Mira hadn’t expected to die that day. It happened in a moment as quick as a breath, or a kiss, or the detonation of a bomb.
It was an unwanted moment, to be sure, but there are times when unwanted doesn’t mean unneeded.
There are other times it does.
In the end, these happenings happen all the same, and death can’t be undone, unless you are lucky, or very unlucky.
Six hours and eleven minutes before dying:
Wedding dress shopping isn’t inherently dangerous, though one could argue planning for the future is always risky.
Mira Meadows and her cousin Sara, the bride-to-be, were free from their grueling schedule at the hospital and had intended to sleep in that morning. Unfortunately, the endless mandatory overtime had left its mark. They woke at five forty-seven and six twenty-two, respectively.
“If we were good coworkers,” Mira said as she got into Sara’s car, “we’d be helping the rest of the nurses on the picket line right now.”
“Do you have a need to help someone?” Sara slipped on a pair of sunglasses. “Try helping yourself.”
Mira suppressed a smile. She’d expected as much from Sara, but she felt like it needed to be said.
It was the perfect day for striking, after all. The heat of the Richmond summer hadn’t yet made itself known, the air still crisp and breathable, and the sun was intermittently blocked by passing white, bulbous clouds.
Ever committed to self-preservation, Sara would argue the weather was another reason to seize the day – for themselves – and truth be told, Mira was excited to have a chance to wear her new tank top. She’d gotten it online and paid extra for expedited shipping. It had the cutest headphone-wearing dog on the front, and a fluffy tail on the back.
Sara said it was grotesque.
“You were just complaining we haven’t gotten a raise in four years,” Mira countered.
“Yeah, and that’s not going to change.” Sara put the car into drive, zipping down the street. “What’s the point of angering the administrators? You know goading the owners is never wise.”
“They’re not our owners. And you just want to go shopping.”
“That’s beside the point.” Sara cut into traffic, earning a blast of the car horn behind them. She stuck her hand out of the window and gave a peace sign. “You’ll see. The nurses will fold faster than it would take for us to drive there.”
Maybe she was right. Things never changed. At least, not for the better.
Mira looked out at the cute little bungalows and cottages lining the street. The home prices had doubled since she moved to Richmond.
She couldn’t afford it then, and she couldn’t afford it now. Missing a few days of work wouldn’t change that, and neither would an overdue two percent raise.
On the other hand, it hadn’t helped Mira’s finances when Sara “Look Out for Yourself” Meadows had moved out of their apartment to live with her boyfriend, now fiancé, of three months.
Sara was happy, though, and Mira had no interest in spoiling it. She would keep saving, find a new roommate, and eventually, things would work out.
Five hours and two minutes before dying:
The bridal shop had one dressing room, and it was attended by a woman with a permanent scowl and bedazzled shoulder pads. Mira wasn’t sure what had come first – the wrinkles in her face or the addiction to sparkle.
Mira sat on a velvet pink tuft outside the dressing room’s curtain and watched the woman trudge back and forth between the sea of dresses.
After considerable commotion, Sara emerged from the dressing room, tightly bound at the knees by a lace and pearl studded mermaid gown. Her shuffle to the pedestal in front of the mirrors was enough to make up Mira’s opinion on the dress.
“How’s my butt look?” Sara asked.
Mira flashed a thumbs up. “Tremendous.”
Sara turned around, her face pinched. “That’s not a helpful comment.”
“Then you should probably be doing this with someone else.”
“No.” Sara turned back to face the mirror, running her fingers along the netted neckline, her forefinger lingering on a small pearl dangling near her collarbone. “I appreciate the honesty. If you ever set a date for your wedding, I’ll be happy to return the courtesy.”
“We will. Eventually.” Mira paused. Her boyfriend Robbie – er, fiancé – lived on the other side of the country, finishing his fellowship. It worked fine for them. They’d both grown comfortable with what they had, and she wasn’t a romantic like Sara. Plus, she wasn’t big on planning or details. There was no need to rush. “We have time.”
Sara lifted an eyebrow in response. She knew goading the universe was unwise, but she decided not to say anything.
Three hours and sixteen minutes before dying:
“Aren’t you a little big for ice cream?”
Mira looked up from her cone. She didn’t recognize the guy, and she couldn’t quite interpret the smile on his face. Her eyes drifted down, scanning the Hawaiian button-up shirt, the protruding belly, and the sandal with white socks combination.
Was he leering? Or was he an innocent tourist? Someone’s unattended, ill-mannered husband?
The sweat pooling at the tip of his nose was distracting, and while at six feet tall, Mira expected comments about her height, erring on the side of friendliness had never worked for her.
It seemed like people always felt the urge to walk up to her and say something. It was often one of the same three questions – how tall are you, do you play basketball, do you play volleyball?
The accusation she was “too big” for ice cream was insulting, but at least it was original.
Mira’s mom had always been a firm believer that people approached her daughter because she was a beautiful, irresistible goddess with a cascading red mane of hair and “expensively straightened teeth.” She used to say the Christian thing to do was answer politely and excuse herself if she didn’t want to talk.
But her mom was three hundred miles away.
“I could say the same for you,” she said, nodding toward his belly before turning and taking five steps in the other direction.
Sara emerged from the ice cream shop at that moment, the door clattering shut behind her. “All right, I got you your snack. Are you ready to keep going?”
The man was unmoved, now licking his ice cream cone seemingly at them.
She’d made the right decision. “I need to call the hospital first.”
