Sherene stood on the roof of South Central Bank, where she worked for several years, and thought of her tombstone, envisioning the gray colored “Sherene Turrington”. She hated her name and wondered if her grave marker would be flat or a robust marble slab. Her wondering mind brought her to the roof, and it kept her sitting on the loose gravel for several hours contemplating the fall to her death.
The rain predictions she read yesterday were countered by the warm sun ripping through the few slight clouds. The gray blue overcast caused a precursor to a smile, a slight crinkle at the corner of her mouth, but not quite a smirk and far from a full smile. Sherene walked backwards to the edge of the brick building and fell back.
The afterlife lacked the beauty she expected. The walls were white, and she had envisioned stone walls shoved miles deep into the earth. She anticipated her afterlife to be in the bottom of an ancient well with just a small dot of light visible from the cold mud. The walls of her well wore soft mold of fantastic colors, the darkest greens and browns so dark they edged toward black.
She woke up in a hospital bed and it seemed the afterlife had escaped her.
“Ms. Turrington, I am sorry to tell you, you’re fired,” a man with a gun on his hip told her.
Just coming to, Sherene noticed the gun before the man carrying it, but in a few seconds she realized the man was a cop.
“No bed side manner, I’m surprised,” she said with a sneer.
”And who the fuck are you?” she continued. “You can’t fire me,”
“I didn’t fire you ma’am, your boss Mr. Kilpur fired you, he called the hospital a little while ago and I figured I would tell you since I need to talk to you about the charges—”
“My boss called to fire me? Did he ask how I was?”
“Of course, the doctor told Mr. Kilpur you were in good condition, and you will recover just fine with a little rest. I am here to—”
“At which stage of the conversation did he ask about me? Did he call and ask first thing or did he fire me and then ask?”
“Ma’am, I don’t know if he asked first, but we have to—”
“Let me ma’am, please!” the officer said raising his hands to Sherene and motioning them as to calm an errant pony nearing the edge of a cliff.
The officer hustled into the hallway, and returned with a young man with noticeable ears. Not large ears or small ears, but cavernous ears with deep ridges.
“Remember the call for Ms. Turrington?” The officer asked the nurse.
“Yeah, yeah,” the nurse said, “Fired her over the phone, that’s messed up.”
The officer noticed the nurse holding back a snicker.
“This is Ms. Turrington and we are curious if—”
“Did he fire me first? Before he asked about me? About my health?”
“Uh, I didn’t take the call ma’am and I’m—”
“Who took the call?”
“Mike at the front desk,” said the nurse.
“Mike at the front desk!” Sherene said into the hallway assuming the front desk was within ear shot.
“Ma’am its okay, I’ll get Mike just rest your head, you had a big fall and sustained some substantial, but recoverable head damage. You just need to take it easy.”
The officer already left to get Mike by the end of the nurse’s warning and came back with Mike in tow. Sherene appreciated the Officer’s timeliness.
“Hey, what’s up?” Mike asked.
“Did my boss fire me before asking how I was?” Sherene said before the nurse or the officer had a chance to speak.
The officer and the nurse looked at Mike with fraught anticipation and a look of ‘don’t fuck this up’.
Out of his pockets Mike revealed a sea green colored sticky note and read from it. “He said to tell Sherene Turrington she is fired and not to come back, her things will be dropped off at the hospital.”
The stuffy room filled with more heavy air and the three men awaited Sherene’s scorn.
“That’s it?”
Sherene thought about the last conversation she had with her boss. The nurse’s ears continued to dip and rise.
“For that call, yeah,” Mike said.
“He called back?”
“Well, his assistant did and said they all wish you a quick recovery,” Mike from the front desk said with a smile.
“I knew that fucker always hated me, five fucking months I worked there,” Sherene said staring forward at the damning white walls, her tone drenched in vitriol. The white repelled her backwards into the white bed with the white sheets and into the white wall behind her. Absorption into the muddy well sounded so cozy to her, she sighed with desire.
“Thank you gentlemen, please let me talk with Ms. Turrington now,” the officer insisted of Mike and the nurse.
“Ma’am the family is pressing charges for the damage caused to their child, and Bob’s Magic Party World is pursuing charges for the damages to their equipment caused by your fall,” the officer said. His eyes imperfect, wide set, but soft. He spoke with sureness, but his voice was easy, and without judgment, Sherene took notice.
“I didn’t fucking fall, I jumped and what are you talking about? Who is Bob? What child? Why the fuck am I here?” she said with disappointment. She expected to be in the soft mud.
