Eileen arrived at the only medical center in McCloskey, sixty-seven hours after her daughter’s accident. Clearing the automatic doors, Eileen saw the waiting room with its stacks of months-old gossip magazines, the walls slathered in a glossy shade of pastel. She felt a quiet and implied lack of urgency, as if nothing here had happened, nor was anything expected. The hum of her suitcase wheels against the tile was the first thing she’d liked about Kansas since landing at the single strip airfield five miles outside of town. Like a claim of her intentions, she thought, a voice in a place where no one ever spoke. “I would have been here sooner,” she called out into the quiet of reception. “But no one called.”
Nearly half a day had passed in between the accident and the AmeriCorps supervisor calling Eileen’s office in Boston. Eileen had been briefed since then, in a single phone call from an otherwise unreachable medical social worker and in a series of calls from Anna’s roommate. So she had a sense of what to expect as the nurse led her to post-op. She knew the number of stitches in Anna’s forehead and the proper names of the nerves damaged in her leg, where the vehicle had struck her as she rode her bicycle. She knew the chances of amputation and the odds of the bleed in Anna’s brain either expanding or contracting, and the possibility of that having been Anna’s final bike ride. She was preparing to process these details, so specific and graspable, when the nurse retracted the curtain. Up close, pink swelling lay beneath the stitches like a pursed and skeptical mouth. The smell of leftover Thai food rose from Anna’s wounded leg. The earlobe on her impacted side had so cleanly detached that it barely looked like an injury at all. Remembering the advice of her therapist, Eileen allowed herself a single moment of emotional recognition, for all the melted brass to fill her lungs. But then Anna’s eyes began to open, and Eileen reminded herself of the work to be done, and the difference between what was true and what was needed.
Eileen had booked a fourteen-night stay at the only hotel in town, a Best Western two blocks from the medical center. Alone in her room, Eileen told everything that she allowed herself to feel to Don, in her first phone call home to Brookline. He laughed and said he hoped Anna was home in time for everyone to go to Pride together. He’d had so much fun with them the year before. Maybe she would recover by June. Maybe the local AmeriCorps chapter would have a float and she could ride on it. It was still only early April. Just warm enough in the middle of Kansas, apparently, for bike rides down long roads with perfect visibility for miles.
In a voicemail to Anna’s father, Eileen said that their daughter was stable, but did not elaborate.
Eileen shared the most details in her email to the lawyer. Lightning Litigation (“Adebo and Adebo: We argue for YOU”) was the only personal injury law firm in McCloskey. The only clerk and paralegal in McCloskey were also named Adebo, though Eileen couldn’t determine, if any, the relation. She emailed everything she had gotten from the hospital and Anna’s friends. The predictions of the neuro specialist in Kansas City, the text chain from the girl who had seen the accident from the bike behind Anna, the police report with the make and model of the car (a 1991 Honda Civic, traveling in a south easterly direction at roughly thirty miles per hour). She headlined everything “for discovery” just in case that would help down the line. She omitted, for the moment, Anna’s words to her in the hospital, in the clipped cadence of labored breaths that may have been physical or may have been neurological, it was too early to say. “Even after. What he did. He didn’t do it. On purpose. He’s just some kid. Who made a mistake. Me ruining his life wouldn’t make. Me heal any faster.”
Eileen simply communicated to the lawyer her confidence in Anna agreeing to civil charges and basic damages. I bet he was texting and driving, she thought. I bet he was drunk.
This was McCloskey, she thought to herself as she tried to sleep. A town best defined by the fact that everything it held, be it a hospital, a hotel, a law firm, or a resigned woman, was the only example for miles in all directions. The population was 2,000. This didn’t seem so few, really. 2,000 people was enough to fill the lower level of a stadium or populate a jazz festival. She knew it was close-minded to wonder why people lived in towns where the only landmarks were water towers and church spires. They probably wondered about people like her, and