The Last Shard of Glass

By Nina Kindred

Part I

"What will she do now?" Those were the first words I heard after.

It wasn't supposed to happen—ever. I'd lived in North Manchester my entire life. The town had been there for over 150 years, and before that it had been an Indian village. The old Indian tales told how the village that stood in the bend of a river would never be struck by the evil swirling winds of the Gods. Whether the Indians had simply been wrong, or Global Warming had taken its toll, tornadoes had struck the little town of North Manchester, Indiana.

I opened my eyes to see the institutional blank white walls of a hospital room. The doctors standing in front of the bed were not familiar. The view out the window was not familiar. There was nothing familiar about the place at all. They turned to look at me. They smiled the fake smiles that doctors give when they have terrible news.

The doctor on the right noticed that I was awake. "Well, good morning."

The doctor on the left walked to my side. "Mrs. Metzger?"

"Yes." I replied.

"Good, you can hear me. I'm Dr. Grimes." He gestured to the other one. "This is Dr. Fearnow. We've been taking care of you for the last several days."

My heart stopped. "Several days? What do you mean by that?"

Dr. Grimes opened the door. "I'll notify the family." He left the room.

Dr. Fearnow looked at me, smiling that hideous smile that was supposed to make me feel better. "I never know what to say at times like this. You've been here for five days."

"Dear Lord, what about my children?" I never thought about anything but my five children, Eddie, Ben, Paul, Tom, and Lindsay.

"Oh, they're just fine. I promise. That's who Dr. Grimes is calling right now. They were here for the longest time, but everyone felt that it would be better if they went somewhere that they could get some rest. They are very worried about you."

"Thank the Lord." I could feel the tears of relief welling up in my eyes. "I was afraid that I didn't get them to the basement in time. I don't remember anything much. Do you know what happened? How's my husband?"

Dr. Fearnow stared at me blankly. He opened his mouth to talk but nothing came out.

"Is John all right?" I knew immediately that I didn't want to hear the answer.

"What happened in North Manchester is a disaster. I want you to know that. I've been watching it all on TV. I've seen the damage. It's unbelievable. It looks like Akron, Ohio after they had their wave of tornadoes decades ago. You are lucky to be alive. You're children are all perfectly okay. You have to remember to count your blessings."

"He's dead, isn't he?"

"Yes."

Time stopped. I felt as though someone had sucked all the air right out of me. John Metzger was my life. There had never been anyone else. In high school he'd been my only boyfriend. We'd been married two weeks after high school graduation. Our first son, Eddie, had been born on my nineteenth birthday. We'd been married for twelve years and had five children. Lindsay was the youngest at five.

There had barely been a moment in my life where John hadn't existed. We'd gone to kindergarten together. Since we were five years old we'd been friends, dates, lovers, and spouses. There wasn't a single memory in my entire life that didn't contain him. In a second, he was gone. My whole life was just gone. I felt like I was the only person left in the world.

What would I do? I was Lydia Metzger, John Metzger's wife. I was Eddie, Ben, Paul, Tom, and Lindsay's mother. Everyone in town knew me that way. Now it was all gone. I'd never held a job. Farmer's wives spend all of their time raising children and helping with the crops. That's all I knew. That's all there was to my life. I only went into town to go to the grocery store and go to church. My whole life was there on that farm.

"What about the house?"

Dr. Fearnow took another deep breath. "It's pretty much a total loss from what I'm told. You should really wait and talk to your family about all of this. I don't have all the facts. I wouldn't want to upset you any more."

"I'm not sure that's possible."

"I know that the rescue workers said that they pulled you from the rubble before letting the children out of the cellar."

I had to go and see for myself what had happened. I started to get out of bed, suddenly realizing that my left leg wouldn't move. I pulled back the cover to see a cast all the way up to my hip. I looked at Dr. Fearnow. "I guess you should tell me what happened to me."

"You shattered some bones in your left leg. You've been unconscious because you've been in and out of surgery for the last several days."

"I shattered some bones. How many is some?"

"Well, you managed to break you Femur in six places. We had to put four pins in that so it will heal correctly. You shattered your kneecap, so we replaced that."

"Replaced it?"

"Yes. Sometimes when there is substantial damage to a bone like a kneecap, it's simpler to replace it. You have the latest model straight from the Zimmer Corporation. After a couple of months you won't be able to tell the difference. Besides, polyurethane cartilage will last forever."

