GRAY REAGAN IS SUPINE, upper body elevated at thirty degrees, knees articulated at a bit less in a hospital bed in Highland Memorial’s intensive care unit. Ocular dressings cover his eyes, a non-invasive bilevel positive airway pressure, or what is more commonly referred to as a BiPAP mask, seals at his nose. This allows a sophisticated air pump to sense his respirations and assist Gray’s breathing in and out by alternating pressures and supplementing oxygen. The pressure also pushes forward what is left of his tongue, preventing it from sliding back into and occluding his airway. His mouth has been taped closed after a flap procedure was performed just ahead of the terminal sulcus – the remainder of the rear part of his tongue – to stop the organ’s hemorrhage and accelerate its healing. Telemetry fans out from his bare chest and a little farther down and to his left is a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube connected to a feeding pump. And there’s an E.T. probe on his finger.
On another floor at Highland nestled into a recliner in the PICU is Laura with her little Adam snuggled into her arms, both sound asleep.
Across town in Silverado’s gated community is a pickup truck parked in front of the Reagan home with a number of four-by-four inch post real estate signs neatly arranged across the tailgate as its driver erects one of them in front of the house declaring it on the market.
In the Alvarez home in the avenues Mikayla groups bottle caps and gummy bears doing math manipulatives with her mom on their kitchen table.
And in the old Parks development, police tape strikes an X on the front entry of an abandoned property on Glacier Drive, a two-bedroom, two-bath rambler with a two-car garage, the front door of which is wide open behind the tape. Detective Alvarez’s SUV is parked in the driveway. He is standing in the home’s great room, the term now a tragic misnomer. The space has been hollowed out by some flameless inferno, no smoke or ash, but something combustible nonetheless to consume its interior, its decor, its indications of living. Ahead of him across the room are the splintered studs of a load-bearing frame, some suspended from a sagging ceiling and a couple of others from the base, still clad a bit in painted ragged drywall.
All the horizontal surfaces in the room, the flooring, the tops of the plastic-covered furniture, and the dining table are covered in drywall dust. Steve moves off the entry landing and steps into the space, his shoe smearing the black sooty path of the extricated bathtub. He sidesteps the stain trying to preserve as much of the scene as possible and walks to the demolition that frames out the right side of the hallway entrance. He knows this house or he did when he responded to investigate the suicide that occurred in the hall bathroom that used to be there. Another step and on his left is the open door to the only cheer left in the house, a bright empty room with yellows and pinks. Beyond it and straight ahead is the master bedroom. He crosses its threshold and finds the chaos of Ian McDaniel’s last days of living here, a double-chested dresser with all its drawers pulled open and empty, dust-covered nightstands smeared by fingers reaching for objects on top of them. Between them the queen-size bed, stripped of linen with a scrunched up mummy sleeping bag at its head. On the floor by the bed is a dirty discarded wife-beater and a filthy pair of shorts. Against the wall across from the foot of the bed is a high chest of drawers upon which is a nineteen inch TV/VCR combo with a yellow sticky note attached to its tube. Written on it in indelible thick black ink is the word Play. Steve switches on the appliance, removes the sticky note and presses play. Its VCR makes the noises of pulling a tape out of its cassette and wrapping it around a rotating drum of a video head and engaging the drive on the take-up spool. The screen flashes and diagonal lines move down the tube until an image comes clear.
The image is of Linda happily putting the finishing touches on an amused little Ginny who sits in a special red stroller made to support her body and head. Linda is making her up for Trick-or-treating, a princess in a violet gown. She bobby-pins a small tiara to Ginny’s blond curls and adds a touch of rouge to her cheeks. The shot pushes close up to Ginny, and off camera Ian says, Pardon me, your Highness. You wouldn’t be missing a glass slipper, would you? Ginny blushes to the camera, delighted. The picture goes askew for a moment while Ian moves into frame with Linda and Virginia holding the camera just so while he checks his composition on its little screen. They smile, Ian kisses Ginny on her cheek while Linda kisses the other. Okay, Linda says, Let’s go! and the picture swings around and goes to noise.
Steve still watches, standing there with his face maybe a foot away from the screen. The noise continues to play as he waits for something more, maybe a last message from Ian. He presses the fast-forward and scans the tape further, but there’s nothing more recorded. He turns the set off and stands there staring at its dark screen for a long time.
KATIE CHAMBERLAIN’S GRAVE MARKER is a shade more grown over since the last grass trimming, a task Karen Pierce will tend to this midmorning after she sits awhile there at the cemetery and reflects about her week. And the noisiest thought that comes from her inventory of events is her wonder of what happened to the man she saw there just last week after a funeral, the same man who was at her door and then in her home with a clipboard asking questions about Katie’s induced birth and something about Doctor Reagan’s mistakes.