I was paralyzed, I think, helpless to do anything but watch as the ball fell to the floor. I heard a huge noise: an explosion of some sort, like a shotgun. I thought of the ice that had ricocheted off the roof when my mother drove away. Death sound. The thud of what cannot be stopped. For a second I thought, It's the end of the world. My world, I meant. In a way this was true. In a matter of seconds, everything changed. If I had turned left instead of right, perhaps it wouldn't have happened; if the fly I'd swatted had never come in through a hole in the screen, if I'd never left New Jersey, if a butterfly in South America had never unfurled its wings and with a single beat altered everything, now and forevermore.
When I awoke in the hospital I knew at least part of my wish had come true. I could taste it, the burning flavor of death. The wish I'd made in the car traveling down to Florida had accomplished half of its mission, but I was still half alive. I couldn't move my left side. Arms, legs, trunk, had all been affected. There hadn't been a multi-organ disruptionno kidney or lung effects. But my heart had been affected and there had been neurological damage, the two most frequent causes of mortalities in lightning-strike victims. All the same, I was informed that I was lucky to be in Orlon, where there were more lightning strikes than anywhere else in Floridaglorious Florida, the top state for deaths and injuries caused by lightning. Because of this, the medical care in our county was expert. I was supposed to be grateful for that. I would need physical therapy and a serious relationship with a cardiologist, since my heart now skipped a beat. I could feel it fluttering inside metorn posterior pericardium, they said. It was as though a bird were trapped inside me, one that belonged in a place outside the cage of my aching ribs.
While I was being told about my condition, with my brother and Nina looking on, the only thing I could concentrate on was the clicking inside my head. That wasn't unusual in cases such as mine, the doctor assured me when he heard my complaint. Neither was my nausea or the pain in my neck or the swelling in my face or the fact that my fingers were numb. But look at all I'd escaped! Pulmonary edema, tympanic membrane rupturedeafness brought on by sound and shockthermal burns from ignited clothing, serious vascular effects, heart attack, cataracts, lesions on the brain, the eye, the skin.
I had been unconscious for thirty-two hours, hence the IV in my arm. Naturally things were fuzzy. Of course, my brother and Nina looked concerned. And so I didn't mention anything when the nurse came in with a dinner tray. I didn't say a word when I noticed that the Jell-O I was being offered was the color of stones. The nurse herself, not more than twenty-five, appeared to have long white hair. The flowers my brother and his wife had brought me seemed dusted with snow. I understood then. I had completely lost the color red. Whatever had once been red was now cloudy and pale. All I saw was ice; all I felt was the cold of my own ruined self. Perhaps I had an ocular reaction to the heat of the strikevitreous hemorrhage was one of the many potential effects on the eye, along with corneal scratches and cataracts. Why the absence of a color would affect me so deeply, I had no idea, but I suddenly felt completely bereft. I had lost something before I'd known its worth, and now it was too late.
From The Ice Queen, pages 3-31 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2005 by Alice Hoffman. Reproduced with the permission of Little, Brown & Co.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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