by Kim Steele
I do not feel the Jet Ski as it crashes into my head. Or I do—it is a Jet Ski and it is crashing into my head after all—but it does not register as pain. I feel it only in the way I feel a fly that lands on my thigh or a strand of wet hair on my cheek. I lift my hand to push the Jet Ski away, but of course by then I am already spinning down into the lake. The water is cool. I forget for a moment what I am doing down there among the seaweed and the muck and go still. I think I might have forgotten I am even in water. Or maybe forgotten what water is. I am just beginning to remember things like the way the sun rose that morning over the fog on the lake and that my brother’s name is Liam when suddenly something pulls underneath my arms and I am back up in the sun looking at the hysterical face of my uncle.
“Are you ok?” he shouts, treading water, his arms still holding me up. My lips taste like gasoline.
“Yes,” I yell, but it comes out a whisper.
The Jet Ski spins back around us and a tan girl in a white life vest screams.
“Turn it off,” my uncle yells, and she does.
“We need you to take us to the cabin across the lake.” The girl nods and my uncle pulls the Jet Ski just in front of me. “Climb up, Sammy,” he says and pushes my limp body towards the girl. She grabs my arms and, just as I start to wonder how she is going to get me aboard and if I should be kicking my legs to help, I am seated behind her. My uncle climbs on too and holds my arms around her waist.
This girl, now covered in my blood, jumps off at our dock to hold the Jet Ski steady while my uncle helps me off. The blood is everywhere, running down my legs and into my eyes. It’s smeared against my uncle’s chest and shoulders, a bit of it in his beard. My mom and aunt come running out of the cabin. I’ve already started laughing though, laughing at the bloody footprints on the slats of the dock and at the two of them who are frozen on the shore trying to figure out where the blood is coming from and who they should be looking at.
“I’m fine,” I say as the girl in the now pink life vest bursts into tears.
The next day, I wake up with nineteen stitches in the back of my head. The hair is shaved in a thin line and I can’t keep my hands away from that fuzzy, tender spot. I touch it all the way to the diner. The family of the girl with the Jet Ski is meeting us for dinner in town. “They want to check up on you,” my mother explains. “Apologize again. They’re lucky we are reasonable people,” she says. “You could be dead or, worse, brain dead.”
“Accidents happen,” my aunt says. “Imagine how awful she feels.”
I nod and everything goes black for half a second. But then the light blinks back and the grass along the street turns orange and purple. I laugh and my mother turns towards me, alarmed, “Why the hell are you laughing?”
“I’m starving,” I say.
The girl is sitting in a booth with her parents. She looks younger today than she did the day before. When she sees me, she stands up and pulls me into a hug. “My biggest fear is killing someone,” she says into my ear. I nod in the blackness, the smell of mosquito repellent pressing up against me.
Her mom orders chocolate malts for the table—the best thing for a bad day she says—and the waitress comes back with a tall cup for each of us. I hold the plastic tube of the straw uselessly between my lips for a few moments before pushing the cup away. The Styrofoam squeaks against the table and my tongue droops out of my mouth.
“I think I should take you back to the hospital,” I hear my mom say from across the restaurant.
I shake my head. The girl sips her malt and then says, “I didn’t even want my driver’s license because I was sure I’d be driving home from school or work and just totally mow over a mom pushing a stroller. Or an old lady.”
Her mother adds, “I remember that. We had to bribe you to take the test.”
The girl nods seriously, “And now look.”
No one says anything for a bit except I can hear everyone’s thoughts. Not the actual thoughts, but the spark the thought makes when it first appears. And the pinging and beeping of the brains at the table drowns out the chatter of the other customers and the sound of their forks against their plates. I’m thinking about how I can’t get a thought of my own in between these sounds when suddenly I feel something cool against my cheek and realize I’ve put my head on the table. A scream stops the beeping and I open my eyes except not really because everything stays black. I wait for the tug beneath my arms.
Kim Steele lives in Chicago, where she spends most days reading near the space heater. She has been previously published in the flash fiction zine Oblong and writes the occasional book review for Cleaver Magazine. You can follow her on twitter at KJ_Steele.