I was told not to tell what I know, actually, I was threatened not to speak of it. For just a brief moment when I woke in the hospital I thought I was on the mother ship and the doctors and nurses were aliens performing tests on me, but then my vision cleared and I realized they were human like me. They still threatened me, and although I couldn’t see their mouths moving under the masks, I heard their words in my head, I heard them tell me to keep quiet about it or die.
I agreed to their terms for a couple reasons, one, I was scared and couldn’t remember how I came to be at their mercy and two, I was weak and the incision on my chest hurt with every breath. I didn’t know why my chest had been cracked open, the long thick scar running between my breasts, and I was told that I both had a heart attack and had been in an accident. When I finally found the strength to sit up in bed I pulled the compact from my purse and saw that my face looked as though I had spent a couple rounds in a boxing ring sparring with the heavyweight champion.
The last thing I remembered was donning a sundress and walking my dog through the park, it was one of those spring days where the colors are so bright that you begin to wonder if you stepped into a new dimension. The newly fleshing leaves on the trees in sharp contrast to the clear, dense, blue of the sky and the birds were darting and singing, trumpeting the end of a long, cold winter. I glanced out the window to see a heavily overcast sky and snow flurries. I dropped the compact on my lap, leaned against the pillows, nicely plumped by a handsome male nurse, and closed my eyes.
I remembered the sundress, I remembered my dog, I remember looking at the trees and sky in awe and there my memories end. I reached back in my purse and pulled my wallet free, I flipped it open seeking some hints of why I was here, being threatened, and who I was. I found my driver’s license and studied the picture; I picked up the compact and compared the two visages. In the photo I smiled at the camera dressed in pink, in the compact mirror my swollen face, blackened eyes, chopped hair, and lightly patterned blue gown told me that the two were not one. I read my name off the small document, Emily Justice Monroe, and searched my mind for the familiar feeling you feel when hearing your own name and found nothing.
I shoved everything back in the black bag, remembering leaving the house with a pink bag to match my dress and sandals. I set the bag on the bedside table and looked out of the window, the snow was falling harder and clicking against the glass. I was told not to speak of it, but I don’t know the “it” I’m threatened not to discuss. The name Emily Justice Monroe means nothing to me, I can’t recall a school picture, a history, or a family, but I do remember the dog, medium-sized, needing some serious grooming, and happy to be walking on the end of a leash instead of staring at the world through a window. Its tail was up as it pulled me along; its nose was up as well as it smelled the fresh, new growth, and the various droppings of its kin.
I lifted my hand, pulling at the wound on my chest, to scratch my head and felt bald spots and stitches. I dropped my hand to my lap and tried to remember the dog’s name. Happy? Lucky? Moose? Stumpy? The dog, some strange mix of a Shepherd and a pug, is strong in my memories, but I can’t recall its name and I don’t know if it was male or female. Pancake? Vixen? Pudge? Dinty? Dog? I remember it pulling me along, almost as amazed at the beauty and scents of the day as I was, and I think I would recognize it if I saw it, but that’s where memory stops.
I looked down at the blue hospital gown, and thought of the pink sundress I vaguely remember buying at a festival under a white tent, it was layers of sheer cotton, and I liked the way it flowed around my legs. I paid thirty bucks for it after trying it on in a makeshift changing room created by sheets. I drank too much at the festival, listened to several bands, ate fried food, and I remember laughing with a man that in my memories has a blurry face, but an open, strong smile.
A nurse stepped into the room with a smile; in her hand she held a clipboard and some garments. “Are you ready to go home, Justice?”
I nodded, not wanting to tell her I didn’t know where home was, who I was, the name of my dog, or the month. “Sure,” I said, sitting up and gasping at the pain in my body.
She set some blue scrubs on the foot of the bed and had me sign beside the X’s on the papers. “We’ll have a cab waiting by the time you get downstairs, do you need help getting dressed?”
I nodded, feeling waves of pain rush through my body, starting in my head and ending somewhere in my lower back.
“You need to come back in a few days to let the doctors remove the stitches, you’re lucky to be alive.” She pulled back the covers and helped me slide my feet over the side of the bed.
The wash of pain came again and the next thing I knew was I was on my feet dressed in blue scrubs, disposable slippers on my feet.
“Shame to send you home in scrubs, but we had to cut your clothes off of you.” She pulled a blanket off the bed and wrapped it around my shoulders. “It’s cold out there,” she said, helping me into a wheelchair and placing the purse in my lap. “I think that’s everything,” she said, looking around the room, and pushed me into the hall.
