Day 2: The Wait (Paul)
Paul carried a large bowl of water with a fresh towel tucked under his arm, going to check on Sharon. The day had passed in a fuzzy blur of phone calls, loud noises, and endless waiting. He killed time by looking out the windows every minute, trying to keep one eye on the black drones hovering outside their houses while catching glimpses of the kids in the tree fort.
He and John inventoried the house, and they were in decent shape, at least for the next week. Enough so they didn’t need to worry, although if this stretched out longer, they’d be in real trouble. The focus now was on getting stuff to the kids. Krista suggested throwing food at the treehouse, and although everyone agreed that wouldn’t work, no one had a better idea.
He also had Sharon and her leg to worry about. The Internet still functioned, so he did some research by Googling ‘horrific leg injuries’ and ‘part of lower leg missing’ and ‘can you die from losing an entire calf.’ The results were awful, and in a rare case of solidarity on the Internet, everyone agreed the only response was a hospital.
He tapped on the door to the guest room and pushed it open. Sharon was sitting up against the backboard with her leg propped up by a pile of books. She clicked away on her phone. Her face was pale, and Paul worried he wouldn’t be able to keep her going. Sweat beaded on her face and soaked her hair, from either the injuries or the heat. He’d been trying to keep the AC running, but it was tough to keep the top floor of the house cool in the summer.
“Knock. I came to check on your leg. I have more pills too.”
“Thank you, Paul. I was checking on Heather and Martin.” She held up her phone. “Everyone seems okay for the moment, but I wish we could all be together.”
“We’ll figure something out,” he said, sitting on the side of the bed. “I brought stuff to clean up your leg. May I look at it?” Sharon nodded.
“You need to be careful, Paul. The wrapping needs to stay on the leg. I know it looks awful, but the best thing for it at this point is to keep it wound up and to not disturb it. If you pull the wrapping off, it might re-aggravate the wound and cause it to bleed again. Loss of blood is a bigger concern than infection at this point.”
Paul was glad she was still lucid enough to give him clear directions. Her expertise was invaluable. Although she must be in horrible pain, she was keeping her spirits up and checking on her family. He wished he had spent more time getting to know her before this.
“Can we talk while you check?” She asked. “It will help me get through this. Martin says I’m such a gab, he can’t get any quiet.”
“That’s no problem at all, Sharon. Why don’t you tell me about how you and Martin met? We’ve known you all this time, but I never heard how you got together.”
Sharon smiled, and Paul picked up her leg, trying not to touch the area near the wound, and looked underneath. The sheet they had tied around her leg last night was damp with blood. How much had she already lost? He suspected they weren’t tying it tight enough, but he worried that stopping the bleeding would require a tourniquet so tight she’d lose the leg.
“It’s not much of a story.” She closed her eyes and leaned back against the headboard. “We met after college through mutual friends. He was big and charming and stupid, and I was young and sort of pretty and also stupid. I hadn’t met many boys interested in me, and Martin can turn it on when he wants to.”
“Oh, I bet you did okay.” Paul looked up from his work. He pictured Sharon as a younger girl and could get the appeal. Blonde hair, that cute upturned nose she passed on to her daughter, and a pretty smile. But life wore her down, leaving lines on her face and gray in her hair. He thought about that old expression, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. Sharon continued.
“One night, early when we were dating, another boy asked me out. It’s the only time in my entire life I’ve had two fellows interested in me.”
Paul readjusted the cloth and set her leg back down. The bedsheet underneath was sticky and crusted together where the blood had dried. The stain was almost the size of a dinner plate.
“You should have seen Martin’s reaction when he found out. Oh my. He was so angry. You wouldn’t know it to talk to him now, but Martin can have quite the temper.”
“Martin? Really? He’s always seemed calm.” Paul tried to settle the version of Martin he had in his head with the one she was describing. They’d never talked at length, nothing beyond neighbor-speak. Car’s looking good, Paul. Thanks, man. Love your lawn. Did you see that rain last night? Nasty business. Krista seemed to find him entertaining, but Paul didn’t see the appeal.
“Well, he’s fine most of the time, but when he doesn’t get what he wants, he can get feisty. What he wanted was me, and he didn’t want other boys coming around. I don’t even know what happened, but Martin had a talk with the other boy, and he wouldn’t even talk to me after that.”
“Did they get in a fight?”
“Nothing like that. But Martin has a way about him. Whatever he said, it worked, and it was him and I after that.”
The story sounded closer to violent than romantic, but Paul smiled and gave Sharon’s arm a squeeze.
