Not A Sound by Heather Gudenkauf


I find her sitting all by herself in the emergency waiting room, her lovely features distorted from the swelling and bruising. Only a few patients remain, unusual for a Friday night and a full moon. Sitting across from her, an elderly woman coughs wetly into a handkerchief while her husband, arms folded across his chest and head tilted back, snores gently.

Another man with no discernable ailment stares blankly up at the television mounted on the wall.

Canned laughter fills the room.

I’m surprised she’s still here. We treated her hours ago.

Her clothing was gathered, I examined her from head to toe, all the while explaining what I was doing step-by-step.

She lay on her back while I swabbed, scraped and searched for evidence. I collected for bodily f luids and hairs that were not her own. I took pictures. Close-ups of abrasions and bruises. I stood close by while the police officer interviewed her and asked deeply personal private questions. I offered her emergency contraceptives and the phone number for a domestic abuse shelter. She didn’t cry once during the entire process. But now the tears are falling freely, dampening the clean scrubs I gave her to change into.

“Stacey?” I sit down next to her. “Is someone coming to get you?” I ask. I offered to call someone on her behalf but she refused, saying that she could take care of it. I pray to

God that she didn’t call her husband, the man who did this to her. I hope that the police had already picked him up.

She shakes her head. “I have my car.”

“I don’t think you should be driving. Please let me call someone,” I urge. “Or you can change your mind and we can admit you for the night. You’ll be safe. You can get some rest.”

“No, I’m okay,” she says. But she is far from okay. I tried to clean her up as best I could but already her newly stitched lip is oozing blood, the bruises blooming purple across her skin.

“At least let me walk you to your car,” I offer. I’m eager to get home to my husband and stepdaughter but they are long asleep. A few more minutes won’t matter.

She agrees and stands, cradling her newly casted arm.

We walk out into the humid August night. The full moon, wide faced and as pale as winter wheat lights our way. Katydids call back and forth to one another and white-winged moths throw themselves at the illuminated sign that reads Queen of Peace Emergency.

“Where are you staying tonight? You’re not going home, are you?”

“No,” she says but doesn’t elaborate more. “I had to park over on Birch,” she says dully. Queen of Peace’s lot has been under construction for the better part of a month so parking is a challenge. It makes me sad to think that not only did this poor woman, beaten and raped by her estranged husband, have to drive herself to the emergency room, there wasn’t even a decent place for her to park. Now there are five open parking spaces. What a difference a few hours can make in the harried, unpredictable world of emergency room care.

We walk past sawhorse barriers and orange construction cones to a quiet, residential street lined with sweetly pungent linden trees. Off in the distance a car engines roars to life, a dog barks, a siren howls. Another patient for the ER.

“My car is just up here,” Stacey says and points to a small, white four-door sedan hidden in the shadows cast by the heart-shaped leaves of the lindens. We cross the street and

I wait as Stacey digs around in her purse for her keys. A mosquito buzzes past my ear and I wave it away.

I hear the scream of tires first. The high-pitched squeal of rubber on asphalt. Stacey and I turn toward the noise at the same time. Blinding high beams come barreling toward us. There is nowhere to go. If we step away from Stacey’s car we will be directly in its path. I push Stacey against her car door and press as close to her as I can, trying to make ourselves as small as possible.

I’m unable to pull my eyes away from bright light and

I keep thinking that the careless driver will surely correct the steering wheel and narrowly miss us. But that doesn’t happen. There is no screech of brakes, the car does not slow and the last sound I hear is the dull, sickening thud of metal on bone.

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