The Taste of Pennies
Published on / 1 Chapter(s) / 9 Review(s)
Walter Wexler's had a heart attack, and the only person who can save him has just been hit by a train. How will he survive? * This is the final version of a short story I've done for my creative writing class. I like the flow, pacing, and most of the characters, however it has its bad spots. If you see them, please let me know! I'd like this story to be everything it could. :D
Nova Greene sat at the end of the hospital bed, watching as a physician tended to Walter Wexler. Walter was pale and shaken, layers of dried sweat caking the visible portions of his skin.
He yelped as the doctor placed a stethoscope over his chest, “Sorry about that,” he laughed nervously.
The physician smiled. It was a smile Nova had seen several times in hospitals. It was intended to make its recipient feel at ease, more comfortable with the man that would save them. But what a deception it was. Walter wasn't expected to leave this hospital room and there wasn't a person here that didn't know it.
Nova was being called by the doctor, “Yes?”
“May I speak with you for a moment?”
“Of course,” Nova moved around the bed, leaving Walter with a smile.
“You're the reporter?”
“Yes, Nova Greene,” she extended her hand.
“Edward Tog,” he shook her hand firmly, “I'm Walter's cardiologist.”
Nova knew where this was going.
“Mr. Wexler's still in critical condition. It's going to be tough for him to relive everything that's happened,” he paused as she crossed her arms over her chest, “I'm not asking you refrain from interviewing him, because I respect him. I'm asking that you pay attention to his reactions. I'm going to make my rounds on this floor, so if you have any problems, if he has any problems, get help. If he's short of breath, if he starts rubbing at his jaw or arm in a manner you think is strange, talk to someone immediately.”
Nova became very aware of the acrid scent of bleach and iodine. The room absolutely reeked of it.
“There's always a nurse on hand just down the hall, but you should be able to find someone before that. And don't press that `Call Nurse' button; it will take too long to get someone down here. Go out in the hall and yell for help.”
Edward's brows pinched together as he waited.
“Of course, I'll keep a close eye on him,” the iodine was settling into her nostrils.
“Good,” Edward extended his hand, “he's so grateful you're here, please don't forget that.”
Nova took his hand and shook it, “I know.”
The door clicked behind him as he left. Nova wanted to run to the bathroom and pull the iodine from her nose; she could feel it coating the insides of her mouth and the thin film that protected her eyes.
She took a deep breath and moved around to his bedside, a nervous energy fluttering around in her gut.
“Nova is your name, right?”
She turned to him, slowly, half expecting to see his heart laying atop his chest, “Yes, Nova Greene. And you're Walter Wexler.”
“For the next little bit,” he laughed, “don't be worried, I'm ready for whatever God's got planned.”
Nova pulled a worn notebook from her bag and moved the only chair in the room to Walter's bedside, “Where would you like to start, Mr. Wexler?”
“C'mon now, call me Walter. I've got a big story to tell you and I'd like to skip the formalities.”
Nova smiled, but couldn't help feeling it looked a lot like the one Dr. Edward Tog had given Walter only a few minutes ago. Her heart sagged inside her chest.
“You going to talk to the little girl today?”
“Caroline? No, not today. She's got a few surgeries to make it through first.”
Walter expelled a noise that Nova had never heard before; it was a mix between terrific sadness and exhaustion.
“You've been praying for her?” Through dry eyes, he was sobbing.
“Yes, yes I pray she's able to find strength.”
No, Nova didn't pray for Caroline, and wouldn't. The ease she felt the sentiment would give Walter forced the comment, but she couldn't help feeling he understood.
“She's the reason I'm doing this, people have to know what she done. They have to.”
Nova opened her notebook, “Then let's begin.”
Walter Wexler pulled away from the train station at 4:47 a.m. He was running a little behind, but he could make up a few minutes out on the tracks.
His wife, Mitzie, had kept him long this morning, worrying herself with his health. Rest today, that's what she'd told him, rest today and have a replacement come in. You're not well.
Walter would never miss an opportunity to be out on the tracks; wouldn't miss it for anything. And dammit if Mitzie tried to say she didn't know it.
“I've got to go in today Mitz, it's a big haul and no one can do it. If it makes you feel better, I'll see that doc in the morning. He'll give my ticker a good look.”
Mitzie was still reluctant to let him leave when the door closed behind him.
His heart was fine, not a thing wrong with it. It had survived over a dozen heartbreaks and was doing him proper to this day.
It did get to feeling pretty strange sometimes though. It shook like a leaf inside his chest once, and he'd thanked God Mitzie hadn't been there. She would have made such a fuss.
