The World Beyond – Chapter 1

The World Beyond  – The Library on the Other Side – by Paul L. Bailey

Copyright 2014 – All rights reserved

Part 1 – Chapter 1 

I had no idea what today would bring. None of us do. It was a sunny and unseasonably warm Sunday in the middle of November. I awoke when an errant beam of morning sunlight splashed through a tiny gap in the vertical blinds and played across my eyes. Lee was snoring. I reached for him, gave him a kiss, and he shook himself awake.

“Morning,” he said yawning.

“Good morning. Did you sleep well?” I asked.

Lee scratched his head and ran thick fingers through his silver flecked black hair.

“Yeah, I feel great. You?”

“The sun is out. It looks warm outside,” I said.

Lee smiled, placed his hands in front of himself at arms length and made a gesture of revving a motorcycle engine with his right fist.”Want to go for a ride?”

He raised one eyebrow and gave me a lopsided grin. I always chuckled when he did that. It so defined who Lee was – a little serious, a little silly, and a little crazy. I watched as he lifted his upper body with one massive forearm. His muscles flexed then rippled in my eyes followed his every movement, working from the top of his body to the point where his midsection met the blankets. Lee turned and looked down at me, his dark-brown eyes sparkling. I inched the blankets a little higher, surprised by the chill in the air. He was naked from the waist up and the bright morning sunlight danced on the roughly diamond shaped patch of tiny black hairs on his tightly muscled chest. I took a quick sudden breath and gently bit my lower lip. My, he looked good. Lee smiled at me in a way that could have meant he indeed was considering a motorcycle ride. Then he placed his index finger on my chin and slowly moved it down my neck to the edge of the covers. I shivered with delight. Lee smile widened and he set his mouth in a crooked half smile. Now I knew exactly what Mr. Leland Thomas Woods was thinking about and it had nothing whatsoever to do with a motorcycle. I glanced outside at the early morning sunshine and knew that if we stayed in bed much longer Lee would not get out on the bike today. He loved riding so much, I just couldn’t let him miss it. I quickly scooted a few inches away from him.

“There will be plenty of time for that when the sun goes down Mr. Woods,” I said.

He reached for me, but before he could grab me I was up and out of bed. He whistled at me as I hurried toward the doorway of our room. I glanced at him, smiled and winked. Lee shot from the bed and I ran toward the bathroom as he pretended to give chase. I got into the room and hurriedly close the door. Lee pounded at the door for a moment and then I heard him walk toward the other room.

I loved the way we still played. Sometimes Lee made me forget that I was a 47-year-old mother of a college student. He made me feel beautiful, a tale not reflected in the cruel medicine cabinet mirror before me. I looked into the bathroom mirror and frowned. I pulled a single gray hair from my head and ran my long fingers through the red tangle of curls looking for more gray. I sighed sadly. I was either going to have to color it or go gray gracefully. I washed my face and dabbed that the smattering of pale freckles that spanned my nose and cheeks. My sparkling light green eyes reflected back at me in the mirror. My nose was a little too long, my face a little too wide, and my lips a little too thin. My one good feature was my eyes.

Lee and I enjoyed a long lazy shower and then began the arduous task of putting on layer after layer of clothing to protect us from the November weather. I went out onto the back deck to feed Wally, our golden retriever. Wally was a tall and muscular dog with a sweet disposition. But, I wouldn’t have wanted to be at the wrong side of his sharp teeth. From time to time someone who Wally did not like would stop by the house. He would start barking and growling and showing his teeth. He was very protective of his territory and he could look and sound vicious. Once we went away for a week on vacation and left friends to come by and check on Wally. They were going to play with him and make sure he had enough food. We converted an outside faucet so Wally could turn it on by licking it, he always had enough water. Wally knew our friends. They came by several times in the weeks before our vacation and spent time with us in the backyard. Wally played ball with them and relaxed and allowed them to pet him. However, when they came by after we had gone away, they met a different Wally. He growled at them so fiercely, they didn’t dare come into the backyard at all. They edged his food just inside the gate and called to tell us what happened.

Today, Wally was his usual cheery self and wanted me to play ball with him. I threw the ball a couple of times and patted Wallys head. I ran my hands over his magnificent soft coat and told him to have a good day and to protect the house. “By Wally, see you later.”

