[Image by Laura Vena]
Jason Augustus Newel crashed into my life in 3…2…1…
I barely remember the impact, only the sound of shattering ceramic half a second before my forehead introduces itself to the pavement.
There’s a break in my memory after that. Next thing I recall is opening my eyes to a glaring blue sky, partially overshadowed by a backlit, and therefore indistinguishable, face. It’s more like a snapshot, really. My head is buzzing. I have another snapshot of a yellow bicycle with black accents. It’s lying in the road about three feet away from me. There’s a blue soda can in the gutter right beside it.
There’s another gap in my memory before my vision finally clears. A few faces stare down at me, though none I recognize, except Jason’s. He’s a senior, two years older than me, plays soccer, and wouldn’t know my name if his life depended on it. Only reason I know his is ‘cause my sister dated the soccer team captain between training seasons once.
Then it hits me, what happened. One minute, I’m racing to beat the crosswalk countdown, the next, there he is. From the corner of my periphery, I recall his skinny bod pedaling up to the ready-to-change light. I had about three-quarters of a second to register his speed but, to be honest, my attention hung not on the fact he hadn’t seen me, and wasn’t stopping, but on his Adidas warm-ups and that little gold loop circling his earlobe.
Jason apologizes, says he didn’t see me there. Someone else says help is on the way, and that it’s a darn good thing I only got hit by a bike. As in bicycle. If he’d been riding a motorcycle, they said, I’d be a whole lot more banged up. Jason flushes, asks if I can sit up. I try moving, but feel too dizzy and disoriented to rise. Help is on the way. That’s good, I think, because my arm is killing me, and my head feels close to imploding.
A mom pushing a stroller stops to gawk. I sense, rather than see, the backlog of traffic, all held up because I’m lying in the intersection. “I’m sorry,” I mutter, as if accepting the blame and responsibility – God knows why.
I’m missing a few more snapshots, but then I see a white van with flashers twirling, like we’re all at the Homecoming dance. An EMT is at my side, says his name is Wilbur Something-or-other, and I think of the children’s book with the pig. His roundish face has a hoggish quality that doesn’t do him any favors.
I ask if I’m going to die, and he says I knocked my head pretty good but that I’m going to be just fine. The hospital’s just around the corner, we’ll be there soon. He asks if I can wiggle my fingers for him, and I think I do, because he says ‘very good, Charlotte’ though I don’t remember telling him my name. He asks if I have any emergency contacts. I tell him my Mom works at the middle school. Do I know her phone number? I try shaking my head but it won’t move thanks to the new neck brace I’m suddenly sporting.
Wilbur and a second EMT load me onto a stretcher while policemen usher traffic around us. More twirling lights on their cop cars. It’s like a frickin’ disco in the middle of the street.
I wake up again at the hospital where I learn I’ve suffered a distal radial fracture, plus a nasty gash on the side of my forehead, but no concussion. Supposedly, I’ll be as good as new in no time. All I can think is that the air conditioning is on too high for October.
They keep me overnight, just to be sure. Mom and Olivia come to check on me, and I tell Liv how her ex-boyfriend’s teammate struck me down. She calls Jason a few colorful names while Mom’s out of earshot, talking to the nurse. I relive the narrative all over again when Angela swings by after her piano lesson which, she informs me, her Mom wouldn’t let her cancel even though her best friend’s stuck in the hospital with a bashed arm. We laugh while she doodles cute little monster creatures on my cast. Then she asks what happened to my bonsai tree. Hadn’t I carried it home after the science fair?
“I must’ve dropped it,” I realize, feeling childishly tearful all of sudden. Three years of careful pruning, watering, and repotting, down the gutter. Before I’m compelled to cry, I ask, “Where’s my phone? Did anyone see my backpack?” I’m still feeling a bit fuzzy from the pain meds. Angela says she doesn’t know, but she’ll ask – do I want her to bring me anything?
“They probably have ice cream in the cafeteria,” she suggests. “Strawberry sounds really good right now.”
I tell her I’m alright. I’m not really in the mood for ice cream.
“I’ll make sure everyone at school knows what an a-hole Jason Newel is,” she assures me. “Running into you like that. I mean, come on. Is he, blind?”
“No, I think I’m just invisible.”
