Ann Williams lived in a small affluent suburb called Beaconsfield. She was a 44 year old, well-groomed, well-maintained woman who had resided within a three mile radius for her entire life. Her husband Mark, a corporate lawyer, worked twelve-hour days during the week but was very attentive to his wife on the weekends. Ann, a homemaker, had never been employed except for a brief period after college when she sold clothing at the local Ann Taylor. Her children, Mia and Tom, were eighteen and nineteen. Mia was a freshman at Montana State and Tom a sophomore at Colorado State.
Ann was an adequate homemaker, but she hired out for almost everything from cleaning to laundry. She was a decent tennis player but she played mostly for exercise and had never advanced beyond 3.0, nor did she appear to have any ambition to improve her game. She read the obligatory monthly book club book but she never recommended a book nor did she seek out any extra books to fill her time. She never had much to say about her reading and the general impression was that she attended the meetings for the wine and the gossip.
Prior to the events of October 8-12th, 2010, no one knew that she was contemplating an affair or that she had made an appointment with Dr. Fareth. Later her husband Mark recalled that she’d recently had trouble getting up off the couch, she’d started recording reality shows, which she watched incessantly, sometimes crying. Mark admitted this infuriated him at the time. If he’d had all that free time, he would have had no problem finding something constructive to do with it. He suggested she take up a hobby or apply for a part-time job. Perhaps they should take a trip? He suggested she plan their 20th anniversary trip, which they’d agreed would be to Venice.
But at Belle Vous Gym, Ann had been eyeing the man who occupied the first treadmill to the left of the stepper from 5:30-6:10 every morning. He was an architect, she discovered. She’d met him once years ago at a Junior League event and spoken to him briefly though she recalled him looking over her head as they conversed, which had enraged her at the time. During the two years she’d been watching him, she’d never said a word to him. Instead she figured the best way to attract his attention was to whittle herself down to the bone. To that end, for the past two years she’d suffered through twice weekly training sessions with Bill Blunt, which everyone at the gym agreed was the perfect name for a sadistic personal trainer, who had no problem calling his clientele lard-asses to their face.
In short, Ann was a self-absorbed, unpleasant, but, for the most part, harmless person not unlike many others living in her town or any small affluent town in the United States in the early part of the century. People put up with her, largely for her husband Mark’s sake. He was likable and outgoing and was loyal to Ann, who was amusing most often when she least meant to be.
The morning when everything started, she drove to Dr. Fareth’s office downtown. He administered Botox and Juvederm injections, though whether either played any role in what happened later is difficult to say. She never made it to the dentist to have her teeth whitened, which was where she was headed for an 11am appointment.
Ann first noticed the blood after she left Dr. Fareth’s office downtown and was driving down the dilapidated city street that led to Beaconsfield. She was wearing a white pantsuit and at first she thought it was her period, but she couldn’t figure out how the large blood smear had occurred near the cuff of her jacket or why, when she lifted a hand to scratch her nose, her steering wheel was also red where she’d been holding it.
She pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot. She put the car in park. She looked down at her hands. Blood dripped from them onto her Chanel purse.
“What the fuck!” she shouted in alarm. As her window was open, several people in the parking lot heard her and glanced over.
Jim Ennis, a plumber with Ennis and Son’s, was just getting back into this truck with a Big Mac and a super-sized coke. He dropped his coke when Ann emerged from the car with her hands in the air, bleeding from both palms.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Jim said.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Ann yelled as blood dripped onto her white pantsuit and Jimmy Choo slingbacks.
She held her hands away from her suit. The jacket opened to reveal blood seeping out from a wound below her right breast. Jim watched as she shimmied out of her white jacket, picked it up off the ground with two fingers, and flung it into the car.
Jim put his meal in his truck, stepped over his spilled Coke and hurried over to Ann. By then, a small crowd had assembled outside the side door about ten feet from where she’d parked. They were intrigued not only by the gashes in her hands but also by Ann’s cursing, which was loud and persistent.
“What are you people gaping at?” she yelled.
A couple of people, including an elderly couple, dispersed at that tone, but more than half remained despite Ann’s repeated aspersions. Jim, for no reason he could have articulated, kept advancing though he thought Ann appeared hostile and possibly dangerous. Her hands were dripping steadily onto the pavement. A plumber, Jim knew the difference between a steady flow and a trickle. If she kept hemorrhaging at this rate, she would collapse.
“Ma’am, I think you ought to sit down. You are losing a lot of blood.”
“I’m going to stain my car.” She nodded toward the interior’s lush buttery leather.
“Why don’t we sit on the curb then,” Jim said. “I’m going to call an ambulance.” He led Ann over to the curb. He got quite a bit of blood on his hands in the process and the thought of HIV crossed his mind, but he dismissed it because she seemed so well put together.
