third place: fiction

bed rest

by mallory hughes (university of iowa)


I make a left turn into the small, dark parking lot. The summer sun has set and two street lamps glow orange as I pull in to one of the five remaining spots. My heart is beating quickly and I take a deep breath before getting out of my car. I glance around the parking lot and head toward the large, sliding glass doors; I do not look at the bold, red words facing me.

The sterile smell overcomes me, taking my breath away. The waiting room is so full that I have to stand in line before I can check in. I do not hear what anyone else is saying, it’s just noise. On a beautiful June evening, I thought people would be enjoying the outdoors with friends and family, golfing or biking. Maybe they were.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010, roughly 4,280 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States. Another 70,000 pedestrians were injured.

That means in a year, 4,280 families lost a member who was walking down the sidewalk, who fell into the street, who crossed the street without looking both ways. Maybe a father lost a son, a brother lost his sister, a daughter lost her mother.

That means 70,000 families were left caring for someone who used to be able to care for him or herself. 70,000 ambulance rides or medical bills or lawsuits to create some kind, any kind, of justice.

He has dark brown hair, almost black. It’s thick, so he always keeps it short and often wears a hat. I remember him curling the edges on his baseball caps every time he got a new one. He’d sit on the couch while he was watching television, bending and folding and squeezing the brim to get it just right.

He’s over six feet tall, but when I wear heels I’m taller than he is. He has a thin frame with dark brown eyes and olive skin. Every summer we have somewhat of a tanning competition. I have to work for mine, but he can go outside for a day and come back more tan than I am.

We were preparing to show our house that night and the couple was supposed to arrive any minute. Every lamp on every end table in every room of our house was shining; doors and windows open, welcoming the natural light that was looming on the skyline from the setting sun.

I sat on the floor in the office, my parents at their computers, when the phone rang. I watched my mom’s face move from horror and then into panic. She told us what happened and she called the couple to cancel their appointment to see our house.

“I’ll take care of the lights and the doors and then I’ll meet you there. Just go,” I said.

Pedestrian crashes occur most frequently in urban areas where pedestrian activity and traffic volumes are greater. The National Safety Council estimates that 85.7% of all non-fatal pedestrian crashes in the United States occur in urban areas and only 14.3% occur in rural areas.

The corner of University Avenue and 25th Street North carries no significance, other than the proximity to his apartment, which was only four blocks away. The street he was crossing was University Avenue and is one of the main arteries through Fargo, running from the very north, to the very south of city limits with no interruptions.

Where he was crossing the street ran four lanes wide, two heading north and two heading south. It was a T-bone intersection, and although populated, there were no obstructions blocking his view of the cars. They say North Dakota is so flat that it’s the only place you can watch your dog run away. And a fire station, it was just a block away.

The receptionist glances up from her computer screen. To her, I am just another face in a line that has no end in sight.

“Logan Hughes,” I say, before she can speak. “Are you a relative?” she asks.

“His sister,” I respond, “He got here about an hour ago. My parents are already here.”

“I don’t know if they’ll let you back, but have a seat and I’ll check.”

I see that the room is filled, but the faces blur together. I sit across from a couple with a sick baby, wrapped tightly in blankets, a worried look on the mother’s face. A middle-aged woman coughs on my left. On my right is a teen in a wheel chair, his right leg propped. My leg bounces up and down and my hands clench together, knuckles white.

“Mallory? Follow me, please,” a nurse in blue scrubs says, and I stand up. All of those waiting before me look at me in disdain, their eyes burning my back until the door closes behind us.

She leads me down a long, wide corridor with the nurse practitioner. We turn left and I see my parents, my mom crying with my step dad’s arms around her, rubbing her back. I hug them both, eyes filling with tears.

The only other time he had a serious injury was in 1997. North Dakota had the snowiest winter ever recorded. By the end of January many counties had more than 400% of normal snow totals on the ground and just across from our house sat a two-story tall snow pile, shoveled up from the apartment parking lots.

Snow day after snow day, we went to play on that hill. We climbed up to sled down over and over and over again. Logan was at the top of the hill, sitting on his sled fixing his glove when he put the string of the sled in his mouth. The sled slipped out from under him, and the string ripped out his tooth as he tumbled down the hill. Our father followed the blood trail back to the hill, located the tooth, and took him to the dentist.

The CDC averages one crash-related pedestrian death every two hours, and a pedestrian injury every eight minutes. Pedestrians are one and a half times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash on each trip.

