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AstuteCat
May 4, 2007



Long time lurker, first-time taking the plunge and going for it. in :)

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AstuteCat
May 4, 2007



Prompt: “Ships Passing in the Night”
Reassurances
1399 words

“M-Mike, I can’t see! I can’t see!” she cried, panic rising in her voice as she trembled in the dark. The response was swift and calm.

“It’s okay, Lisa, the lights went out. That’s all.”

There was a pause, a rustle of clothing and a moment later, a double-click of a small pen-light being switched on. It provided a narrow cone of light that illuminated the cramped space with a subdued glow. Kneeling near Lisa, Mike smiled, his blue eyes fixed on hers.

“There. So, Lisa, you were telling me about your son, James?” he prompted, ignoring the dull creak of distressed metal and a gentle hissing nearby.

“James… James…yes, of course,” she replied as if searching for and then finding the tracks for her train of thought. Her breathing slowed as she relaxed a little. “He’s such a sweet young man. He’s going to graduate soon, you know. He’s studying nuclear physics, of all things!” She smiles. “He says he’s nervous about what the result will be, but I know he’s going to do great. I just do. He’s going to be okay.” She looked sheepish for a moment as if caught between being proud of her son and not wanting to seem prideful.

Mike smiled, replying with an understanding tone “You must be very proud of him.”

She smiled back and nodded in reply, seeming relieved to have been given permission to show how she felt without judgement. “I am. I can’t wait to see my boy…” her expression darkened and her eyes flicked left and right suddenly “… I mean, if I get to see him. What if I don’t get there!?”

Mike shook his head gently, his voice comforting “You’ll be there with plenty of time to spare — your ride will be here soon. I promise. When was the last time you saw him?” he asked, guiding her back to familiar ground.

“A year ago - can you believe that? It’s funny how the time can go by so fast - it seems only like last week that I was kissing him goodbye for his first day in school. They grow up so fast…” The statement was well-worn, and she said it dreamily, the focus in her eyes drifting as she reminisced in her head. When she returned from the haze of the memory, she looked over towards Mike and nodded firmly, saying again to herself defiantly, “He’s… He’s going to be okay.”

She tilted her head and smiled coyly at him. “You know, you’ve not told me anything about you, Mike - besides your name and that you’re here to help. What’s a handsome man like you doing out here anyway?” she quickly added: “— not that I’m ungrateful for you being here right now, of course.”

Mike chuckled at that, “It’s fine, really.” He paused, disarmed by the turning of the tables in the conversation. He procrastinated by checking a bandage. His expression changed as he did, locked in a stare. She watched him and then after a moment spoke up again.

“Now Mike, I’ve been telling you so much about me, it can’t hurt to open up a little…” Mike sighed a little, wondering if she happened to know his therapist. He blinked a few times, recomposing himself, before finally looking back at her and locking his eyes to hers, smiling again.

“Okay.” He said, breaking back into character, playing the part of calm and collected. “I was on my way to collect my daughter, Emily. Her Mum’s going away for a couple of weeks, and I got some time off work to spend with Emily. I don’t get to see her that much these days. We’re going on holiday.”

“Ah, that’s s-sweet.” Lisa said shakily “going somewhere… nice?” she struggled to keep her eyes on him, her face draining colour.

Mike hesitated, and then answered “Yeah - Spain. Barcelona.” He looked around quickly, grabbed his bag, and shoved it under her legs to raise them, spilling half of its contents onto the wet floor. “Have you ever been to Spain?” he asked, his calmness act slipping a little as an edge of concern crept into his voice. Lisa didn’t seem to notice and smiled from ear-to-ear.

“Oh yes! Spain! Gene - my husband - and I went there on a c-camping trip. He insisted on getting this… this awful little caravan.” Her voice was distant, barely perceivable over the rustle of Mike wrapping a foil blanket around her. He nodded along, rummaging in the bag, his voice gentle but his movements hurried.

“Oh yeah? What made it so awful?” Mike applied another bandage over the now-saturated one.

Lisa chuckled weakly in response “Oh, the … the colour was awful. Orange and brown. And the smell - so damp and musty. It was a miracle… we… we didn’t catch something.” She looked into the middle distance as her mind wandered again, the memories washing over her. “We went… everywhere with that silly thing. We terrified the locals of five countries in Europe” she smiled. “We had a great time though, m-made a lot of good memories in that summer — as well as our boy James” She looked towards Mike, trying to find him in the gloom. When she met his eyes, she nodded reassuringly to him, repeating the mantra, “They’re going to be okay.”

She leaned her head against the rolled-up coat that Mike had put there. Minutes passed like hours as Mike kept applying pressure to the bandage, looking over his shoulder seemingly every second, forcing himself to breathe slower, before Lisa broke the silence again. “Mike? Are you there?”

“Yes Lisa, I’m here. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere” He squeezed her hand in reassurance, his hand shaking.

“The- The light’s gone out again,” she said calmly.

Mike screwed his eyes shut, taking a deep breath, hoping for something to have changed since he last looked around, but knowing that nothing had. He squeezed her hand again, fighting to keep his calm act going. “That’s okay, Lisa, everything is going to be fine. Your… your ride is nearly here, okay?”

“Don’t worry Mike, you... did great. It’s been great getting to know y-you” She whispered soothingly as she struggled to stay awake “You’re going… to have a lovely time with Emily in Spain once you’re done here.” Another long pause. “You’re… going to be… okay.”

The pen-light started to flicker, as water on the floor seeped into it, sending them into darkness moments later. Mike shook his head, sweat pouring across his face. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to focus: One hundred twenty beats per minute. Thirty chest compressions, two rescue breaths, keep the casualty viable. The sound of sirens approached from the distance. Thirty chest compressions, two rescue breaths, she’s going to be okay. Strobe lights illuminated Mike and Lisa, casting long haunting shadows. Thirty chest compressions, Two rescue breaths, She’s going to be—

A gloved hand squeezed his shoulder. It gently pulled him away, voices indistinct as he was led from the overturned car. An orange and brown caravan sat on its side not far behind, burst open with its contents strewn across the road. He shook his head, dazed and numbed in shock. He took a last look over his shoulder to the paramedics surrounding Lisa on the floor and sagged into the arms guiding him to his car.

***

Mike smiled as the door opened and an enthusiastic ten-year-old screamed in greeting “Daddy! What took you so long?!” He coughed as she near-tackled him to the ground. He picked her up and held her close.

“Emily!” he hugged her a little tighter. “It’s so good to see you! Go get your things while I speak to Mum.” She nodded and ran upstairs. He gingerly took some steps into what used to be his kitchen and nodded in greeting to Emily’s mother. She kept her back to him and slowed her washing of a frying pan.

He hesitated before he broke the silence. “They, ah — they said that she was going to make it.” He looked away a little, clearly unconvinced, and then back to her. “It’s weird really. I didn’t know who was looking after who at one point, you know?”

She dried her hands in silence.

“Look, don’t worry,” he said. “We’re going to be okay.”

AstuteCat
May 4, 2007



Thanks for the crits!

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