The concrete was hard, and Persephone had been lying on it long enough that there were bruising aches where her hip, shoulder, wrists, and ankles touched it, supporting her weight. The aches were easily ignorable in the wash of the greater pain lancing through her head. however. The coolness of the concrete eased that pain slightly. Therefore Persephone remained pressed against it.
She had been pressed against it for some time, for some uncounted time. She had been concussed before and knew that the name of her pain was concussion and that the pain would not go for a day or more. She clung to the idea that the pain would pass. The pain was strong but temporary. There would be a time again that had no pain in it.
She moaned and wormed forward, curling her neck to press her other cheek and side of her head against a new portion of the concrete, one that hadn’t been warmed by her body heat. The rest of her body did not appreciate the cold, but it’s preferences were of no concern.
Cold could be dangerous, she knew. Concussions were dangerous. She had gone to the hospital for three days for the one she had gotten in sixth grade. She had lost the time from getting into the elevator at the hospital to the middle of the next day. According to her family, she had been awake and talking through that time, it’s just that the memory of that time hadn’t stuck. She couldn’t remember a bit of it.
The next day her head had still ached enough that she hadn’t been able to get upset when the man had come to take blood to test. She had never had blood taken before and she was small enough, and her blood pressure had dropped far enough, that the poor guy had had to “go fishing”, slipping the needle in and having to dig around when it didn’t find blood. He had apologized. She could tell that he felt bad. But she couldn’t bring herself to care about it. She was tired and full of a larger pain. She could just look away and ignore it. She remembered realizing that and being glad of it. Glad that she didn’t have to be upset about the needle ripping this way and that way.
There was a word for that effect. She had learned it later. She knew it now. What was it? She was tired and full of pain now. She was not in the hospital, so there was no one to come and poke needles into her. No one to come wake her up, either, which she knew was dangerous, You had to keep waking people with concussions up and checking on them. She would worry about it being dangerous later. She couldn’t make herself worry about it. If she died, she would just start leaking bodily fluids into the concrete.
In the sixth grade she had lost a word due to the concussion. It was the word “talk”. She had been able to say the word “speak”, but not the word “talk”. It had been odd and worrying.
She had gotten the concussion in a fall at recess. Back in the classroom, the pain had gotten worse instead of better, as everyone had expected. There hadn’t been a big lump, so the teachers hadn’t been concerned. But the pain had gotten worse and she couldn’t concentrate enough to do her classwork.
She had tried to do her penmanship, because that didn’t require thinking. But her handwriting wouldn’t stay on the line. It would start out fine and then curve downward, plunging toward the bottom of the page. She erased it and tried again – twice. Then she had given up.
It had been hard to sit and just feel the pain and wait for school to be over. She couldn’t even look at the clock and reassure herself that it was getting to be closer to time that she could go. Her eyesight had blurred in the center. If she looked away from the clock, she could see it, but not see what time it was. But if she looked directly at it, there was a blur that she couldn’t decipher at all. She had started weeping, trying to be a quiet as possible.
Pam, the girl sitting next to her had whispered to her, asking questions. She had explained that her head was hurting. She couldn’t remember the whole conversation, but did remember that at one point she had tried to tell Pam about being worried about not being able to say the word “talk”. And each time she tried to say it, it came out a different way. It would come out as something with a T in it, but each version didn’t sound like anything English.
After four or five tries at it, Pam was waving her hand and calling for the teacher. Was she worried? Frightened? Persephone couldn’t remember. It had been hard to pay attention to other people through the pain. The teacher had called her Mother to come get her. That had been a relief. Not as much of a relief as she had expected, but at least she was acknowledged to be hurt and didn’t have to sit in the classroom. Keeping track of things was someone else’s problem, now.
At home she had started throwing up and had discovered that there was a brief second in mid-heave during which there was no pain. Without having to think about how to go about it, she had watched her body shift to heaving regularly in order to reach that moment of surcease. Mother had called the pediatrician and had taken her into his office.
By the time she had reached the office, she had been mumbling to herself that it would be a good thing to die if that meant that the pain would go away. She had tried to be good and quiet, but the pain had worn at her until she couldn’t hold back the crying. They had taken x-rays and sent her to the hospital. There had probably been other things. Later, they had said that her blood pressure was frightening. She remembered the x-rays, though, because she had had to hold her head in painful positions. They had talked her though it. Just a little while. They’re taking the picture now. Almost over. They had had to give her a basin, which had been a funny bent shape, because she had had to throw up and throw up after the added pain of those contortions.
They had given her a shot to stop the nausea and then someone had said that she had thrown it up. That caught her attention because she couldn’t think of a way that something injected into her blood could be thrown up via her mouth. The liquid hitting the funny basin had been oddly textured and yellow green, not like anything she had eaten that day, so she was willing to believe that it was the shot that she was throwing up.
