«Can you believe those jackasses?» Kirk said in his normal voice. «There they are, dressed as carrots or buffaloes, screaming their greedy heads off so they can pick some stupid curtain and win a gag prize like a horny llama or something. You know what I'd do if I were on that show? I'd scream and squeal like the best of them and Monty would have to choose me. Then I would ask for the curtain girl instead of the curtain. I think she's listed in the Spiegel catalogue, f.o.b. Detroit, retail value forty-seven fifty. These daytime game shows make me want to puke.»
Amy began to cry. She didn't make any noise at first, just her shoulders shook as she sat at the end of the bed facing the television. Brent and Kirk turned to her. She didn't say anything, she just continued to cry.
Kirk swung his legs over the side of his bed and grabbed for his crutches. He stumbled from the room without looking back. Amy buried her head in her hands. The deals and the boxes and the curtains continued flowing from the television.
Brent rolled onto his side so he could see down the bed to where Amy was sitting. He didn't know why she was crying, but he wanted to comfort her. He felt he wouldn't know the right thing to say, though.
«What's the matter?» he asked.
«I don't know. I feel sad. I'm scared, Brent.»
«Why?» Brent asked.
«I don't know. I'm just scared. I wish I knew what was going to happen to us, to me.»
«Yeah, I know. But you're fine. Your mother says you're fine.»
«I'm scared anyway. I'm worried, Brent. I wish I felt fine.»
«Look, Amy. Everything's going to be all right. There's nothing to worry about. You'll be out of here soon and so will I, and nothing's ever going to get to Kirk. It would take a bulldozer to knock him flat.»
«I know. I'm being stupid.»
The television blasted: «And which curtain will you choose for the big deal of the day, Curtain One, Curtain Two or Curtain Three?»
Amy continued crying.
«Look, it's all right, Amy. I don't know what else to say.»
«There's nothing you can say, Brent. I'll be fine. I'm just scared is all. Like this show. Like if I had to pick one of those curtains, it would be the wrong one. They'd open my curtain and something awful would be there, something frightening. It's like a nightmare. The curtain would be open and everybody would scream, and I don't know what my prize would be, Brent, but I know I wouldn't be a winner.»
«You'll be a winner this time, Amy. You'll be fine. It's all right to be scared.»
«You never are though, Brent.»
«Yes, I am. I just never show it is all. I don't know why sometimes I'm so scared it hurts. Or I hurt so much I'm scared, but I never want to show it. I'd never mention anything like this to anyone except you and Kirk. You two are special. Otherwise I don't show it to anybody at all.»
«Thanks,» she said, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands and sniffling. «I just wish I knew what was behind the curtain.»
Kirk barreled through the door, pushing the lunch cart ahead of him.
«I don't know what's going on in here, but it's against the rules. How many times have I told you two, no one is allowed in a room alone without a chaperone, or you have to have at least three feet on the floor. Let's shape up, you two. The nurses are beginning to talk.»
«Let them talk,» Amy said. «You can't stop the course of true love.»
«I think I'll write a book,» Kirk said. «A girl and her pig, a heartwarming story of true romance.»
«Hey, I resent that,» Brent said, laughing. «I'm no pig.»
«No?» Kirk said. «But it's what's for lunch. I bring you, hot from the kitchen, today's luncheon speciality, cooked to a turn by the seven nonfunctionals at the stove: breast of sow's ear stuffed with artichoke livers.»
«It's artichoke hearts,» Amy said, laughing again.
«Not this time, honey. And it's not the only thing that will be choking around here.»
«You can say that again,» Brent said as Kirk lifted the platter lid and they saw what lay steaming on the plate.
«Yummy,» Amy said. «I could eat a horse.»
«Hang on,» Kirk said. «That's what's for dinner.»
The hospital was quiet. Dinner had long since passed. Amy was with Kirk and Brent in their room watching a rerun of The Longest Day on television. The troops were beginning to land. Sirens were wailing, guns were firing, artillery was booming through the small speaker.
Brent was idly sketching on a pad of drawing paper.
A tooth paste commercial came on the tube and the sirens continued to wail.
«What do you suppose that is?» asked Amy.
«Just a fire, I guess,» Brent replied, doodling on the paper with his drawing pencil.
«Shhh,» said Kirk. «I love toothpaste commercials. I can hardly hear the line about whiter than white with you two gabbing away.»
«They sound awful close,» said Amy.
«They sure do,» Brent replied.
