by Charity Morris
Reasons not to take Quetiapine as prescribed (an incomplete list):
Dreams of the dead, of the possible dead, the probable dead. Realistic dreams with smells and colors and music. Vivid dreams with a lover and her beloved on the tracks outside his house. Dreams of arguing. Of desperation. Don’t leave me here, she says. I’ll come with you, she tries to plead as her voice is swallowed by a blast of sound. Dreams of him walking away from her, face resolved. Dreams of tripping.
Dreams of a yell, but she doesn’t hear him. She has already turned away in tears.
Dreams of a massive force that rattles the ground. Dreams of a shriek that pierces through even the deafening horns. Dreams of the last time she locked eyes with his, his deep eyes wide in a way she has never seen before, darting down the tracks and back at her.
Dreams of rushing. Of reaching. Of distance that grows with every step to close it. Dreams of hands that touch, barely, for an instant, before never again. Dreams of pink spray, her spray, his spray. Dreams of body parts, of supple skin sliced by hot metal, of time slowing down to present each and every tear. Even the strongest human bodies are remarkably fragile.
Dreams of the sky opening in tears for the two, summer rains that had left their scent lingering on his jacket, now sealing her into a muddy grave.
Dreams of one last blink, one last canopy of stars, before submitting to sleep.
That wasn’t how it happened, though. She had thought for a moment, lying on the grass, staring at the canopy of stars, that she was dead, had died, and that Mario was dead too, but she’d been wrong. He’d woken her gently, with a blood-spattered hand, a gash across his cheek that made him look even more rugged and handsome than before. He had pulled her from the ditch, didn’t let her look down, covered her arm with his coat, torn and tattered and impossibly dirty but she hadn’t been able to protest. She had tried to hold onto consciousness as he carried her but it was too much, it was all too much, and she had woken up later -- months later, it seemed -- in this bed that she now lives in most of the day.
They meet on a Thursday.
End of the year parent-teacher conferences always have poor turn out. Some of her coworkers appreciate the several uninterrupted hours to catch up on grading and lesson plans, but Danielle remains hopeful the parents of her more concerning students will show.
She is reorganizing her paperclip drawer when he walks in. His pants are dirty and patched with unmatching blue squares, but his shirt, a yellow and brown plaid button-down, is freshly pressed.
“Mrs...” he extends his hand to her with a questioning look. She stands.
“Miss Smith,” she corrects him, taking his calloused and filthy hand in hers. She wonders how long she needs to wait to use her hand sanitizer without it seeming rude.
“Mario Ruiz,” he says, wiping his hands on his pants sheepishly. “I just got off work,” he explains.
Danielle, horrified that he has read her expression so plainly, tries to change the subject. “So, you’re here for…” she probes.
“Luis,” he states. She has a lot to say about Luis. Luis is a bright boy, gifted really, but the past few weeks have seen his bright young face turn sullen and withdrawn. She means to talk to his mother about it, a polished Latinx with a sternness about her that she knows will help him get his focus back so he can graduate the following year, but surprisingly, his mother hasn’t shown. Instead, there is this mess of a man who clearly can’t find his way to a washtub to save his life.
“And you know Luis how?” Danielle asks. “I can’t give out
student information to anyone but a parent or guardian. It’s the law.”
The man tries to squeeze into the small student desk across from hers before perching on the desktop itself. “Luis’ parents…” he begins in a low voice. “My brother and his wife…”
“Do you need a translator?” Danielle asks, trying to mask her impatience. It is five minutes before the end of conferences and it has already been a long night. All she wants to do at this point is to wrap things up and head home, but she can tell already this isn’t going to be quick.
“I speak English just fine, thanks,” he says shortly. “It’s just hard to explain why Luis is living with me now.”
“Oh,” Danielle says, embarrassed at her own assumption, and sits to look for Luis’ file. “Where’s Maria?” She freezes. “Did something happen?”