She was glad that they had given it to her, then, because the moment didn’t come if there wasn’t anything to come up. She was tired enough by then that she just let herself go wherever they pushed her. She must have been carried, because she had been too tired to walk. Not that she remembered being carried. She remembered being wheeled into the hospital elevator. She thought it had been a gurney and not a wheelchair, but she wasn’t sure. And then there was a blank. And a day of aching tiredness, during which she slept a lot, in between being wakened. Sleep felt good.
Now there was no one to wake her and she wasn’t throwing up. Either it wasn’t as bad a concussion, or it was the second day.
No one to wake her. No one to poke her with needles or take x-rays. No one to install an IV or to otherwise make sure that she didn’t dehydrate or die. That might be a bad thing.
Persephone wormed forward and turned her head. She shifted slowly, searching for the position in which the pain had least scope to roam. The room was mostly dark. No, it wasn’t a room. She remembered vaguely, that she was somewhere underground and that she might not be safe, for reasons only marginally related to the misery slicing and clenching through her.
The area was mostly dark. The smell of the concrete nauseated her slightly, the dusty odor sliding up her nose to rub against the bottom of her wounded brain. She shivered.
This area of the concrete was smooth, much smoother than most of the concrete down here, wherever here was. There was a patch of light a couple of room-lengths away. The light came down from somewhere in the ceiling. She believed that there were dust-motes sliding through that light, but that was an odd thought. She was certainly too far away to see any motes.
Perhaps she was remembering them. Perhaps the smell of the concrete reminded her of dust and, looking at the light, her brain had confabulated dust motes. It had been years since she had sat and watched dust motes in a sunbeam.
She must be falling asleep again. She didn’t think like this unless the pain was fading, and the pain faded as sleep washed through her. Pain was a deeply distracting thing. At a certain level, it took your whole attention and whole ability to think. It took over.
It had been three days before she had been even a little hungry last time. Maybe she had been thirsty before then. Probably not. She had sipped warm 7-up from a paper cup with a bent paper straw when it had been given to her, but that had been basic obedience.
So she didn’t have to worry about waking up hungry and too sore or full of pain to feed herself. She vaguely retained the concept that there was food and something to drink down here with her. And that no one would be mad if she ate or drank. Not about that. Mad about other things, maybe. She’d think about that later. She vaguely retained the concept that she would be very worried later. Perhaps frightened. But like the needle digging for the blood the last time, it wasn’t of concern right now. She could let it go.
Counter irritant. That was the word. The phrase. The concept. The way the brain worked. A large pain would take over the neural network and the signals from smaller pains and sensations were muted. A muffled echo of what it would otherwise be.
Good. She remembered the word. And she could probably say the word “talk”. There was just no one to talk to at the moment, and that felt like a relief. She could sleep now. She reminded herself to wake up. Dying might be painless, but it probably restricted your options.
She really hoped that she had gone to the bathroom recently. She didn’t want to clean up after herself if she was feeling this badly. She shifted, hugging her body against the cold and shifting partway onto her back, and fell asleep.
“Father claimed to have a very good memory. I don’t remember him using the word perfect, but that was certainly implied, and, like the bagpipe, Mother didn’t say no. Father spoke derisively about everyone else’s memory. He was particularly offended that his mother and sister did not defer to it, but persisted perversely in arguing from their own memories of events.
He had other things to resent about them as well, especially his mother, who hadn’t raised him properly. . . “
Persephone blinked. She was still nauseous and achy. She had groped around in the dark and had found a 3-ring binder. It had been against the wall, which was also concrete. It hadn’t been far from where she had been lying when she had wakened.
There had been blankets, as stack of them and a nest of them. There had been crates of bottled water, two of them empty and a third opened. There were no empty bottles. There were crates of food pouches. At least she assumed they were food. She hoped they were food, or would have if she had had the energy. In the dark there was no way to confirm.
The 3-ring binder had been shoved between a crate and the wall. The water had tasted sweet. She still didn’t feel like eating. She carried the binder near the light once her thirst had been slaked.
No, she hadn’t felt thirsty. She had felt achy and stiff and groggy and her head felt like a bruised impression of where the greater pain had been. She had tested to see if drinking water would be of benefit to her and it had been. So had the blanket, which she was now wearing wrapped around her and tented over her head.
She was just close enough to the light to be able to read. There was a 3x5 post-it on the front of the binder. It said, in her own handwriting, “the things inside are in no particular order. still organizing”
The contents were in different types and sized of paper. Some were stapled together. Some were printouts. Some were hand-written. That writing was also hers, even if she couldn’t remember writing or collecting any of it. The headache was surging back.
The writing blurred. She stopped reading. She was sitting on a folded blanket, with another blanket around her. They were army blankets.
