The Night of the Dragons

It had been a quiet day…

It was 10:00 p.m. on a surprisingly cool mid-July evening, and I was not all right.

The day had been a quiet Sunday, like many another. I’d done housework and run errands, and enjoyed take-out and a video with a friend

My errands had included a trip to the local ATM. Following my usual route, I’d driven up 9th Street in the nearby small town of Beech Grove, passing tiny Don Challis park as I did so. For the umpteenth time, I wondered to myself who Don Challis had been and why the park was named for him, before noting the excellent playground equipment. I should take my little granddaughter there to play, I told myself, as soon as she was well again; she’d been sick with Covid, but was recovering.

But the peace of the waning day had been shattered when my phone began to sound with one text after another: There’s been a mass shooting at Greenwood Mall on County Line Road!

I stared at my phone screen in shocked disbelief. Greenwood, the mall where, as adolescents, I and my friends had spent half our weekends, giggling and racing happily from store to store before refueling ourselves with burgers and cokes at the lunch counter of a dimestore. Greenwood, where my once-teenage daughter had attended driving school before obtaining her license. Greenwood, a mass shooting? It seemed impossible. Specifics of the tragedy were scarce, though, so I resolved not to engage with the news until details were available.

Then my daughter called. After days of recovery, little Morrigan’s fever had risen again. “This isn’t good! Call her pediatrician,” I advised. A few minutes later, my daughter called once more. They were heading to the ER.

I texted some friends and relatives about the situation, telling them that I was headed to the emergency room, and asking them to pray. One, blessedly wise, thought I was too upset to drive there on my own. She hurried to give me a ride to the hospital…the hospital that was on County Line Road. County Line, where Greenwood Mall was also located. We rode in painful silence past a surreal vision of endless strips of bright yellow tape; of police cars, blue and red lights flashing, parked every which way in the otherwise-empty mall lot.

I joined my family in the ER waiting room, and, heedless of her Covid infection, enfolded my three-year-old granddaughter within the circle of my arms. She was burning with fever, yet smiling; demanding to watch cartoons on my Kindle, which, anticipating a long wait at the hospital, I’d grabbed as I left the house. Finally, a nurse came to take the two of them back to the treatment rooms, and I was left alone in the nearly-empty waiting room.

Sitting near the reception desk, I overheard snatches of conversation about the shooting. I don’t need this!, I thought. Moving away, I tried to concentrate on the eBook I’d begun a day earlier. But after reading the same sentence over and over without comprehension, I realized that my usual anodyne, books, wasn’t working. Perhaps if I re-read something familiar… And so I turned to a series of light-hearted, fantasy mystery books which I knew to be rich with compassion and benevolence: Kim Watt’s Beaufort Scales stories. Amusing books of tea-drinking, cake-eating dragons and their human cohorts, rife with pithy, gentle observations on human nature. I settled in with those familiar dragons for what I was certain would be a long wait.

Then I received another text, this time from my daughter as she, too, waited elsewhere in the hospital. There had been a second mass shooting…at Don Challis park in Beech Grove. Don Challis park, which I had just passed earlier that day. The park where I’d admired the playground, vowing to take Morrigan there.

Tears blurred my vision, scalding my cheeks, but I stoically tried to concentrate on my book. One sentence almost shouted out at me from the page: “That was a larger and more difficult thing than people realized, Mortimer thought. Just to be alright.”

I wasn’t all right, I realized. Nothing was all right.

Hours later, my daughter and granddaughter walked out of the treatment rooms, paperwork and prescriptions in hand. Morrigan’s illness was not resurgent Covid, but a severe bladder infection, a treatable ailment caused by dehydration from the fevers of Covid-19.

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At nearly 1:00 in the morning, I sat with the little one in the car as my daughter filled her child’s prescriptions at an all-night pharmacy. Chattering away at me from her car seat, less upset than excited by all that had happened and by being up so late, little Morrigan literally fell asleep mid-sentence, holding my hand. I smiled and gently disengaged my fingers to snap a photo of her exhausted small self.

It was 1:00 in the morning, and tragedy lurked at every corner of my world, but I was all right.

If this essay appealed to you, you might also enjoy “The Miracle on Route 16”. You can locate it by scrolling to the Archives, below. It published on November 4, 2017.

My thanks to Kim Watt for allowing me to quote her delightful dragon, Mortimer.

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