THE PAST AGAIN
As her alarm began to ring, Maureen Sullivan yawned and rolled off her bed. The clock said it was already fifteen minutes to seven. She couldn’t believe it was morning already as she strode into the bathroom.
After her shower, she quickly prepared a cup of coffee, and threw some chips and an apple into a brown paper bag before pouring the coffee into a flask.
This was not her first day at her job, but she knew better than to turn up late. She was the anchor at the morning news programme on the local television station WNBC2.
She was already used to the routine of making her own breakfast from home. Even though she had started working at WNBC2 eleven months ago, she had not yet gotten used to the meals that were served in their canteen.
She had always loved her morning coffee and nothing would make her ever want to skip breakfast, but having a light meal at her office canteen was not on her daily agenda, because the first time she tried their meals, she had to go home with an upset stomach.
It wasn’t as if their meals were not good; maybe her system was just not used to the food there. For lunch, she chose to visit one of her favourite restaurants in town. But breakfast was something she could easily handle quickly from home.
As she slid behind the steering wheel of her car, her smartphone began to ring. She peered at the screen. It was her producer. Sighing, she answered the call. “Good morning, Mr. Davies.”
“Good morning, Maureen. Aren’t you at the studio yet?”
“No, not yet, I’m just leaving home.”
“Really? You’d better hurry up then!”
“Why the rush? We still have an hour before we go on air.”
“I know, but there are some issues we need to discuss before you go on air.”
Maureen frowned. “Some issues? I don’t understand. What kind of issues?”
“I can’t discuss them on the phone. Just try to get here quickly, okay?”
“Sure, I’ll be there soon,” Maureen replied and the line went dead.
For a couple of seconds, she kept on staring at her phone. She was confused. What could her producer want to discuss so urgently that he couldn’t wait until after the morning show? she wondered. Since she could not think of an answer, she started her engine.
As Maureen drove into the street, she could not help thinking about the call. Clearly, if the issue was something unsavoury, he of all people would know that the details could disorient her and affect her delivery on the show.
Unless she wasn’t going to be on the show that morning.
A silent gasp escaped from her lips. Why wouldn’t they want me on the show today? she wondered. Maybe she was being replaced by someone else.
She shook her head in denial. But could it be possible, she found herself still worrying. Could it be that Mr. Davies was going to get someone else to take my place? But such sudden replacements were rare. And even if they did have to happen, I should have been informed well in advance.
Maureen sighed out of frustration. She couldn’t figure out what it was that Mr. Davies might want to urgently talk about. That only made her investigative and inquisitive mind more restless. As a journalist and an anchor, she did not like being left in suspense. Maureen cursed.
Did this mean that her job as an anchor – creating suspense in the minds of her audience when revealing the details of an investigation – was suddenly over?
How dare Mr. Davies or anyone else for that matter make her feel so helpless and in need of answers! She thought angrily.
As she took a turn in the traffic, she caught sight of her brown paper bag and the flask. In her reverie, she had completely forgotten her breakfast. Usually, she had her coffee while driving to work. This was necessary because by the time she normally arrived at the studio, she would have to review her morning presentation while being made-up.
Maureen ate a chip and took a long sip of her coffee. She was about to take another sip when her phone began to buzz again. She was driving with her right hand while holding the flask in her left hand. Still holding the flask, she pressed the button to accept the call with her index finger. It was Mr. Davies again.
“How far are you?”
Maureen could feel the anxiety in her slowly turning into annoyance. What was he trying to imply – that she wasn’t already on her way?
Momentarily, she took her eyes off the road and glanced at her phone. That was when it occurred to her that she was staring at her phone for the second time that morning. What did Mr. Davies want to tell me? And more importantly, how am I supposed to respond to his nagging?
“Maureen! Are you there?”
She took a deep breath. “Yes, Mr. Davies. I’m right here.”
“Why aren’t you answering me?”
“I’m sorry. I’m already on the main road.”
“Good. You’d better hurry up and get here quickly. I’m waiting for you.”
As the line went dead, Maureen could feel her anxiety growing.
I’d better hurry up.
He is waiting.
Waiting, she mused.
She kept tossing over his statement in her mind.
What was going on? she wondered as she sipped her coffee.
Just then, her phone rang again. It was Mr. Davies again.