“I can’t sit down on the ground in these pants,” Ann said.
Jim whipped off his jean jacket and laid it out for her.
“Can someone get me a towel or something?” Ann yelled to the crowd who had started inching toward her again. They were a motley crew, large and unsightly, including a young girl, barely a teenager, who was holding a baby. People, in short, that Ann would normally have avoided.
“It’s the mark of Christ!” said a woman so fat she appeared to be oozing out of her shirt like whipped cream out of a whoopee pie.
Ann rolled her eyes. “Oh, for God’s sake!” she said. “I’m not even religious. It’s not the fucking stigmata! Just leave me alone.”
But, people were reluctant to leave the site of a miracle. A teenager in a McDonald’s uniform appeared with a wad of paper towels and handed them to Ann. She wound them around one hand and then the other.
“Look at her feet!” the young girl with the baby said. “Her feet are bleeding too!” Ann looked down. It was true. Her white Jimmy Choo’s were pink at the toes. She slipped one shoe off and then the other. Red froth bubbled out of vertical slits on the top of both feet.
“We’re in the presence of God!” yelled a policeman with a mullet.
“Jesus Christ! I just had a medical procedure,” Ann said. “I’m having a bad reaction to the medication! Please leave me alone!”
“That ain’t right,” the woman with the whipped cream belly said, shaking her head. “That ain’t right to talk like that.” A couple of people muttered and others shook their heads and moved back a few paces, but everyone continued to watch from a distance. Everyone except Jim and the teenaged girl with the baby were giving Ann wide berth. Down the street, a siren announced an approaching ambulance.
Ann thought the girl did not look old enough to have started high school let alone have a baby hitched to her side, but she wasn’t surprised either as this was the part of the city where one could expect those things to happen. This was also, in Ann’s estimation, part of the reason the country was doomed.
“Is that your baby?” she said to the girl as she blotted at the blood seeping out of her feet with a paper towel.
“Her name is Sharise,” the girl said with a grin.
“What in the world are you doing with a baby?” Ann said.
The grin evaporated. “I know. My momma says the same thing. But she’s nice. She’s my girl.” The girl took hold of the baby’s little hand and waved it at Ann.
“What’s that on her neck?” Ann said, pointing to a lump the size of a small lime sticking out of her neck underneath her left ear.
“Don’t know.” The girl shrugged, not even bothering to look at the baby.
“Looks like a lump,” Ann said. Ann was a hypochondriac and terrified by bumps and rashes and things other people would never notice. She shook her head. “That’s not normal,” she said. She would have gone straight to the doctor if one of her kids had had a lump on their neck that big. What was wrong with these people?
“I don’t have health insurance,” the girl said, finally turning the baby so she could feel her neck. “I just took her to the free clinic on Monday. She’ll be fine. She’s got so much energy, she loves everybody. See, she’s reaching for you.”
The baby was in fact reaching her small pink hands out to Ann. Ann recoiled, but the girl thrust it at her, and Ann was forced to touch the fat little stomach in order to push it away.
“For Pete’s sake!” Ann said. “Can’t you see I’m bleeding? I can’t hold your baby.”
The ambulance pulled into the parking lot, and two EMTs hopped out.
“Please just put me in the ambulance so I can get away from all these people,” Ann said. “Doesn’t anyone have anything better to do? I mean doesn’t anyone work anymore?”
Jim helped Ann stand up, and in thanks she dismissed him with a wave of her hand. The two EMT’s climbed up into the back of the ambulance with her, and the door slammed behind them.
The next day Jim Ennis went to the dermatologist to have his mole removed. It had been hidden under his wristwatch, an irregular lesion almost as big as his wristwatch’s face.
“I don’t understand,” the doctor whispered to the nurse while they were washing up. “Where did it go?”
After the procedure, he patted Jim’s shoulder. “You are one lucky man,” he said. “No trace of it even under the skin.”
In the ambulance, the female EMT used a steri-pad to mop up the drainage. “Does it hurt?” she said, peering down at the fingernail-sized puncture wound on Ann’s left palm.
Ann had been so distracted she hadn’t even thought about the pain but now that she was free of the crowd, her palms and feet ached.
“They’re pulsing a little,” Ann said. “It feels like there’s something in them.”
As soon as the girl finished sopping up the discharge more burbled out. “We need to stitch these up,” she said, looking at her partner, a young black man with diamond earrings in both ears. From a bank of drawers, he fumbled around for instruments. The female EMT asked Ann to put her feet up.
“You may start to get dizzy,” she said. “You’ve lost a lot of blood. What happened to you here?” She pointed to the stain on Ann’s shirt.