“It looks like the blood is still soaking through the cloth, but not as much as before. Are you sure I shouldn’t change the dressing?”
She shook her head. “We’re hoping that a clot forms, which will stop the bleeding. If you pull the cloth off, it might pull off the clot, and then it would start again. All we can do is keep it packed up and hope for the best.”
“It’s wound tight.”
“Thank you, Paul.” She smiled at him, although it was tired and sad. “Last thing. Can you check my toes?”
“I don’t think any of them went to market if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Funny man. No, you need to tell me if they’re looking discolored or purple. Poke them too.”
He did as she asked, pulling back the sheets to reveal her feet. The toes looked a little bloated and dark, like a balloon filling with ink.
“Tough to tell. They’re darker than normal. What am I looking for?”
“We’re trying to see if any blood is getting through to my foot. Give them a small poke.”
He nudged her toe. “Anything?”
“Not really. Fuzzy. Not numb, but close. Once the ambulance or police come, I’ll be taken care of. Was there any more word about that?”
“Only to stay inside the house. Nothing more than that. I think it might be a while before anyone comes.”
“Oh. Okay.” A universe of glum despair lived in those two words, and he glimpsed what she must be like at home. Keep her unhappiness to herself so her family didn’t suffer. His heart ached, and he cast about for something to keep her spirits up.
“Tis only a flesh wound, m’lady.” Against all reason, Paul adopted an exaggerated British accent, mimicking what’s he’d heard from John. He doffed an imaginary hat at her. “It’s hardly worth the bother, wut.”
Sharon laughed a little. “That’s a horrible accent, and I’m insulted on John’s behalf.”
“Yes. It’s awful. How’s the pain?”
“Not as bad as I would have thought if you told me two days ago I’d be sitting on your bed, missing most of my leg. The Ativan you gave me is helping a lot; it’s making the pain bearable. Is there any left?”
“Yeah, Krista had about half a bottle that I’ll leave on your nightstand with the Tylenol.” He had never felt more pathetically useless in his life.
“I’m sorry I’m such a bother,” she said.
“It’s no bother. I’m going put everything back and then we’ll see about getting you something to eat, okay?
Their conversation was interrupted by the abrupt blare of the alien sirens going off. They both clapped their hands to their ears and closed their eyes while waiting for it to pass. It seemed to Paul the sound was getting worse. It pierced into his skull, like digging an ice pick into his brain. His eyes watered, and he ground his teeth.
As soon as it started, it stopped, leaving behind a silence so profound he had to swallow a few times to pop his ears.
“God help us,” Sharon said. She wiped tears off her cheeks. “That’s horrible. It never stops.”
“Tonight, I’m getting us all earplugs,” he replied. “We have some from when we went on vacation, and they might help. At least, it can’t be worse.”
“Anything,” she said, nodding. She paused for a moment and cocked her head to the side. “You haven’t told Martin or Heather about this, have you?”
“No. I haven’t. But I think we should.”
“Good.” She cut him off with a wave of her hand. “Don’t tell them. They have enough to worry about without stupid old me. Besides, even if it takes time, I’m sure we’ll be out of this soon. There’s no need to add to their stress. Right?”
“Right.” He gave her a thumbs up and pulled the cover back over her leg. With a last check to make sure she was comfortable, he told her to rest and left the room on soft feet. It felt right to tiptoe.
In the hallway, John came out of the bathroom, wiping his thinning gray hair back from the temples. He still wore the same clothes as yesterday. Paul had a few shirts that might fit if he didn’t mind the stretch. John poked a finger in his ear and grimaced.
“You know what helps with that noise?” he asked.
“Not a god damn thing.”
Paul stared at him for a moment before breaking into laughter. After the stress of the day, it was good to get some of it out, and he found he couldn’t stop. He realized he was on the edge of hysteria and he bit back his giggles before they turned maniacal.
“How is she?” John asked.
“Not good. The bleeding won’t stop, and she’s pale. We can keep her from the worst of the pain with pills, but she needs real medical attention.”
“Hopefully someone will figure something out and come get us.”
Paul considered it. “We should find out everything we can. Get on the computers. People have been posting non stop about this. Someone must have figured something out. Maybe we can get ideas, or at least figure how to get food to the kids. If we don’t do something soon, Krista will run outside, killer robots or not.”
John clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll get to looking. I’m no whiz with computers, but I can stumble my way around.”
Paul glanced outside the window. The sun had fallen, and it was too dark to see the hovering robots. As crazy as this seemed, they had been stuck inside for over 24 hours now. One solid day. And his kids were about to do a second night in the treehouse, with no water.
He needed a plan.