The room appeared to Sera as if it was encased in a dark cloud. She had to squint to make out the forms around her. Wondering vaguely where these strangers had come from, she rubbed her eyes sleepily and reached towards her bedside table for the glass of water she always kept there. Her hand fell dully onto the floor instead.
Startled, Sera looked more closely at her surroundings and was astonished to discover that she was sprawled on the floor in her bedroom. Her mind swam with confusion; then suddenly a sandy haired man dressed in some kind of uniform approached her and joined her on the floor. He began to poke her with instruments that she recognized, but could not name at the moment. She watched him silently, an irrational anger slowly spreading throughout her chest.
Who the hell is he? she thought, her blue eyes narrowing defensively at the man beside her. A noise across the room drew her attention and she noticed another man, dressed in the same kind of uniform, talking to her son a few feet away. How did they get in here? How dare they just barge into her apartment? She clutched her long, flannel nightgown closer around her body as she tried to think of something to do to protect herself and her child from these strangers. But her mind was so cloudy, she could not think straight. The man beside her swam in and out of her vision. No matter how hard she tried to focus, she kept losing sight of him. She was vaguely aware that he was asking her questions and that she was not answering him.
The other man walked out of the room suddenly and Sera watched warily after him. That was when she saw the stretcher, sitting propped up in the tiny hallway outside of her bedroom. A sick feeling crept into her stomach, snake-like and quick. Her anger subsided as the twisting and turning fear coiled itself around her heart ... what the hell was going on?
Instinctively, her eyes jumped back in her son's direction, worriedly scanning his tiny limbs for any sign of injury or illness. But he did not look hurt or sick. And, besides that, she couldn't remember phoning for an ambulance. Her little boy watched her with big, blue eyes that were fearful, but unwavering. She reached out towards him and began to say his name ... only to stop as she realized that she could not remember what it was.
The man beside her was writing on a clipboard with a pen. The scratching sound the pen made seemed deafening. Sera turned anxiously to him, putting out one hand over his busily moving hand. He looked up at her in surprise, unaware of her inner chaos of emotions. She tried to clear her head and made a feeble attempt to speak to him. The result was only a faint whimpering sound.
"Just relax there, ma'am," he said, his voice soft and comforting as though he were speaking to a small child. He reached out, smiling, and caught the hand Sera had awkwardly extended to him. Her frantic eyes searched his boyish features and traveled rapidly over his broad shoulders, down to the long-fingered hand that now enclosed her own. "It's okay. We're here now. You're in good hands."
She blinked at him. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "Do you think you can stand up for me, ma'am?"
Without thinking, Sera nodded. But as she began to stand up, her knees threatened to buckle under her and her balance wavered. The man held tightly onto her hand and steadied her with his other arm around her shoulders. He spoke to her in soft, encouraging words as he helped her over to the waiting stretcher. Something about the kindness in his voice and the warmth of his touch made Sera feel like bursting into tears.
Sera sat wearily on the thin, white mattress, amazed at how sore and tired she felt. She stared at the man, hoping he would give her some idea of why they were wheeling her quickly to the ambulance. The late November air was so cold, Sera gasped for breath at first. Within minutes, the men had her inside the back of the ambulance; the one who had been doing all the talking climbed in behind her.
"My boy..." she whispered.
"He's going to ride up front with Tom," he said. He switched on a small light over the bench seat that ran down the side of the ambulance and sat down, resting his clipboard on his lap. Sera glanced past him, warily watching the darkness that seemed to pour through the tiny window, encasing her inside its black cloak. She wondered if it was still night or early morning. The front door of the ambulance made a thump as it closed; a few moments later the ambulance pulled into motion.
The man beside her was calling something in, to his dispatcher, she supposed. When he finished, he looked over at her and smiled.
"Are you warm enough?" he asked.
What kind of question is that? she wondered incredulously. In the middle of all this confusion, he asks me if I'm warm enough?
"Yes," she answered grumpily.
"Good." He clicked his pen and glanced down at his clipboard. "I just have to ask you a few more questions, okay, ma'am?"
She sighed, but nodded. She grumpily answered what seemed like an endless list of simple questions, ranging from 'what season of the year is it?' to 'who is the president of the United States?' Her anger began to creep back more and more with every question he asked. It simmered in her stomach, a comforting, familiar feeling. She hung onto it, her old friend in all this confusing mess. Here he was, prattling on with inane questions about the time of year, when she still did not know what had happened to her, how or why these men had gotten into her apartment, or why they were taking her to the hospital. Her answers got snappy and pointed, so much so that his blue eyes studied her worriedly as she spoke and his eyebrows furrowed thoughtfully as he looked at her, as though he were trying to see what emotions were behind her clipped responses. That expression only served to fuel her anger more; the thought of any man seeing Sera's vulnerable emotions made her call on every defensive maneuver she possessed. She was tempted to push him right out the back door of the ambulance--if she had had the strength to do so, of course.
"Okay, ma'am, last one: What day is today?"
The question seemed simple enough, easier maybe than some of the others he had asked her. But Sera lay there mute, her mouth opening and closing several times in attempts to answer that proved to be false alarms. She stared at the man for a few horrifying seconds, then finally stammered, "I ... I don't know." He made some markings on his clipboard. Sera continued to stare at him until her eyes began to sting from the intensity of her gaze. The sound of the ambulance rolling over the road seemed so loud to her that it actually hurt her ears.