The bright flash and noise registered only a second before I was literally knocked out of my shoes. Butch took me to the sidewalk, my hip and arm scraping over the cement as a wave of heat blew over us. I felt Butch grunt, but he stayed on top of me, his arms over my head, as my fillings rattled. I lay there, stunned, bleeding I was sure, and unable to hear properly. I think I was yelling, possibly? Or crying? Yes, crying for sure.
Butch rolled off me. I began to crawl away; not sure which side was up or where I was going. My eyes were filled with tears, the air thick with acrid smoke. My head hurt. Had it bounced off the sidewalk? I sat down and reached up to find that my hat and wig were gone.
“My hat!” I shouted into the carnage, ignoring the chaos around me, or perhaps unable to process it. Butch appeared in front of me then, seemingly dropping out of the fire and madness, his face coated with soot and blood, his hazel eyes worried. “My hat! My hat!”
He spoke to me but the ringing in my ears was too strong to hear him. He ran his hands over me, my head and shoulders, arms and legs. I whined when he touched my hip. A burning chunk of something floated downward and landed beside us. A chunk of his upholstery maybe, or perhaps my beautiful hat.
“Sweet baby Jesus,” I gasped and began shaking, violently. Butch gathered me up, slowly easing me to my feet. Wobbling and weak, I blinked at the carnage. People lay on the street and sidewalk in pools of blood. Other people were running to them, shouting at each other or to whoever would listen. The fiery shell of what had once been Butch’s Caddy was burning madly. It was all too unreal. Like I was watching the evening news and they were showing a video of a terrorist car bombing in some far off country. This was Colchester, Illinois! This kind of thing didn’t happen in America.
“… me now… Ralph…bottom…” Butch gave me a tender shake, to pull my wide eyes from the nightmare around us. I fell into him, my head spinning, blood seeping through my white slacks. Oh, my white suit! I looked down and then wailed. I was a grimy mess. Blood and filthy black ash, tears in my slacks and suit jacket, my corset ripped and hanging open exposing my flat chest.
“Pour quoi t’as fait ça?!” I asked, confused about him shaking me and now pulling on me, leading me from the explosion site. Shouldn’t we stay? Talk to the police? Get medical attention? My head felt muzzy and my hip—
“I don’t speak French,” Butch said, arm around my waist. I stumbled along at his side, grateful beyond measure to hear his gravelly midwestern accent once more. Then, all the sounds assaulted me at once. The screams, the shouts, the car horns, the wails of sirens in the distance, people crying…
“My heart is aching,” I said, unable to think clearly.
“I know, baby, I know.” He led me around the corner, blood dripping from his nose to his torn dress shirt. Where had his jacket gone? “We can’t be here when the cops arrive. They’re all on the take. They’ll haul us in and hand us over to Carlotta. We need a ride.”
“I…yes…I…my hip hurts terrible bad,” I whined as we weaved our way through terrified people looking skyward as if expecting an incoming projectile.
“We’ll get you to Doc McCoy, baby, just hang in there. Yeah, here we go. He won’t miss it, the presumptuous dick.” I clung to Butch tightly as he pushed through the crowds, then yanked open the passenger door of Raphael’s Mustang and eased me down into the seat. Moving my right leg and hip was excruciating. “Rest easy, baby, I got this.”
He jumped over the driver’s side door then bent to the side to hotwire the car. Within seconds, the motor roared to life and we were off. I had no clue where Raphael was, nor did I care. Eyes closed, heart thundering, hip and elbow screaming, I rode along without even taking the time to buckle my seatbelt. My eyes flew open when we passed an ambulance, sirens screaming, on our way over one of the twin bridges.
“Hey, try not to fall asleep,” Butch said, patting my thigh gently.
“Yes, I…why? Did I sleep?”
