There was something off about Mr. Ledbetter after his daughter died.
It was more than the shakes. Visitors to the garage would comment on it whenever he grasped their ticket, asking if there was something wrong; his hands struggling to insert the ticket into the machine. In reality, that was just damaged nerves. What was really off about Ledbetter was his silence at the dinner table, his muted smile at work, and the two times a week where he would take a detour on the way back home from work, park on the side of the street in the neighborhood and just grip the wheel hard and look down without saying anything for about ten minutes, then go back out towards the house.
It was a long and ugly fight that no one was really proud of. They knew that Kayla would have had complications from when the doctors had told her early on, but during those first few years they threw the comments to the back burner and enjoyed simply being in Kayla’s presence. It wasn’t until she was 3 that things started getting bad.
It was messy. Messy and expensive. Weekly chemo treatments were followed by a large bill in the mail. At first, Ledbetter was adamant; he put practically his entire paycheck into his only daughter’s treatment. Each treatment was followed up with the ebbs and flows of recovery, and then the eventual sink back into the status quo of deterioration. Funds began to dry up. Ledbetter started to get worried.
Mrs. Ledbetter tried to pour in some reason. She asked him to think of Ryan. To think of Ryan’s future. Where would he be if they didn’t have any money left? But there was something about Ledbetter’s blind determination that made him believe that it wasn’t about losing. There was no lose condition; eventually Kayla would be cured, they just had to keep focus. So, despite his wavering, he kept going.
Then the nerve damage hit. An irreversible condition that made his job at the bank almost impossible. It was at some point during this period that he became the last person to realize that it was all over.
Kayla passed away later that year.
Now, it was five years ago to the date. And when Ledbetter went to take his usual detour, this time he held the steering wheel just a bit tighter than he usually did. He took fifteen minutes instead of ten. Then, he went back home.
When he got back the first thing he did was call Ryan, who now worked over at the airport as an analyst of some sort. Mr. Ledbetter asked if everything was good over at work, and then asked if he wanted to come over for dinner. The son said yes. Mrs. Ledbetter cooked, and as was standard now Mr. Ledbetter didn’t say much. All he did was stare across the dining room while Mrs. Ledbetter and her son talked about how things had been. A bit later that night, when Ryan was about to head back out, Ledbetter asked his son if he wanted to watch a movie on the couch. Ryan said yes. It was an old action movie from the ‘80s that the two had seen together a couple of times before. About halfway through the movie Ledbetter spoke up.
“Remember the trip we took to Kalamoo?”
The son spoke softly. “The one with Kayla?”
“Yeah, that one. You too were both pretty young. We went to the theme park there and hiked the mountain. When we got to the top you got bit by that snake, and your mom freaked out and we drove you to the hospital but it turned out that it was some common garden breed and didn’t even have that much venom. You remember that?”
“…Yeah. Yeah I do, actually.”
“I remember… the highlight of the trip was gonna be the zoo. I knew she was gonna love the zoo. You know… you remember how much she loved animals, right?”
“Of course I do.”
“And we went there and she was all excited… but I forgot to check the seasonal schedule. It was closed. I forgot to check the schedule.”
Ryan shook his head. “It wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Ledbetter repeated himself. “It was closed.”
The two stayed for a bit after the credits. They didn’t say anything to each other. Eventually Ledbetter got up, patted his son on the head, and commented on how he had to get up early for work.
He waited until Ryan had left, then went back down to the living room. From a small drawer on the side of the china cabinet he took out a .44 magnum revolver with a single round already loaded inside. He looked at the gun, pausing for a second, and then grabbed a couch pillow.
He thought about writing a note. He got out a small memo book and a pen, sat down at the dining table and started writing, but the nerve damage in his hands made it too hard to write, so he put it back down. When he looked back down at what he wrote, it was almost entirely incomprehensible. He sighed and went back to the couch.
He pushed the pillow onto his chest and aimed the revolver into it. And, after giving one last attempt at the Lord’s Prayer, he fired.
Some time earlier…
Every night at around eight ‘o clock, Cynthia would get on her bike and ride from her apartment to the hospital where she worked the night shift. She had just started her residency four weeks prior, and had primarily been on ambulance duty. It was on this night that she would take her bike as she always did, get to the hospital and put her scrubs on, and wait for the on-duty ambulance to come through so they could switch up.
Her ambulance partner Nathan was playing a game on his phone when she arrived. He looked up at her and grinned.
“Ready for another night absolutely nothing?”
She rolled her eyes at him mockingly as she sat her backpack and bike with the rest of the team’s belongings. “What’s gotten you so upset?”
“Oh, nothing. I just find myself yet again, waiting to get on an ambulance at 2 AM so I can watch Youtube all night and get home in the morning wondering what I’m doing with my life.”
