• Published 10th Jul 2020
  • 1,087 Views, 147 Comments

Three-act Play - Dave Bryant



Wallflower Blush didn’t show up for graduation. Sunset Shimmer is worried—but luckily she knows just the person to consult about it. If Rose Brass can’t help, no one can. • A Twin Canterlots story

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Conference

It was a cramped, stuffy little space—the same size and architecture as the ICUs and countless other cubbyholes all over the hospital, designed for easy adaptation to a variety of uses. In the center stood a three-foot round pedestal table, cheap and serviceable. Three equally utilitarian chairs, all occupied, attended it; the others had succumbed to hard use or been carried off to other rooms, never to return. A business-suited Rose sidled awkwardly through the door from the hallway, the back of a mismatched fourth chair under her prosthetic arm. She set it down at the table and dropped onto it, then glanced around.

Decades ago, in a misguided attempt to brighten the close windowless space, someone had plastered cheap four-color travel posters on the walls. Over the intervening years the merciless fluorescent lighting in the ceiling had leached away all the magenta and most of the yellow, leaving the photographs of distant exotic places a uniformly faded and doleful blue-gray. Everything about the tiny conference room was worn and a bit tired, rather like the people who met in it.

This morning those people included not just her but Holly and Wallflower’s attending physician. The fourth individual, vaguely scruffy-looking and dressed in a simple pantsuit, sat quiet and aloof, composed as a cat. Sunset, by contrast, was absent, still attending the semiconscious girl about whom the rest of them were meeting.

The physician cleared his throat. “All right.” He was a big bear of a man, plump and by nature cheerful. For this gathering he had gotten his professional face on straight and shown up in white dress shirt, dark slacks, and lab coat, which Rose knew was effectively a costume for reassuring a patient’s anxious friends and relatives. He jogged a sheaf of records on the tabletop in front of him. “Let’s start with Ms. Blush’s physical condition—what we know, what we don’t, and what we’ll be looking for over the next couple of weeks.” He took a small, unobtrusive breath.

“Comas don’t work like you might have seen on television, and that includes waking up from them. Scriptwriters only have a few minutes to move their stories along, so they speed things up a lot. In the real world, it can take quite some time to come all the way back to full consciousness. On top of that, every coma is different, and so is every patient. That’s why we still don’t know a lot yet and we’re still gathering information.” He listed the few facts and figures they did have, simplified for his lay audience, seasoned with just enough technical detail to sound authoritative.

From the present he moved on to the future, describing what they would guard against and what they would try to pin down. Concussion. Potential loss of memory. Potential loss of feeling and motor control in the lower body. How severe the loss might be. Whether physical therapy could reverse it and by how much.

Rose recognized in his presentation many of the same tricks and techniques she’d learned, directed toward setting expectations and establishing goals. She took a few notes. She wasn’t a physical therapist herself, but that was something she could make preparations for as part of her casework. If it turned out not to be practical, she could cancel those plans easily enough. She hoped she wouldn’t have to.

“Wh-what?” Holly was practically vibrating on her seat. “It could happen again?”

Returning her attention to the here and now, Rose blinked and looked up from her yellow pad. Irritation flashed across her mind—normally she didn’t tend to zone out like that.

“We’ll do our best to make sure it doesn’t,” the doc answered in a soothing tone. “That’s why we’re taking this slowly and carefully. We want to keep her under observation for at least two weeks, partly to let the stitches close up properly, before we release her to the inpatient clinic.” He nodded to the fourth person, who nodded back in acknowledgement and possibly agreement.

That gave Rose the clue she needed to catch up. Holly hadn’t taken it well when, upon arriving the following morning and finding Wallflower looking even more pale than before, she’d learned about the emergency surgery a couple of nights ago.

“But I thought when she woke up . . .” Holly looked crestfallen and more than a little frightened.

In the same gentle voice the surgeon pointed out, “The human body is one of the most complicated things around, and it doesn’t always work the way people think it does—or the way people think it should. That’s why we want to keep such a close eye on her and make sure she really is healing.” He looked around at his small audience. “That about sums it up. Are there any questions?”

A silent shake of the head indicated the pant-suited stranger was satisfied; Rose suspected this wasn’t their first rodeo. Holly’s few ventures tended toward the simple and naïve, but she seemed to be striving to learn and to emulate the cool, balanced professionalism she saw in everyone else. Rose herself sought to clear up a few points, mostly to help in building a new timeline and the associated decision gates. Soon enough the awkward little silence fell that signified nobody had anything else to say, and after a few parting pleasantries the surgeon stood and took his leave.

When neither of the other two made any move to depart, Holly looked confused but settled back on her chair. Her wary glance at the individual whose dress and appearance sent what she probably regarded as mixed signals suggested more than just uncertainty. Rose ignored it, and suspected the person sitting across from Holly of doing the same, but made a mental note to put a word in Sticky’s ear about the issue. Besides being a potential problem in its own right, there could be consequences for Wallflower’s treatment.

“My name is Even Keel. I was assigned as your daughter’s personal counselor when Ms. Brass referred her to our clinic.” The counselor’s speaking voice was one of the loveliest in Rose’s experience, melodious and almost perfectly balanced in its androgyny—something of a contrast to their somewhat homely looks. “I wish I could offer something more positive, but until we know more about Wallflower’s physical state, it’ll be hard to do much planning. When I first spoke with Ms. Brass, it seemed as straightforward as such a case can be.” They held out both hands palm up in an abbreviated shrug. “But of course things have changed. Now it’s much more of an outlier.”

Holly hesitated, then asked, “What does that mean? For Wallflower?”

Rose replied absently, “You heard the bad news already, that we can’t do much planning until we have more hard data. The good news is, we’re free to . . . get more creative about the rules. Think more outside the box.”

