Child’s Play (3 of 3)


Kim and Jen were about a hundred yards up the sloped street from the tree. “Wow,” they understated simultaneously. It was their first agreement of the day. They began walking back to investigate the accident. Their progress was slow for a downslope, into the still-gusting wind. Jen wasn’t in good shape anyway; she never walked fast and she always breathed hard.

“I wish they hadn’t taken FenPhen off the market,” Jen remarked. “It was the only thing that worked for me.”

“Oh, come on. No one needs to risk heart valve damage.”

“Okay. I’m not going to argue with that. Anyway, I heard about a new weight-loss program, at a spa down south. They’re supposed to combine the best of fruit acid therapies, stress management, and individual meds and diet plans.”

“Sounds like a scavenger hunt to me,” Kim said with a grin. The first drops of rain, large and cold, hit their faces and hands.

Jen went silent. She felt a little affronted. Four paces later, when they were in full sight of the fallen tree, she retorted. “And how is it different from that Portals program you got so obsessed with last year? They sent you out to collect people! Recruit those folks and everybody be happy! Sure…”

Kim saw that Jen was smiling, even in the increasing rain, and so she felt embarrassed instead of insulted. “Can’t we put that behind us now?” she mock-pleaded. “I know I got into it. I know I was obnoxious. The first Portals weekend closed so joyfully, I got flash-addicted to that feeling. I was desperate to duplicate it. I had to learn that the experience is like undergraduate studies; you can’t repeat it.

“Anyway,” Kim concluded as they reached the breakpoint, as they passed slowly by the wrenched broken roots of the old oak, “I think it was the Portals experience – how I reacted to it – that helped me first make the scavenger hunt connection.”

“We’d better get some shelter,” Jen said. “This rain isn’t going to let up soon.” She looked at Kim and that’s doubtless why she didn’t see the section of broken root. Quickening her pace to get out of the rain, Jen stepped out with her left foot and came down exactly wrong. She simultaneously stumbled and twisted her ankle, and she fell forward at an angle that made her hit her forehead on the sidewalk. She lost consciousness for a minute and a half.

At first Kim sank to Jen’s side, touching her upper arm as if she intended to raise it, but feeling Jen’s fat loose flesh so toneless and unresisting made her stop. She realized she shouldn’t move Jen. She hated seeing her friend’s sightless open eyes.

Plenty of people were around. Several called 9-1-1, but that wasn’t necessary. All sorts of emergency vehicles were converging on the street already because of the downed tree. Within minutes, shortly after Jen’s eyes filled with sight again, there were two fire engines and an ambulance. There were paramedics bracing Jen’s spine and moving her. There was Kim climbing in with the rolling gurney after its X-legs scissored under her friend.

They raced in the increasing rain to the emergency room, but they needn’t have. It turned out that Jen’s concussion was almost too slight to deserve the word; they put a band-aid on her head and gave her some packets of Tylenol. Her ankle sprain was more significant, especially since she carried so much weight. But Jen was large-boned and a quick healer; with a little rest and a good brace she’d be fine.

She stayed in the hospital long enough to sample some of the food there. She was offered a choice of a fat-free vegetarian snack, cookies and milk, or juice and pudding. Kim went to the bathroom while Jen chose. She headed for the ladies’ room, past the corridor of windows streaked with still-falling rain, till she could barely hear Jen chanting, “Eeny, meeny, miney, mo.”

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