I wanted to scream, “What happened? Why am I here? What is my dog’s name? Who am I?” But I didn’t, somehow I knew that if I said anything that challenged them, I’d be back in surgery and waking up months from now in worse shape. As she pushed me to the elevator I lifted my hand again to feel my head and the ridges of stitches and the fuzz of newly growing hair. I ran my hand through hair that used to reach my waist, but now ended at my jaw. I wanted to ask how long I’d been in their care, but again the fear, the knowledge that if I didn’t just agree, and nod, and smile, would leave me waking in worse shape months from now, or never waking again.
She pushed my chair in the elevator, making small talk about the weather. “Four inches are predicted tonight, and tomorrow they are calling for blizzards, total white-out. I told my husband not to expect me home, I’m sleeping here for my shifts this week.”
I nodded and smiled in my best empathic smile, like I understood the season and what was going on. I stared into the metallic, mirrored walls of the box we were descending in and saw her look up to the right and heard a voice in my head. “Tell and you die.” I nodded, I understood the rules, but I didn’t know what I was not telling and I didn’t know the name of my dog.
The elevator doors opened and she pushed me through the lobby and out the glass doors. She helped me into the back of a cab, tucking the blanket around my shoulders and under my chin. “Stay warm,” she said and smiled.
“Thanks,” I whispered, feeling weaker than I could remember, but since I couldn’t remember much, not even my dog’s name, I don’t know if that carries much weight.
She handed the taxi driver a slip of paper with an address and some bills. “He’ll take care of you, Justice,” she said and patted me on the shoulder. She smiled, her eyes turning to the right again and I heard the warning repeated in my mind. “Tell and die.”
She slammed the door of the yellow cab and I felt fear, I felt the need to be an action adventure hero and kick ass and take names, but I was weak, the incision on my chest burned and pulled and made me nauseous with movement. The cab pulled away from the curb, the windshield wipers working overtime to clear the heavy snowfall, and I lifted my hand again to explore my head and the ridges of stitches.
The dog, the dog, what was the damned dog’s name? What happened to spring? What happened in the time between the spring day and the blizzard, stitches, bruises and the thick scar rope from my clavicle to my belly button? I glanced into the rearview mirror to see the cab driver staring at me. I dropped my eyes to my lap and the black bag I didn’t remember.
The driver sighed. “Are you okay?”
I shook my head slowly, feeling the sweeping weakness and nausea.
He sighed again. “It’s a mother fucker what we have to do for a living these days, but don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”
I glanced back up and saw the snow turn to rain.
“You’re okay, you’re good.” He winked at me through the mirror, flipping down the visor to block the sun.
I moved my hand to block the sun in my eyes noticing that the pull of the stitches in my chest didn’t hurt as much.
“Just close your eyes and rest for a bit,” he said, turning the radio to smooth jazz.
I must have dozed and woke up as he was pulling to the curb in front of a brownstone I recognized. He parked and jumped out, coming around to my door and opening it. I tried to wake up but the world was still blurry, the bright sun making my eyes water, and I was grateful for the hand to help me to my feet. I heard a dog bark and felt the beating of a tail against my leg.
I stood up on the street, using his hand to support me.
“Are you feeling better, Justice?” he asked, concern written in the deep lines on his dark face.
“Yeah, Pete, I do feel better. I don’t know what happened.” I looked down at the pink sundress, ensuring that it hadn’t risen up to expose my underwear.
He grabbed the leash as the dog jumped from the cab and handed it too me. “Don’t forget Dukkha.”
“Thanks, Pete,” I said, looking down at the strange mutt made from a Shepherd and pug. “What happened?” I asked, pushing my waist length hair over my shoulder.
“You fainted in the park, you should eat more,” he said and handed me the pink bag. “Are you okay?”
I looked up at my house, took in the fresh green leaves, the tulips blooming, and the intense blue sky. “I’m good, Pete, thanks for the ride, what do I owe you?”
“It’s on the house, Miss Justice, just don’t tell and you won’t die.” He lifted my hand and lightly kissed my palm.
He climbed back in the cab and pulled away. I stood on the street, staring at my home, and feeling displaced. I ran my hand through my hair and then over my chest, vaguely recalling some pain, but feeling only smooth skin and a light sunburn. I slid my bag over my shoulder and grasped the leash tighter. “Nice day in the park, huh, Dukkha? Lets go get some dinner.”