The Thought She Blurted Out
by Tim Jeffreys
Sally was watching her tapes and as usual didn’t notice me when I arrived home from work. The room was dark. She had drawn the curtains on a beautiful, sunny day. After I sat down, she threw me a quick glance, a slight guilt in her eyes as though I’d caught her out.
As she turned to the TV again, I watched her face, trying to understand, trying to work her out. She was smiling. I hardly saw her smiling anymore. She still looked pale and drawn, with dark rings under her eyes, but she at least appeared to have forgotten about the madness of the past few days, even if it was only for a while.
“Been outside today?” I knew the answer to this before I even asked.
“Of course not,” she said, not shifting her gaze from the television.
“Sal, you can’t stay cooped up in here all day. It’s not healthy.”
She flashed her eyes at me, trying to silence me, not wanting her small pleasure interrupted.
I went on, losing patience. “It wasn’t your fault. Stop blaming yourself. It’s ridiculous.”
Incited, she turned to me at last. “How do you know it wasn’t my fault?”
“How could it be?”
“I did it. I glanced up, Mike. I should never have glanced up. The thought was just... there. It just came. I couldn’t stop it.”
I sighed, seeing her turn away and fix her eyes on the TV again. After a few moments, a smile began to play around the corners of her mouth.
“Turn that off a minute.”
“Leave it, Mike.”
“I want to talk to you.”
“Don’t you dare.”
Before she could stop me, I grabbed the remote and stopped the video. The TV switched to a news channel and I knew I’d made an awful mistake. Sally let out a whimper, leapt up from her chair and ran out of the room. I sat for a while, watching the footage. Then I got up and followed Sally. I found her upstairs in the bedroom. She was curled up on the bed. I sat down and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Come on. You’re okay.”
“Did it say how many, Mike? How many people?”
I sighed. After a pause I lied and said, “No.”
I’ve known Sally two years. In the flesh, that is. Of course, I’ve known of her a lot longer. She was quite the star once.
* * *
The circumstances under which we met were terrible. For me, it was a routine road accident, the sort of thing traffic police see every day. I was one of the first responders on the scene, and I stayed throughout the whole operation of cutting the people free from the wreckage.
The adults in the front seats were beyond help, I think I’d known that as soon as I arrived and seen the way the car’s bonnet had concertinaed on impact. It was the teenage girl in the back seat we were trying to save. When we finally got her out and had her on a stretcher, I realised I knew her. It took me a while longer to remember who she was though.
The fireman said: “You know her?”
“Sally Webb. She used to be on TV, a few years ago.”
“The kid with the mental powers. You know, spoon bending. All that.”
“You believe in all that stuff?”
“She was pretty convincing.”
The girl was loaded into an ambulance. A paramedic crouched over her.
“I remember her. I saw her on a talk show once. They brought a car into the studio and she started it up. She was flashing its headlights, lowering the windows, beeping its horn. All while standing twenty feet away.
“She was supposed to be able to control and affect machinery with her thoughts. Gifted.”
The fireman huffed. “All that’s just TV trickery. I bet if you asked her to her face, she couldn’t do it.”
* * *
Did I believe that? I suppose I did. To be honest, in the two years I’ve known Sally I’ve never seen her do so much as slide a paperclip across a desk without touching it, and in the early days I asked her to do this for me, and many other things. Sally always refused.
I quickly realised that she became uneasy whenever the subject of her supposed gifts was brought up. She said it had come to seem unimportant after the death of her parents. I could understand, but secretly I always remembered what that fireman had said and eventually I convinced myself that he was right. Sally had been a child star, a teenage charlatan, a hoaxer, a little light entertainment at the end of the news.
She still got a lot of enjoyment out of watching old recordings of her TV appearances. She loved to see people’s faces light up with amazement. She loved the applause, the attention her gift brought her.
Once, whilst her videos were playing, she had turned to me and said, “They loved it, didn’t they? They loved what I did.” For a second, as I looked back at her, she was that fifteen-year old girl again, wanting to show the world her magic.
I visited Sally in the hospital after the car accident. I do this sometimes to see how crash victims are recovering. I can’t let go. My interest in Sally went some way beyond the normal routine, though. I was curious about her because she’d been famous. I also felt sorry for her because of her bereavement, and because she was suddenly alone in the world. Then, after a number of visits, I realised I was becoming attached to her in other ways.
So the newly orphaned eighteen-year old car crash survivor moved in with the young traffic cop who helped cut her free of the wreckage. It might sound like something out of a soap opera, but it happened naturally. I helped Sally through her grief, all the time growing more and more attached to her, as she was to me. I often wondered, and still do, if her attachment was only a fear of being alone.
I soon discovered that Sally had another problem to deal with after her accident. She’d become agoraphobic. She wouldn’t leave the house. On the few occasions I got her beyond the front door, she got panicky and began to shake. She suffered little fits. She always told me she was afraid of doing something, not intentionally, but if a thought appeared in her mind she might not have been able to keep it there.
One day when she was watching, on video, her old self spinning the wheels of an upside down bicycle without touching it, I said to her:
“That’s amazing. What you’re doing there is amazing.”
“That’s nothing,” she said. It was one of the few times I’ve seen her genuinely pleased with herself. “I could do a lot more.”
“You’re holding back?”
“I am there.”
For some reason, this conversation left me troubled.
I made the mistake of thinking I could help Sally. Maybe what she needed was professional help. After a year watching her spend her life indoors, I could stand it no longer. I threatened to leave her if she didn’t start leaving the house and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look so scared.
We made tentative steps. She would sit on the front doorstep. Then she progressed to the garden gate. After a few months, gripping my hand tightly, she made it to the corner of the street.
“See, it’s not so bad.”
She smiled through her nerves. “I’m okay, Mike. I’m actually okay.”
I thought things would get better after that.
It was just a walk in the park.
It was a beautiful day.
A beautiful day, until...
Children were playing everywhere. Couples were out walking. Sally seemed for the first time since I’d known her at ease with the world.
But she heard a sound.
She glanced up.
Have you ever seen an airplane explode in mid-air?
I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Some moments exist in their own separate time. You can return to that time. It plays over in your head. You can live it again.
It had been a beautiful day.
Of course, the news did say how many people were aboard that jet. There were no survivors.
I can’t tell Sally this.
I would upset her even more.
Two hundred and fifty-two people.
She had killed them with a thought.
Copyright © 2012 by Tim Jeffreys