1st Place – July 2021

Where’s Miranda?

By

JJ Rushmore

My eyes opened to a thin slit. I laid on my back, draped in white bedclothes, my head slightly raised.
A hospital room.
My eyelids fell and I concentrated. There were no memories that would lead me here. No chronic illness, no sudden health crisis, no horrific accident.
I peeked at the room. Transparent plastic bags hung from a shiny metal pole. Measured drops of colorless liquid drained into a plastic tube. Wires snaked from my body to blinking instruments. A catheter led to an unseen destination. Soft rhythmic beeps amplified my heartbeat.
My jumbled thoughts caromed off one another without making sense. A fiery pain in my side discouraged movement. That and the pounding in my head.
The door opened and Miranda walked in.
“Hey, Charlie! You’re awake!” Her smile lit up the room and filled my heart with joy.
People talk of joy as if it were commonplace. Many people seek it but mistake ordinary happiness for joy. They deceive themselves. In real life true joy is more elusive. Some only find it in dreams.
Miranda brought me true joy—an upwelling of delight that filled my heart with unbounded bliss.
“Hey, you.” The raspy voice startled me. My voice.
Miranda glided over and leaned one shapely hip on the bed as she bent to kiss me. I winced and she frowned.
“Sorry.” She eased off the bed and brushed hair from my eyes. “How are you feeling, Darling?”
“Water,” I croaked.
She handed me a plastic cup and I sipped.
“What am I doing here?” I said.
“You don’t remember?” She raised an eyebrow. “Maybe you don’t.”
“But how…why…?” I waved at the room.
“Remember your indigestion? The cramps?” she said. “Burst appendix. You passed out and fell. Hit your head. You have a concussion—and a nasty incision from the appendectomy.”
I shook my head and shrugged.
“So.” I smiled weakly. “Here we are.” No matter how bad things got, I knew I’d be fine if Miranda was there.
“No. So here you are. You’re on antibiotics until the infection is gone. Plus, the painkillers make you loopy. You should be out of here in a few days.”
She spent the next two days entertaining me. We talked endlessly and played games. She read to me. We never discussed other people—it’s as if no one else existed. She shared my suffering by eating hospital food and sleeping in the room’s sole chair, a recliner.
***
“Charlie? Charlie. CHARLIE!”
I woke with a start, the words echoing around me. It was a woman’s voice, naggingly familiar, but I couldn’t place it. It wasn’t Miranda.
The room was dark, and I was alone. The recliner was empty. The room was empty, bereft of Miranda’s beaming smile. The smile that promised nothing could go wrong.
I called out to the empty room. “Hello? Hello-o?”
Silence.
I pressed the call button pinned to my bedsheet.
“Yes? Do you need help Mr. Thompson?” The night nurse was all business.
“Uh, no. I thought someone called my name. Was that you?”
“No, sir. Are you all right?”
I assured her I was, despite doubting my own sanity.
The catheter and heart monitor had disappeared, but I was still tethered to the IV. The IV bags hung from Igor, my nickname for the shiny metal pole on wheels.
“Come on, Igor. We’re going for a walk.”
I shuffled into the corridor and hauled Igor down to the nurses’ station. An imaginary knife sliced at my gut, and I still had a headache.
The night nurse was more friendly in person than her disembodied intercom voice implied. I expected someone middle-aged with hair in a bun, but instead she was thirty-something with curly blonde locks and mirthful eyes.
“Have you seen my wife? Petite, red hair, always smiling?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Mrs. Thompson left around ten. The poor dear was exhausted and needed sleep. Said she’d be back here in the morning to bring you home. If the doctor releases you, of course.”
I thanked her and hobbled back to my room. I still marveled at Miranda being ‘Mrs. Thompson.’ She had left me once after a long and torrid relationship, and the breakup had destroyed me. Then miraculously she returned a year later, professed regretting her mistake, and eagerly wanted to marry. We had done so, and I was still ecstatic.
Igor and I settled in for the night. Miranda’s promised return in the morning soothed me, and I drifted off to sleep without cares or worries.