The railway stretched out before him and felt he was exactly where he was supposed to be. He eased himself into his routine and waited for the rest of the day to pass by in its regular, uneventful ways. He would pass the same trees he past just last week, he'd cross the same bridges and feel the same twinge when someone would weave their way around the arm guards. His whistle would blow at those that got too close, but the day would still continue.
“It was around 1:30 when I stopped for lunch. Not stopped for lunch like y'all think of it, I just parked myself on the tracks and ate the lunch Mitz made me.”
Nova scribbled over the graying pages of the notebook, her scrolling cursive breaking into print as she worked to get down what he was saying.
“You got a tape recorder?”
Nova stopped, “Tape recorder?”
“Just seems like it'd be easier.”
The image of the train parked on the tracks, leaves of red and orange fluttering down around it slowly began to fade from her mind, “Yes, I do. I'll get it.” The image dissipated as she reached down to the torn bag which housed years of such tales, and pulled out a Sony tape recorder. “Here we are.”
Walter fidgeted as it clinked against the faux wood of his hang-over bedside table.
“I'm fine to write this out, we don't need to use this.”
Nova was longing to get back into the train.
“No, this is easier.”
She nodded and perched her pen at the ready; now she could focus on how his body told the story. The lifts and dives of his voice, his hesitations and quick spurts of thought, all of them added richness to the tale he was telling.
“Like I said, I stopped at about 1:30 for lunch. I'd been eatin' pretty fast for the past couple of days because, well, Mitz must have been distracted when she made it. There were eggshells in my egg salad a few times and my coffee was almost all grounds. She put only a few tablespoons of water into the brew.”
Nova scribbled his sadness into her notebook.
“I guess she paid more attention that morning. The coffee was hot and strong and the egg salad sandwich was just how I liked it. She even added the little dab of ketchup I liked.”
He laughed and looked to Nova who was not laughing, but taking her pen across a piece of lined paper. She looked up to laugh with him, but the moment had passed.
“So, I finished at about two. It may have been earlier, but I was so happy with my lunch. And the track, heavens the track was so beautiful. During the fall, the trees start to weigh in on the train, they push their leaves as near to it as they can.”
The image refreshed in her mind as she noted his dazed and dreamy state. He was back in that moment, feeling the trees as they laid a carpet of vibrant flakes at his feet.
“Everything was pretty normal from then on. Had a fella' try to outrun me, but he stopped before anything happened.”
Walter's hands fell to his lap.
“Let's take a break; I need to get something to drink anyway.” Nova set the notebook down, its pages closing in against one another.
“Could you do me a favor?”
She rose from her seat, “Sure.”
“Will you ask about her? Ask how she's doing?”
He turned his head toward the shaded window and swallowed.
Caroline Ngaio moved restlessly in her seat, sending flecks of dead cigarette flitting to the plastic mat beneath her. The wind whipped it up toward her nose where it twirled and aggravated her sinuses before it lopped out of the window, laughing.
She rubbed her reddened nostrils until they cracked, and took another slow nicotine filled breath. The collection of it at the back of her throat dried it to the point of burning, but nothing could feel as good, not right now.
The hollow car pooled the carbon dioxide-nicotine mix in the passenger's seat before it sifted back to its origin, then was sucked out of the car, “Hard day,” she said.
Caroline sniffled, prickling pain fluorescing over her eyes and nose. She rubbed her temple with her free hand, the other guiding the car's steering.
She rubbed harder, “Almost home.”
The pain mounting in her sinus cavities dissipated in the plume of smoke that popped from her hood.
Caroline leaned forward, her weight causing the wheel to creek, “What the hell?” Confusion turned to fear as a second smoke signal rose from beneath the hood. The car began to shake.
Caroline wrapped her fingers around the steering wheel, “What's going on baby?”
The car jumped forward, the whiplash action knocking her nose against the indented finger holds at the top of the wheel.
Blood sprayed in droplets over her shirt, her hand now crimson. She wiped the back of her hand across her face and whimpered as she gauged the enormity of her surely broken nose. A band of blood, thick but runny stained the length of her sleeve from elbow to wrist.
The road ahead of her was hilly and as she topped the second and final hill, her car started to sputter. It slowed as she descended, but lurched forward as it reached a level plane.
She plugged the heel of her hand over the nostril spurting the most blood, “What's the deal here kiddo?” The empty seat next to her could tell her nothing of the problem going on under her hood, neither could the remaining flecks of cigarette ash below her.
The car lurched forward again, propelling her toward the train tracks just ahead.
“Get me over the tracks,” her words were slow and thick, blood trailing down the back of her throat, “and then you quit. We're too close to try to stop now.”
Her fingers wrapped around the hard plastic of the wheel as it jumped forward one last time.
