Savannah is too healthy for the hospital and too sick for school, so instead she stares unblinkingly at the frozen pizza section of Wal-Mart at three A.M. The fluorescent lights strain her eyes. Although, that might also be because she’s been wearing her contacts for the past thirty-six hours. She is hungry but can’t eat. She scratches her scalp and wonders what would happen if she kept scratching, through the skin and brittle bone down into the pulsating meat of the brain. Would she stop? Here, under the harsh lights, shivering slightly with sweat beaded across her brow, Savannah isn’t sure she would. She wastes her money on ice cream and cheap red wine. The cashier gives her the hairy eyeball as Savannah fumbles with her change and driver’s license, trying to prove she’s twenty-three.
It isn’t until she leaves the store that Savannah realizes how oddly sterile a grocery store seems at night, despite the unnatural shadows, the water stained ceiling, and the bizarre clientele (herself included)—something about the too-bright lights, the gleaming white floors, the dry recycled air, and the omnipresent silence. Outside, the night is a starry-eyed monster with big teeth, waiting to swallow her whole. Its breath is heavy and damp, and there is a charge in the air like lightning or unmet expectations.
Corey condenses his summer into a series of images: golden stalks of wheat waving in the breeze; a pair of feet propped up on the dashboard, crossed at the ankle; windows rolled down; radios turned up; fleeting glances, and even more fleeting touches; sweat rolling down the sides of aluminum soda cans; heat; the deep animal yearning of loving someone who won’t love you back. Fleeting glances were just that—fleeting, insubstantial as the air or the dust of the road. The electricity of fingers meeting was blamed on the static, flushed cheeks blamed on sunburns. If you are young enough and slick enough and it’s the summer, you could write it off as a phase. It isn’t a phase for Corey. He wonders if the same is true for Thomas.
The summer is hot and sticky-sweet. The night has cooled somewhat, but hours of idleness had turned Thomas’s car into a heat trap. Corey leans forward in the passenger seat, angling himself away from the warm upholstery and leaning his head into the cool night breeze from the window.
“You really need to fix the AC,” Corey says. Thomas drums his fingers against the steering wheel, humming noncommittally.
Edith thinks that life would be easier if she loved Gwen instead of Savannah. Gwen loves warmly with soft kisses and a feather-light touch. Savannah loves like a dagger—piercingly. She was always the girl with a knife in her heart and a gun in her hand, ready to hurt before she could be hurt, and—like a fool—Edith chooses her every time, even in her dreams.
When Edith looks back at her memories, they are always in black-and-white, except when she thinks of Savannah. With Savannah, Edith sees the red of her hair, her nails, her lipstick, her favorite jacket. Every memory she touches drenches itself in crimson. Beautiful, loyal, too-good-for-me Gwen is always grey. Edith pictures Gwen standing at the frosted shoreline, arms filled with poppies that spill like blood across the snow. The poppies, at least, are red.
When Savannah’s brother was younger, his best friend died in some brief and brutal way, like a car accident or drowning. Her brother learned this from the mouth of a stranger with no sense of who he was. Imagine—the voice of a stranger informing you of one of the worst tragedies of your life, offering no comfort.
Savannah has no sense of when this happened, where they lived, if they moved shortly thereafter or hung around, if she was even alive at the time. There are things they don’t talk about. She knows that his teenage years were marred by anger, that he armed himself with sharp humor and quick quips, that he was even less sincere than her, and that a sadness lived at the back of his eyes.
There are things they don’t talk about. The old house with the creaking floorboards. Her mother’s pills. Her brother’s suicide. They lock it all up in a private safe, like the one her father kept at the back of his dresser and her sister occasionally pilfered from (there are things they don’t talk about). When her brother turned twenty-three, voices argued in the night. They screamed each other hoarse, shaking Savannah’s bones, shaking the house to its foundations until there was nothing but rubble and dust. Savannah hid in the basement. There was a gun under her brother’s bed (she knew, she knew) and she screwed her eyes shut, waiting for the bang bang bang of gunshots to ricochet through her head. She didn’t have to wait long. Her mother passed like a ghost in her white nightgown, crying soft rain.
A tree appears in Savannah’s headlights, and she steps on the accelerator.
Corey gazes at Thomas. Odd, the things that can remind you of love—the translucency of a moth’s wing. The way moonlight tapers through the trees on cool, bright evenings. The way a wildfire ravages a countryside. A particular set of eyes. The grip of two hands, confident on the steering wheel.
Corey fell in love for the first time in seventh grade, watching Emily Rosenbaum’s pencil skitter across her test, brow slightly furrowed, tip of her tongue held preciously between her lips.