I’m supposed to be discharged around ten, as soon as Dr. Borland can stop by and give her blessing for my outpatient recovery. Mom had to take the morning off in order to drive me home. She should be here any time. One of the worst things about hospitals, apart from the chemical smell, is how boring they are. Nothing to do other than fixate on how badly my arm itches. Less than twenty-four hours and already I’m counting down the minutes ‘til it comes off. Six to eight weeks of this is going to be hell. I let out an animalistic groan just as Jason Augustus Newel appears around the curtain. He looks like celery in a pale green hoodie and white track pants. In one hand, he’s holding a blue plastic bucket by its handle.
“Hey,” he begins, as if he’s the one wearing the open-backed gown. Thank God I’m lying in bed.
“Shouldn’t you be at school?” is all I can think to say.
Jason doesn’t answer my question and, instead, asks one of his own. “Your name’s Charlotte, right?” I merely blink at him. Flustered, he continues, “I came by to apologize, and to, uh, give you this. I think you dropped it.” He takes three steps closer and sets the bucket on the bed. There isn’t enough room for it, not between my hip and the edge of the mattress, so he balances it there awkwardly. Realizing I can’t see inside, he reconsiders and sets it on the floor near the bedside table.
I lean over and peer into it. The bottom is filled with clumps of dirt and small rocks. Sitting on top is a battered, but alive, miniature tree. I can clearly see its root system, still held together in an almost complete, compact rectangle. Not the best time to repot, I think. Better to do it in the spring, when the tree is still in dormancy, right before the growth season, but what choice will I have?
“Where’d you find it?” I ask dumbly.
“In the street. Thought I saw you drop it.”
“There was a pot too. Blue ceramic,” I say, wondering if that’s why he decided to bring it in a blue bucket.
“Oh yeah, that got totaled. They were gonna sweep the street so cars wouldn’t run over it, but I thought you might still want this, so…”
“I do,” I assure him. “Thanks.”
He stands there for a second, and by the way he’s shifting I can tell he’s thinking of asking me something. As predicted, he says, “So, what is it? Like, a baby tree?”
“It’s older than you’d think. It’s called a bonsai,” I tell him, about to dive into my spiel, ‘a replication of nature, in the form of a tree, that doesn’t display human intervention too prominently,’ when I reconsider my audience. Instead, I tell him I just presented it as my project at the science fair.
“I did science fair sophomore year,” he says. “Did you win?”
“Millicent Ott got first. She constructed, like, a whole room to make holograms, right there in the gym. I got to try it. It was pretty cool. She deserved to win.”
“Well, I hope your tree makes it.”
“Well,” he says at last, “I outta go. Already late for Bio.”
“Maybe tell your teacher you were out saving trees, might let you get away with it.”
“Ha, yeah. Good idea,” he agrees, and actually takes out his phone and snaps a photo of my tree-in-a-bucket. “What’s it called again?”
“It’s a bonsaitree.”
“Gotcha. Oh, hey, could I – I mean, should I sign your cast?”
I shrug. “Go ahead, if you want.”
‘Sry I ran u over banzai girl,’ he writes, just above my wrist, then signs it ‘JN’.
A month later, the soccer team goes to the State finals, and everyone in school has to line up in the hallway for the big sendoff. Led by the marching band, the whole team traipses through each and every corridor. By then, my whole cast is covered in glitter ink and drawings, signed by friends and nobodies alike. Just a few more weeks before it comes off, thank God.
I’m standing with Angela, outside second period Geometry, when we hear the band approaching, harmonized by a wave of cheers and whistles. Far as I’m concerned, it’s a big waste of time, especially when it’s only ever the sports that get this kind of attention.
But then, there they are, the boys in their numbered uniforms, smiling and waving and calling out to their friends as they pass. I roll my eyes and yawn. What a snooze fest. Then, out of nowhere, I swear I hear my name. Someone said ‘Charlotte’, right? I look up, but the team’s already turned the corner at the far end of the hall and we’re filing back into our classrooms. Probably just imagining things, I tell myself.
I never did run into Jason again, literally or otherwise, and when he graduated in the spring, I didn’t even register his absence. By then, the little tree on my windowsill had blossomed with loads of light pink flowers, pretty as strawberry ice cream.
Emily Grandy is an American fiction writer, scientific author, and independent editor for various institutions, including The Cleveland Clinic and Medical College of Wisconsin. Her writing has been published both in scientific journals and independent magazines, and she is a regular contributor at Chickpea.