Lee was already backing the big black Road Star motorcycle out of the driveway. He cherished that motorcycle and nicknamed it his Star. He had made a place for it on one side of the two car garage. The star sat on a carpet remnant with motorcycle paraphernalia and a huge stack of toolboxes surrounding it. I had heard Lee brag of the bikes 1600  cc engine so often that all the way had no idea what it meant, I had caught myself repeating it to my bewildered friends. Sometimes friends would ask me how I could stand the cold weather riding with Lee. I would just smile and say, “Layers, girls. Plenty of warm thick layers!” 

To say the least, I practiced what I preached about wearing layers. I walked into the garage wearing a two-piece cobalt blue underwear set, two pairs of long white tube socks, two pairs of faded blue jeans, a white fleece shirt, and one of Lee’s thick flannel winter shirts checkered and  in muted shades of green. I still had to put on my heavy leather pants, leather motorcycle jacket, riding boots and thick lined winter weight leather gloves. I finished dressing by pulling on my white fleece face hood and my burgundy helmet. Lee had the motorcycle warming up at the end of the driveway and he looks so darn sexy dressed in his leathers sitting there ready to ride that I had to chase a bedroom thought from my mind.

He was 6’2” and weigh 200 pound. He had a body built not the local gymnasium but by the hard physical labor of chopping and stacking chord after cord of mixed wood for our fireplace. I looked at him sitting with his back to me at the end of the driveway and pictured him standing in our backyard with his shirt off, his hair mushed, his muscles tensing and releasing as he swung the axe repeatedly. I thought of the Muskie sent of his perspiration and I bit my lower lip again. I started to walk down the driveway toward him and he turned to look at me.

“Honey, would you mind grabbing my sunglasses?” Lee asked.

I blew Lee a kiss and turned to go back toward the garage. Lee keeps a small black plastic garage door opener in one of the inside zippered pocket of his motorcycle jacket. He hit the button on the remote and the garage door began to rise. The electric sound of the opener was muted by the content deep growl of the twin motorcycle engines at idle.

“Can you find the glasses alright, Leena?” Lee asked.

“You always keep them in the top drawer of the motorcycle dresser. I can find them just fine,” I answered.

I smiled at Lee. Didn’t he know that I knew everything about him? I came out a moment later and handed him the glasses. Lee grabbed me, and I jumped back and inch and playfully slapped his hand. I gave him a hug and stretched myself to my full 5 foot 1 1/2 inch height. At my height, the half-inch is important, thank you very much.

I climbed aboard the motorcycle and tap the center of leaseback to let him know I was ready. Lee slowly pulled out onto our street and headed east. I do not know why, but I always loved to watch the garage door close as we rode away. It is something I’ve done since I became comfortable on the back of the bike. I imagined the soft thump of the garage door as it met the cement of the driveway and instead listened to the snarl of the engines subside as we reached the first intersection and rolled to a stop. Lee turned onto Ash Street, a four-lane could take us toward dozens of destinations. We had nowhere in particular to go; we seldom did when we went for a motorcycle ride.

The sunlight was to our back and the tall Oaks and cherry trees along the street swayed in the early morning breeze. Evergreens glowed and seemed to shimmer in anticipation of the new day. To our right, a small dirty white dog, no more than a 5 pound ball of fur, strained at its leash and barked in high-pitched squeaks. I smiled at the idea of it getting loose and wondered what it thought it could do about an 800 pound motorcycle. Smoke rose lazily from a few puffing chimneys and the large silhouettes of birds, wings spread wide, sailed above us. White billowing clouds spread further and further apart as the sun rose into the heavens. They seemed to be dancing and darting across the open sky. The sound of the motorcycle engine was a joyous sound as if the Star was laughing and rejoicing as the sun shone on at slick black body. It almost seemed that it was happy it to be finally free from the cramped garage.

Lee rode cautiously. He often told me that when riding a motorcycle a good writer would check, double-check and then check again before doing anything. It is strange riding on a powerful motorcycle on a cold sunny day. While the sun reached to warm me the cold air and wind rushed by and began to seep through the layers of clothing. If not for the fleece faced hood tucked under my helmet and the heat of the motorcycle pipes, the wind might have reached me and made the winds embrace too cold to enjoy. I hunched my back and slid towards Lee. The wind was mostly blocked now and the feel of his strong body brought me comfort and warmth.

Lee turned toward the entrance of the freeway and I knew immediately where we were going. There was a beautiful back road a few miles north of here and it was perfect for motorcycling. It  had rolling green hills dotted with grazing cattle in grassy pastures full of lively horses. Dozens of sheep, their fleece still heavy in the winter sun, would wander peacefully together through an unmarked pathway of curves that only they could see. There was usually almost no car traffic at all on the back road and Lee love to let the big Yamaha purr through the straight sections. Then he would use the powerful engine to pull us free of the twist of one curve and into the cramped horseshoe of the next.