Cursing, she reached for her phone, still holding onto her flask.
But before she could answer or even say anything, a gasp escaped from her lips.
In all her disorientation after her producer’s sinister phone calls, she had not realized that she had reached an intersection. The traffic lights had already turned red on her side, meaning that she should have stopped, but it was only after she had driven into the intersection that she realized her mistake. She had one of two choices to make: either reverse quickly, or speed up into the street ahead.
But she was very distracted. A simple driving decision had become a herculean task for her mind, which was already over-burdened and filled with worry of the unknown.
She saw the tanker truck coming from the corner of her eye. That was when she screamed. She dropped her flask and grabbed the steering wheel with both hands. She was still screaming as she slammed her foot down on the pedal.
To her shock, her vehicle came to a screeching halt. Confused, she looked around herself before she looked down at her feet. That was when she realized what had happened, she had stepped on the brake; not the accelerator, but before she could recover from her error in judgment, she heard the blare of horns and loud screeching tires from the oncoming truck.
She looked up to see it ramming into her vehicle from the side. Something sharp and heavy hit her in the side of her head then everything went black.
When Maureen opened her eyes, she noticed two things. The first was that everywhere around her was sparkling white. The next thing was the severe headache that wanted to split her head in two.
As she squinted and sat up with her hand on her head, she discovered that she was lying on a bed with several pillows propped underneath her.
The voice cut through her pain momentarily, she tried to identify where it was coming from. That was when she saw him. He was an elderly man standing close to her bed. By his side stood three nurses. They were all dressed in white hospital uniforms.
She allowed her eyes to drift past them to closely observe her surroundings. There were a couple thin tubes running into her arms.
“I’m in a hospital?” she asked, even though she knew that it sounded more like a statement.
“Yes. I’m Dr. Edwards.”
Maureen held her head again. The pain was excruciating. “What happened?”
“You were rushed here after you were involved in–”
“An accident,” Maureen completed hastily. “I know all that already. What I meant was, what happened to me? My head – it hurts so bad?”
“You can remember the accident?”
“Of course I can remember the accident. At least, that’s the last thing that I remember. I thought I’d be dead by now. Am I dead?”
“No, not at all, Miss Sullivan. You are finally conscious, so you are very much alive.”
“Finally conscious? What do you mean? And this pain! What’s with this pain?”
“You suffered severe trauma to your head. We tried to heal you all these past months, but we–”
“Wait,” Maureen cut in. “All these past months? I don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Sullivan,” Dr. Edwards replied. “You have been in a coma for seven months.”
Maureen’s mouth dropped. “Seven months? That’s impossible!”
“I am sorry, Miss Sullivan, but that’s the truth. You were brought here unconscious seven months ago.”
“Yes, during that time, we have done all we can to stabilize the headaches that you are now experiencing. Unfortunately, it appears that the concussion was quite brutal and severe.”
“You can say that again,” Maureen replied, holding her head. “Can’t anything be done to relieve me from this torment?”
The doctor signaled to one of the nurses. She stepped forward, holding a small tray with a cup of water and two blue pills.
“Take them,” Dr. Edwards said. “They should reduce the pain considerably.”
Maureen did not need any further explanation or urging. She grabbed the pills and threw them into her mouth before gulping down the water in the cup. As she dropped the cup, she blinked and looked at the doctor. “It’s gone,” she exclaimed almost in disbelief. “The headache is gone.”
Dr. Edwards smiled and nodded. “Yes, the pills work very fast. We’re going to give you some to take with you once you are discharged. Anytime you experience the pain, all you need to do is to take two with water and you’ll be fine.”
“So, I’m going to be discharged soon?”
“Yes, you’ll be discharged once we observe you overnight,” Dr. Edwards replied.
The next day, Maureen found herself being driven home in an ambulance. When she was dropped off at her apartment, she felt like a stranger there. For a moment, she just sat down and tried to recollect everything that had happened to her. She then thought about her job at the station and her colleagues.
She wondered if anyone had been coming to check up on her while she was in the coma. She went through her things and saw two cards that said ‘Get Well Soon’, but they were not personally signed by anyone. All that was written on each of them was ‘From WNBC2’. She tossed the cards aside and glanced at her smartphone. She went through her messages and call logs. There was nothing recent.
