand that you’ve had to experience some rather extreme situations, I simply want to ensure that you’re feeling well.”
What had Mom always told me? A smile will give the appearance of normality. Even if nothing is right, hold yourself together until you can handle it properly. But would I really be smiling after having just been through two bombings? Smiling at this point would probably make him think I was in denial. But the advice still held some truth: this was certainly not the time nor place to unfold the contents of my mind. If I did that now, I would surely fall apart. To have any chance of getting out of here and back home, I needed to show him that I was dealing with this in my own way. Then, in solidarity, I could let the pieces go and reassemble them. Quick, start talking, you’ve already paused for too long. “I’m feeling much better now, I don’t really hurt anymore. It was just a nightmare earlier, it seemed real then but I know it wasn’t now. But I’m starting to understand the situation now, and I’m just grateful to be alive.”
More scribbling, but his smile didn’t let up. I couldn’t tell if I’d said something he liked or not. “That’s good to hear. It must have been quite a nightmare, the nurses reported you were trashing and screaming quite a bit.” I did that? Well, damn, now I’m never leaving. “Can you recall when the first responders resuscitated you? You were asking for Jason, you said you needed to see how he was. Is Jason a friend of yours?”
It took a moment, but I hazily recalled the terrifying moments when the first responders had first resuscitated me. I’d been confused and my head had pounded terribly. Then came the figures walking from the rubble of what I’d presumed to be the diner, a lady had started calling Jason’s name. It had reminded me of all the things he’d done for me. I suppose we were friends, but I hadn’t known him for long. Why had he put himself at risk for me like that? When would I be able to see him again? “Yes,” I finally replied. “Do you know when I’ll get to see him again?”
Dr. Aylestock watched me curiously for a moment, he looked slightly worried and that made me anxious. The beeping on my heart monitor sped up as the silence dragged out, I waited for him to reply. But I already had a feeling I knew what he would say. “Jason was trapped in the rubble much longer than you. He died on the way to the hospital. I’m sorry.” Again with the sorry. Would that bring Jason back? Alleviate my guilt? Set everything back to normal? I wanted to ignore his words, and go on believing that Jason was alive and well. I thought about his dream to move to England with his boyfriend, and how close he’d been to actually achieving it. It was my fault he was in that diner. If I hadn’t been feeling sorry for myself, if I hadn’t called him, he would still be alive.
And again, I’d survived.
“W-were there any other survivors?” I asked tentatively, Dr. Aylestock was watching me even more closely now.
“One of the shooters survived, he’s been taken into custody, and there were a few others hiding in the cellar.” I swallowed deeply. The six gunshots I’d heard, perhaps some of those had been used to kill the criminals.
“Dr. Aylestock, could I get some time to process this, please?” As I spoke, I smoothed over the back of my hand the way Mom used to. I tried not to let any more emotion seep into my voice. Dr. Aylestock smiled politely and nodded his head, muttering an of course, and I was alone. I didn’t dare let myself go, not when I was so sure that there were cameras watching me from each angle. My face fell and went blank as I shut myself into my mind. I imagined Jason, held prisoner under chunks of concrete, plaster, and wood. Was he dead before the roof caved in, or after? Dr. Aylestock had said he’d died on the way to the hospital, which was even worse: it meant he’d suffered and survived just to die in the end. He’d always made sure that I was safe, he said it was his job, he felt morally obligated to watch out for me. Why hadn’t I felt morally obligated to watch out for him? Surely he had been a better person than I could ever hope to be, he had a brighter future too, and a boyfriend who probably loved him very much. Not once had I considered Jason as a real person, besides the debts that I owed him for saving me. Now he was gone, and I would never got to know him.
In the end they discharged me, after I signed a hundred-and-one papers stating that the hospital wasn’t liable for my actions. Because I was a crazy, erratic liability. They tampered with my dosage, gave me a few self-help numbers to call, and sent me on my way. They had more important things to worry about than one neurotic teenager. I was glad.
On the ride home, I stood squished between a man with an overtly sexualized picture of a comic book character and an old lady who starred at everyone through angry, squinting eyes. The driver drove sporadically, slamming on the breaks mere centimetres from the bumper ahead and missing stops. I gave my seat to a young, freckle-faced boy, wary of all the eyes that momentarily fixated on me. I wondered if they could read the guilt etched in my features. It wasn’t entirely unlikely that any one of these people had been in the bomb shelter with me during the attacks. Perhaps one of them recognized me, remembered the girl who’d broken down in the shelter, who had cried and wheezed as the guard tried to help her. Maybe one of them knew I was responsible for, whether directly or indirectly, the death of that guard.
The driver missed my spot, but I couldn’t bear the thought of drawing more attention to myself, so I got off at the next one. I walked a block back. Passing houses with shutters and cars piled into the driveway; I was reminded of Little Prison, and how everyone locked themselves in during a rainy day. Only now it was out of fear rather than annoyance.