A commercial for soda came on.
«It sounds like action at the emergency ward,» Kirk said.
«Big action, from the sound of it,» Brent replied. «There's more than one siren out there, that's for sure.»
«I hope it's nothing too serious,» Amy said. «The sirens always make me kind of jittery.»
«Why don't we wander down and see,» Kirk suggested. «No one would care at this hour.»
«I don't know, Kirk,» Amy said. «It scares me. Besides, we'd be leaving Brent alone.»
«That's okay, Amy. I wouldn't mind. I'm curious too. Maybe you could find out what the excitement is,» Brent said.
«I still don't know.»
«Come on, Amy. No harm. We won't get into anybody's way. We'll just peek through the doors and psych out what's going on.»
«Go ahead. I've got the movie to watch,» Brent said. «I don't mind being alone.»
«I don't like it, Kirk.»
The sounds of the sirens continued to pile up against the window and creep into the room like fog.
«Just for a minute. Just to check on what's going on.»
«Okay, Kirk,» Amy said. She stood up and wrapped her bathrobe close around her. She slid her bare feet into her slippers.
«We'll be right back, Brent,» she said. «I can guarantee we won't be long.»
Kirk and Amy left the room. The commercials were over. Brent returned to watching the invasion of Normandy.
The halls were empty. Down to the right of the room the two night nurses were conversing quietly. Kirk and Amy sneaked away in the other direction toward the service elevator. They pushed the elevator button and Amy watched as the arrow worked itself up from the ground floor to number six. The door opened and flooded the dim alcove with bright light.
Kirk took Amy's arm and put both crutches under his other arm. The doors hissed closed behind them. Kirk leaned against the wall and rested.
«Which floor is Emergency on?» Amy asked.
«One,» replied Kirk.
Amy pushed the «One» button and the elevator lurched and began to descend.
«I think we ought to go back. I don't want to be in the way,» Amy said.
«We won't be in the way. We won't even go in, just peek through the door.»
The elevator came to a stop and the doors hissed open again. The first-floor hallway was very dim. Except for the emergency ward at the other end of the hospital, there were only offices and receptionists and gift shops and outpatient units on the first floor. In the silence, the sirens still wailed from outside the building.
«It must be something pretty big from the sound of it. I wonder what could have happened.»
Amy and Kirk walked cautiously through the corridors toward the sound of the sirens. They turned a corner and saw the bright lights of the emergency ward beneath the door at the end of the hallway. Under the double swinging door, shadows crossed and recrossed in the light.
«Let's go back,» Amy suggested again.
«No way. We're this far. I can't go back now without checking.»
They moved down the hallway until they stood just outside the swinging doors. The sirens continued, and now Amy and Kirk heard the sound of running footsteps and crying and moans and doors slamming.
Kirk pushed against the right of the two doors, swinging it slightly open. He and Amy leaned forward to look.
They squinted from the brightness of the glare.
The scene through the door was horrible. Slumped bodies were in every free chair. Kids leaned against the walls. Nurses and doctors and residents in white rushed from person to person. Heads were bandaged, blood ran down cheeks, two boys lay writhing on the floor. Amy saw a piece of bone sticking through the skin of a young girl's arm.
«More help here,» one doctor yelled, and a nurse rushed from one bleeding teenager to another.
The outside doors of the emergency ward opened and the sound of the sirens swept loudly into the room. Four more teenagers entered, three of them helping the fourth to walk. Two ambulance attendants carried a stretcher with a sixteen-year-old girl on it. She was unconscious.
Amy turned away from the door and looked into the dimness of the long hallway that stretched away from her in the opposite direction from the emergency ward.
«God, Kirk, what's going on?» she asked.
«I don't know. It's crazy. I'm going in to find out.»
Amy turned to grab his arm. «No, don't.»
«I want to. No one will notice one more kid in there. Stay here.»
Kirk pushed through the door and it swung shut behind him. Amy stood alone in the hall. She couldn't block out the sound of the sirens and the moaning and crying, although she tried covering her ears with her hands.
She pushed the door open and followed.
Kirk was standing, leaning on his crutches just inside the door. Amy stood beside him. If anything, the scene was even worse now they had entered into it.
«God, let's do something! We can't just stand here and not help,» Amy said.
«We can't do anything,» Kirk said.
A girl Amy's age was standing against the far wall screaming. A doctor stuck her with a needle and she seemed to crumple almost immediately. The doctor moved on to a boy whose shirt was covered with blood. A nurse stopped and straightened the fallen girl's legs.
