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I can’t breathe.
My lungs have imploded; I’m crawling into a ball, straining to detach myself from the chaotic din and blurred outlines of the psychedelic haze swirling around the room.
“I am so sorry,” a voice says, breaking.
I clap both hands over my ears, twisting out from beneath the hand on my shoulder. This can’t be happening. I simply refuse to believe it.
“Do you know anybody else in your family who you can call?” the voice asks, its professional tone back.
I shake my head wildly, but accept the pen and paper being held out to me all the same. Fingers vibrating, I write Aunt Elizabeth’s name and phone number in barely legible print.
“Thank you.” The voice leaves the room.
Blinking, I survey my surroundings for the first time. The room is devoid of color; everything inside is a bland eggshell white, empty as I feel. I briefly wonder how I look after so much loss of blood. Have the transfusions granted me some color?
“Can I get you anything, sweetie?”
The return of the voice. But wait, this voice is more feminine, breathier, higher. Too high. It slashes my eardrums.
I realize that the new voice is waiting for an answer. I force my numb lips to form the word, “No,”, but there doesn’t seem to be a sound escaping from my throat that feels like it’s been coated with a layer of sand.
“Alright, then. But have one of these cookies, anyway! Gosh, they’re delish.”
A warm object is forced between my fingers. The cookie. Gingerly, I bring it close to my mouth and sink my teeth into it. I regret it instantly, as I spit it out; it’s gritty as gravel crunching beneath the weight of a stranger’s feet.
“Don’t worry about it, hon,” the new voice comforts me.
Something creaks; a door slams shut. The noise alerts me, and shakes off the heavy cloud of lethargy that’s been blanketing me for the past few moments.
“Your aunt will be here soon,” the old voice informs me.
I lift my head to see the voice’s owner. “And then? Where will I go?” I inquire, the level of my voice barely a whisper.
“I daresay that your aunt will want you to stay with her,” he replies, shuffling a stack of papers. Then he turns around, hesitates, and plunges onward, “She will also . . . decide what to . . . do with your . . . parents’ remains.”
It all suddenly floods back to me in a gushing torrent: the uncontrollable skittering across the ice, the ear-splitting crunch of the force that had me thrown backwards, someone’s scream, mangled bodies in the front and passenger seats, shards of broken glass piercing my skin, the acrid smell of intense burning, and blood- the taste of blood fresh in my mouth.
“Get out,” the new voice orders, and the old one complies.
Arms envelope me in a tight hug as the new voice whispers, “There, there, love. You’re going to be all right,” as the tears flow from my eyes, thick and crystal clear droplets.
And for the first time today, I can finally breathe.