“I have no idea,” Ann said. “I have no idea why this is happening.”
The wound in her side hurt in a more insistent way than her hands or feet. Ann closed her eyes. The blonde girl unbuttoned her shirt and gasped.
“Tom, we have to head in, STAT,” she said. “This woman has been stabbed.”
The EMTs wheeled Ann into the emergency room and she waited on the gurney while they consulted with the nurse at the intake desk. To the right of the desk, the waiting room was packed with people in various states of duress. One woman with greasy blonde hair was holding a sleeping boy of about six who was as limp as a corpse. Another man was doubled over in his chair, holding on to his right side and taking deep breaths as if to blow the pain out. A woman with a bandage on her head sat back with her head against the wall and her eyes closed.
Ann’s wounds were throbbing. Her feet itched and pricked. The pain in her side was so intense she could hardly draw a breath. She felt nauseous. It was terrible. She couldn’t stand it. She wanted to call Mark but was afraid to reach into her purse. The strap was ruined but maybe it could still be salvaged if she didn’t touch it again.
The EMTs came back to the gurney accompanied by a nurse. The nurse, Cheryl, was old enough to be Ann’s grandmother. Severe osteoporosis had bent her 45 degrees to the right so that she looked like she was fixed in a convoluted side stretch. She removed Ann’s bandage slowly.
“Sweet Jesus,” she said.
“Don’t give me that crap,” Ann said. “This has nothing to do with Jesus.”
Cheryl raised a drawn-on eyebrow. “Not feeling too well?” she said.
“I feel like shit,” Ann said. “I should probably call my husband. Could you get my phone out of my purse?”
“We’re going to take you straight back,” Cheryl said. “On account of all this blood.”
What followed were stitches and when those didn’t staunch the flow, a series of tests. Ann spent the next five hours in a small room in the back of the ER flipping through one soap opera after the next while one doctor after another rotated through. Word of a medical mystery spread through the hospital and everyone from the hematologists to the cardiologists to the oncologists to the pediatricians wanted to weigh in. Most theories ranged from psychogenic purpura to autoerythroctye sensitization to self harm due to dissociative fugue state. Mark arrived about an hour into the process and over the next four hours bore the brunt of Ann’s irritation. The wounds in the hands, feet and side bled despite the plastic surgeon’s delicate sutures. The wound in the side raised concerns about sepsis, and the doctors refused to release Ann when the bleeding hadn’t abated by nightfall.
Right before she got off work that night at 7pm, the nurse, Cheryl, felt her back crack and then she stood up straight for the first time in ten years.
When Shelly, her replacement, arrived, she said. “You look good, Cheryl. You been to the chiropractor or something?”
“My back eased up,” Cheryl said. “It cracked and I feel like a million bucks.”
Ann was transferred to the psych ward. The doctor claimed that the psych ward was the only place in the hospital with a free bed, though in truth the consensus among the doctors was a psychiatric disorder, though which one was up for debate. This conclusion was reached largely because of Ann’s belligerence, the lack of other symptoms and the fact that she refused to eat.
“Why are you so thin?” one doctor asked her. “Have you been feeling sick for a long time?”
“Sick?” Ann said. “I’ve worked hard for this body. It took me two years to get to this weight.”
While Mark was home picking up Ann’s toiletries, Dr. Mike O’Malley, a Catholic in good standing and the psychiatrist on call, conducted a psychological evaluation.
“Have you ever felt the desire to harm yourself?” Dr. O’Malley asked.
“Oh, please! Give me a break,” Ann said.
“I’m trying to evaluate you. That’s why I’m asking these questions. I’m sorry if some of them seem silly.”
“So you think I took an ice pick like that chick on “Basic Instinct” and jammed it into my own hands?”
“I never said that. I’m simply running down the questions here on this sheet.”
Ann was tired. Dr. O’Malley’s voice was soothing. She wanted to go to sleep for a long time.
“I’ve never felt the desire to self-injure. I’ve never injured anyone else—at least not physically. My parents are dead, my sister is dead. I have a husband and two children. I live in Beaconsfield. I’m forty-four. I was thinking about having an affair but now that’s…..wait….”
“Why were you thinking about having an affair?” Dr. O’Malley said.
Ann couldn’t believe she had said it out loud. What had compelled her? She looked at Dr. O’Malley and shrugged. “I was bored and Mark doesn’t look at me anymore.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Well, if he was looking at me, I think I’d know.”
“Where are your children?”
“Do you have any hobbies? Any interests?”
“Not really. Nothing worth mentioning.”
“Are you religious?”
“I was raised Catholic and I got my fill of all that crap a long time ago.”
