The rain pattered at the windows, falling in small droplets, which broke upon contact with the icy cold surface of the glass. Each minute that passed filled her mind more completely with the fear that she would never know all the pleasures that could be enjoyed on a rainy city day.
Fear was the main reason that Dr. Elisabeth Morgan did not have a normal life. Since the age of five she had felt abandoned and devastated. Her parents had died in a Dublin bus accident and she had almost died along with them, at least in spirit, for she had been at home with her grandparents when the lives of her parents ended.
On the way to her therapist’s office, she took a detour along Lake Michigan. She got out of her car and walked the path along the lake’s shore. Her mind wandered, as it often did, and she could see the places that she had been, and the places that she was yet to go in her life. Her stride became brisk as the chill of the air beat against her body. Depression had become such a standard for her, that in a way she fed off of it. It was the only true stability that she could remember.
She saw a rather scraggly looking woman ahead of her and noticed a short man approaching the woman. Before Elisabeth could react, the man yelled something at the woman, and as she answered, stunned, he pushed her into the frigid water of the lake. The assailant disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. What had he wanted?
Elisabeth watched as the familiar figure of her neighbor, Patrick lunged into the lake. Where had he come from? He emerged from beneath the dark water, with the woman in tow. Elisabeth’s eyes were riveted on the scene before her where her nightmare played. She wanted to scream, but she had no voice.
“This was a mistake. A terrible mistake,” she said as she turned around and ran back to her car.
Elisabeth was a very private person who seldom ventured into the realm of the social outing. She saw no real reason to attempt conversation with others; they would no doubt judge her mercilessly based upon the few insignificant words that she would speak.
She never knew what to say to people; the words always seemed to freeze before they could properly exit her lips. She would just smile politely as if she had spoken with authority and confidence, instead of merely breathed another moment of embarrassment.
But it was all an act. Never had she truly felt confident in her adult life. Elisabeth associated confidence with her childhood. She could remember sitting on her father’s lap learning how to read. After dinner, he would light a fire in the living room of their small house and Elisabeth would gather up a book and two mugs of cocoa and settle onto the warm chair that was her father. Her mother would sit nearby, practicing the crochet techniques that she had learned from her mother-in-law, all the while smiling as her beautiful blond daughter and husband poured over The Cat in the Hat. Early childhood was a long time gone, and that was the last time that Elisabeth had felt secure, held in the arms of her parents. She knew that she must not dwell on the past; her life had happened and she just had to accept it. All the tears would be cried in vain now. Everything had happened so quickly that she had never felt the pain; she had buried it where she could never find it, in its own isolated grave in her heart. Oh, but it screamed at her in her dreams, begging to be consoled and coddled like a neglected child.
Lately, the dreams had been getting worse. She was sleeping much less and finding no pleasure in it when she did. She would go days without showering for fear of drowning in her own subconscious. A sink full of water was usually the most she could handle for bathing.
She couldn’t even remember the last time that she had brushed her hair. Her appearance meant nothing to her anymore. She would just pull her shoulder length hair back in a ponytail every morning before work and smooth away the stray strands with her fingers. People had come to depend on the consistency of her dishevelment at the lab. Her hair was often greasy and coffee stains marred her clothes and white lab coat. No one questioned why she was troubled, though they knew she was. They just watched her sit at lunch alone, day after day with pain filled eyes. They found her odd and thought that pathology suited her personality. Dead people and tissue samples wouldn’t ask bothersome questions.
Elisabeth often wondered what her co-workers thought of her and if they knew how much he hated hospitals. She knew that she presented a less than pleasant sight to them. Her five foot four inch frame was always covered by colorless clothing, often lace collared, tent-like empire-waisted dresses. They did not suit the slight frame of a woman in her early thirties. Her garments only made her blue-gray eyes and pale, limp blond hair look blander. A sickly bluish-pink color adorned her lips and encircled her eyes, giving her a corpse-like appearance. She was very unresponsive to morning inquiries and felt genuinely dazed when she arrived at work each day. Her lack of sleep always left her feeling as though her mind was on another planet from her body. She came to the conclusion that the others must find her extremely strange and difficult to talk to. They must, for all they ever said to her were hello and goodbye, if they even acknowledged her presence at all.
When she first began working there, they would ask, “How are ya this fine morning Lizzy?” or “Did ya have a good night Elisabeth?” She hated to be called Lizzy; her skin would crawl every time someone addressed her by that name. It was part of a life she wanted to forget, a life where her parents still lived. Gradually, her co-workers had given up on those pleasantries, to her relief, and had begun the current greeting, “Morning Ms. Morgan.”
It hung in the air like an unanswered question. No one ever knew how Elisabeth Morgan would respond, a swift nod of a quiet “hallo,” sometimes only a blink.
They all felt very uneasy around the sad young woman. She, in turn, felt uneasy around all of them. Though she had grown up in the states, she was still just an outsider from Ireland to most people. Her accent, though faint, was almost like a calling card for crazy people to try to take advantage of her. Countless sleazy salesmen and pushy con artists had tried to “pull a fast one” on her because they thought she was a naïve woman from a backwater country.
In fact, she was nothing of the sort. Elisabeth had been brilliant in school; it had been a distraction from all her worries. And living in Chicago for years had definitely not made her stupid or un-American. She was highly cynical and trusted almost no one in the world. Her life had not exactly shown her the meaning of trust. Everyone that she had trusted either had not lived long enough to give her any faith in trust, or lied to her and crushed her fragile dreams. No, Elisabeth Morgan truly believed that you did not get something for nothing, as the cliché went, and she would not change her mind any time in the near future.

