On the anniversary of a horrific accident, a woman confronts her long-held fears.
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The next day in the green room, where all the guests waited, Ellis counted 35 survivors. Some of them were like Frank, having already recovered from their injuries, but she counted two people in wheelchairs and seven with prosthetics. There were dozens of scars and one woman who walked with two canes. She looked for the man with scars on both his arms. There were other burns, an arm here, a leg there, and one teenager who had a web of scar tissue that wrapped around his throat and curled up over his jawbone. He was the only one to make eye contact with her.
The children were quiet. They stayed close to Ellis, touching the wig the stylist had secured to her head. She wanted them to look at the people in the room as if they were normal. Frank was nervous. He paced the room glad-handing those he recognized and getting down on one knee to talk to the woman in a wheelchair. He was sweating; his shirt stuck to the small of his back.
She waved to him with her deformed hand. “How did you pull me out?”
He flinched. “Not so loud. We aren’t supposed to talk about it before the show.”
“This isn’t a jury. We aren’t sequestered,” Ellis said. She raised her voice. “We should be talking — all of us about why we’re doing this. What we want.”
The small conversations that had been ongoing stopped. “What do you want?” Frank asked.
Ellis rolled her sleeve up to her elbow. “I thought I wanted people to stop staring at me. I thought that if millions got a glimpse of me all at once, that the world would stop staring. Do you think they will? Do you?” She was yelling at the room and no one was looking at her.
“Stop it,” Frank yelled. “It’s not their fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault.”
“It has to be somebody’s fault,” Ellis said.
Frank crossed the room and spoke quietly to the children. They went together to the back of the room, where a table was covered with fruit, bread, and desserts. Ellis tried not to look at her children, but she saw that Gracie was crying and that Dean had crouched down to try to comfort her.
“Do you think I left you to burn?” Frank asked. His eyes were bloodshot. “I pulled you out. I don’t know what they said, I don’t know what you believe, but it was me.”
“I don’t remember. It was ten years ago.”
“You do remember,” Frank said.
The skin around Ellis’ mouth burned. “You only stayed out of guilt.”
Frank staggered and then sat down on the floor.
“Nobody could love this,” Ellis said gesturing to her face, her arm.
From behind her, Ellis felt two thin arms wrap themselves around her waist. “I love you, Mama,” Gracie said.
Ellis turned and let her daughter hold her. The room was silent, breathing together, hearts beating together. Her older daughter joined the hug, and then her boys. Last of all, Frank’s arms encircled them all.
“They’ll love you. I love you,” Frank said. “It’ll work. I promise if you tell them your story, open up about how you truly feel, then the loneliness will leave.”
“What’ll take its place?” Ellis asked.
The door to the green room opened. A woman with a headset motioned to Ellis and her family. “It’s time,” she mouthed.
Ellis closed her eyes and pictured a world that fit into the palm of her hand.