“Maria is... “ he seems at a loss for words. “My brother Carlos’ wife? They were… removed.” He shifts uncomfortably on the tiny desk.
“I see.” Danielle comes around to sit on the front of her desk. “And you aren’t legal, are you.” It is more of a statement than a question; Luis would not be her first student lost to parental choices and political inconsistencies.
“No!” he blanches. “I have all my papers. I go to the office and do them every time, but my brother…” He speaks quickly, looking panicked. “He missed his renewal deadline. He and Maria were taken two weeks ago. I’m documented, Luis was born here, please don’t have them come by.” His eyes, deep brown pools of fear, plead for understanding. “I’m not a father. I don’t know how to do this. I’m just trying to be a good tío to Luis until we sort all of this out.”
Danielle notices the bags under his eyes. He looks exhausted.
“You said you work?” she asks.
“Landscaping,” he says. “Four a.m. every morning until it gets done. Although in summer, fieldwork pays more. Sometimes I do both if I can get the work.”
“It costs a lot to raise a child,” she sympathizes. She pours
him a cup of coffee from her desk coffee-maker, a necessity for conference
nights. “Sorry the mug is pink.”
He accepts it gratefully and smiles. “I bet it tastes just fine.”
She refills her mug and they drink in silence for several minutes. Through the window she sees other teachers, laden with books and student files, heading to their cars. Conferences are over, but she doesn’t feel the need to rush home anymore. She finally understands the boy wearing headphones in her class, the hoodie cinched tightly around his face, the times he miserably lays his head in his arms during class discussion, blocking out the world.
She sets down her mug. “So how can I help?”
She spends the summer doing just as Mario has asked. Every morning she comes by their small one-bedroom home out by the railyard to check on Luis. She brings groceries when Mario’s days are too long to stop by the supermarket and extra school work for Luis to keep up over the break. Not that he needs it -- she has always said he is her finest student - but because working on math and grammar helps him focus on something other than the fact that he hasn’t heard from his mother in months. Often, she stays with him well into the evening when Mario stumbles in, physically spent and visibly grateful she is there. He offers to make her dinner, but she never allows it, preferring him to take a shower and relax with Luis while the boy puts whatever YouTuber or show he is watching on the television, as evening trains add their low rumble to ad jingles for toilet paper and cars. Then, after Luis goes to bed, Danielle awkwardly packs up her things and heads home.
Until the evening Mario asks her to stay. He brushes off a dusty bottle of wine from a client who was particularly pleased by the stonework on their new patio, and they drink it together in the living room, which, as she finds out, has doubled as his bedroom since Luis came to stay. He is a surprisingly kind man, a good man, to give up his bedroom for the boy, although as the evening goes on and their glances grow longer and more intimate, she wishes he was slightly less kind and good.
But he is a gentleman, she rues, and against her better judgment she discovers that her commitment to student achievement has somehow evolved into feelings she never intended, feelings she actively worked to avoid.
Which means an uncomfortable conversation is long overdue.
“I can’t come by anymore,” she tells Mario as he walks her to her car.
He holds her gaze even as she fumbles for her keys. “Sure you can,” he replies.
“No,” she insists. “This is… weird. It’s unprofessional. It’s --”
But then he kisses her. Hard and soft and earnest. She drops her bag on the concrete and wraps her arms around his neck. After a moment she pulls back, drinking in his rich brown eyes, enraptured with his rough strong hands in her hair and the way he smells of cedar and lawn clippings and sweet summer rains. The second time, she kisses him first, fumbling with the car door and pulling him in after her.
That was before. Before the comfortable routine set in. Before the toothbrush in his bathroom drawer. Before the monogrammed coffee cups. Before the ring he found at the second-chance shop and had his cousin, a welder but aspiring for more, melt down and reset to a brilliant new gleam. Before he came home to tell her his H2-A visa was denied and everything would change. Before Luis had to choose between foster care and returning to a country that claimed him, but that he had never claimed. Before she pulled Mario’s weeping face to her chest and begged him to marry her and stay and before he pulled out the token that stated for him how much he meant to ask her first.
