Richard opened his eyes unceremoniously, in the absence of the fleeting shapes he so enjoyed, into a room bathed in darkness. He blinked intently a few times as if doing so would somehow wash the darkness from his eyes, then turned his head gently from side to side to better take in his surroundings. He was laying down in a bed, as far as he could tell. The sheets felt soft against his arms and smelled of being freshly washed. Instinctively, he wiggled his toes as he would when first climbing into bed. He realized his shoes were no longer on his feet, and that his feet were not all that were bare. The sheets stirred freely against his exposed shins, knees and thighs – stopping about his torso where his boxer shorts were still intact. The realization startled him to action, and he tried to sit up abruptly. A bolt of pain shot through his left arm, reaching ravenously from his elbow into his armpit. He instinctively pulled his arm back towards his body and brought his right hand over to brace it. His mouth gaped open wide to let out a silent wail of pain. It was then that he realized his left arm had been bandaged carefully from near his shoulder to his hands. He examined it cautiously with just the tips of his fingers. His breathing became more shallow as he preoccupied himself with judging how damaged he was and how he had been bandaged. Dialing in his focus also afforded him the opportunity to take note of two voices engaged in conversation outside the room he was in.
“I can’t wait any longer to see if he wakes up,” the first woman said sternly. “And, honestly, I’m not sure I want to be around when he wakes up.”
“He’s not like that!” a more familiar voice responded. “I told you, I know him and he’s not like that.”
“Sydel,” the first woman continued, “far be it from me to tell anyone how to live the perfect life, but as your sister I feel I need to remind you of how horrifyingly bad the last time you decided to pick a guy up at a bar went for you.” She paused. “I still can’t process how you let that go on for so long without telling me-”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly something you just pick the phone up and tell your big sister about! Can we please not go there right now?!” The sound of Sydel’s hands falling heavily on her lap in frustration was loud enough to reach Richard’s ears. The conversation held more than his attention – it kept his body in place.
The sound of slow and thoughtful footsteps treading across the hardwood floor could be heard. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.” A deep breath. “You’re all I’ve got, Sydel. Others have come and gone, but you’ve always been the one I could call my own. I don’t want to see you hurt…again. Ever.”
“And what about your hurt?” Sydel’s short reply seemed to give her sister more than a moment’s pause.
“I’m healing in my own way.” The words of the woman were heavy laden with meanings that required even more words to explain. “And we will talk about that later. I’ve got to go now. There’s something important I have to do tomorrow.”
Richard could hear the sound of clothing and jewelry coming together briefly as the two women embraced, followed by the sound of two sets of footsteps heading for what could only be the exit, and only one set continuing past it.
“Oh wait!” Sydel called out to her sister. “Magda, how often am I supposed to change the bandages? And what about the meds?”
The reply to those questions were beyond Richard’s range of hearing. No sooner did he give up on trying to discern the faint words than the sounds of a door closing and footsteps heading in his direction filled his ears. He gripped the edge of the sheet with the fingers of his good hand.
A thin column of golden light appeared off to his left, just beyond his leg. It flashed into view quickly, then slowly grew in width and height until it became a large box of light that poured into the room. Richard clasped his eyes shut for a moment in response to the unexpected light. When he opened them again, he saw that a slender figure had come through the light and was now reaching over him for something behind him. A moment later, a dim lamp beside the bed clicked on and the last of the darkness he was once immersed in slipped out of the room.
“So how long have you been awake?” Sydel’s voice now had a face behind it, and he recalled how he found that face to be most agreeable earlier in the night. She smiled widely, and her eyes told him the tale of the relief she felt at his being awake without the inconvenience of spoken words.
“Your name,” Richard realized his mouth was dry. “Sydel. What does it mean?”
“Now that’s something you’ll have to tell me,” she replied. “I’ve spent the better part of my life disliking my name.” She flashed another smile and the hint of a laugh escaped her mouth. “I’m glad you like my name, considering you didn’t ask me for it when you were at the bar and you left so…abruptly.”
“I suppose I did.” Richard fixed his eyes on hers. “But when I left, I didn’t think I would wake up here.”
Sydel pulled an old cushioned steel chair close to the edge of the bed and sat down. She leaned in closer to his face. Richard could smell the sweet mix of her perfume, liquors, the rain and her skin. “After we got you back here, I’ve found myself wondering where exactly you planned on waking up.” Her voice had become as soft as a whisper, but her words carried the sharp edge of discernment, and they found their mark.
Richard let his eyes fall towards the doorway and took a deep breath.
“You came into my world singing this sweet song of hope. You inspired me, if only for a moment. Yet here I am, sitting next to what might have been hope’s dead and rotting corpse.” Flecks of anger and disappointment found their way into Sydel’s gaze.
Richard’s spirit rose. “Don’t speak to me of things you do not understand.”
“Make me understand! Your arm was covered in glass shards – the biggest of which was lodged in some major artery, damned near your bone. You were slowly bleeding to death. And when I found you a few blocks from the bar…the way you were sitting there…it was quite clear to me that you knew you would bleed to death too!” Richard could see tears forming in the corners of her eyes as she went on. “I didn’t know who you were, or if you were in any trouble. I didn’t know if I should do anything. All I knew was that I wanted you to be okay. So I called my sister, and…” She sobbed briefly, but went on after knuckling away a few tears. “So explain it to me. How does someone who speaks to me of hope and healing end up like this?”
Richard felt his brow become heavy and his resolve start to falter. He felt his heart pounding in his throat. What is it about her? he wondered silently. Nevertheless, he steeled himself once more and spoke calmly. “I’m sorry, but I cannot. There are parts of who I am that-”
Sydel stormed to her feet and moved away from the bed to a pile of clothes on the floor in the corner of the room. Richard watched and realized quickly that those were his belongings. She knelt to rifle through them, and when she found what she was looking for, she stood up and held it to her chest. She turned to face him and walked to him slowly with heavy footsteps that sounded full of determination. She placed the item squarely in the center of his chest, seated herself on the chair again and brought her face close to his own. “Explain. And start with this.” She gestured towards the object with her eyes.
Richard had not taken his eyes off of Sydel since she first rose off the chair. He searched her eyes for a moment hoping she would relent, but given the insistence he found in them instead, he placed his right hand on top of object and lifted it into the light of the lamp beside him. He didn’t need to see it to know what it was. Beneath his fingers that were caked in dirt and dry blood, his eyes made out the shapes of the title written in his own hand with black ink on the hard paper cover of a book. The Tragedy Of Richard Black.