Somehow I didn't find that soothing. I sat, staring at my leg in the cast. It was all too much.

"What else?"

"Well, you broke your Tibia and your Fibula each in two places. We had to put in two pins for that. You also got forty nine stitches for that. It was a compound fracture. Now, your foot is in pretty good shape. The cabinet landed on your leg. They said it missed your foot. You broke your pinky toe, and we had to remove some glass from the top of your foot."

The cabinet. Everything that I owned that was of any worth to me was housed in the china cabinet that stood next to the cellar door in my dining room. Everything that meant anything was in there. The good china that we'd received as a wedding gift from John's grandmother, the little crystal animals that my parents sent home from their travels around the world, my grandmother's crystal drink ware, and the glasses that John and I had toasted with at our wedding. All of the kid's baby pictures had been in standing frames on the shelf between the top and the bottom of the cabinet. In the blink of an eye, all of my treasures were gone.

"The china cabinet did this to me?"

"That's what we were told. It's my understanding that it fell on your leg as you were guiding the kids to the cellar. I'm guessing that I got it right, because you were covered with shards of glass when they brought you in here. We removed over a thousand of them from your body and face."

I wanted to cry. There was nothing left. We didn't have anything. Farmers were some of the poorest people in Indiana. We were the last of a dying breed. My parents had sold out years ago to the local retirement home, Timbercrest. Timbercrest was the only expanding business in my home town, and they were always looking to buy up the farmland around them to make more facilities for their residents. My parents had gotten a small fortune for their land, retired and traveled around the world. They died broke of some disease that they contracted in India. All I'd had of them were the trinkets in the china cabinet.

My parents had died so poor that I couldn't afford to bury them. I had to go to my church and ask them to help with the cost of the funerals. Fortunately, I belonged to the Faith Baptist Church in town, and they were all wonderful people. They were my second family. I was already wondering if they would be able to help me now. How selfish, they probably have their own problems. The church was just up the road from my house, if it was still there at all. Everything was gone. How could that be?

So, all I had of my parents were trinkets of crystal, and all I had left of my grandmother was the china cabinet that my grandfather had built for her. And now, all of that had shattered. I put my hands over my face to sob. There were bumps on my face. I looked up to see Dr. Fearnow avoiding my eyes again.

"What's wrong with my face?"

"I told you, it was full of shards of glass. I think we got them all."

"You think?"

"Glass it tricky. It's very easy when you're dealing with that much broken glass, to miss a piece or two. Don't worry, if you start to feel a little sting that feels like a pin prick, just let us know and we'll dig it out."

"Can I look at my face?"

Dr. Fearnow reached around and pulled a hand mirror out of the night stand next to my bed. "Sure. It's not that bad. You look like someone smacked you with a wire brush, that's all. It's already begun to heal. Little pock marks like that won't scar at all. Soon it will be like it never happened."

I could only hope that any of this would ever feel like it never happened. I took the mirror from the doctor and held it up to look at my face. There were pock marks all over my face. I'd never had acne, and wasn't looking forward to having a pizza face now. Relieved that it was only superficial and didn't even warrant a bandage, I handed the mirror back to Dr. Fearnow.

He smiled at me. "See, it's not that bad."

Dr. Grimes came back in the room. "Mr. Penrod will be here soon with the kids." He looked at me. "They sounded very excited to hear that you were awake."

"Mr. Penrod? Not Bill Penrod?"

"Yes."

"What is that man doing with my children? I don't want him within a hundred miles of them!"

Both of the doctors seemed to be surprised at my reaction. Dr. Grimes stammered to say something. "I'm sorry. It was my understanding that he volunteered to take the children, under the circumstances. They needed a place to stay on very short notice, and there were no relatives that could do it."

My stomach flip flopped again. "What do you mean; there were no relatives that could take care of them? I have a sister, John has four brothers, and there's my Uncle Brewster."

The two doctors shot each other glances. "I honestly don't know. That's all I was told. I wasn't told about any other family." Dr. Grimes said, apologetically.

"When will they be here?"

Dr. Grimes looked at his watch. "Probably around noon."

I looked at the clock on the wall. It was only 10:15. "Where am I?"

"This is the medical center at Notre Dame."