Maureen felt annoyed. Only two cards. No calls or messages?
Maybe they thought I was never going to come out of the coma, or maybe they thought I was dead.
Maureen picked up her phone and began to dial a number. At the last minute, she stopped.
No, she decided, she was not going to call them. She was going to wait and see if anyone was going to call her. Surely, someone must have been checking on her at the hospital on a regular basis! That person must now know that she had been discharged and would inform the station about the development. Then someone would call – no, they were not going to call! They would send someone to visit me in person, to find out how I was doing.
So, until then, I shall wait.
A week went by, no one called or visited Maureen. She could not help not cursing as rage began to rise up within her like a volcano about to erupt.
Did this mean that her office did not know that she had been discharged over a week ago?
Did this mean that they had completely forgotten all about her and presumed she was dead?
Maureen was overcome with disbelief and bewilderment. As she thought about being abandoned by her office, she felt a sharp pain shoot through her skull. She screamed and doubled over, falling hard on the floor as the same pain from the hospital began to course through her brain like a raging bull, completely disorienting her.
Maureen rolled on the floor with both hands clutching her head. She then remembered the pills that Dr. Edwards had given her. She struggled to stand up to reach the table where she had left the bottle. But that proved to be futile. She then began to crawl slowly on her knees and hands, doing all she could to bear the excruciating pain. By the time she got to the table, tears were streaming freely from her eyes. She tried to reach up to the tabletop, but suddenly was overtaken by spasms as she began to convulse rapidly on the floor. Foam spilled out of her mouth, then everything went black.
When she came around, Maureen found herself inside a room that had white walls and a white ceiling. Something about the place seemed vaguely familiar as she sat up to look around. She was on a bed with pillows underneath her.
Maureen turned in the direction of the voice. She instantly recognised the man and the three nurses by her bed. They were all dressed in white hospital uniforms.
She frowned as she tried to understand what was going on. Was she back in the same hospital again? she wondered. How had she come back? Who had brought her back here?
“You must be Dr. Edwards, right?”
The man appeared startled. He blinked as he gazed at her closely. “Yes, but how did you know my name? I’m certain we’ve never met before.”
“You were the one who treated me the last time I was here,” Maureen said.
“The last time?” Dr. Edwards repeated.
“Yes, after the accident that put me in a coma for seven months.”
Dr. Edwards stared at the nurses by his side. They stared back at him with bewildered expressions on their faces. He turned back to her. “I’m sorry, Miss Sullivan, but you seem to be confused. You have never been here before.”
“What do you mean? I was discharged from here over a week ago. I had been admitted because of the accident. My head injuries were so severe that I fell into a coma and now I’m back here because of these nasty headaches.”
“You’re back here?” Dr. Edwards asked.
Maureen shot him a glare. “Yes, because of the headaches.”
Dr. Edwards shook his head. “Miss Sullivan, can you tell me everything you remember about how you got here?”
Maureen sighed. She recounted all she could remember, right from the morning of the accident and her boss’s annoying phone calls. She then spoke about being discharged and the pills he had prescribed for her severe headaches.
“Pills?” Dr. Edwards asked incredulously.
“Is this a joke or what?” Maureen demanded. She pointed to one of the nurses. “She’s the one who gave me the pills.”
The nurse in question was surprised. She gasped and turned to Dr. Edwards. “How is this possible? She’s only just come out of her coma.”
“What coma?” Maureen demanded. “I was already discharged! Or was there another one? What’s going on here?”
Dr. Edwards cleared his throat. He spoke softly but firmly, telling Maureen that this was her first time in the hospital, insisting that she had only just woken up from a seven-months coma.
No matter how much Maureen protested, they refused to believe her.
When she was discharged and driven home a few days later, Maureen took a hard look at herself in the mirror. She picked up her phone and went through her messages. She already knew that she was not going to find any messages or calls from anyone.
But that was not why she was going through her phone. She then saw what she was looking for. It was a message from a rival station, KNBC1. It was an invitation for an interview. It had been sent to her a week ago.
She dialed the number. A female voice answered. “Hello, is that you Miss Sullivan?”
“Yes, this is Maureen Sullivan, I am calling concerning the interview.”
“Yes, you did wonderfully well, Miss Sullivan.”