“I doubt it helps, but your boss, Mr. Kilpur, is the one who called the ambulance as I understand it,” the officer said.
Sherene stared at the white wall in silence.
“Ma’am, we need you to come to the station and,”
“What does that mean? The station? Is there an address?”
“Here is my card Ms. Turrington, I recommend a lawyer if you don’t have one.”
“I had one, but he died in a plane crash, had nice hair too. Shame to lose that hair.”
“Ma’am, you broke several bones in a child’s legs today and—” the officer informed her.
“Find a lawyer, I get it,” she said. She did something wrong, she wasn’t in the muddy hole, and she hurt a child, but she was unsure which mistake disgusted her more.
“As for Bob Steeler,” the officer said “of Bob’s Magic Party World, you caused an estimated $10,000 in damage when you destroyed his bouncy house.”
“Fucking family day, damn it, I forgot to help with the set up. That’s why that prick fired me,” Sherene said. She was sure family day was scheduled for after her death. Mr. Kilpur would have fired her posthumously she thought, or at least he would have liked to.
“You have my card ma’am, we will call you, get a lawyer and get well.”
The officer left the room. Flashes of rotten flesh meshed into the sinking wet mud of the old well cascaded her vision turning the egg shell white walls into a cozy home.
Sherene’s phone rang, her mother. She spent several seconds considering how she fell several stories onto a bounce house and broke a kid’s leg without damaging her phone and then answered the call.
“Sherene, how are you? They say you hurt a kid, Sherene.”
Sherene’s mother sprinkled their conversations with excessive “Sherene”s. Sherene considered if her disdain for her name originated from her mother’s overuse. She held no serious negative feelings about her mother, but hearing her name with such consistency soured her palate to her name and the “ene” sound in particular.
“I didn’t try to hurt the kid mom, I was trying to hurt myself, not the kid”
“Why d’you do that Sherene? We have Pilates tomorrow Sherene and your aunt is making linguine Saturday, your favorite Sherene.”
Sherene’s mother spoke well above the appropriate volume for this conversation or any conversation not happening during a concert or in a night club. She has no memory of her mom speaking at a normal volume and her Midwestern accent amplified the sting in the “ene” portion of the “Sherene”, it stabbed her inner ear. Sherene considered the deep ears of Mike from the front desk and how the severe pitch of her mother’s voice would register in his bottomless ears, assuming Mike had superior hearing to those with a less intricate inner ear design.
“I’m about to leave, I’ll come to you, and I need a lawyer.”
“Sherene, my goodness, we will get some ice cream, Sherene. Do you want ice cream?”
“Bye mom, I’ll see you later.”
Sherene, Sherene, Sherene.
Sherene flew far and fell fast.
Now a little boy is in a cast.
Sherene got up and left the hospital.
Sherene walked outside and into the busy street.
The EMTs had the shortest commute of their relative careers. They pulled out of the hospital parking lot and to the street running next to the hospital. The two EMTs eyed a woman on the ground.
“Female, unconscious, breathing, severe head trauma, and two likely fractured legs,” one EMT said to the ER doctors as they rolled Sherene along the white linoleum floors.
“Two middle-aged women, both with neck and back damage, whiplash, and two kids, but they seem all right,” another EMT informed a doctor.
Both women were livid and had already called their lawyers.
Sherene visualized a green waterfall of floating bricks with fish trapped in the jagged cement holes flapping their tails. She felt great.
“Hello again Ms. Turrington,” the officer said standing in the doorway.
“You are back, I thought we had a meeting at the station,” she said.
“I had to turn around, Ms. Turrington,” he said.
“I feel too fucking good to talk to you,” Sherene informed him while she swam in the numbness of whatever pain killers they had her on. She didn’t even need the hydrocodone in her purse.
“Ma’am, Mrs. Linda Charles and Mrs. Kelly Charles will press charges. They both sustained injuries in the incident.”
“Jesus, they should sue Honda not me, and it wasn’t an incident, I jumped in front of the car,” she said. “Are you the only cop on duty today?”
“The women in the car you ran in front of were the parents of the boy you fell onto, so you will be facing a slew of charges from the Charles family.”
“A slew? Oh, my,” Sherene said.
Sherene felt again that universal forces brought her to this absurd room and its pale walls. Sherene noticed the officer glance down at his feet. The officer paused for several moments and Sherene started to slip back into her fantasies of decay and simplicity. Desire for simple truths took her inward and her created scenarios simplified her reality. She has fixated on the well long enough she doesn’t remember the origin of the self-designed imaginarium, she is accustomed to the mossy stone walls and dreams of finding them on the other side of life. The officer’s nervous state prevented Sherene from slipping off, she anticipated more bad news.