“It was so romantic,” Danielle sighed blissfully, as she recounted the moment to Ben and Camille the following day.
Ben shifted and adjusted his glasses, slipping his pen back into the breast pocket of his white coat.
“Now, Danielle, we’ve discussed this. You were here--”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Ben,” Danielle muttered, staring out the window at the softly falling snow.
“You were here,” he persisted, trying to place himself in
her gaze. “You haven’t left--”
“NO!” Danielle looked around wildly, looking for the door. She flung her bedspread to the floor and meant to dart for the exit, but was stopped by the thick canvas strap connecting her wrist to the bed.
“Again,” Ben was getting angry. Spit flew as he tried to reorient her: “You have not left this bed since you were found at the ER doors --”
“What the hell is this, Ben?!” she cried hysterically with tears in her eyes. She launched herself against the restraint, eyes closed, wishing to be anywhere else. “Why?” she moaned, her tears spotting her blue paisley gown.
“For the last time, it’s Doctor Atkinson,” Ben snapped. He stood and strode directly to the exit before turning to Camille. “What’s taking so long on those meds?” he snarled at her.
“I’ll double-check with Pharmacy,” Camille stated blandly, her eyes glued to the chart on her screen as she tapped slowly on her keyboard.
“And tighten that restraint, for chrissake,” the doctor huffed as he left. This rotation couldn’t end soon enough for him.
Camille finished the session notes quietly as Danielle sobbed. Mondays were all the same; MDs were all the same. She was the one still here on Tuesday but no matter how often she pointed out how fruitless their sessions were, she didn’t have enough letters after her last name for her opinion to count.
She turned to Danielle.
“So,” she said in her brightest voice. “You got engaged!”
Danielle hiccuped and took a few short breaths before giving Camille a weak smile. “Yeah,” she sniffed.
“Let’s see the ring!” Camille said walking around the bed to Danielle’s hygiene tote. Camille knew their script. It was the same every week.
Danielle beamed and obliged.
“Oooh,” Camille cooed, taking a brush to Danielle’s matted
brown nest. Weekend shift had a lot to work on in regards to patient care. “Is
that a diamond?”
Danielle laughed and rattled off the details - how he found it and gave it a fresh start, like the fresh start they had given each other after that first embarrassing meeting. Camille brushed gently and smiled, her eyes trained on the space above Danielle’s gnarled left stump of an arm, the space that would have contained Danielle’s left hand, if she still had one. “He must really love you to go to all that trouble,” she murmured, the hair on the back of Danielle’s head finally smooth.
“I really love him back,” Danielle sighed, taking the cup of pills Camille handed to her and slipping into their darkness.
Reasons to take Quetiapine as prescribed (an exhaustive list):
No more anxiety. No more pain. No more confusing conversations.
No more scratchy sheets. No more hospital smells. No more small talk with the nurse you secretly despise.
No more memories of bliss, of kisses under star-canopied skies. No more smells of coffee while locking eyes with a set that see you and know you and love you, despite the circumstances.
No more pain. No more searing pain in her arm, her leg just above the knee, her heart, her memories. No more straps on the bed when she tries to explain what really happened, that he isn’t dead. Do they think she just stumbled here, flayed and out-bled, alone? After facing down a train, she just made it here on her own?
No more questions. Nothing more to explain.
And no more pain.
Danielle wakes to a heavy calloused hand on her thigh. Ben is gone. Camille will be back in an hour. She places her left hand on his and opens her eyes. Her beautiful ring glitters on her hand as it always does and she turns to look into the eyes of the one who comes to sit with her between all her hourly checks, who has never left, and who never will, as he tells her whenever the pain gets to be too much.
“Mi amor,” he purrs, touching her face with his hand as his other continues to hold hers. She brings her forehead to his and closes her eyes, drinking in the smell of cedar and lawn clippings and sweet summer rains.