Father believed that having a good sense of humor was a sign of a healthy personality. He had jokes that he repeated at appropriate moments. One was about a newlywed couple who had received a couple of army blankets as a wedding gift. They had written a happy thank you note to the giver: “our towels say His and Hers, but our blankets say US.”
Father always repeated the last line of his jokes with his head tipped down and his eyes crinkled with pleased sharing.
Maybe she should write that down. It was something to remember. She could put it ito the binder. A chill wind slid over her and she hunkered into the blanket.
She had two blankets and two bottles of water with her. The light was coming from a large rectangle in the ceiling – an open hole. It was going to get colder.
And darker. And the headache was rising. Her gorge was rising, too. She didn’t want to lose the fluid she had taken in though. She curled up, laying her head on the binder. She’d let herself sleep, to let the pain pass.
If she didn’t write down the joke, perhaps it would be lost. Why was she thinking that? Dad never forgot anything. Especially not his jokes. Sadness welled into the pain.
It didn’t matter. She forgot lots of things. Remembering never seemed to do Dad any good. Once he had said that if you gave him a date, he could remember something awful that had happened then. He was proud of his memory but not happy with it.
Persephone re-settled the blankets, folding the lower one into a mattress shape, to keep the chill of the concrete out of her bones. She tucked the other around her like a sloppy burrito wrapper.
The joke would resurface. The blankets were there to remind her. That was the way the human brain worked. It was associative.
The pain eased as she floated into sleep. Mother always approved quietly of Father’s pronouncements. It was proper for the father to have control and for the mother to be supportive.
Father’s mother hadn’t been supportive, but had wanted her own way. She was a bad woman. She had ruined her children. That was something that didn’t need to be written down. It was the bedrock of the family.
Persephone vaguely remembered being in therapy. No, not therapy - counseling. Counselors were cheaper. Their licenses looked like the licenses that beauticians posted on their mirrors. She had been in counseling. She had learned to carry a pen and wear a watch. That was progress, right? There were probably other things learned, too. Well, even if not, the pen and watch were handy.
What goes around comes around. If you drink water and your kidneys are working, there will com a feeling of pressure and urgency to wake you up in the morning.
Persephone didn’t want to move. It was dark and cold. But the pressure was not going to become less as time went on. It was something that she didn’t need to write down. The arrow of time would never relieve a full bladder.
If Mother’s mother were here, Persephone could ask her for a coffee can. Gammy Myrtle didn’t believe in stopping the camper for grandchildren in need of relief. It just encouraged them to ask for the camper to be stopped. She kept an empty coffee can for them to use. If they didn’t want to use the can, they didn’t really need to stop.
On at trip you stopped for meals and gas. Persephone had never seen Gammy empty the coffee can. But she’d seen Gammy demonstrate how to use it once.
Gammy was of a generation that had never worn pants. That wasn’t completely true. Gammy’s cousins has worn pants when that had become an option, but Gammy never had. She wore house dresses. She wore slips. She wore baggy underwear with short legs. She could pull the crotch to one side and insert the can into the pertinent area.
It would be nice to have a coffee can here. She’d lose no heat – well, less heat, using a can. Looking around for someplace to go was going to be painful and gross. There was no way this was going to go well.
She could squat near the blanket in the dark, but she didn’t know which way the floor sloped. Maybe she could test with some water from the bottle.
No matter what she decided, she’d be cold. She had never mentioned the coffee can to Mom or Dad. It was better to just go along with grownups, and let them argue about things without drawing attention to yourself.
What was she wearing? Would she have to strip in the chill? A slow, tentative check left the feeling that she was wearing sweats and socks. No bra. Probably panties. Definitely not a thong. She had never called them dental floss, but she’d heard the phrase and agreed.
She had seen Monica Lewinsky being interviewed once. She’d avoided listening to that whole sorry mess on the grounds that it was probably nobody’s business and even if it was, it was someone else’s problem.
But she had stumbled across this interview in passing. Monica had been asked if it was true that she had shown her thong and she had referred to it as a subtle flirtatious gesture. Persephone had turned of the TV. The woman obviously had a very loose definition of the word subtle.
The first thing to consider is whether I’m going to be able to unwrap myself and sit up (and how cold will it be (how much will it hurt?)). Persephone was lying on her back. Maybe if she turned over onto her side, the pressure of her bladder would ease. Maybe if she turned over onto her side, the pain in her head would spike.
It could. She knew it was possible.
Time was weighing on her like a dentist’s lead apron. No way to ignore her situation. Time to decide. Maybe there was a bearable option.