“Excuse me, Mrs. O’Ryan. I just had to see you.” The soft whisper of Elisabeth’s voice was barely audible to the woman in the bed. “I imagine that you must get bored being trapped inside of yourself. I shouldn’t say that. I mean, I just…I just want you to know that I am here.”
Cancer of the colon had taken the old woman’s consciousness from her, but she was still aware of her surroundings. The aphasia had passed, and she could articulate in her mind the facts of her illness. Six years ago, she had a colostomy done after a long overdue visit to the doctor had produced a series of tests that revealed cancerous polyps in her large intestine. Last week, she had started feeling very weak, and having severe hot flashes. Her blood pressure had soared, and she had been placed in the hospital, again.
Now, she listened as the voice read to her from her favorite book, Pride and Prejudice. The voice was calm and melodic, very gentle. So familiar…
“Sara. Sara.” Mrs. O’Ryan’s lips formed the name.
“Shhh. Shhh.” Elisabeth said while stroking the woman’s hand. “I have to go now.”
With that, Elisabeth left the woman’s room, knowing that she must never go back.

Detective Patrick O’Ryan walked up the stairs to his mother’s apartment with a tremendous headache. On his way to his mother’s hospital room that afternoon, he had passed a woman in the hallway. There was something about the woman at the hospital that seemed so familiar. For that one moment when she had looked at him, her eyes so full of confusion and terror, he could have sworn that he recognized her. But, there was no way it could be her, not in Chicago.
Taking off his wet jacked as he double bolted the front door, Detective O’Ryan barely had enough time to inhale a breath of warm air before the his cell phone rang and interrupted his thoughts.
“Paddy? It’s Jim. We’ve got one. You’d better get over here.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
As he was driving to the scene, he thought, It isn’t her, but she has those eyes; those amazing eyes that brand you with her mark whenever she locks your gaze. He had only wanted to protect her from the misery of her family. Her uncle was so cruel, and her aunt had been injured and could not take care of the children. All of the responsibility had been placed on young, beautiful Sara. Sara was the most extraordinarily beautiful woman that Patrick had ever seen in his life. Her hair had always seemed to fall around her naturally blushed cheeks in a way that a photographer would pose a model for stills.
When he arrived at the old brick building, there were already several police cars parked outside. He quickly picked out the robust figure of his partner, Jim Kauslowsky, perched on the small stoop smoking a particularly vile cigarette.
“Hey there Paddy boy!”
Jim always loved to focus on the ethnic difference between he and his younger partner. Jim was very Polish and Patrick was very Irish, and that meant that every bit of slang, as well as every euphemism and cliché that existed seemed worthy of mention, at any given time. Patrick did not like this at first, until he realized that it was Jim’s way of bonding with him and that he was never serious in any of his antics.
Patrick thought back to the dingy cotton dress and threadbare coat that the woman had been wearing when he had passed her in the hallway. She had been so poorly dressed in fact, that his first thought had been that she was a common vagrant.
The thrill that went through him when he chased down a criminal was so strong that he was instantly energized. He knew that he’d have to put Sara and the woman out of his mind for a while and do his job.
He felt this heart doing jumping jacks in his chest as he walked up to the latest victim and said, “I am Detective Patrick O’Ryan of the Chicago PD.”

