Anton found it difficult to move, barely able to open his eyes. The room was a distorted blur. Electronic beeping noises emanated from somewhere in the room, but even the sounds seemed out of focus. As the effects of the yellow pill gradually wore off he became curiously aware that there were far more wires attached to his body than he had been expecting. He lifted his head to look around, but he was stopped short by the searing pain in his chest. He immediately dropped his head back onto the pillow and his curious awareness escalated into a sense of confused panic.
Dr. Brynn came into the room. “You gave us quite a scare.” He sat down on the side of the bed and shone a penlight into Anton’s eyes. “Good … good.”
Anton tried to speak, but the pain in his chest barely allowed enough breath for a whisper. “What did you do to me?”
Dr. Brynn nodded reassuringly. “You’ll be fine, Anton.”
Anton tried to raise his head again. His face contorted and he vocalized the exact sound of sandpaper sliding over the strings of a violin.
Dr. Brynn consoled him. “Stay calm, Anton. You’ve been through a lot. You are healing very well, but you’ve got a way to go yet.”
Anton repeated, pleading. “What did you do?”
“I don’t imagine you remember much right now, but it will all come back to you in time.”
Anton closed his eyes for a minute, then he whispered, “Water … please.”
Dr. Brynn supported Anton’s head and gave him a sip of water. “Not too much.”
Anton lied back. “What happened?”
Dr. Brynn stood up and flipped through Anton’s chart. “Like I was saying, I know you’re confused. The air bag on the drivers side didn’t deploy. Fractured sternum. Collapsed lung. Internal bleeding. Concussion. Lacerations. You were in quite a state. The first responders thought you were dead – the ER doctor on duty even called it – but a nurse found a pulse. We didn’t give up on you.”
Anton gingerly touched his chest. “No. No, No. I was here for tests. Not an accident.”
“Yes, we ran a lot of tests after the accident. And I can say now, you’re going to be fine.” Dr. Brynn stood up and gave Anton’s foot a friendly squeeze as he walked past the end of the bed. “I’ll check on you again later this afternoon. I can’t promise, but you should be able to go home in a few more days.”
The doctor walked out into the corridor and Anton slipped back into oblivion.
Elena was sitting in a chair, reading in the wash of sunlight by the window when Anton came round again. He watched her for some time, turning page after page. She had looked at him several times, but at that angle the bandages obscured his eyes and it was impossible to tell if he was awake or asleep. Finally he gathered the strength to breathe out a “Hi.”
She looked at him again, unsure if it was an attempt at communication or just a transient in his respiration. He lifted his fingers and made a waving gesture.
She moved from the chair to his bedside. “Hey stranger. I haven’t seen you around in a while. Where have you been?”
Anton managed a smile.
“Want some water?” She bent the straw and held it to his lips.
He cautiously cleared his throat. “What happened?”
Elena set the polystyrene cup of water on the bedside table. “What do you remember?”
He hesitated in thought. “In thy purple cloak… I ate the yellow skittle… My brain in a jar.”
Elena shook her head. “That’s the worst haiku I’ve ever heard.”
Anton wanted to laugh but was held back by the pain.
“You don’t remember the car accident?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean, ‘what do you mean?’?”
Elena gently kissed his lips, barely making contact. “You need to rest. Give it time. It will sort itself out.” She walked toward the door.
“Hey.” Anton struggled to sit up. “Wait …”
She stopped and turned, looking back at Anton.
His voice cracked. “You’re not real. I’m only dreaming.”
Elena was at a loss for words. She blinked heavily.
Anton pointed at her with a trembling hand. “You’re not pregnant.”
Elena tilted her head and looked at Anton sympathetically. “I was. Two years ago… he’s at daycare.”
Dr. Brynn interrupted, stepping into the room from the corridor with a clipboard in his hand. “Elena. Can I see you for a moment.” He nodded to Anton and left again.
She looked back at Aton, “Rest”, and followed Dr. Brynn.
Anton lay back and closed his eyes, mumbling to himself as he drifted back to sleep. “Two years. It can’t be. Two years …”
The boy held tightly onto the rubberized handle of the spoon. Anton watched as he repeatedly plunged the blunt utensil into a small tub of chocolate pudding on the edge of the table. Brown goo oozed out between the tiny fingers of the boy’s clenched fist. Before each mouthful he spoke in a whisper, “Fo’ me”, then offered every other spoonful to Anton, “an fo’ you.”