“So you don’t go to church?”
“No!” Ann said, with vehemence. “Jesus!”
“I’ve thought about leaving too, but I guess I feel too guilty.” It wasn’t true, but Dr. O’Malley often said things that weren’t true in order to appear empathetic.
“Priests are mean-spirited shits,” Ann said, picking up the remote and pointed it at the TV.
“Why do you say that?”
“When I was little I was religious,” Ann said, flipping through the channels. “I used to hold my hand up in the air and if I closed my eyes sometimes I felt like I could feel God holding my hand. Like this.” Ann held the hand with the remote up in mid-air.
“Interesting,” Dr. O’Malley said.
“Not really,” Ann said. “I’m sure I made it up. I told our pastor, Father Dennis, about it and he said, ‘Like how? Like this?’ and he grabbed my hand and he squeezed it until my fingers turned blue.”
“Why do you think he did that?”
“Who knows? Maybe because Jesus wasn’t holding his fucking hand.”
The next day, Ann checked herself out of the hospital despite repeated warnings about the continued risk of infection. She fought through the crowd and the TV cameras on her front lawn, ignoring the pleas for blessings. Up in her room, she talked to her kids on the phone and told them there was nothing to worry about. Their father had called them right after she was admitted so they knew what was going on, but it had been a shock to hear their mother’s story retold again and again on the news. Tom couldn’t stop laughing and Mia was mortified.
“Just stay in your room until it stops, mom,” Mia said. “I’m like totally embarrassed! What am I supposed to tell me friends?”
The crowd on Ann’s front lawn included clergy, reporters and a large contingent of people who were suffering from various disabilities and diseases. Word had spread that every person in the emergency room, every doctor who had examined her, every person she’d passed in the hallway, every single person who’d set foot in the hospital had been cured of every single ailment from pink eye to ovarian cancer. This as well as everyone at McDonald’s, including the baby Ann had met in the parking lot who had been suffering from leukemia. At the free clinic where the mother had gone on Monday, the doctors had also felt the lump. The results of the blood test pointed to acute lymphocytic leukemia, but when the mother and baby returned to the clinic for the follow-up, the baby showed no further sign of disease, the blood tests all came back normal.
When Ann had returned home the first day, Mark had impressed on her the real damage she could do to his career if she didn’t rein in her temper and stop cussing at everyone.
“Besides that, you could land a book deal,” he said. “You could make millions. Think of the possibilities. You and me on a yacht in the Caribbean.”
“My God, I never thought of that,” Ann said.
The next day, Ann emerged from the house with her head bowed. For the next four days, she continued to bleed. She stood on the front steps and people lined up to touch her hands. It was, she later admitted, a disgusting experience.
“Just think of all those germs,” she said. “And some of those deformities were really something. This one guy had like three big tumors coming out of the side of his head.”
Everyone she touched was cured. While it was going on, the neighbors kept from saying anything disparaging about Ann, but privately they wondered why their persnickety, narcissistic neighbor, the first person to complain if they partied past 11pm, the first one to chastise them if they forgot to take in their garbage cans and the last person they wanted to see at the block party had been chosen by God.
Then, just as quickly as it started, it was over. On the fifth day, Ann stopped bleeding. A day after that the wounds disappeared completely. Later when Ann appeared on The Today Show to promote her book and the camera zoomed in for a close up, there were no scars to be seen. She even lifted her shirt to show her unblemished side. It was inexplicable. Even Ann was mildly flummoxed. But all the people who had been cured were grateful and Ann’s book, Bleeding Out was an international bestseller. Mark quit his job and for a year they sailed around the world, pursuing his life-long dream, and many of the neighbors who considered him a long-suffering spouse were happy for his good fortune.
Matt Lauer, The Today Show host, was the only person to ask aloud the one question everyone was asking themselves. “Ann, I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but a couple of people have said you are the last person on earth they expected something like this to happen to: You’re not religious, you’re cynical and I hear you have quite a potty mouth. I’m wondering what you have to say to that.”
“I think they’re right,” Ann said, smiling, her newly bleached teeth gleaming.
“I guess what they really want to know is why you?” Matt persisted.
“I don’t know,” Ann said. “You should have seen some of the people in McDonald’s.” Her lip curled in disgust. “I mean when you look at it that way, why not me?”
Kelly Fordon’s work has appeared in The Kenyon Review (KRO), Flashquake, The Windsor Review and various other journals. In 2011, she contributed to Ghost Writers: Us Haunting Them, a Michigan Notable Book. Her poetry chapbook, On The Street Where We Live won the 2011 Standing Rock Chapbook Contest and was published in February 2012. She is currently working towards her MFA in fiction writing at Queens University.