“Maybe a little,” he replied, slinging the stolen car from one lane to the other. “Fucking head wounds,” he grumbled, shaking his hair which sent blood flying all over the place. I leaned forward to study him. There was a ragged cut up by his hairline. I pulled off what remained of my jacket, ripped off a sleeve, and reached over to put the once pristine silken material to his brow. “Thanks, it’s nothing. Just some blood; head wounds are messy.”
I nodded, knowing nothing about head wounds or cars blowing up. “Your car…” I glanced around behind us at the north side of Colchester. Nothing looked amiss. The skyscraper’s were still shiny and silver, the low clouds of humidity mixed with car emissions still clung to the buildings, the traffic still flowed inward.
“Yeah, the fuckers. That was my fault. I should have been paying attention, not left it unattended for so long. Move over, you fuckfaced shit!” Butch whipped the wheel to the left, bounced off a curb, and side scraped a bread delivery truck. “Oops. Shame about that paint, Ralph.”
I squeaked and threw my hands over my eyes, only to realize that my right hand was now coated in Butch’s blood. I may have gagged a wee bit, then possibly fainted. Must be I passed out, because I came around a moment later, or so it seemed, to Butch hauling me out of the Mustang and running me into the free clinic on West Augusta Avenue. My head rested on his shoulder. I threw my arms around his neck and said something as the smells of his sweat, blood, and smoke all assaulted me at once. Even so, I pressed my nose into his throat, as we barreled through the waiting room packed with the poor and homeless.
“…dropping off and then coming around. Concussion maybe, and his hip is in bad shape…”
Butch was speaking. The room we moved into was brightly lit, the walls a pretty robin’s egg blue with white cabinets.
“… on the table and let me look him over. You need to go with Linda and have an x-ray and then get that head wound stitched up,” Dr. McCoy barked at Butch. My back and legs touched the exam table, the paper crinkling under me. It was cold in here, and far too bright.
“I’m staying with him,” Butch said. I forced my eyes closed when someone began cutting away my slacks while the good doctor bent over me. He smiled at me. Such a cute man, so kind and giving, so sweet.
“Hi, how are you feeling? Can you tell me your name?” Doc asked, then shined a tiny light into my eye. I groaned softly.
“Caliste Richard,” I whispered in reply. He asked me numerous other questions, then we played a word game of some sort. When he pronounced me free from brain injury, I heard Butch offer up a raspy prayer. Doc McCoy glanced at someone behind him.
“Please go get that tended to. You’re bleeding all over the patient and the exam room. Go!” Doc snapped while tending to me. “That’s good, Caliste, now, can you tell me how you got here? Linda, please take Mr. Hurler to exam room three and call Nancy in to assist you. I’ll need Craig to go with Nancy to attend to Mr. Hurler.”
“Hey, baby, I’ll just be next door, alright? You need anything, you scratch on the wall,” Butch said, wiggling around the doctor to gaze down at me. “I lost my phone. Doc, can I borrow yours?”
“Take mine…in my clutch.” Then I realized I didn’t have my pretty white purse.
“It’s okay baby, I have Doc’s now. Rest your pretty head.”
A few tears leaked out, but I put on my bravest face. “Yes, of course, I shall claw like a naughty kitty,” I replied as I dredged up a wobbly smile. “Thank you for your gallantry.”
He looked like he wanted to touch me, or perhaps lean down to kiss me, but the doctor then scolded him once more and Butch disappeared from view. Doctor McCoy was speaking to someone, another man. I lay there, stripped bare, with only a paper gown laid over me for modesty, hissing and moaning. When I felt I could take no more, I scratched on the wall over my head as the massive abrasion on my hip and elbow was cleansed and gently bandaged. I was shuddering and distressed, walking an emotional tightrope. Mama always said I was a frightfully delicate and dramatic child. That had not changed over the years.
A scritch-scritch reply. The urge to scream and draw into a tight ball faded, just a little bit. Eyes closed, I pictured hazel eyes smiling at me as he teased me about my divineness. Perhaps I could manage to get through this ordeal without another breakdown, one tiny scratch on the wall at a time.