Prom Night in Purgatory
Author:Amy Harmon

As soon as she was gone, the woman beside him began to speak.

 

“What’s your name?” Her voice was calm, but there was a hint of urgency in her tone that forced him to meet her sharp gaze.

 

“Johnny. Johnny Kinross.” It was out of his mouth before he realized that he even knew his name. Johnny. Yeah. That was it. Johnny Kinross. And his mom’s name was Dolly and his kid brother was Billy, and he had the coolest car in the county. And he needed a cigarette in the worst way.

 

A sharp breath hissed out her parted lips, and her hands gripped the rails on his bed tightly.

 

“Do you know why you’re here?” The urgency was more pronounced now, and Johnny tried to focus. His head had gained at least 100 pounds since he’d opened his eyes ten minutes ago. He was getting tired again. He focused on what she had asked him. He was obviously in a hospital. Some new-fangled fancy hospital, which looked like something from outer space. Maybe he wasn’t completely awake after all. Why was he here? His chest hurt like the dickens. He raised his left hand and fingered the bandages on his right shoulder.

 

“Did I get banged up at the rumble? Me and the guys were outnumbered pretty good.” Johnny grimaced, closing his eyes, trying to remember. “Roger Carlton is a snake….”

 

The woman beside the bed was very pale, and her hands had started to shake, making the bars rattle. She immediately let go and folded her arms tightly around herself.

 

“Do you remember anything after the…..the rumble?”

 

Johnny shook his head a little, but his thoughts were interrupted by the door opening. The woman beside him looked as if she would faint where she stood. The doctor seemed to be talking to someone on the other side of the door and was delayed from entering. The woman crouched down very close to Johnny and whispered vehemently.

 

“Don’t tell him anything!” Her eyes were so wide they looked almost comical in her thin face. “Tell the doctor you don’t remember your name or anything about yourself or how you got hurt. I promise I’ll explain…”

 

The doctor walked into the room, and she ceased whispering abruptly. The doctor had obviously just come on shift. His hair was slightly damp and his cheeks were ruddy from a recent shave. He smelled like aftershave and antiseptic. A not unpleasant combination, Johnny found. He had a reassuring face and a kind demeanor as he inquired about Johnny’s pain levels and checked the wound at his shoulder. He had a chart that he studied for several minutes. When his eyes were averted the woman leaned forward again and this time took Johnny’s hand in hers. Her hand was small and as cold as ice. She squeezed his hand tightly, as if to remind him of what she had said. The doctor looked up again.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

***

 

Maggie was weak and sore, and too many people hovered and fussed. Irene, Shad, and Gus took turns entertaining her with one-sided conversation to give her smoke-charred throat continued time to heal. She was grateful, in spite of the pain, that she had an excuse to refrain from speech. If she could have, she would have howled with frustration at her weakened state and the conditions that kept her from seeing Johnny. Whenever she got him alone, Gus continued to make excuses as to why she couldn’t see Johnny. He told her Johnny was awake now, and reports were that he would make a full recovery. In fact, he was healing so rapidly, his doctors were amazed. When Maggie pressed Gus for more, he claimed he knew nothing. He told her no one except Principal Bailey, Gus, Maggie and Irene knew about Johnny’s identity. Shad had some memory of being rescued, but Gus had refrained from explaining anything to him. Gus reassured her that soon both she and Johnny would be released from the hospital, and she would be able to see him then.

 

“The fewer explanations that have to be given, the better,” Gus warned Maggie. “He can’t exactly tell everyone he’s Johnny Kinross. They’d think he was crazy. Mind you, they’d think all of us are crazy. The best thing we can do for him is to let Principal Bailey do the talkin’ and just stay silent and not draw attention to him. She’s been around the system long enough to know what strings to pull – workin’ with kids as long as she has. She’s gonna coach him through, don’t you worry.”