Anton silently refused with a deadpan face and a subtle shake of his head. This stoic response fueled the toddler’s determination. He scooped up the last spoonful of pudding and held it out, touching Anton’s tightly pursed lips. “You hafa eat, Daddy.”
Anton stood up and wiped the pudding from his lip with the back of his hand as Elena walked into the dining room. Anton looked away, avoiding her eyes, and left without a word. In the living room he could hear their cheery conversation from the kitchen.
“Come on cutie. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“I like tocka poon.”
“Chocolate pudding is yummy, isn’t it?”
“Mmm. Mummy like tocka poon?”
“Yes, I like chocolate pudding.”
“Daddy na like tocka poon?”
“He does. But I don’t think Daddy is feeling well, sweetie.”
The boy’s tone took on an air of concern. “Daddy tick?”
“No, sweetie. Daddy’s not sick. He’s just tired.”
“Yes sweetheart. And a little sad too.”
Anton squeezed his hand over his mouth to stifle a sob, then quickly and quietly slipped out through the door. He walked to the end of the driveway, hoping the fresh air would help him regain his composure. He stopped at the sidewalk and looked back at the house.
Dr. Brynn silently walked up and stood beside Anton. “Trying to pick a new paint color?”
“Jeezus! Where did you come from?”
Dr. Brynn pointed back over his shoulder. “I just got home and saw you standing here. I thought I’d come over to see how you were doing. I hope you don’t mind.”
Anton tried to appear as though he was not on the brink of complete emotional collapse. “I’m good. Chest still aches, but it’s getting better.”
Dr. Brynn looked over the top of his tortoiseshell glasses at Anton. “How’s your memory? Are things coming back to you?”
Anton answered with a shrug, then opened up. “Not much. Little flashes now and then, but not enough to make any sense of.”
The doctor stroked his goatee. “Hmm. It’s been a few weeks now since you woke up. You’ve been home for what, ten days? Why don’t you come back to the office tomorrow for follow up – better to be safe. I’ll tell my receptionist to clear some time for you.”
Anton’s gut rebelled at the thought of returning to the clinic. “Oh, you don’t have to do that for me. I’ll be okay. Like you said, it’ll just take time. Thanks anyway.”
“Nonsense. Two o’clock tomorrow. I insist.”
“No really, it’s okay … “
“Nothing invasive. We’ll just chat.” Dr. Brynn smiled reassuringly and patted Anton on the back before starting across the street. “Two o’clock. Don’t make me come looking for you.”
Anton looked back over his shoulder and gave a small, parting wave. He took a deep breath and walked back down the driveway to the house.
Elena was still in the kitchen when Anton entered. The screen door closed with a bang behind him.
“Shhhh. I just put the baby down for a nap.”
Anton looked around the kitchen. “Do you remember when we bought this house?”
“I feel like I’ve always lived here. I don’t remember ever living in any other house. When did we move here?”
“You grew up here. This was your parents’ house.”
Anton looked straight through Elena. His eyes wandered around the room. “I don’t remember much about them. I don’t remember much about anything.”
Elena approached, standing toe to toe with him. “Anton, you were pretty banged up. You were in a coma. You were pronounced dead. Give it time. There are bound to be some lasting effects. We’ll work through this … together.”
Anton’s stoic expression was betrayed by a tear, which he promptly smeared with the side of his hand. “I remember you were pregnant. I remember having bad dreams and not sleeping well. I remember going to see Dr. Brynn. I remember he gave me some pills.”
Elena put her hand on his chest. She could feel his heart pounding. “You remember the accident?”
Anton shook his head. “No. Not the accident you and Dr. Brynn keep referring to. I remember an accident, but I was just a boy. I remember my parents fighting in the car. It was raining. I was reading Robinson Crusoe and eating Skittles. That’s the only accident I remember. It’s as if everyone else is confused. There was no other accident.”
Elena wiped a tear from his other cheek. “You remember waking up in the Hospital?”
Anton rolled his eyes. “I remember going to see Dr. Brynn for some tests. We had this crazy conversation about some kind of quantum theory of his and having two brains. I put on some special pajamas so he could monitor my brain activity. He gave me a pill to help me sleep. Then I woke up in the hospital, like this.”
Elena patted his shoulders patronizingly. “There. See. It’s coming back. It’s all making sense now.”