I passed by a group of children playing on their phones under a tree, close to their front door. A little boy regarded me with wide brown eyes, he had the Ottawa Senators logo on his shirt and a thin, black phone in his tiny hands. “I saw that lady on the news,” he half-whispered, turning to the other children around him. They looked up from their phones and stared at me too, I could feel my face head up. My eyes stayed locked forward as I passed by them, pretending not to be bothered by a group of children looking at me. All the while I wondered what he meant. He saw me on the news? They must have broadcasted the attack on the diner, but had they shown me? Had they shown Jason? The woman who had yelled for him?
From my pocket I grabbed my phone, untangled the headphones, and frantically looked for the video. It wasn’t hard to find, in fact it was the first video on the CBC website. The video stayed open and paused until I finally got home and built up the nerve to play it. I took off my shoes and placed them on the mat, where Mom’s black heels used to sit beside my faded white runners. It seemed empty not to have her shoes on the mat, her jacket hanging in the living room closet, or any of the small tell- tale signs that let me know I wasn’t alone. When I was safely on the couch I pressed play, the video queued and a moment later a voice narrated shots of rubble.
“Yesterday, July the nineteenth, tragedy struck Ottawa yet again, making for the second attack in the city within the past month. The Italian Affair diner, which was on Elgin Street, now lays in ruin on the once busy street. At about quarter past three in the afternoon, four men armed with explosives and guns invaded the diner. Nine are confirmed dead, including three of the criminals, though the area is still being searched. Of the five that survived, four sustained life-threatening injuries, with one woman having to undergo major surgery for a brain injury.” My heart picked up a little when I realized they may have been talking about me, even the idea of being mentioned made me nervous. “City police, as well as the RCMP, assure victims and their families that all those responsible will be brought to justice. The city stands together with those affected by the recent acts of violence, with the bombing of Parliament Hill having occurred only a short while prior. If anyone has any more information they are asked to call the RCMP or Crime Stopper Ottawa. For the latest…” I pulled the headphones violently from my ears and threw them, along with my phone, to the other couch. My mind was racing, and I recalled the images that had been shown. Firefighters pulling bodies from the rubble, people sobbing and screaming, and amidst it all, my bruised and bloodied face. I hadn’t dared to look in a mirror, for fear of what would look back, but I hurried to the washroom now.
The harsh lights illuminated my washed out face. The cuts looked far too healed after one day to be natural, and I vaguely wondered what else they had given me. But it didn’t really matter, they pumped more things into my bloodstream than I cared to figure out. My pupils were pinpoints and my watery blue-green irises were surrounded by a bed of red streams. My hair had been shaved, which I didn’t remember happening, and it was almost completely gone. I tenderly touched a red, jagged wound on my head, I couldn’t tell if that was an injury or a gift from the hospital. When I extended my arms, crook of my elbow and white underarm facing the ceiling, I followed the green-tinted veins to my upper arm. I stood in mortification for a moment, realizing I had travelled all the way from the hospital to home looking like this: I looked like a monster, like a mutant from a comic book. Hundreds of people had seen me like, they had watched me, and possibly recognized me; it surprised me that not more people had starred.
When my phone started to vibrate on the couch, I nearly jumped into the air. I almost let it go to voicemail when I recognized Mom’s ringtone. “Mom?” I whispered, as I saw her face come into focus on the tiny screen. Only after I opened the call did I remember how alien I looked.
Mom smiled, her eyes threatening to over spill. “Persephone. Oh my God, I heard there was another attack in Ottawa and then I saw you in the news… I was so worried, sweetie. What happened to your hair? And your face! You look like you’re in so much pain! How do you feel? Why are you at home right now, and not at the hospital?”
I had to cut Mom off to respond. “They already checked me over, I’m fine, and so I came home. Everything is fine. Mom, I miss you so much. What’s happening?”
Mom opened her mouth to respond, but a voice in the background yelled something at her. “Sweetie, I have to go. Please, please be safe. I’ll be home as soon as I can. I love you.”
As I watched Mom, nearly crying, I fought the urge to breakdown. I wouldn’t be able to hold it in much longer. I needed Mom, and I needed her here, I needed to feel safe again, and I had to get rid of my guilt somehow. “Alright, Mom I love you. Come back soon, okay?”
Mom nodded, biting down on her bottom lip as she gave me a shaky smile. Then the line went dead.
My knees and palms hit the floor, I couldn’t hold myself together anymore. Tears broke free, for the first time since I was hiding in the diner. My body trembled and loud, ugly sobs escaped me. I was barely able to care if the neighbours heard me. Air burned going down and coming out, my nose became too congested to force it through. Weak fingers pulled at my shoulders as I tried to force myself into not feeling so broken.
Chest aching, with salty tears trickling down my cheeks, I eventually worked myself into a state of such intense exhaustion, that I accepted it and gave up on trying to feel better. Whatever I did, it was wrong, somehow. I didn’t deserve nice things, I knew it, and the people around me knew it. I was stupid enough to leave the stove on, and I had burned down my house. Foolish enough to think Lance could feel the same about me as I did him, and I had broken my heart. Useless enough that Jason had had to risk himself twice for me, and I had gotten him killed.
I prayed for the night to end after that, in the morning I would be able to handle this, but I couldn’t deal with it just yet.