The girl he pulls to the surface is dead. I know it the moment I see her.
The camera zooms in, shaking a little as she comes into focus. Even in the golden lights shining down from the bridge, her skin is an unnatural shade of blue. Her top hangs loose and heavy with water from one shoulder, revealing a black bra strap. Long, dark hair streaks down her face in waves, covering her eyes, nose, mouth, and I want to brush it away so she can breathe, but the blue of her skin says it wouldn’t help. She isn’t breathing. She can’t feel the hair covering her face or the water that moves in her lungs instead of air.
She can’t feel anything.
Not the arms that drag her dead weight from the dark water, or the crack of her skull against the boat as they lift her into it. Not the hands that lay her down roughly on the deck, then feel her neck, her wrists, anywhere for a pulse. She doesn’t feel the bite of the night air against her bare skin when they rip her shirt open, straight down the center, without hesitating.
I watch, relieved that she can’t feel the force of those hands as they come together, one on top of the other, in the middle of her chest, and thrust downward. Deep enough to produce a contraction in her motionless heart. Hard enough to send a rush of blood and oxygen through her body, to her brain. Strong enough to crack ribs.
I wince at this, and at those hands that come down again and again, the full weight of the person behind them compressing her chest, her lifeless body convulsing under the force of them each time. Over and over.
But then, like a reprieve, the hands stop, brush the hair from her face, almost gently, and tilt her chin to the sky. The camera zooms in on her face just as he pinches her nose and brings his mouth to her blue lips. He breathes his own air into her lungs before his hands move back to the center of her chest to start the cycle again.
Her mouth begins to foam.
Sirens whine in the distance. Voices off camera murmur urgent words that are lost in the wind. Someone is crying.
“My God,” the voice from behind the camera says, “it’s too late. There’s no way she’s going to live.”
It’s a voice that’s familiar. Warm in a way the makes me want to keep hearing it. Comforting, but I can’t place it. I search. Through the water or the fog—I can’t tell which because it’s everywhere, all around me.
But I know this voice. I know her.
I grasp at the word, reach for something to pair it with. A name . . . a face . . . something, anything, but I come up empty, except for that familiar feeling.
“We’re right here, Livvy. Right here,” the voice—she— says, and I feel a gentle hand on mine. It doesn’t poke or prod, just sits there, still and warm, and I relax at the touch, and the sound of my nickname.
“Hey, Liv,” another voice says gently. A male voice. “Can you hear me?” he asks.
I know this one too. And I can feel the answer, just beyond my reach. I wade through the heaviness all around me, fumble through the haze that seems endless, and this time I don’t come up empty. I find the answer.
Yes, I can hear you. Yes. Yes. Yes.
“If you can hear me, sweetheart, try to open your eyes.”
Sweetheart . . .
I hang on to that word he said.
Sweetheart . . .
That word he always says.
Good night, sweetheart.
I know this.
Be safe, sweetheart . . .
I know him . . .
Wake up, sweetheart.
The word materializes from the fog crystal clear, like it’s always been there, and it makes me so happy I want him to keep talking. Keep asking me questions.
“Can you wake up, Liv? Open your eyes?”
My eyes. I remember them too now and try to do what he asks, but they are weighted down—impossible, leaden things that won’t be moved.
“She will,” the first voice says, and I know all at once it’s my mom. Her warm hand squeezes mine and I squeeze back, but she doesn’t notice. “She’ll wake up when she’s ready.”
But I’m awake. I’m here!
I try to say the words. Try to let them know that I can hear them. I need them to know that their voices are so clear, and I know who they are, and I want them to stay with me. I don’t want them to leave me alone in this dream- fog place, with the never-ending beeping and buzzing and muffled voices of strangers, and strange hands that move me around, touching and checking me in what seems like a constant cycle. I summon every bit of strength I have to form the words, but they get lost in the haze between my brain and my mouth.
It’s quiet except for the machines. I panic. I don’t want them to leave me. I need to say something so they don’t leave me.
I try again, harder this time, and after a moment, a tiny sound—cracked and desert-dry—comes burning from somewhere deep in my throat.
My mom’s hand squeezes again, and I remember it’s there. Again I squeeze back, and again she doesn’t notice. Why doesn’t she notice?
“Did you hear that?” my dad asks. “I heard something, Suze. She made a sound.”
I feel the weight of his large hand come to my shoulder. “We’re right here, sweetheart. Your mom and I are right here.”
I try again to speak, and the cracked sound turns into a low moan that I don’t recognize. It burns in my throat, and in my ears, but the harder I try to make it stop, the louder it gets.
“It’s okay, baby,” my mom’s voice says. “You’re okay, you’re just waking up, that’s all. You’ve had a nice long sleep, and you’re waking up.”
When she says the words, I understand that’s what I need to do. That’s what they want me to do. I do my best, concentrate on my eyes. Make them blink, just barely. The brightness sends a f lash of pain through my head. I cry out so loud it scares me, and squeeze my eyes shut as hard as I can.
“The light, Bruce,” my mom says. “Get the light.”
I hear a shuffle and then the click of a switch, and in my head I try to calm down, but my skull is pounding and my throat is burning and I can’t.
“Sshhh . . . it’s okay,” my mom says, running her warm hand over my forehead now. “It’s okay.”
I realize I’m still making that low, terrible sound, still squeezing my eyes closed so hard it hurts.
My dad is next to me again, his hand back on my shoulder, his voice soft and low. “Hey, hey, hey, you don’t have to wake up yet. You just wait until you feel good and ready.”
The lightning strike in my head is gone, but tiny ripples of pain still radiate outward from someplace deep inside. I’m scared to open my eyes again, but I want to wake up, I do. I want to wake up and go home, and leave this place, whatever, wherever it is.
I try to relax my eyelids enough to let them f lutter open, just a little, bracing for the pain to come f lashing through my head again. But this time it doesn’t. I open my eyes a tiny bit more, and now I can see something. I can see the blurred outlines on either side of me—my parents. And I can hear the sudden cry from my mom, and the laugh that escapes from my dad as he leans over me and kisses my forehead.
“There you are,” he says.
For a few seconds, it feels like someone is turning the lights up slowly. And then it happens.
I wake up.