Her eyelids had begun to twitch as she struggled to open them. She could hear a man’s voice asking what her name was, and telling her that he was a detective. Thank God, she thought.
When she finally opened her eyes, she looked directly into her savior’s aquamarine eyes and was rendered speechless. She wanted to scream out, “Where am I; what happened to me; why is it so cold; how did I get here?” but she could not form the words.
The next thing she remembered was waking up in the hospital bed. She dreamt about the attack; it was still clear in her mind. It had only been a few days since she had felt the fear and panic of that moment. Nothing could change what had happened two minutes later. The men had come in through the window in the dining room; the one by the fire escape, and crept in to the bathroom, where she was in the shower.
She could still recall the way the first man had grabbed her and slammed her head against the tile wall. She moaned and that had only made him do it again. He pulled the shampoo rack off of the wall sending the bottles across the bathroom and perfuming the air with the scent of coconut. He raised the rugged rack above his head and swung at her breasts as if they were fastballs. The second man yanked the curtain from its rod and threw it to the ground. He reached around his accomplice and pulled her legs up over the edge of the tub; placing her hips on the ceramic lip while the first man held her down. The second man unhooked his belt and unzipped his jeans in one swift motion. It was then that he was upon her; thrusting and grunting like an ape, viciously penetrating and tearing her sensitive flesh with his own. She had completely lost consciousness after that. She was roused only by the sound of the men’s voices shouting at her to get up. She managed to drag her body off of the warm rug on which she laid. She could not remember buying a red rug for the bathroom; no, it was white that she had bought.
She began to say the rosary, and her attackers seemed not to care; her mumbling was so incoherent and faint that it seemed harmless. Her happiness was swept away like lifeless dirt into a dustpan the moment she was forced to set her first bloody foot on to the soft carpet of her sanctuary.
It was then that a key had turned in the lock, and her assailants once again became human. They left in the same manner in which they came, swiftly and with little premeditation.

Her memory of the incident faded at that point. She had been in the hospital for weeks after the attack; the familiar aroma of disinfectant still made her nauseous. She detested hospitals.

For Elisabeth, finding a place to start her transition would be difficult. She was sitting curled up on her couch thinking about it when she heard a key in the lock next door. She waited for the sound of the umbrella hitting the tinny dog’s-head holder before she got up and opened her front door. She could still smell him, his scent warm and strong in the hallway. Unconsciously, she closed her eyes as she breathed in. Three seconds of bliss passed before the sense of heavy sadness pressed on her heart. She sighed as she turned and walked back into her apartment.
Patrick, her neighbor, would probably stay in all night; but perhaps he would order Chinese food or a pizza and she would stand outside his door and catch the last bit of aroma. She felt closer to him knowing what he ate.
Elisabeth would sit next to the wall that she shared with Patrick and listen to whatever noise was coming from his apartment. She’d heard bits of phone conversations with his mother about the woman that he had loved. When Patrick’s mother had become ill, Elisabeth had listened as Patrick received calls from friends and family. That is how she had known that Mrs. O’Ryan was at her hospital.
Every part of her wanted him and she wondered if she bore any resemblance to Sara, Patrick’s first love. The idea that she would be alone for the rest of her life frightened her. It was her dream to live the American Dream, to have a house and kids, and a husband that loved her; she wanted to be part of a family, but she wasn’t ready.
When she began to have dreams about a past with Patrick, she felt her fantasy fulfilled. She imagined the intimacy they had. She was Sara, young and beautiful and he was Patrick, bold and dashing. It was a lovely dream.

One thought on “A Thin Line”

Leave a Reply