What She Did – Chapter One
Yes, she had to stay at her brother’s apartment Ruth told their mom. Yes, she knew that meant mom would have to find someone else to let the dog out to go pee during the day, but she still needed to stay over there.
Ruth made a list of things she needed to do before she got there and another list of things to do after she arrived. The final thing on the first list was to pick her brother up at the rehab place. The first thing on the second list was to recheck his apartment one more time for any alcohol. She found none.
She cooked dinner for her brother, who was uncommunicative and surly. They watched TV until late then he went to bed. She wasn’t comfortable going to sleep until she was pretty sure he was out for the night. She finally faded off around 4am, sleeping on a fold-out couch in her underwear.
What the Fire Did – Chapter Two
She was aroused from a dead sleep by the smell of smoke. She immediately started coughing and her eyes started burning. She couldn’t see. She yelled for her brother but got no response. She crawled to his door with her t-shirt over her mouth, trying to breathe. She touched the doorknob and it burnt the palm of her hand. She called for him again but got no response. She crawled back towards the front door and opened it. She got up and ran down the stairs out onto the lawn.
Ruth was in pain, her legs felt hot and she smelled burning flesh. She saw a TV news truck, an ambulance, a cop car and a bunch of people hanging around, many pointing at her. She collapsed in front of the ambulance just as a paramedic was coming towards her. They were able to get her on one of those rolling beds they use and started to investigate what her injuries were. She was able to look back at the apartment for a brief moment and saw 3 buildings burning, including the middle one she had run out of.
She was whisked off to the hospital where she found out her legs had been pretty badly burned. She was exhausted and pretty much passed out once she got out of the ER and into the ICU. She was awakened again and again for various reasons but it was all a blur.
What The Nurse and Doctor Did – Chapter Three
When she awoke the next morning she was jolted by seeing the massive bandages on her legs. She felt like the world started spinning as she realized where she was and what had happened to her. She dropped her head back on the pillow and let the world spin.
When she raised her head back up a nurse was walking in. He introduced herself as Samha, asked how she was doing and explained what was happening. She had her burn wounds cleaned out a bit last night, they were covered in a cream to help loosen the remaining dead skin, then they were wrapped with gauze to protect them. This dressing was going to be taken off this morning and her wounds examined by the doctor. Then they would be cleaned again and dressed again. This would be repeated twice a day until she was ready for a skin graft, if it was needed. She told her the rest of the medical treatments would be explained by the doctor when she came in.
Ruth was about to ask about her brother when the doctor came in. She was perhaps 50 years old, had wiry salt and pepper hair pulled back in a pony tail and wore black rimmed glasses. Her full lips were covered in a deep but bright red lipstick. As much pain as she was in, she wanted that lipstick. She thought it very weird that she thought that. The Dr. smiled and started talking as she looked down at the chart. She introduced herself as Dr. Fernandez. Ruth asked her straight out, “What happened to my brother?”
Dr. Fernandez looked at her with kind eyes and said, “Your brother wasn’t able to make it out. I am very sorry.” The world started spinning and she dropped her head back once again.
What Her Dad Did – Chapter Four
She pretty much slept through the first 2 days. When she awoke her father was there. He had brought Ruth her phone, her tablet, her latest Vogue magazine and a book that had been on her nightstand. He had also brought a small rolling suitcase with her makeup and other toiletries as well as a underwear, various tops and a sweatshirt for if it got cold.
Her mother would be at the hospital later, her father said. She had an appointment at the funeral home and had to take the dog for a walk. Ruth didn’t mind. She would rather see her father anyway, less stress, less guilt, less feeling inadequate. She knew her mother loved her, but she also knew she loved her brother more. She would figure out a passive aggressive way to indirectly blame Ruth for his death, she had no doubt.
There was a food tray on the rolling thing, she didn’t know what those things were called. Her father asked her if she wanted to eat and she realized she was very hungry. She wolfed down the salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, not caring in the least that it tasted institutional. She actually smiled when she got to the Jello cup. It was her favorite flavor, grape.
What the Fire Did, Part 2 – Chapter Five
Ruth and her father talked for a long time about what happened and he filled her in on some details. The fire had started in the apartment next door. A burner had been left on under a frying pan and the leftover grease in the pan had caught on fire. They think it had caught a dishrag that was next to the stove on fire and that it had fallen to the kitchen floor and caught the a little kitchen rug and part of the cabinet door on fire. That led to the entire kitchen going up.
When the people in the apartment realized what was happening it was way too late. They ran out the door and the air coming in fed the fire even more. The kitchen wall was the shared wall with her brother’s bedroom and the fire took out that wall almost immediately. It’s very likely he was dead from smoke inhalation before she had even woken up her father said.
What the Nurse Said – Chapter Six
When her father left she had her dressings changed. She was completely grossed out to see her legs so violently stripped of skin, glistening with bubbly disgusting wet…she didn’t know what it was. What is under your skin but before the muscle called anyway? It didn’t matter, it was terrible and that’s all she knew.
If that wasn’t enough, it hurt like hell to take of the bandages, clean the wound and put new bandages on. She decided this recovery process would be a good ‘enhanced interrogation’ technique for spy masters. She knows she would tell anyone anything they wanted to know to stop this pain, that much was for damn sure. She was glad Samha the nurse wasn’t asking questions though because he would have blushed at her confession. As bizarre as it sounded, even to her, having this incredibly handsome but gentle man tend to her wounds was just about the most loving thing that had ever happened to her in her life. She thought it extremely unlikely these two things would ever be combined, but right then they certainly were.
She thanked him, telling him she could never do what he did, it was just so hard and so gross. He then said something that changed Ruth’s life forever. He said, “But it’s actually very easy to do because I love you.”
“You love me? What do you mean, you don’t even know me.” She responded.
He said, “Is what I am doing a loving thing to do for someone?”
“Yes, of course.” she said.
“And that means I love you.” he said with a light smile.
He was just about to the door when he turned and said, “I know you are the same you know. Your mother told me of how you cared for your brother. I think you are a lover, not a fighter.”
Ruth sat stunned. Love, loving, lover. All of a sudden she understood the connection.
What Ruth Did – Chapter Seven
When Ruth got out of the hospital 5 weeks later her father picked her up and drove her to her apartment. As soon as he left she went down to her car under the car port. She tried to start it, fully expecting the battery to be dead but it wasn’t. She was nervous about driving, her legs were so weak and she had a stick shift that demanded a pretty strong left leg for the clutch. She gingerly drove around the apartment complex parking lot, realized it wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be and drove straight to her brother’s grave.
She sat on the wet ground and talked to him for a long time. She told him she had tried to get to him and apologized for not being able to save him. She asked him to say hi to Grandma and Grandpa, told him she would take care of his record collection. She told him about Samha and what he said about love. She said that that one comment had clarified exactly what it was she was to do with her life. She hated that it took such a tragedy she told her brother, but she wanted to let him know that his death had at least one good thing come out of it, his sister now knew her purpose in life.
After she left the cemetery she drove back to her apartment. She sat down at her computer and wrote an email to her friend Mandy from college. She knew Mandy was off in Thailand helping at a orphanage, having seen a few Social Media posts of hers over the past 6 months. Ruth wrote asking if she needed any help.
Ruth joined Mandy at the orphanage a month later. Mandy actually ended up coming back home to the US 3 months after that. Ruth however stayed at the orphanage. She met the love of her life, a co-worker at the orphanage who was raised in the local village. They were married 3 years after she arrived. They adopted one child from the orphanage and named him Samha.
Ruth lived with no regrets, loving deeply and completely the rest of her life.
Drawing and story © 2015 Marty Coleman