Based on this statistic, in a single day twelve people will have died from a car-pedestrian accident. In a week, 84 will be dead. A month? Approximately 336 people, just gone. Sometimes the speeds of moving cars are hard to gauge. And sometimes when you do what they say and you look left and then right and then left again, it’s just not enough.

            In the car that day was a father and his son. “DAD, look out!” the teenaged boy says, as his father, traveling 43 mph, looks up and sees a blur in front of his SUV, bracing himself and his son for the impact.

            On the phone that day was an operator, telling a mother about her son. “May I please speak to Jan Hughes?” the operator asks, the color draining from my mom’s face. She knew something wasn’t right when they called her that. She was remarried seven years ago, her name changed to Wensman, and only my brother and I still carry the name, Hughes.

            The U.K. Department of Transportation reports that being hit by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph, the pedestrian has a fatality rate of 45%. But at speed of 40 mph, the fatality rate rises drastically to 85%.

            The driver of the SUV was traveling at 43 mph in a 25 mph zone. Not only was he speeding, but he was also trying to time the light. We all do it. Even though it was red and Logan had the right-of-way, the driver wasn’t planning to stop. It was that driver, at 43 mph, that pushed Logan’s fatality rate to over 90%.

            That evening was like many others in his summers as a 21-year-old, long boarding around North Fargo and unwinding after work before finally heading home to make Ramen for dinner. He only eats the beef flavor, and adds a slice of cheese at the end to make the sauce thicker. American is okay, he told me once, but Velveeta is best.

He arrives at University Avenue and the orange hand is blinking, indicating caution. He looks left, the Dakota Fence truck in the right lane, stopped, and there is nobody in the left. No one is turning right so he picks up his long board and jogs across.

Once, we were driving to see a movie as a family. Logan and I were in the back of the car, talking about sushi. He was excited that I could eat fish again. After years of a severe fish and seafood allergy, I was cleared for everything but shellfish. I broke the news to him, he turned to me, and said, “Well I only eat salmon and susha tuni!” He stopped, looked at me, and we laughed until we had tears in our eyes.

The Federal Highway Administration reports that in general, males are more likely to be involved in a crash than females. The male pedestrian injury rate was 58% higher than for females.

When we were young we would sit at home playing video games in the basement, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Super Mario Bros. was my favorite, but he loved fighting games like Mortal Combat. I was too young to know how to play and would button mash until he was hurt. If he wasn’t winning, he would stiff arm me and I would tip over, dropping the controller. Sometimes, though, I would get lucky and beat him anyways.

Logan collides with the Envoy in the front left-hand side, breaking the driver’s side headlight. Upon impact, he is projected fifteen feet. His body is in shock, and he is seizing.

An off-duty nurse practitioner is a passenger in a line of cars, waiting for the light to change when she witnesses the crash. She jumps out and grabs a blanket from the trunk, running over to my brother. She wraps him tightly in it as someone else calls 911.

He wakes up on the pavement, his neck in a brace with three firefighters hovering over him. He cannot move. “You were hit by a car,” they say as they load him into an ambulance.

As the evening progresses, more and more of his friends show up to visit him and offer our family his support. They come from college, high school, and ROTC. Eventually, they give us our own waiting room and anyone who says his name is pointed to the closed door. They wait patiently for any news at all.

After a while, my step dad returns to the scene of the crash. When he arrives, the intersection is blocked off with caution tape and the police are investigating. He scans the area and finds Logan’s favorite Hurley hat and Nike Dunk Lows sitting on the curb, stacked neatly.

We are waiting outside of the emergency room, Logan lying behind the closed door. Behind another curtain lies a drunken man. I can hear him slurring loudly. On a stretcher enters a woman who has attempted to commit suicide by swallowing pills.

The ER doctor walks over to us, x-rays in hand, ready to explain the extent of the injuries.

“Had he been one step backwards, he would have died, no question. But had he been one step forward, he would have walked away, unharmed,” he says to my parents and me. “You’re lucky he’s alive,” he adds.

My mom cries.

I see his feet first, poking out of the thin, white hospital sheet. He is still lying on top of the yellow board from the stretcher, shivering. The skin that is always so rich has faded to a washed out white. He is wearing a neck brace and has dried blood on his forehead, his hair matted, some missing from the side of his head. There’s a cut above his ear, scratches on his chin and cheek. His elbow is bandaged, not yet stitched, and his knuckles are bloodied. He has road rash covering his body. They tell us that his wrist is sprained and his pelvis is fractured in three places. He cannot move or walk. There are no head or spinal injuries, but he is on bed rest for the rest of the summer.

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