"South Bend?"

"Yes. There were so many victims that they ran out of places to take them. You weren't critical, so they flew you here."

"Is there anything else I need to know? Is there anything else wrong with me?"

Dr. Fearnow spoke up. "The only other thing is that you had a slight concussion. It's healing very nicely, and should be fine."

"That's it?"

"That's it."

I couldn't believe that my children were staying with Bill Penrod. I hated him. He spent all of high school telling me that I shouldn't be with John, all the while masquerading as John's best friend. He was the guy that all the girls wanted. He had a different date every night of the week. Since high school he'd had five wives. He was the most arrogant, self involved, Godless man I'd ever met. Now I would have to thank him for taking care of my kids. Great.

Noon arrived along with my children and Bill Penrod. I was so happy to see the kids that I barely minded seeing Bill. The kids ran to my side and started chattering all at once. I had no idea what any of them said, but I didn't care. I was just happy to see them. I was thrilled that they were all right.

Ten minutes into their visit the kids finally calmed down. I was starting to feel tired, despite the fact that I'd spent the last several days sleeping. Each one of the kids had their own smile. Most of them smiled like their father. Lindsay looked more like me.

Bill had remained silent and sat in the corner while the children prattled on about their stay with him. They seemed healthy. They were clean. Bill sat and smiled at us.

"Thank you." I said to Bill.

"You don't need to thank me. It was my pleasure. How are you feeling?"

"I've been better."

"Look, I know you don't want me involved in all of this, so if there's someone that you'd rather have them with, just let me know."

I felt the worst pangs of guilt in my gut. He was trying to be helpful. What kind of a Christian would I be if I faulted him for that? "No. I'm very grateful to you." I touched my oldest, Eddie's arm. "Why don't you take them down the hall to get a drink, dear? I need to talk to Mr. Penrod for a minute."

"Okay mom."

I watched the door close behind the last of my brood before speaking. "So, what happened?"

"You don't want to hear about all of that right now, do you? It's not good. You need your rest right now. You don't need to be kept awake by nightmares."

"They told me that John's dead. He wasn't home. Do you know where he was when it happened?"

"He was out in the field by the river. Ironically, he was working the field by the old cemetery. You know, the one back by the old railroad right of way."

"The tornado went through there too?"

"The tornadoes went everywhere. They didn't miss much. The downtown area is all right, except for a few downed trees. The junior high and the high school are destroyed. Timbercrest is fine; I don't know how, but the grocery store plaza is leveled. They seemed to follow a pretty straight path from Butterbaugh's all the way to Liberty Mills. The only reason it missed Timbercrest is because it sits in a hole. That's what the experts are saying. I've been staying at the fire station with the kids. There's plenty of room for all of us there. My apartment is just too small for me and five kids."

"Thank you for taking care of the kids. I understand that most of my family is gone."

"I'm so sorry, but yeah. I don't have a delicate way to put it. You all lived in the same area. You all farmed out that way. It was kind of inevitable under the circumstances. I just want you to know that I'm here, whether you hate me or not. I'm not such a bad guy. I'm perfectly willing to help you with all of this. You're going to need some help."

"I just can't wait to get out of here. Now, everything else aside, how did John die?"

"Do you really need to know?"

"Yes."

"They found him in the top of a Sycamore tree."

I was stunned for a moment, but I had to realize that we lived in a huge tornado area. Indiana was one of the states that occasionally were riddled with tornadoes, and we lived there knowing that. I had to be strong for the kids. If I lost it, who would take care of them? Certainly not Bill Penrod. "Well, there's nothing I can do about that. I'll arrange a funeral when I can. I just can't wait until I can get out of here and be with the kids."

Bill looked at me, puzzled.

"What?" I asked.

"Didn't they tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"Never mind. And don't worry about John's funeral. I'll make all the arrangements."

"Thank you. You don't have to do that."

"It's no problem. I insist."

"I appreciate it. Now, what aren't you telling me?"

"You won't be able to come home until you learn how to walk again."

"What do you mean, learn how to walk again?"

"They told you about the fake knee, right?"

"Yes."

"Well, you have to learn to use it. What with all the damage to your leg, the whole process of healing and retraining will take at least two months."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was going to have to put up with Bill Penrod taking care of my family for two months. God, give me strength.