***
Voices dragged me unwillingly from a deep slumber. A man’s voice. A woman’s voice—the same naggingly familiar one that had called my name before. The man mentioned Miranda.
“Charlie? Charlie. CHARLIE!”
My eyes opened to a thin slit. I laid on my back, draped in white bedclothes, my head slightly raised.
A hospital room. The same one—or almost the same.
Igor was still there, but the catheter and heart monitor had returned. I was not alone.
A woman with mousy brown hair in a bobbed cut sat beside me.
“Charlie! You’re back! Thank God!”
She frantically pressed the call button. “Nurse! He’s awake! Call the doctor!”
The woman gave me a stern look. “Don’t you ever do that to me again, Charlie. You really put me through hell, you know?”
With a start I recognized Barbara, my wife of twenty years, only a few of them good.
“Hey, Barb,” I croaked.
“What were you thinking, anyway?” She wagged her finger. “You know you can’t drive at night.”
“What are you talking about? What happened? I can’t remember a thing.”
“You almost died, that’s what happened. You flipped your car on the turnpike and smashed up another one. You had internal injuries. And a head wound. They put you in a coma with a drug called pento-something until they could drain the fluid from your brain. You’re still fragile. The doc said if you don’t behave, he’ll put you under again.”
Nothing made sense. “What about the appendectomy?”
It was her turn to be confused. “What appendectomy? What are you talking about? You wrecked your car. You’ve got a severe skull fracture.”
I became aware of someone else in the room. A bald-headed stranger stood by the door. He clutched a notebook.
A doctor and a nurse bustled in and shooed Barbara away. They took my vital signs, fussed with the IV, and asked me a bevy of questions. Apparently I had been out for several days.
The medics departed. The bald head followed close behind. As the door closed the stranger mentioned Miranda to the doctor.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“Charlie…” She nervously rubbed her hands together like a raccoon preparing its meal. “You’re in big trouble. The other car you hit. A woman died.”
I blinked, not comprehending.
“That man’s a cop. He wants to talk to you about the accident.”
On cue the stranger marched back in and approached the bed.
“Mr. Thompson?” he said. “I’m Detective Ruiz. The doc says I can talk to you now.”
I wasn’t listening. Something was missing. I sensed a hollow feeling, an emptiness.
“Where’s Miranda?” I said. “I heard you mention her. I need to see her.”
Barbara scowled. “Who’s Miranda?”
“The only Miranda you’re gonna see is this one,” the detective said. He read from a sheet of paper. “Charles Thompson, I’m arresting you for the vehicular manslaughter of Tiffany Dawson on Friday, May seventh, 2021.”
I didn’t listen. I wanted Miranda. My Miranda.
You have the right to remain silent.
I couldn’t explain the two realities, the joyous one with Miranda, and the dismal one without her. I couldn’t tell which was my true existence. Each was equally real in detail and perception.
Anything you say—
I may have been insane, but I knew what I wanted. I knew what I had to do.
“—can and will be used against you—”
“Where’s Miranda?” I said. “What have you done with her?”
—in a court of law.
“I want Miranda! Get me Miranda!”
You have the right to an attorney…
“Charlie. Calm down!” Barbara said. “And who’s this Miranda?”
If you cannot afford one—”
“Shut up, Barbara! I don’t want you! I want her!” I started thrashing about, flailing my arms and legs. I ripped off the heart monitor wires.
“Hey!” The cop grabbed me. “Please, Mr. Thompson!”
“Let go of me!” I slugged him on the jaw and then screamed in pain with the effort.
“Charlie! You stop this instant!” Barbara was shaking.
“Where’s Miranda? I want my Miranda!”
The doctor burst in, a male nurse trailing behind.
“Quick nurse! The pentobarbital!”
The doctor pushed the cop aside. The nurse handed him a syringe and held my arm. The doc injected the fluid into the IV port.
I smiled as the room faded to black and I traveled off to another world. A world filled with joy. A world with Miranda.

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