Ils on Change Ma Chanson
Despite the May heat that permeated the bedroom at this late afternoon hour, Joss accepted the cup of hot chamomile tea from her sister and watched as she settled in a beige, overstuffed chair next to the queen sized bed. She hadn’t had a chance to send out the laundry this week, luckily, and Joss had selected one of Jeffrey’s shirts, a blue and white striped one and had it tucked next to her among the sheets. She had also collected all the snow globes from around the house and they crowded the dressers and the two beside tables.
“You really need to rest, Joss and drink your tea.” Simone’s voice was quiet and soothing, used to mothering her younger sister. “It was rough today.” She made a face of distaste. “I can’t stand that bitch Mother Parker.”
“I shouldn’t have thrown that drink in her face.” Joss took a sip of tea and placed it to the side. The hot liquid had burned her tongue, a physical pain that did little to distract from the emotional black hole of her heart. She sighed a little and wiped at a trickling tear. Would they ever stop? “She’s going through a lot too, I guess.” She stroked the material of her husband’s shirt, memorizing its texture, then brought the garment to her face and inhaled the woodsy, spicy fragrance. Never again would he tear the cleaner’s plastic off the shirt and hurriedly slip into it while Joss leaned against the doorway, both irritated that they were late and pleased at how handsome he looked in anything he wore. She sighed and picked at a button.
“Jeffrey loved Winnie the Pooh. Not the cartoon Disney mess, but the books. I used to think it was funny, that a grown man had such an attachment to children’s books—“
“You love your Little House on the Prairie books, Joss,” Simone smiled gently.
Joss gave a shrug. It was true, but she was a girl. It was different for guys. “Anyway, he said something to me on our honeymoon that I will never forget.” She paused, trying to control the sadness that welled up in her again. At this very moment, it seemed as if it would never get better, that she would always be this sad, this broken up. She took a deep breath. “He said…and this is straight from Pooh…okay, so take notes.” She attempted a little smile.
Simone leaned forward. “Tell me, Joss.” She rubbed her sister’s bare arm and smiled back.
Joss grabbed Simone’s hand and squeezed it. “Pooh said, ‘if you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you’.” She stared blankly across the room to her dresser, at a snow globe that housed a Christmas at the beach motif. “And you know what Simone? He got his wish. Now it’s me that has to live without him. He’s the lucky one.”
At this she began to sob, deep wracking sobs that twisted her face and stripped her throat raw. She cried until her eyes were red rimmed and swollen and still she couldn’t stop.
Simone held her tight and rubbed and cooed and soothed her sister until the sobs dwindled down to sniffles and sighs.
Spent and exhausted, Joss lay back against the pillows and stared at nothing. The crying had done nothing but tear the wound inside of her wider, making the edges raw and chafed. She wondered if one could will themselves to die, that if she just closed her eyes she would be able to pass away from grief and find Jeff again. Just the thought of it made her weep again.
Simone patted her sister’s shoulder. “Sleep, Jossy. You’re exhausted. Please, sis.” She looked concerned. “If you don’t , I’m going to have to call the doctor.”
Joss nodded obediently and allowed her sister to pull the light blanket over her.
“I’ll be back to check on you.”
“I’ll bring you something to eat later.”
“Okay.” She closed her eyes and slept for the rest of the day, the hot May breeze blowing in through the windows.
The sudden impact sent crushing, agonizing pain down his side, radiated to both his legs. For a second, he catapulted through space, an asteroid on an eerie, woozy flight until gravity took charge and he bounced on a hard, unforgiving surface. A whistle blew, long and shrill, a factory shift coming to an end. He lay still, ears ringing and jaw clenched, all his muscles tensed from the jarring impact. The cold (cold?) ground amplified the sensation. His nerves jangled with distress as he gasped for air, fighting against a jagged, stabbing pain in his side, an ice pick of agony that stopped his desperate lungs from taking a full, oxygen-rich breath.
Voices echoed around him. Though close enough to hear, his scrambled brain refused to decipher the words that floated over the rush of white noise that blew in his brain like a blizzard.
Car accident. I’ve been a car accident. But I’m alive.
With this realization, an idea to latch onto, his fogged brain began working again. He opened his mouth to speak and spit out something lodged in his mouth. It was slick with his saliva and tasted vaguely minty.
A mouth guard?
“He’s back with us,” a voice said. His eyes flicked to the speaker, a young man with a blue wool cap on, pulled low over his dark eyebrows. His breath billowed out of his mouth in a cloud as he spoke, eyes on his watch. “He was out for about thirty seconds.”