Maureen blinked in surprise. “I did?”
“Yes, the entire team was impressed.”
Maureen held her forehead. She could not tell whether it was getting hot or cold. “I’m sorry, I seem to have mixed up so many things. When did this happen?”
“What do you mean?”
“The interview – when was the interview?”
“You were here last week.”
“I was, wasn’t I?”
The female voice laughed heartily. “You’re really funny, Miss Sullivan. Of course you were here. You said you wanted to move onto something bigger and better, that’s why you chose us – because, well, our station is much more successful than that small WNBC2 you’ve been working at.”
Maureen relaxed and smiled. “Of course. Your studio is far bigger and better.”
“Yes, and considering how impressed our studio is with your abilities, we are going to offer you the role of a producer, as well as head anchor on two of our prime programmes.”
“Producer and head anchor?”
“Yes, of course. All the details of the offer are in your appointment letter, which will be dispatched later today.”
Maureen was speechless. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Please, there’s no need to say anything. Simply sign your copy and return it to us as soon as possible.”
“Of course, I will.”
“And congratulations once again!”
“Thank you,” Maureen beamed.
After she had dropped the call, she reflected on everything that had happened. It then occurred to her that somehow, the severe headache she had felt earlier on had rewritten the past. She had done something she had always wanted to do: work for the best television studio in town, KNBC1.
Maureen smiled then picked up her photo album and began to flick through it. She stopped at the picture of her and a young man at the beach. They were both wearing bathing suits, walking hand in hand as they smiled at the camera. On the back of the picture was an inscription: ‘Me and Peter at Miami Beach. Xoxo.’
For a moment, Maureen allowed the sweet memories of their time together to flood through her consciousness. She had always loved Peter. It had always hurt her that he had left her after she started being too busy with work at WNBC2. But that was because the work pressure there had been too much for her to manage a relationship.
She gazed at him again. As she did, she knew what she had to do. Maureen closed her eyes and allowed herself fall into a fit of rage about how working at WNBC2 had made her lose Peter.
As she meditated, the same sharp pain shot through her head. Even though she had been expecting it, Maureen was shocked at the severity of the headache.
Soon, she was screaming and writhing on the floor. However, this time, she did not bother to reach for the pills before she passed out. When she woke up, she instantly recognised not just the hospital room, but Dr. Edwards and the nurses as well, but they were not alone this time. In their midst was Peter as well.
Maureen concealed her exhilaration. She pretended that she was just coming out of a coma and was surprised to see everyone around her, even though she knew the truth.
After the small talk with Dr. Edwards, Maureen gladly went along with the ambulance staff who took her home. Peter sat by her side, kissing and hugging her as they were being driven home. Dr. Edwards had once again prescribed the same pills for her headaches.
“What are you thinking about?”
Maureen blinked and turned to look at Peter beside her. She smiled at him. “Nothing really,” she lied. “I was thinking about the accident.”
He hugged her close. “Don’t think about that, my dear. I know how difficult it can be to accept what happened, but the past is past.”
She nodded. “Yes, it’s in the past already.” She did not tell him that she had no desire of going back to fix the accident. How could she? Not only would he not believe her, but it was not something she wanted to contemplate at all. She was not ready to risk her newfound powers.
Peter saw a smile playing across her lips. “What’s so funny? I hope you’re not looking forward to going back to work already.”
She snuggled closer to him. “What if it was?”
Peter chuckled. “I’m sure they would send you back home straight away.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I already called your folks at KNBC1. They have been so kind as to grant you two weeks’ sick leave, so you can fully recover.”
“Two whole weeks?”
Peter nodded. “I was surprised too. They really value you, and want you to be fit and strong before you resume.”
“Were they calling while I was under?”
“Every single day. They never missed calling and sending someone to visit every day.”
Maureen stared at Peter in disbelief. “The whole time I was in the coma?”
Peter appeared to be confused. “But of course they were. Or didn’t you expect them to?”
Maureen smiled “Of course I expected them to. Why else do you think I chose to work for them?”
Peter kissed her. “Just calm yourself and relax. Try to get some rest and don’t worry about anything, okay?”
“Okay,” Maureen smiled. But deep inside, she was already thinking of what other aspects of her past life she was going to fix.