By Eileen Herbert-Goodall
As a student of science, I’ve never really been a believer, but I hedge my bets and talk to God anyway, figuring prayer can’t hurt. I’m a desperate man, held hostage by my inability to turn back time.
I watch Kate’s breathing, transfixed. Somewhere nearby, a clock counts the seconds. Surveying my insides, I search for the habitual ache, and discover I have become numb.
A light bears down on me, closing in at tremendous speed. I wrench the wheel to one side, then the other, as panic grips my throat. There’s an explosion of sound: metal grinds and squeals, glass shatters, and my bones reverberate with the shock of an impact I can’t quite comprehend. Someone screams and the car tumbles, rolls, twirls. Kate, I think. Jesus, Kate. I try to catch sight of her, but my vision is swamped by a swirl of jolting, bewildering movement.
We met back in the first year of Med school. I’ll be happy just to graduate, but Kate wants to specialise in neuroscience.
Once, as we sat beneath a tree trembling with leaves that drifted down in waves of silent orange, text books sprawled, she said: ‘Question – which part of the brain is responsible for memory?’
‘The Medial Temporal Lobe,’ I answered.
She leant forward and kissed me. ‘Gotta admire a guy who knows how things work.’
At that moment, I knew I was in love.
Sitting beside the metal frame of her bed, the hospital’s familiar sounds reach me: brisk footsteps heading down the corridor, a telephone ringing, hushed voices. I long to wheel Kate out of here and take her home, for everything to return to normal.
Evidently, I long for the near impossible.
Kate has retro-grade amnesia caused by an acquired brain injury. The doctors made the discovery a week ago, after she woke from a coma. They said it could have been worse, which is cold comfort.
If God does exist, I wonder about His macabre taste for irony.
After the chaos, we float through the night, our little car zooming past silver stars as we head for the moon. Turning to Kate, I see she’s looking out the window, clearly mesmerised; I can detect a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
There’s no more sound, only blasts of light in an immense field of darkness.
In space, it’s quiet, and unimaginably beautiful.
The heart monitor beeps. Alive. Alive, it insists.
Outside, high-rise buildings reach for the sky, their glass panels glinting, seemingly waiting to burst into a million pieces before my eyes. It’s been forty days since the accident, yet the blurred sequence of events continues to haunt me. The mind can replay traumatic experiences in any number of ingenious ways. It knows no mercy.
Reaching out, I touch Kate’s arm; her skin is soft, like a child’s. And I wonder whether God – that unknowable, supposedly all-powerful being – can spy the fault lines running deep through my soul.
Eileen Herbert-Goodall holds a Doctorate of Creative Arts, which she attained from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), Queensland, Australia. She teaches high school students through the university’s Creative Writing Excellence Program. Eileen also works with adults who wish to improve their reading and writing skills. She has had various pieces of fiction and non-fiction published in magazines and journals. Eileen recently won ‘joint first prize’ for a short story entered in the 2014 Australian Writers’ Centre writing competition. She is presently working on a collection of short stories.