Persephone groped carefully at the blanket, pulling it down from her face. The middle two fingers on her left hand felt jammed – sore and stiff. She slid her right hand up to grasp the edge of the blanket and pull it down off her face. She brushed the right side of her face and pain bloomed, swollen and tight. She blinked, her eyes and nose running. For half a minute she was completely unaware of her bladder. Counter irritant. She shifter her lips, probed with her tongue. The right side of her upper lip was a little swollen. The teeth on the upper right side of her mouth sat in unhappy sockets.
She blinked. The stiffness of her face ran up the cheekbone and halfway up the side of her head. The skin on the crown of her head was properly loose.
It seemed an odd injury for a fall. Perhaps someone had hit her with something. Fear rose, triggering nausea. Persephone lunged onto her side, her knees, scrabbling forward to miss the blanket, her arm collapsing when her weight hit her injured fingers, then up again and crawling until the insistent heaving took her, wave after wave, the spasm not quite counter irritant enough to cover the fear.
How had this happened? Where was she? Did anyone know she was there? Was there anyone else here in this darkness? Would someone come back and be angry?
The spasms quieted. She couldn’t wipe her mouth. Her right hand and knees were holding her up above what could be a pool of vomit. She could see nothing. No light at all.
She shifted her fingers carefully then raised her left wrist to blot. Headache pain present and growing. It hadn’t liked the movement. Neither had her stomach, or her knees. An awareness of cold clenched around her and she shivered. The blanket. Where was it?
She tried scooting backward one step and could feel her ankles tangle in it. She stopped. A weaker wave of nausea hit, not insistent like the last. A wave of dizziness accompanied it.
Can’t stand. Not safe. Cold. Injuries. Don’t jostle hand or face. Shiver. Full bladder.
Dark. Maybe a puddle of vomit ahead.
Right are okay, though. Knees okay. She held herself carefully with her right arm and shifter her legs to sit on the side of her hip.
Okay so far. Pressure not scrabbling, deadline urgent. Not yet. But it would be. And she was already out of the blanket and the cold was already biting. Need to get back into the blanket soon. Don’t need hypothermia. Or pissed pants.
She shifted to sitting, pulled her knees slowly up, lifting her feet out of the blanket. The movement made her wobbly.
One sock rolled halfway down her foot as the foot slid against the blanket. She reached and pulled it back up.
Stay aware of the blanket. Turn to the side, reach forward with the right hand. The concrete floor is icy cold. Crawl forward. One knee. The other. Reach ahead.
Her fingers bumped something on the floor. She explored. It was a metal grate. Round. Her splayed hand could cover most of it. It had slots. She tried to lift it and couldn’t . She found the recessed bolts holding it down and gave up. She tried to slip her fingers into the slots, but they were too narrow.
Was it a drain? Or was it slots in a solid cover?
She wasn’t going to find anything better, odds were. Not in her condition. Needles to say.
She lowered herself to lay flat on the floor, pertinent parts over the drain. Please, it’s a drain. Don’t forget where the blanket is. The cold hurts. Think how to do this without more pain from the cold. The cold hurts. Think how to do this without more pain from the hand. The cold hurts. Thinking hurts. She could feel her strength going. Screw it. No plans. Just move. And if she peed her pants along the way, she’d go back to the blanket wet.
The drain was a small blessing, if it was a drain. No planning.
Persephone braced her feet and arched, hooked her thumbs into her waistband and pushed. Collapsed. Thumbs still in band. Waist not low enough. Shiver.
One more try then screw it.
Arch. Push. Collapse. Cold. Maybe the pants were low enough. Relax and let it happen. It’s so cold. Shiver. Warm tears slid down the side of her face and pooled in her ears, cooling. She considered the liquid flow of them and there was a sense of unclenching and release in the darkness.
She felt the warm and the wet of it, hotter than the tears. Was there steam rising in the cold? Would it puddle? Would she smell it? No. A drain, then. Small blessing. A spasm of nausea, dizziness, and weakness passed through her. Get back into the blanket. Fast.
She couldn’t remember where the blanket was. She was too tired to panic, but she felt vaguely concerned. Memories could come back. I couldn’t be far. Pants up.
She arched and pulled. It was easier than lowering them had been. Up in one try. Remember the movement of laying down and reverse it. Get up on knees and crawl backward. Feel for the blanket with the feet.
She found the blankets. Was surprised that there were two. Couldn’t remember two, but knew to keep one under her.
So cold. Both hands stiff now.
She tried to wrap one blanket around her, but she was sitting on part of it. Back to knees. Pull. Energy going.
Persephone concentrated on getting the top blanket wrapped over her. She could get positioned properly once she was warmer.
It was a good idea. But sleep dive over her and she toppled forward. She was lucky to fall mostly on the lower blanket and lucky that the upper blanket was covering her head, which substantially lowered her body heat loss through the rest of the night. But one foot stuck out of the blankets, on the concrete. She slept like the dead, temporarily unaware of pain.