After Cynthia had put her stuff down, she sat down in the seat next to Nathan. “Well maybe tonight we can go back to that burger place you like.”
“Huh? Starsky’s? Damn, I’ll take that bet.”
“It’s gotta be a nothing night, though.”
“Lord knows it will be.”
The ambulance got there around ten minutes later. The two young doctors-in-training hopped into the back and sat across from each other, an empty stretcher sitting between them.
Nathan was the first to spark a new conversation. “So… what do you want to do? After residency?”
The truck began to lurch forward. Cynthia gripped the sides of her seat. “I mean… I’ll try to get placement at McCallinan, I guess.”
Cynthia looked at her partner funny. “What’s wrong with McCallinan?”
Nathan brought his hands up and leaned back in the seat, though the car hit a bump and ended up jolting him a bit forward. “Oh, no! I didn’t mean it like that. Lord, it’ll be a miracle if I ever get in McCallinan. I meant more, like… well, I mean you seem like you have your shit together… and Freddie says he wants to go to New Haven…”
Cynthia sighed, looking out the ambulance window. “That’s because it’s Freddie.”
“True.” Nathan looked out the ambulance window himself. There was brief silence between the two, beyond the rhythmic rolling of the truck down the road, before Nathan spoke again.
“You ever afraid… that you’ll look back at all this, and regret it?”
The question caught Cynthia off guard. An unhealthy anxiety bubbled up from the pit of her stomach.
“Why… do you ask?”
Nathan looked away from the window, his hands resting on his legs, gently twiddling, before he could think of a response. The truck continued, rhythmically moving and occasionally forcing them to and fro.
“I don’t know. I’ve gotten to the age where I feel like, life moves pretty fast, ya know? And I question sometimes, if later on down the line… fifty years, twenty years, ten years… if I’ll look back on where I am now and think, ‘Damn, I wish I was somewhere else’.”
Cynthia took a moment. She sighed and shook her head. “I try not to think about those sorts of things. It’ll drive you crazy.” But that was a lie. She did, all the time. Particularly during the bike ride back to the apartment.
Then, there was the phone call. Nathan was the first to get it. As it unraveled, his face turned solemn. He gave some hurried “Yes”s and “I understand”s to the person on the other line, and then double tapped Cynthia on the shoulder.
“That was 911 ops.” He told her. “There’s been an attempted suicide. We gotta go.”
The ambulance rushed to the scene. When they arrived they saw a fire engine already on the scene, and a disturbed Mrs. Ledbetter laying crouched, crying viciously into her nightgown as a firewoman consoled her.
There was another fire ranger on the scene, who went to greet the two.
“We got him stabilized. You two came just in time. Come with me — he’s in the living room.”
Cynthia tip-toed her way past the wife, who gave out another hallowing shriek right as the young girl passed and caused her to jump in surprise. But the repulsion, the reality, did not set in for her until she saw the bleeding body splayed out on tainted beige carpet.
“Oh jeez… oh jeez, oh jeez…” She repeated the words to herself, whispering, over and over again as they pulled the body of Mr. Ledbetter onto the stretcher and out of the scene. When they came outside Nathan’s arm was grabbed by Mrs. Ledbetter tightly, and in a sort of natural reflex he vigorously shook the arm off, causing the woman to fall back down into the grass of the front yard. He hid his face after this, but continued his rush towards the ambulance without stopping.
When they finally got Ledbetter into the ambulance, he was in shock; and I suppose, in a way, so was everyone else. Cynthia got on the IV while her partner tried to control the bleeding, but it became very apparent early on that Ledbetter simply wasn’t going to make it.
“Cynthia, I’m gonna go up in the front and call the guys at the hospital. Could you do me a favor and stay with the guy, just in case he wakes up?”
Her hands were shaking. “Yes, of course.”
After a few bumps in the road, Ledbetter slowly opened his eyes. Noticing this, Cynthia tried to keep his body on the table, even though he didn’t bother moving.
“Please sir, stay still. We’re almost to the hospital, okay?”
Ledbetter moved his lips without speaking for a few moments before his voice finally took control. “Did… Ryan see me?”
Cynthia looked at him. “I… I don’t know. Listen, we’re going to get you help, alright? You’ll… you’ll be okay. We’ll make sure… we’ll make sure you’ll be okay.”
He looked up at the girl for a few moments. He seemed confused at first. However, after some time, he smiled. “May I touch your hand?”
He reached for her fingers and Cynthia took part, the two interlocking their knuckles for a few brief blissful moments.
Ledbetter closed his eyes. “You know, it’s funny. You look just like her.”
The life support flatlined.
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