“No.” Sara let out a groan. “They’ll ask you to come in and work.”
“I’m not going to cross the picket line.” Mira pulled out her phone and dialed. “I need to see if my patient was discharged.”
“I have his dog.”
“I am not letting you put that dirty mutt in my car! I just vacuumed, Mira.”
It was ringing. And ringing, and ringing. “Relax. I gave him a bath.”
“The dog or the patient?”
Mira laughed and a familiar voice answered her call – the unit secretary. “Hey, it’s Mira. How’s my guy?”
“Oh, hey. He’s good. They sent him out last night.”
“We’re not good, though. Admissions didn’t slow at all, we’re falling apart.”
Sara, within earshot of the call, mouthed, “Told you so.”
“I’ll be back soon, I’m sure,” Mira said before hanging up.
One hour and forty-four minutes before dying:
Harold’s dog was sound asleep on Mira’s couch. The little mutt technically wasn’t allowed on the couch, but when no one was home, who could stop her? The old girl was smart enough to put that together, and Mira knew scolding would have no effect. Instead she woke her with a head scratch and soaked in the excited tail wags.
Harold was a frequent flyer in their hospital, his homelessness and diabetes ever at odds. The first time he’d refused admission because he had no one to care for his dog, Mira volunteered to take the old girl in. She was only thirty pounds – nothing for Sara to get upset about – and Mira missed having a dog. Her own dog had passed away two years ago, and she still couldn’t talk about him without tearing up.
“Keep her from licking the windows this time!” Sara called over her shoulder. “Where is Harold anyway?”
Mira sat in the back of the small sedan, having thrown the piles of clothes that had been draped over the backseat onto the floor.
“He usually hangs out in front of the 7-Eleven, or near the homeless shelter.”
“Just what I wanted for my magical day of wedding dress shopping. A trip to the homeless shelter.”
The dog snuggled in, resting her chin on Mira’s thigh and closing her eyes. She paid no attention to Sara’s rants, and Mira followed her lead.
They found Harold a block from the homeless shelter, sitting on the corner in what looked like a new pair of pants.
Sara pulled up and put on her flashers – the universal sign for “I know I’m in the way, but I’m not moving.”
Mira rolled down her window. “Special delivery!”
Harold’s expression brightened and a smile spread across his face. He was missing his two front teeth, which Mira thought gave him a sort of endearing appearance, though Sara disagreed.
“There’s my girl,” he said, standing and walking to the car.
Sarah turned to Mira and whispered “Ew.”
“He means the dog,” Mira murmured before opening her door.
The little mutt leapt from the car and into her owner’s arms, her tail shaking the entirety of her body.
“Thanks for keeping an eye on her.” He was grinning now, the dog plastering the side of his face with her tongue.
“You’re welcome,” Mira said. “How about you take your insulin so you don’t end up in my ICU again?”
He waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah. The good Lord will take me when it’s my time.”
“Uh huh. And how many toes will you have left when you finally get to meet him?”
He laughed, scooping the little dog into his arms and walking back to his sleeping bag. He reached under and held up a small plastic bag. “I’ve got the insulin. I’ll do what they said.”
Mira nodded. “Good.”
Sara watched this exchange with a flat expression. “Are you ready to go?”
Mira reached into the car and pulled out a duffel bag containing dog food and a small stuffed dragon. “She carried the dragon right into my place.”
“She doesn’t go anywhere without it. It’s her good luck charm.” He paused, breaking his downward gaze to look up at Mira. His smile faded. “I’m worried about you. You don’t look long for this world. Maybe she knew you need it more than she does.”
The sentiment was sweet, but Mira was not going to take a homeless dog’s favorite toy. “I’ll be fine. You two take care.”
Once they’d pulled away, Sara started her usual scolding. “If you’re not careful, the hospital will find out about this and turn it into some feel-good story they’ll take credit for on the news.”
“Harold would never go on the news. He says camera lenses zap your energy and plant dark seeds in your soul.”
“Hm.” Sara made a turn into their second bridal shop of the day. “He’s not wrong there.”
Fifty-two minutes before dying:
Sara was on her fourth dress when they got the call. The strike had been broken, and while negotiation results were unclear, it sounded like administrators had agreed to a one-time three percent raise, but nothing to address the unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios or lack of staff.
“Told you.” Sara smirked at her reflection in the mirror as the massive, strapless ballgown tried to escape her grasp.
Eleven seconds before dying:
The crosswalk turned to WALK and Mira readied herself for the third and final shop of the day.
“How about this time you go in and say you need the quickie package?” She turned, grinning, when she didn’t get a response. “Ask what’s available to ship in three weeks and we can save some – ”
One second before dying:
The truck had been a splurge: a special order, diamond white paint with metallic flecks of pink, oversized golden rims, an LED light bar, and a tastefully lifted body. The owner told herself she deserved it when she bought it, and that’s what she told herself when she made the payments. Coincidentally, that was what she told herself when she’d picked up a second Starbucks that morning, too.
She had no idea that a vehicle traveling at thirty-two miles per hour has a twenty-five percent chance of killing a pedestrian, and increasing the speed by ten miles per hour bumps that risk to fifty percent.
If she’d known that, she might not have increased her speed to thirty-nine an attempt to beat the yellow light, and when that failed, forty-three to escape the red.
In the end, it was the lifted body that did the trick, striking Mira precisely in her chest and stopping her heart on impact.