“Would you like some ice cream? Your mom wanted me to ask,” he said as took Sherene’s phone out of his pocket to show her.
“I gave up ice cream, new diet.”
“Well, it’s a special occasion, two ER visits in one day. The hospital has decent ice cream. What kind do you like?”
Sherene noted the Officer’s genial attitude and genuine concern, but didn’t have the patience for it. The well awaited her.
“I’m fine,” Sherene said, staring at the white walls and then lowering her eyes to look at the white blanket covering her feet. “Thank you.”
“Well next time you jump off a building, or run in front of a car maybe you will consider breaking your diet. I think you’ve earned it.”
Sherene continued to stare at her feet with the stone well images returning and the absolute desire to eliminate all the white in the room. A bubbling of black vomit right now would be ideal. Her mother always took her for ice cream when she was younger, she liked all the flavors then and wished they let her mix all of them into one giant waffle cone.
“I’ll be in contact ma’am,” the officer continued. “Make sure you get a lawyer,” he reminded her. “It may not be cheap, but you will save money in the long run considering, well, considering everything. And get well.”
“Well is just what I need.”
The officer lingered, “For your mom, she’s worried.”
He continued to linger until Sherene responded, “I know.”
The officer left and Sherene pulled the bottle of hydrocodone from her purse. She swallowed every pill left in the bottle in search of the soft cold well. She imagined the mud and it turned to chocolate ice cream, and she turned away from this thought with tears in her eyes. The tears never fell.
Sherene woke up, not in the damp well, in a hospital bed, but a different bed, or at least a different room. Perhaps the afterlife is a fucking hospital. Her mom sat on a chair in the corner of the small room with light blue walls. She wondered if the walls had always been this shade of blue, barely blue, like white with a flutter of sky blue as if the painter dropped an infinitesimal bead of blue paint into a five gallon bucket of white.
“Mom, you made it,” Sherene said with little enthusiasm, but more excitement than she intended. She didn’t want to give her mother too much hope. Sure her body was alive, but nothing changed, the well’s pull remained. Her head felt better, but exhaustion had its hold. A successful overdose in a hospital is tricky. She didn’t have time to decide how it felt to be alive, but her mother’s presence softened her wish to sink into the dark mud.
“Sherene, I’m here, Sherene.”
“Thanks mom.”
“Sherene, I was thinking we can do Pilates and linguine tomorrow and we can still do linguine Saturday too. Your aunt said she will make linguine tomorrow and Saturday, Sherene. Isn’t that great, Sherene? Once with mussels and once with Shrimp. You can never decide so your aunt will make both, Sherene,” her mother said with a look of anxiety.
“Sherene, please tell me what’s going on, why did you stop eating ice cream?” her mother asked. “It makes you feel better. I told the nice officer to get you ice cream, and he said you refused. Do you want to get ice cream when we leave, Sherene?”
“The cop is here?”
“He’s outside in the hallway. I was running to your room and he asked if I was your mom and told me you didn’t want any ice cream, Sherene.”
“I got sick of the flavor.”
“Which flavor, Sherene?”
“All of them mom, every flavor. I gave it up years ago. We went all the fucking time. It didn’t stop anything. I’m in this bed for the third time today and I will be here again and ice cream doesn’t do a damn thing. And I’m thirty years old mom, I don’t need ice cream. I don’t need anything.”
“But you used to love getting ice cream with me, Sherene.”
Sherene looked at her mother and thought about what she saw when she looked at her only daughter. She believed her mother when she told her she was proud of her for every stupid thing she did even if her mother still congratulated her for graduating High School as if it happened hours ago instead of twelve years past. Her mother saw a contributing person. She wished she saw herself how her mother saw her. She wished she saw anyone the way her mother saw her. No job, no actual relationship, no children, no house, shitty car, and zero percent success on three attempts in one day. Awful percentage. She thought her determination to sink into that damn pit was an admirable trait. Chocolate ice cream popped into her head again at the thought of the cold mud. The old stone well can wait, she thought.
“I’ll get ice cream with you mom.”
Her mother smiled.
Caleb, a Navy veteran, works as an analyst in Washington, D.C. His passions apart from reading and writing fiction include film, basketball, bourbon, and traveling with his wife Melody. Born in Louisville, KY, Caleb lives in Silver Spring, MD with his wife, and their two dogs Lenny and Shawna.