There must have been thirty kids in there, all of them bleeding, all of them hurt.
Near where Kirk and Amy were standing, a young girl was sitting in a chair. She leaned forward and held her head in her arms. There were cuts above her elbow, but they were bandaged already. Blood was seeping through the gauze.
Amy went over to her and squatted down next to the chair.
«What happened?» she asked. Kirk moved over and stood behind Amy.
«Oh, God. I don't know. The bus turned over.»
«What bus? Where were you going?» Kirk asked.
«On a trip, a trip to a concert from church. The bus went over the side of the road and flipped. God, the glass flew all over. John had his arm through a window. All the bodies crashed down.» The girl started to cry.
Amy reached out and put her arm around the girl's shoulders.
«It was so dark. It was all black. I couldn't find the way out. It was so awful. I kept cutting myself. I don't remember…»
«It's all right now,» Amy said. «It's all over. Everyone will be all right. Everybody's being taken care of.»
«Oh, God,» the girl sighed. «I don't know…»
«It's okay. Look, everybody's getting their cuts all fixed up.»
The doctors and nurses still rushed like mad people from patient to patient. There was blood on the chairs and blood on the floor.
Amy dabbed at the blood leaking from under the bandage on the girl's arm. Then she noticed a small trickle of thick, half-congealed blood flowing slowly down the girl's hair, along her neck. Amy reached her Kleenex up and tried to wipe that away too.
«It's so stupid, so awful…» the girl said and began to cry again.
Amy started to cry too. She looked up and saw the chaotic rush of doctors and nurses, the hurt and crying kids, the bloodstained bandages.
Kirk put a hand on Amy's shoulder. «Let's go,» he said.
Amy looked up at him. Tears were still running down her cheeks, although she made no noise. Kirk was pale.
«Let's go,» he said. «We can't do anything here. We'll get in the way. The doctors will do just fine without us.»
Amy turned back to the sobbing teenage girl and put a hand out. Kirk tugged persistently at Amy's shoulder.
Amy gazed again across the room. «I'm going to stay. Maybe I can do something.»
«We've got to forget it, Amy. There's nothing we can do. No one's hurt bad here. They'll be fine.»
He pulled at the sleeve of her bathrobe. Amy gave in and Kirk maneuvered her through the swinging doors. They were silent all the way up in the elevator and down the hall to the room.
The television was off. Brent had put away his sketching materials and was reading again. He looked up when they entered the room. Amy's eyes were red and puffy. Brent could tell immediately that she was upset.
«What was it?» he asked.
«Wouldn't you know, it was a real mess down there,» Kirk replied. «Some bus with a bunch of kids going to a concert turned over. There must have been thirty of forty of them, all cut up. It was a real horror scene all right.»
«Oh, it was awful, Brent,» Amy said. «I felt so sorry for them all. The doctors couldn't seem to get to everybody fast enough. I just felt I wanted to do something to help. There was blood all over and everybody was crying and all. I should have stayed. I could have helped out the nurses or something.»
«Right. Just like Scarlett O'Hara during the siege of Atlanta. Listen, Amy, don't let it shake you up. They'll all be fine. We couldn't have done anything much. We just would have been in the way.»
Amy turned on him. «You just don't care is all, Kirk. You just close it all out of your safe little world and say, 'No sweat.' I don't care what you say, we should have stayed. Sometimes I wonder whether you'd help anybody, you're so wrapped up in yourself.»
«Listen, Amy…» Brent began. He didn't like to hear them fighting. It gave him a weird feeling.
«No, it's all right,» Kirk said. «Let her think what she wants. Amy, those kids down there are probably a hell of a lot better off right now than any of us up here, and that's no crap. So don't come on righteous and Florence Nightingale with me. We have enough problems of our own without getting tied in with a lot of cuts and bruises downstairs. The whole thing gave me the crawls.»
«Yeah, okay, Kirk. I'm sorry I blew up at you. But I still think we should have stayed.»
«No way. You don't need that kind of hassle and neither do I. The screwed-up world out there can go to hell in a bucket for all I care. There's no way we're going to stop it single-handed.»
Amy turned to Brent. «Tell me, Brent. Is the world always like that out there? It seems so far away sometimes, I forget, I guess.»
«No, Amy,» Brent said. «It's not all bad.»
«Sometimes it seems safer here with you and Kirk. Sometimes I almost don't want to think about leaving.»