His teacher rapped his knuckles against his desk. “Eyes on your own test, Corey,” he said. Corey bowed his head meekly, glancing up at Emily through the fringe of his bangs.
Corey fell in love for the second time during his junior year of high school while watching Bobby Richmond play baseball. His powerful legs kicked up the red dust in the outfield, a bead of sweat tracing down his neck and into the hollow of his throat.
Bobby and Corey shared adjacent lockers. Corey took to loitering at his locker, fidgeting with his hair, checking his breath, and smoothing his nervous palms over the denim of his jeans. In the end, they exchanged only a handful of words—Bobby preferred to avoid his locker during breaks so that he could cut class under the ruse of having forgotten his textbooks.
Bobby asked Emily Rosenbaum to their senior prom, and Corey wasn’t sure who to be jealous of. Now that he’s in college, he and Thomas have been stuck together like glue, if only during these late-night drives. Surely Thomas wants him as much as he wants Thomas. He must.
Edith sighs as she slips on her tennis shoes and grabs her car keys. She wants something to come home to. She wants the on/off/on flicking of a switch, attention when she wants it, and distance when she wants it, without having to ask. She wants the nightmares to fade into shadowboxes, dreams into bluebells and witch’s hazel. She wants a solid grip and steady heartbeat. She wants, simply, to outlive the night. And the next night. And the night after that.
For now, though, she feeds her cat and heads to her night shift at the hospital.
Savannah crawls across the road, dragging bits of broken windshield glass across her forearms. Her mouth tastes like asphalt and pennies. Her breath smells like gasoline, or maybe that’s everything else. She’s relatively certain that she has broken ribs, that scars are writing themselves into her arms in red ink, and something is wrong with her eyes. She has enough time to think that this is a terrible way to die—that they should have flunked her on her psych eval, damn doctors—before she loses consciousness.
Later, Corey would reflect on how a single instant can change the course of a life. Right now, however, he barely has time to wonder What the hell is that? before Thomas swerves, nearly rolling the car in the process.
“Oh my God,” Corey says, scrambling to unbuckle himself and exit the car. “Call 911.”
Edith could be charming, when she wanted to be, and it serves her well as an ER nurse. Just as she gets on shift, trying to soothe a mother and her screaming child, the doors slam open and a gurney wheels in. The ER is normally a kaleidoscope of medical problems, strange and enchanting in their own way, but always ordered. Every once in a while, however, there is a major emergency, and Edith has to fight the urge to check the room for TV cameras. Every dramatic case has this sheen of unreality, like there is a barrier between the regular world and the world in which bad things happen, and only on rare occasions does something slip through the cracks.
Edith hustles to the gurney to assist but freezes in her tracks. The blood drains from her face and her stomach rolls. It occurs to her, for the first time, that she might not be the only person at the end of Savannah’s dagger.
“What happened?” Edith asks an EMT after the gurney rolls into the OR. Her voice sounds tinny, far away.
“Patient’s name is Savannah Miller. Apparently crashed her car into a tree. A couple of kids were driving by and called it in.” He jerks a bloody thumb over one shoulder, gesturing to two college aged kids with identical shell-shocked expressions. One kid has sandy hair and a light dusting of freckles, standing a head shorter than the burly brunet next to him. The sandy-haired one reaches for the brunet’s hand, but the brunet jerks it away and tucks his hands safely under his arms. Edith feels a mournful tug and walks toward them before she realizes what she’s doing.
“You’re the ones who called it in?” Edith asks.
The sandy-haired kid nods. “Can we see her? I mean, after she…”
Edith shakes her head gently. “I doubt they’ll let anyone in to see her besides family.” The sandy-haired kid looks even more dejected than when the brunet rejected his hand. The pair of them leave, the sandy-haired one shaking, the brunet still looking shocked. Edith hopes they get home safely and shuts herself into the bathroom to cry.
Savannah comes to in a room of silent composure. After this, she feels that late night grocery stores won’t seem so sterile, and she would take the oddballs and the judgmental cashiers over sitting in an empty room, still woozy from the anesthesia and having trouble breathing. One hand lifts to her face, gently cupping her missing eye before falling limply back onto the crisp hospital sheets. No one can help me, she thinks.
Someone raps against the door—Savannah thinks she catches a glimpse of Edith but can’t be sure under the weight of the anesthesia. Instead, a sandy-haired kid walks in. Without saying a word, he slips into the visitor’s chair, tentatively grasping one of her hands.
Samantha Godwin has a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Mercer University. This fall she will be continuing her education in the Master of Arts in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University. She is rather fond of cats.