The precarious tilt she was in as her vehicle finally came to rest told her she had in fact not made it over the tracks, but that she was stuck on them. The nose of the car jutted out in front of her, her front wheels hooked to the ledge that separated pavement from steel.
She snatched the keys from the ignition, and then jabbed them back in, trying to start it up again. She glanced down the tracks; there was nothing. She jiggled the keys around in the starter and when it didn't fire, took them out again. Her eyes jumped down the tracks; still nothing came.
Before she exited the car, she grabbed her cell phone, and dialed 911.
“I saw it as soon as I came around the corner.”
“The car?” Nova set her Styrofoam cup of water on the overhanging table.
He nodded; his eyes were working down the thin blanket covering his legs. Trees sprouted out before him, the silver car with its nose hanging over the tracks now only a few feet away. He flinched, curling the blanket into his fists.
“I could see the driver's side door opening,” he rubbed his eyes, knuckles pressing the gentle orbs back into their sockets, “she shoved her palms into her eyes before it happened. I didn't want to watch either but things just got so still. Things went really slow,” he watched the silver car disintegrate beneath the hulk of the train, the remainder of the front end clinging desperately to the tracks, “until we stopped.”
Nova stopped the tape recorder, “Let's stop for now.”
“The car was still together enough for the passenger cabin to come with it,” he could see Caroline in there, her hands pinched so tightly over her eyes, “she never looked. I wanted to stop seeing but a blink would have taken an eternity.”
Nova saw his eyes following the train as it slowed from the obstacle in front of it. She clicked the recorder on.
“I threw it into stop, but trains just don't stop on a dime. It takes a bit for all that weight to stop moving.” He blinked a few times and looked to Nova, “Once we did finally get stopped, that's when I realized somethin' was wrong in here,” he pointed to his chest, “I've had a heart attack before so I knew what was happening. I tried so hard to keep an eye on that car. I watched it, I watched her in there until I couldn't anymore.”
Nova could see Walter Wexler was convincing himself passing out from a heart attack wasn't acceptable. Not in this situation.
Caroline watched as his right arm leapt to his chest, his eyes gaping at her from the engine room. She threw her hand over her face a second before the collision.
Just don't look, don't look, don't look, don't look repeated in her head like a mantra. If she looked, this could really be happening. This wasn't happening.
Muted sounds of metal scrapping against metal, smells of plastic melting in the intense heat barely registered. Just don't look.
Fire licked at her feet as she came to rest a few miles down the tracks. She could see it, working up her bruised and broken flesh, but she couldn't feel it.
Oh God, she couldn't feel it.
Panic tagged along quietly as she realized what had happened.
The thick plastic skin of her car had begun to melt, the metal innards and frame puncturing the passenger cabin. The car now so far down the tracks surely couldn't be recognized as anything more than a heap of metal, carelessly dropped onto the tracks by some wayward engineer.
Caroline was caught in attention by the driver side window. It had been blown out, but the frame of it hadn't been damaged too badly.
She began planning how she could remove herself.
“I don't know when I woke up; I don't know how much time went by. My chest felt real heavy and my mouth, it kinda' tasted like I'd been suckin' on a whole bunch of pennies.”
Nova sipped from her cup of water.
“It took a minute, but I could hear an ambulance. I thought it was one of them that had gotten me back, but when I looked at her,” his eyes fell to the thin blanket again, Caroline's bleeding face staring down at him, “I knew it wasn't. I knew it was her.”
Nova set her notebook down, “Did she say anything to you?”
He shook his head, “I think so, but I don't remember it. Things were going too fast. That ambulance was going to be there any minute but she was starting to pass out. There was so much blood,” Walter lifted his hands as one does when they're passing them under a spigot. “I did what I could to stop it, but I don't know much about medical stuff. I knew it needed something in front of it to keep all the blood from coming out, so that's about what I did. I parked my stubby hands over her shoulder,” he mimicked the action on his own shoulder, “it was the right one that was real bad. Looked like it had hit the ground or something.”
“How long did it take for the ambulance to arrive?”
“Not long. I didn't know it then, but she had dialed 911 before it had even happened. The operator had heard the crash,”
A tap plinked on the door.
“and sent every available ambulance, fire truck, and police officer.”
Nova couldn't help restraining her smile.
Walter's mouth twisted, “What?”
She continued smiling but rose from her seat, and headed for the door.
He pinched his brows and clenched his teeth at her sudden disregard for his story.
Nova wanted to spoil the surprise and tell him how happy he should be, but he would know, and it would be okay.
She opened the door.
Walter turned back toward her, his eyes overflowing as the woman in the doorway stepped into the room
Caroline limped along with a crutch and an IV drip. She smiled and bent down to hug him, “Hi Walter.”
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