Keel’s brief glance at Rose was enigmatic as a sphynx’s. “Before we get into that, I should give you both an idea what the normal process is, to provide a baseline.” The ensuing speech was as rote as Rose’s scripts and a trifle more stilted—but then, Rose’s audience was more likely to deliver a critique of her performance by knife-point, a powerful incentive to polish one’s acting ability.

On the other hand, the recitation laid out the process and goals clearly and simply. From there it branched out, touching on related concerns. Visits from family or friends were limited, especially at first, giving clients time to adjust to the inpatient environment and find their own footing, neither clinging to outside life nor totally isolated from it. The clinic’s physical lay-out balanced the privacy of personal quarters against communal spaces, such as cafeterias and rooms for group activites or therapy, to encourage social behavior. Holly nodded at intervals, her attention more or less unwavering. Rose went back to her note-taking. Eventually Keel concluded with, “Of course the facility is compliant with building code relating to accessibility requirements, but that’s only half the problem.”

Holly’s brow knit, and once again Rose interpreted. “If Wallflower’s injuries mean she’ll be disabled for the next several weeks or . . . longer, getting from place to place and even taking care of simple chores will be a lot tougher. That’s part of what we have to think about right now.”

The counselor corroborated this with another nod. “My guess is she’ll need an attendant to wheel her around and help with almost every part of daily life, even the most intimate.” They were good, Rose granted readily, showing only the barest hint of hesitation over the delicate topic. “A total stranger being that close could have a negative impact on the socialization aspects of treatment, and even with that assistance she may not be able to participate in the full spectrum of activities.”

“Well—” Holly blurted, then stalled. At Keel’s encouraging gesture she resumed in the same low, mechanical tone Rose had become familiar with. “If a stranger doing it isn’t a good idea, maybe . . . maybe I could instead?” Even she seemed unconvinced by the notion.

With marked reluctance Keel responded, “In principle, it might be an idea worth exploring, but—” Their eyes flickered in a brief sidelong glance at Rose.

“You’re gonna be spending most of your time just trying to rebuild your own life, Holly,” Rose pointed out in a bracing tone. “This would be pretty intense. You’d have to be there twenty-four–seven, and that just isn’t gonna happen. I don’t think Sticky would sign off on it either.”

“Oh.” Holly hunched down a little in patent disappointment. “I—I guess it wasn’t that good an idea anyway. I mean, the other night I did say I wasn’t sure if what’s best for Wallflower included me.” Trying to convince herself, no doubt.

Maybe it was time for a little positive reinforcement. “The best thing you can do right now is to focus on getting yourself to a better place. Let us help Wallflower do the same.” Rose’s mouth twitched. “If it’s any consolation, Holly, you’re not the only one having a rough time with this. I am too, and so is—” She paused thoughtfully. “So is Sunset.”

Struck with inspiration, Rose turned to an attentive Keel. “I might have just the candidate. Sunset Shimmer is Wallflower’s best friend, and she’s taken the whole thing pretty hard. I think she blames herself for a lot of it. She’s smart, she’s dedicated, and she has bags of staying power. I think she could do it.”

Keel frowned. Holly frowned too, though on her it looked more like a pout. Rose sat back and waited, marshalling her thoughts to deal with whatever objections either of them came up with.

“That name . . . isn’t she part of that teen pop band? The Rainbooms? Their music video played for months over at the mall. I’ve listened to a few of their other songs. They have promise.” Keel was trying hard to sound magisterial, but there was a definite undertone of genuine interest.

Rose blinked, caught broadside. “Ah—yeah, rhythm guitar and backing vocals.” The last thing she expected was a fan, for heaven’s sake. “The whole band—and Wallflower too—just graduated from Canterlot High School. Sunset and a bandmate snagged summa cum laude.” Pointedly she added, “Honors like that don’t come in cereal boxes. CHS is a good school.”

The counselor’s brows rose. “Hm.” They sat for a moment in deep thought, clearly considering pros and cons; Rose was sure they were trying to bend over backward not to be influenced by their liking of the Rainbooms. “Well . . . I’ll have to see about lining up some alternatives, just in case, but—all right. If you’ll vouch for her, I’ll accept the recommendation at least provisionally.”

Holly looked conflicted. Rose couldn’t blame the other woman, since she too felt a strong ambivalence in the wake of throwing out a suggestion almost without considering it. She simply had to trust her judgment; it had a pretty good track record.

Except when it didn’t. Rose suddenly became conscious of an ache where the stump of her arm met the prosthetic that had replaced it, sparking a momentary flashback to the terrible moment an IED put an end to her army career and two other lives.

She shook her head to clear away the memory. No, she could handle this, and so could Sunset.

Author's Note:

My stories often deal with serious, and sometimes heavy, subjects. At the same time, I tend to avoid direct mention of other weighty topics—but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about them or even that I don’t express a point of view on them. Instead, that viewpoint is assumed, woven as axiomatic into the fabric of my settings and narratives, treating diversity and basic human equality as normal and desirable.
  I’m not the first to take this approach, by a long chalk. The 1960s US television series I Spy presented the main characters, one black and one white, as a pair of coequally trained, capable intelligence agents—both of them also expert at cracking wise. The race angle is simply ignored as unworthy of dignifying with any attention. Much more recently, in Kerub’s Bazaar one of the main characters gradually develops a same-sex relationship over the course of the series, which drives the stories of several episodes yet never is treated as anything but perfectly ordinary.
  And, of course, both MLPFIM and MLPEG traveled more or less the same path, part of what attracted me to them—and what made them suitable vehicles for the stories I’ve chosen, or been urged, to tell.

Thanks to FanOfMostEverything and KwirkyJ for independently suggesting Even Keel’s name.