September 4th, 2024
Her arrival: the clarion of battle. Every muscle strung tight—high-frequency chiming rattles, albeit in the well-tuned fashion that told her that nothing was injured.
300 beats over ten seconds: 1800 beats per minute.
This was not the steady, deep war drum beat of the others; this was the frantic rattling, rolling beat of the snare. Angela was not built for war—then again she never had been.
“Suze: Derricksnappedwe’reluringhimtotheruinswhatdoyouwanttodo?” Angela asked.
Susan took a deep breath, to anticipate the measures to come.
She’d been here before. If Derrick’s destruction would be anything like Victor’s, there would be a cacophony of the frightened, off-key notes of injuries, punctuated by staccato cries, low wails, tremolo groans, and agonized half-rests. It would be a measure of eternity, an eternity of measures, before the last note was tuned just right.
But the most heartbreaking disharmony of all would be to the beautiful orchestral collection of her family. Luckily, theirs was a collection of instruments she knew how to tune by heart.
“Can you get any injured here carefully and promptly?” she asked.
Her head twitched up and down, almost too fast to catch. Yes.
“Then I’ll head to the ER, to receive the injured mortals.” She took a pointed half-breath in before Angie could disappear. “Stay safe, Ange.”
With that, Angela was gone.
Susan closed her eyes, taking a moment to draw the memory of the score she knew so intimately to mind… Lisa’s subtle but steady backbeat to which all tempos were connected (which was only just beginning to get syncopated, slowly making way for a second rhythm), especially the childlike melodies of Galen’s deft little horn and Ruben’s strong and sometimes demanding bass-line percussion; Lance’s horns which had stopped playing triumphant fanfares and had given way to his much more versatile double flutes, intertwining with Carmen’s beautiful, varied water drop-like percussive glissando, and their daughter whose piccolo notes seemed to be playing more often; Moe’s playfully quick and dancing fiddle-like melodies; Brendan’s dark, melancholy piano melodies softened by Aida’s low, mystical, harmonic minor woodwind; Benji’s somber, hollow, resonant but reluctant beats; Jeff and Abel’s harmonies rudimentary in nature but effortlessly traded among each other; Sofia’s bright and warm brass harmonies that occasionally deepened and thrummed with singleminded purpose; Angie’s rapid, metallic rattling that never shook slower than sixteenth-notes except when she smoked (like bees, Susan had mused long ago, though she’d never said so). They had matured, grown, meshed almost seamlessly, and enveloped others—Dovile’s decisive, throaty, taut percussion whose beats were just as significant as its rests; Senbast’s gentle, exploratory stringed twanging; Sanura’s high-heel-click conductor’s taps; Sasha’s bold, relaxed yet energetic and playful tambourine; Lena’s breathy, fleeting pan-flute scales.
She let the strains out with her next breath and rose, her step setting a steady driving tempo. Her footsteps tapped too weakly against the pavement. It had been too long since she’d gotten to set her heartbeat to the heavy thump of feathery wings or the satisfying clop of a hoof in earth and the soft whistle of wind.
Another breath and the memory of that strain, too, drifted on the air behind her. On the next breath she took in the heat of the sun and let it spill out through her skin and her hair.
She arrived at the ER in time for the first collection of discordant notes.
A flattened pling and twanging underscored by frantic percussion.
Fractures in the third and fourth ribs, dislocated shoulder, 102 beats per minute. No lacerations.
Treatment: Soothing words, a quick pop back into place, the susurrus of unwinding bandage and knitted groan of a winding one.
A quickened beat going fainter, an aimless, lethargic tune, the uncontrolled whistling of a teapot.
Compound femur fracture. Blood pressure 80/50, 144 beats per minute, 1.9… 2.0… 2.1 liters of arterial blood lost and counting.
Treatment: An angel’s miracle, as it had come to be known, carried through by the sun’s rays.
A strained, bubbled wheeze behind sharpened, chaotic plinks, that fought to keep up with the rhythm of the drum.
Shattered sternum, punctured lung.
Treatment: Another miracle. Another degree of the sun setting down the horizon within her. She hoped there would be enough light left for her family.
Measure-by-measure. Notes and breath marks and quarter rests. Steady accelerando and crescendo. Her footsteps carefully tapped a metronome-like rhythm through the hospital halls.
And then, a hot blast. The clarion. Accompanied by no further cacophony.
300 beats over ten seconds: 1800 beats per minute.
Susan kept her hand pressed to the compress over a welt which had once been the high-pitched whine of a two-inch-deep abdominal laceration. But she looked in the direction of the shaking, bee-hive rattles.
Angela’s arms were empty. Her face was tight. Tense. Her scars pale.
Susan let out her breath.
Susan took in her breath. Eleven days early. And no contractions. If there had been contractions, she wouldn’t have ventured outside the walls. Strange. Contractions should have come first.
Stress, stringing too tight in mother and child’s bodies, until the snap. But it had nearly been time for a new string regardless. And better now than the day of the siege, which would have come to pass instead. Just a little more diligence and warmth than usual, and mother and child would find a healthy harmony.
Another breath out.
“Very well.” Her eyes flicked around, to well-stocked cabinets and doctor’s tools, before moving back to Angela. “Were there any contractions prior to this?” Couldn’t hurt to check.
A blurring, side-to-side. No.
“If she starts labor she has at least eight hours until full dilation. At this stage, walking will be beneficial, but tell her she should take it slow once she gets back through the walls. I want her here no later than,” Susan glanced outside the window, “sunset, so I can examine her. Meanwhile, she can be at home. Please remind Lance to keep calm and help measure her contractions, if she has any.”
An inward breath, Angela’s this time. Susan looked to her.
Her heart beat 120 times. A long hesitation. Nearly a whole minute’s consideration, in Angela’s separate experience of time, with bated breath. This was no rest—this caesura, double-slashed through the score. The next note would be significant, the start of a new movement, a new time, a new tempo.
When she spoke, it was only slightly faster than normal. Deliberate. Mosso sotto.
“Susan, Lance is dead.”
The music did not start again. Cold pressed in.
All that was were linoleum tiles, white walls, cold, shining metal tools. The silence was empty, sterile, as if she’d suddenly been struck deaf.
“I’m needed here,” Susan said. Her voice rang hollow, flat, tempo-less. She hesitated, trying to proceed without the guidance of the score, reluctant to endure the tunelessness a second time. Carmen and La Muchacha would need a closer eye, a softer hand, a warmer light. “I’ll get a room here set aside for her. Maureen or Dovile should keep an eye on her. Lisa can measure her contractions. I’ll check in periodically.”
A slight head twitch up and down. And then Ange was gone.
Susan lifted the compress, and offered her puzzled patient a foggy smile. Three days of rest, no heavy lifting, hourly application of the compress for ten minutes at a time.