"DEAD WEIGHT" ~ a short story by A. Edward Cooper

I woke up in the worst pain I'd ever experienced. My muscles ached, and my skin was on fire. The sour smell of piss hung heavy. My head was throbbing. I looked at my bandaged arm, lying limp to my left, and tried to lift it, but it wouldn't budge. My fingers would twitch when I wanted to move them, so I had some hope.
              My right arm was still working, so I hoisted myself up, the blanket grating against the raw pink flesh of my forearm the whole time. I was in a hospital, but I didn't know why. The steady beeping of the machinery felt familiar. I'd been hearing it in my sleep all night.
              Looking around the room made me sick. White walls, brown curtains, faint yellow stains on the blue sheets. All I had to look at was the vase of flowers in the framed still-life painting in front of me. I shut my eyes, and the fluorescent lights painted my vision red.

It must have been an accident. I remembered driving. I remembered the crunching of the metal frame.

I remembered the blood.
              The pulsating pain in my head forced me to lose focus. I hazily looked around for water but couldn't find any. I watched a nurse reach her desk, hoping she would see me lying in my fluids and try to help. She watched her phone for a while before another nurse took the seat beside her. She turned her back to my room and started talking about her plans for the night, brushing her blonde hair with her fingers. I focused on the back of her head for a while and tried to pick up on what she was saying. She turned to get up, and my eyes shot back to the painting before me.
              An older woman was being fed pudding across the hall. I watched through the open door as she took each spoonful, never bothering to wipe the spit from her chin. She didn't have the same brightness behind her eyes most people still have at that age. She was sick of being stripped of her independence. Sick of being treated like a baby. After a few minutes, the nurse left her room and closed the door behind her.
              I counted her steps to my doorway, but she stopped when the smell hit her. With a forced smile, she walked up to the bed and asked how I was doing. I told her I needed water, and she was gone again.
              She made sure to tell the other nurse I needed new sheets.
              Dinner was a few hours later. I was too nauseous to eat, so I stabbed at the chicken for a while. I occasionally cut a cold piece off and gnawed on it briefly before spitting it into the trash.
              Nothing was on TV, no one had come to check on me in almost an hour, and I had no idea where my phone was. I couldn't take another minute staring at the wall. I don't know how the old lady was able to manage it. I was about to lie down for the night when the nurse led a police officer into the room to see me.

He pulled the chair up next to the bed and introduced himself. This didn't seem like any interaction I had had with the police before. He was calm enough to relax my nerves.
              This felt different.
              It felt somber.
              "Hello, Mr. Harris,"
              I was trying to piece the accident together in my mind.
              "My name is Officer Clarke."
              It had to have been a large truck to deal that damage.
              "I'm glad to hear you're doing alright. When I saw your car, I was sure no one escaped it."
              Playing it back, I could still remember the loud sound of the door caving in and the window shattering into thousands of tiny shards.
              "Mr. Harris..."
              I was rolling over the curb.
              "I'm sorry to have to tell you this,"
              My head slammed into the steering wheel as the car flipped.
              "But your passenger-"
              "My wife."
              How the fuck did I forget her?
              She had been lying across the back seat. She was the reason we were even in the car.
              I knew what he was getting at. I wanted to puke.
              "Your wife. Unfortunately, she didn't make it."
              "What do you mean?"
              He solemnly told me that she had suffered extreme damage to her head and face.
              She was partially ejected from the car and was so severely injured that she was completely unrecognizable.
              He explained there was no hope of bringing her back, as she had most likely died on impact.

     I had to try my hardest to suppress a smile.
              He said nothing about the hammer wounds in the back of her skull.


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