It was about 6 miles up the freeway to the exit and since I had never particularly enjoyed riding on the freeway on the motorcycle, I was thinking about our 21-year-old daughter, Sara, and wondering just what sort of trouble she might be getting herself into after three years of college all the way in Maine. Sarah would gather the attention of many of the college boys with her long, straight raven hair, russet brown eyes and tall thin body. Sarah took after her father. She was beautiful, graceful and full of joyous energy and a zeal for life. I smiled just thinking of her. A moment passed and I remembered that I needed to get a birthday card for my brother Alan. How old was he now? 49 I thought. My, how time flies. I wondered if he would ever get his act together. Sometimes I thought Sarah’s best friends little children had more sense than Allen did. I thought of my own father; Roy Melvin, and how when I was a little girl I had loved to run into his big arms when he got home from work. Papa had been a laborer. Some called him unskilled, but I saw the marvelous things he created with his hands. How could an unskilled man create such things?

That brought me to a thought of our son, Seth. Seth had taken after me with his light strawberry blond hair and relatively short stature. His manly, yet boyish good looks had turned the heads of many young ladies. Seth had been a handsome, sometimes lighthearted and sometimes scary boy. I wondered if he would be out here riding with us today if he had just called in sick instead of going to work that April Saturday morning four years ago. The boy had been a daredevil and believed he was indestructible. A Superman in his own mind, he never bothered to look where he was going. He would laugh of time-after-time of almost being hit by a car, coming close to falling from some high crag, or nearly suffering some other terrible fate. The silly boy had been crossing a busy street in heavy traffic on a rainy, fog blanketed day. He must have known the view of drivers would be limited in that kind of weather. Nevertheless, he was unlikely to be paying attention to where he was going. He seemed certain that nothing could harm him. He believed at worst, he would have another amusing tale to brag about. I’m not sure he ever saw the bus that hit him as he tried to cross the street.

I had never felt such a horrible and empty feeling in my life as the day I had to call Lee and tell him the horrible news. I arrived home from work and a black-and-white police car was sitting in front of our house. The officer slowly unfolded himself from his car and walked toward me with his eyes downcast. In that moment I knew that he bore no news I would want to hear. The officer’s badge glinted in the passing rays of sunlight and he spoke in a soft sorrowful tone. He told me that a bus had hit Seth and that our beautiful son was gone. Seth of been only 20 years old. It was just all too much. I tossed my head and opened my face shield to wipe away my tears and allowed the cold wind to wash the memory away. The late fall chill took my breath away. I gathered my scattered thoughts and looked around.

 I thought to myself, “Oh good, the exit is coming up,” then I saw Lee turn on the turn signal and glance into the side view mirror. 

Something was wrong. The brake lights on the car in front of us quickly came on and glowed. The car was quickly reducing his speed. Instinctively, I closed my face shield and tried to ready myself. I felt the motorcycle accelerate as Lee turned away from the mirror and then saw him flinch as he recognized that the car in front of us was much too close. As if in slow motion, I watched in horror as it all happened. Lee hit the brakes and I heard them start to squeal. It was the sound of a throng of sad birds crying in unison, shrill and piercing. The sound died in the thudding of the heavily breathing decelerating twin motorcycle engines replaced it. The sun glinted on the rear windshield of the car in front of us as it grew closer. Something hit the back of the motorcycle and I lost my grip on Lee. I heard the scraping of the bikes engine guards as they hit the pavement and the sickening sound of crunching metal. I felt myself being thrown up into the air and the next thing I knew I could feel nothing at all. All I could see was a close up view of perhaps 12 square inches of pavement. I had never noticed the color and size variations of the pebbles in the pavement before, or how they glow in the sunlight. It was almost like viewing a dozen dazzling diamonds in my favorite Tiffany and Company jewelers case.

A crowd began to gather from nowhere. Silent for whaling, first further away, then closer– and closer still. People were chattering at me and screaming meaningless words in a dizzying flurry of motions and colors and sounds. I can hear every word but somehow none of it had meaning. 

Where was Lee? Oh, God! Where was Lee?

The sound altered and someone yelled something I understood.

“Sit down,” someone yelled. “Sit down, sir,” another yelled.

