EyetoothDouglas W. Milliken
In a little while, we got up and crept around the house, holding hands while we explored. The ceilings were high and arched and had dark little cobwebs here and there, and the ornately mitered railing by the stairs was stained by decades of passing hands. A warm organic smell hung in the air, earthy but not unpleasant. I could not figure out what it was. We found Josefa’s room down the hall from my own and stood by her bed to watch her sleep, each of us hoping she’d wake up because Josefa was one of the artists with whom we’d started to grow close. She was fun and foolish but also tough, and could sing with more passion than I’d ever known possible for a human. But now her cheeks looked burned and her hands were in bandages and she looked almost surly in her sleep. Like an old cat who does not want to wake. We petted her dark hair away from her brow and then we went downstairs where we found Kevin in the bright window light of what I guess you’d call a parlor, reading a magazine in an armchair. He was dressed in hospital scrubs and looked so out of place here—I was beginning to think of this house as some rich widow’s vast summer home, all closed up for the season—but then again, in our baggy patients’ clothing, we must surely have looked just as out of place ourselves. Kevin lay his magazine open in his lap and talked to us for a while. He explained that the foundation had moved us back to Portland because that’s where our program was based: they figured it’d be best if we were close to home, to our friends and families. But Diane had only just moved for the job: she didn’t know anyone here. I’d come down from Seattle. Josefa was from Mexico City. But none of that mattered. I was already growing fond of where we were. Kevin said that we should feel free to wander the house and grounds as we pleased. If we needed anything, he said, just ask. Then he resumed his reading.
Diane and I watched him with his magazine for a moment—I remember, he was reading Modern Taxidermist—then we headed for the front door. Outside was a long green lawn and gardens splashed with bright pink and purple flowers, and between the yard and the street ran a tall wrought-iron fence. We could hear cars moving beyond that. We walked down the steps and along the path and our steps were short because we were weak. All four of our feet were still bare. The cement tiles of the path were cool and rough. The grass growing between tickled. Bright, clear sunlight lit the low fog clinging to everything so the whole world looked washed in a silky web. It was beginning to not feel real again. We reached the fence, then stepped out through the gate. So now we were on the sidewalk. We didn’t need to say it to know that we weren’t the same people we’d been before the crash. We were safe now, but we were not healed. We might not ever be who we once were. And that was okay. It might be better if we were never like that again. Our anxieties and our fears. I was voiceless before I spoke. We’d be who we had to be with these new wounds inside us. But it would take time to figure out who we had become.
Across the street, through the mist, we could see a park, dark trees impressed against the white and nothing but white beyond the trees. Somewhere around us, there were cars we could hear but could not see. They were invisible. We stitched our hands more tightly together. We knew where we were going but not what was waiting for us there. The pavement on the street looked sharp and the traffic sounds were dangerous and the yellow lines could’ve meant anything. We didn’t care. These things outside us never change. Not the way we change. Together, we took our first barefoot steps, from the sidewalk into the street.
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