Cynthia Clark shares an extract from her new novel, We All Fall Down.
Beep. Beep. Beep. The monotonous noise drilled into Bea’s head. Beep. Beep. Beep. Its shrillness was making her brain hurt. Even her eyes smarted. She started shaking her head, hoping that the movement would put a stop to the noise, but something held her back. She felt as if she were cast in stone, as if something was keeping her from turning her neck.
Panic bubbled inside her. What was happening? She racked her brain to remember, piece together the events that led to this moment. Her head hurt, a piercing pain that seemed to be drilling from one side of her forehead to the other. The backs of her eyes throbbed. She tried opening them but could only manage to lift her eyelids a fraction before they fluttered back.
Think, think, she urged herself. Waking up late, Miriam angrily hitting her, Sebastian causing a diversion, the bag of powder. Piece by piece the events of the morning started coming back. Until she saw it flashing in front of her eyes. Miriam swerving, the yellow lorry careening towards the van. Being thrown in the air, feeling as if she were never going to go back to the ground. The searing pain all over her body. And Sebastian, staring at her with dead eyes.
After she stopped screaming, she reached out to him, shook him, tried to wake him up. But he didn’t move. He was gone.
The movement had sent sharp pains through her body. Bea looked down, trying to assess her injuries. In the years living with Miriam she had become accustomed to dealing with pain. She knew her body would recover. She’d get over this as well.
But then, as light streamed through a gap in the van’s ceiling, Bea looked down at her legs. Her skirt had ridden up, her thighs were covered in goosebumps. But she couldn’t feel the cold. Instead, she felt heat spreading all over her body. She squinted her eyes to try and get a clearer view, hoping that her vision was playing tricks on her. And yet, there was no mistaking the bone jutting out of her right calf, her leg twisted horrifically.
Her mouth filled with bile and she heaved uncontrollably. This couldn’t be happening, this couldn’t be true. All her life, her biggest dream had been to become a ballerina, like her mother. Ballet was her only escape, her only pleasure. Miriam loved forcing her to skip lessons, but Bea persevered, practising in her small room until late at night. Ballet was the only way she could keep her mother’s legacy alive and she was determined to succeed.
But even though she had only just turned ten, Bea knew that this injury spelled the end of her dream, that she would never recover. Even if her leg healed, it would never be able to withstand the hours of gruelling practice.
The panic inside her had started to abate and was replaced by desperate sadness. Bea forced herself to turn her head, looking away from her blood-covered legs, and buried her face in her hands, crying uncontrollably.
Hushed voices surrounded her. Bea strained her ears to try and make out what they were saying. But the beep from the machines kept blocking out the conversation. She could only catch a few words here and there. ‘Lucky to be alive.’ ‘Devastating injury.’ ‘Not sure if she’ll ever walk again.’ ‘Long recovery ahead.’
With the utmost struggle, Bea opened her eyes. The light was blinding and for a moment she couldn’t really see anything. Then she started making out the figures surrounding her, two men in white coats and a woman wearing a tweed jacket.
‘Hello, darling,’ the woman said. ‘How are you feeling?’
With effort, she opened her mouth. ‘Sebastian?’ Her voice sounded croaky and she wasn’t sure if they understood her. She swallowed the lump lodged in her throat, but before she could ask again, the woman moved closer towards the bed, leaned over and took Bea’s hand, squeezing it tightly.
‘I’m so sorry, sweetie.’ Her voice was gentle. ‘I’m afraid Sebastian didn’t make it.’
Bea didn’t know how to respond. She looked at the doctors, still standing next to her bed, worried expressions on their faces. Tears started welling in her eyes, but she didn’t want to cry. Not in front of complete strangers. She wanted to be strong, just as she’d had to be for the past years.
Turning back to the woman, Bea saw that she was still looking at her eagerly, her eyes crinkled, her head cocked slightly to the side. ‘How are you?’ she asked again.
‘Uhm, I’m not sure,’ Bea finally responded. Then, memory came flooding back, and she felt her chest tighten. ‘My leg,’ she said softly, looking towards the doctors.
The two men looked at each other. ‘You broke your right leg,’ one of them said. ‘But we were more worried about the injuries to your head. We had to put you in a medically-induced coma to give your body time to heal. It was touch-and-go for a while, but you’re doing well.’
‘What about my leg?’ There was a shrillness to her voice that she’d never heard.
‘It was a bad break, but a clean one,’ one of the doctors responded. ‘We’ve performed surgery to align the bone and placed pins to help keep it in place until it heals.’
‘Will I be able to walk?’ Bea’s voice was so soft that she could barely hear herself over the noise coming from the machines.
‘We think so. But you have a long road ahead of you. You must do physiotherapy, commit yourself to follow all instructions. And take it easy.’
The other doctor jumped in. ‘But that’s not our focus right now. It will be a few weeks before you can safely start the process to walk again. For now, it’s important to continue gaining strength, make sure you don’t overdo it and set your recovery back.’
‘Will I ever be able to go back to ballet?’
The two doctors looked at each other. The woman’s face was pinched, as if she was trying really hard not to show what she was thinking. There was a glimmer in her eyes and Bea knew that if a complete stranger was holding back tears, the prognosis was not good.
‘It’s too early to tell,’ one of the doctors said. ‘We’ll have to see how the recovery goes, how well your brain heals before focusing on your leg. It all depends on several factors that we don’t always have control over. What’s important right now is that you rest. That will help you heal.’
Bea felt a cold hand on hers and looked towards the woman. There was a kindness in her face that Bea had not seen in a long time. ‘You need to listen to the doctors, sweetheart. We will all work to help you get better.’
‘Who are you?’ The question sounded rude but Bea needed to know.
‘Oh, yeah, I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself,’ the woman said. ‘I’m Esther. I’m in charge of you from now on.’
‘But… but what about Miriam?’ Bea remembered seeing Miriam flying out of the shattered windscreen, her mouth open in a terrified scream. ‘Is she dead?’
‘Oh, no, no, she’s not dead. But she’s badly injured. Unfortunately, she won’t be running the home any longer.’
For a moment Bea didn’t know whether she had heard right. Could Miriam be history? Were the years of torment and abuse finally over? Bea didn’t even know what to wish for. ‘How badly hurt?’ she asked.
The woman cocked her head to one side and looked at her with kind eyes. ‘We don’t know yet. The doctors are still to determine the extent of her injuries. I’m sorry. I know all of you loved Miriam. I will try my best to find you a fitting replacement.’
Many years ago, orphans Bea, her brother Sebastian, Helen, Sandra and John lived together in a home, with their carer Miriam. But Miriam didn’t care at all. If you asked the children, they would have said that Miriam hated them. And it’s no fun living with someone who hates you, so the children decided to do something about it… Then a terrible accident changed everything, and the children were ripped apart from each other.
Many years ago, Ronnie Moss made a mistake he can never take back, no matter how much he wishes he could, so instead he runs for his life. But he can’t run forever.
Many years later, the secrets of the past are finally being revealed, and nothing will ever be the same again.
Cynthia Clark was born and brought up in Malta, where she graduated in Communications and went to work for a daily newspaper. She has since lived in the US, where she worked as a writer in online business journals. She and her husband now live in the States with their twin daughters.
Twitter handle: @cynthiaNYC