“Ribs might be broken and the way he hit the ground, we might be looking at a concussion,” another voice said. Then louder, “You took a bad hit, son.”
Slowly, his eyes rolled to the left and he saw the second speaker, an older man with a creased face and kindly blue eyes. Unlike the younger man, he wasn’t wearing a cap and his wispy gray hair seemed to float on his head. “You all right?”
“Yes,” he managed to say in a voice that echoed inside his head, as if he were speaking in a tunnel. “Call my wife. Her number is in my cell phone.”
Two salt and pepper eyebrows shot up and the older man shot an alarmed glance at the younger man who also appeared surprised at his answer. “Your wife?”
“Yes, Joss, my wife, Jocelyn.” Were these people idiots? Did they even call the ambulance? He struggled to sit up.
“I don’t remember this boy being married. Is he?” The older gentleman directed this question to the younger man who stared at him with an expression that floated between disbelief and laughter. Had he said something funny?
“Not unless he got married during halftime,” the young man said, not quite smiling.
Boy? Where did this white man get off calling him a boy? Anger surged through his body and he struggled to get up again, his hands automatically reaching up to undo the snaps on his…
And pulled it off his head.
Cold wind ruffled his hair, cooled the sweat on his brow. He stared into the bewildered faces of the older man, prepared to let him know that he was a professor of English literature and didn’t take to kindly to being called a boy, thank you very much. That is, he was prepared to say so until he glanced around.
He was on the grass, on a football field. The stadium was filled to capacity, various hues of puffy winter coats dotting the stands alongside fans that were wearing school colors and carrying signs. His (his?) teammates stood in a tight huddle a short ways away, their helmets obscuring their expressions of anxiety.
He had taken a bad hit. They were worried about him. As he would have been worried about any of them, had they been in his place.
His head swam, sending a wave of nausea to his gut and he swayed a bit. The older man put a hand on his shoulder to steady him. He couldn’t feel it because, as he now saw, he was wearing a football uniform.
This has to be a dream.
“What’s your name, son?”
“Jeffrey Parker.” It sounded right but wrong at the same time. Reality shifted, one side to another, then back again. He closed his eyes against the momentum and something inside him tilted.
“Fuck,” he said in a voice that didn’t sound like himself. “I’m gonna puke.”
Quickly, the younger assistant grabbed a red bucket that he had apparently brought onto the field with him and held it in front of his face. He wretched, his stomach twisting into sour knots, the stabbing pain present, but nothing much came out but saliva, which he spat in the bucket.
Because you’re not supposed to eat before a game.
He wiped the back of his mouth with his right hand, which was encased in a white glove with red silicone strips on the palm.
For snatching the ball out of the air. And holding on to it.
At that moment the wind gusted into his face, as if he were moving a hundred miles an hour. His name was Jeffrey Parker…wasn’t it?
The young man laughed, but his brown eyes were concerned. “Stop dicking around. What’s your name?”
Of course his name was Jeffrey Parker. He opened his mouth again to answer.
What came out was, “Cameron Smith.”
The older trainer nodded with an expression of relief. “We’ve got to ask you some more questions. You hit the turf pretty hard. Where are you?”
Hell if he knew. “ Crestfall University football stadium.”
“What month is it?”
“How old are you?”
Thirty two. “Twenty two.”
After each answer, the older man nodded, as if pleased that things were falling in their proper place. The pain in his side was less, but his ears rang dully and he felt the beginnings of a headache. He obviously had not been in a car accident. He had just been… tackled and passed out for a couple seconds.
That’s all, right? And he gave the name Jeffrey Parker as a joke. Just a joke is all. But-
“What’s your wife’s name?” The trainer peered at him closely with this question.
Joss. Jocelyn. He felt the grin break over his face. “Wife? Shit, I’m not married. And disappoint the ladies?”
The trainers glanced at each other and the older doctor nodded. “He’s fine. But get the cart, I want to check those ribs. Either way, he’s not going back in.”
Usually he insisted going back in. Tape me up, doc. Shoot me up with some Novocain. Brace me up. I’m going back in. But today, this time, he wasn’t sure if he would even be able to remember the plays. What if he blanked out in the middle of running his route? Let Murray take over; get his ass kicked for a while.
The cart arrived and he allowed two other trainers hoist him onto it, no small feat since he was 6’4 and 275 lbs. The crowd applauded as he was carted off and he raised his hand automatically, because that’s
(what he’d seen them do on television)
what he was supposed to do, acknowledge the fans. Or else they turned against you.
The younger trainer sat next to him on the cart as they rode to the tunnel that led to the locker room.
“You’re out, Cam.”
“Yeah,” he said vaguely. “Out is right.”