The sirens were closer and I felt the rhythm of their sound vibrating through my body. Someone was checking my pulse. A string of unintelligible medical gibberish came from numerous disembodied voices. Someone moved my legs and white-hot pain shot through my body. I felt as if I were going to pass out and would have welcomed it if it would ebb the excruciating pain. I could hear the blaring siren and sense the jostling of the ambulance as it raced toward the hospital. I heard two voices; one male, one female, exchanging medical terminology. Every minute or so I could see an out of focus face block the light and a female voice would ask,” Mrs. Wood, can you hear me Mrs. Wood?” 

I wanted to tell her that I could hear her just fine and that the name was Woods not would but I could not get my mouth to move. I wanted ask for a blanket I was so cold. I wanted to ask for something for the pain, it was unbearable. But, no sound would come and none of my body would move.

“Mrs. Wood?” She tried again” “Mrs. Wood, can you lift your hand?”

I tried, but I could not.

“Mrs. Wood, can you lift your hand?” She asked more loudly.

I simply could not move. I could not speak. I became frightened.

The ambulance attendant gave up trying to talk to me and I heard people talking on a metallic sounding radio that compressed their voices and gave them an nearly cartoon character quality. Someone put a warm blanket over me and I began to relax. They must’ve given me something for the pain too, because the ride was now more tolerable. I sensed the rhythmic almost melodious rise and fall of the siren and the rattling, jostling and vibrating of the ambulance. The ambulance rocked and my body strained against the straps. Been with one final quiver it came to a stop. The door at my feet swung open and someone rolled me out of the ambulance and into a red stained light of the emergency rooms neon sign. A person on each side of me lifted me onto a table and someone pushed me into the hospitals emergency room.

Orchestrated chaos was the only way to describe what happened in the next few moments. Someone rolled me into a tiny room filled with bright lights. People were coming, going, shouting and prodding me. Strange machines and medical contractions were everywhere. I lay there wondering if Lee was here somewhere and if he was going to be alright. A man with a practiced calm in his voice spoke to me. He described each medical procedure just before he began them and I instinctively trusted him. Then someone move my legs again. Unimaginable searing in tearing pain tour through my body. It was a pain beyond childbirth or any other agony that I’ve ever endured. A drape of darkness fell around me and reality began to dissolve. Everything went black and still.

Then, the strangest thing happened. I felt myself floating and rising to the ceiling until I hovered in one corner of the room. I could see the entire room below me. A woman’s middle aged body was lying I’m a hospital rolling table. Her long red hair had more gray then I thought mine had and she looked as if she could stand to lose 10 pounds, but her face was the face I had seen in the mirror this morning. Two doctors and three nurses were standing around my body.

“She’s lost consciousness. Notify ICU and get a neurosurgeon down here stat. There’s nothing more we can do here,” a tall dark skinned doctor said.

“Give me a minute Dr. Lane,” the shorter doctor said. He was the one with the practiced calm in his voice. He worked feverishly over my body and seem determined to find a way to heal me.

“Dr. Prichard, she’s not going to…” Dr. Lane said.

Sweat formed on the brow of Dr. Pritchards pale pink forehead. He continued working over my body without looking up. He connected some sort of electrical mechanical device to my body and did test after test to evaluate my condition.

“Dr. Prichard! Let’s leave it to the neurosurgeon, maybe there’s something he can do,” Dr. Lane said more firmly.

Dr. Prichard glanced up at Dr. Lane with a look of disgust. Then, he looked back towards my body and sighed. I look down at my body laying on the table and it looked cramped, old and worn. I was floating up here in the corner of the room able to see and hear everything. I felt no pain or pressure. I was no longer colder uncomfortable. I felt strangely detached from the scene playing out below me. From my viewpoint it was a little like watching an episode of the medical show on television. The actors were doing a good job of playing their parts, but I kept wondering when the story would be interrupted and a car company would tell of its new low interest financing offer or a drug company would suggest everyone called there doctor about a new prescription medicine.

A young nurses aide came through the door and asked, “Her husband is an observation. Can he see her?”

“Thank God, he is alright,” I thought.

Dr. Lane glared at Dr. Prichard and spoke again. I was now certain the Dr. Lane was in charge.

“We have a closed head injury here. The patient suffered severe trauma and lost consciousness. Move her to observation and monitor her for brain swelling. Maybe the best thing we can do is let her family spend some time with her,” Dr. Lane said.

Dr. Prichard look disappointed and he left the room with his kind blue eyes downcast. I thought I saw the glint of a tear on his face. I watched and listened as the room quickly emptied and quiet was restored.


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