On her way to the library, Mary stopped by the corner convenience store to buy some apple juice and a cookie. When she went to pay, the woman behind the counter told her the price in Vietnamese.
Mary sighed. "How many times do I have to tell you I don’t understand?"
"How many time I tew you to lun?" she retorted. "Tew yo mommy to teach you."
"Like she's got time," Mary said. "And besides, we're in America. Learn how to say prices in English!"
"My English bettuh dan yo Vietnamee!"
Fair enough. Mary sighed and left.
At the public library, Mary caught up on homework she had missed during her absence. She tried to keep her mind off the day but failed. Part of her felt awful for snapping at Carter like she did. Part of her felt justified.
None of it felt right.
When she finally got her homework to cooperate, Mary took out her sketchbook. She could think well when she drew. She started drawing and shading in the various phases of the moon. Something nice about the moon was that even though it looked different from the Earth at different times, it was still the same moon. It changed, but it was consistent.
The pencil lead broke, and suddenly Mary realized what bothered her about the whole Carter thing. Before the accident, he may have been a jerk. But at least he was a consistent jerk. She didn't know what to make of this "new" Carter, and that scared her a little.
Was this polite kick that he was on just a phase? What if the part of his brain that the crash knocked out of order wobbled its way back in place and he went back to his former self?
Whatever the case was, Mary didn't want to be caught off guard and start trusting this new, polite, contraction-lacking Carter. Especially if he wasn't staying.
Still, that didn't give her the liberty to be a jerk herself.
The time came for her to head to Agape. When Mary arrived, she met Ba in the dining room at their usual table. Mary walked around to her front and greeted her. "Hi Ba."
Ba's face lit up. "Hi Con. You made it just in time."
Mary also greeted the others at the table. There was Julia, a wicked good gin player, and her roommate Emma, a jolly black lady who carried her frayed Holy Bible wherever she went. On the other side was George, whose dentures never quite fit right. And finally, there were Mr. and Mrs. Penny, who were married last year when he was only ninety-two and she was ninety.
"All right, who's hungry?" Mom came into the room with containers filled with bánh cuốn, the slippery Vietnamese rice crepes filled with all manner of goodness.
Mary helped her tear up the herbs, sprinkle in the mung bean sprouts, and pour on the fish sauce. They served everyone at the table.
"So how was your day at school, Con?" Ba asked.
"It was all right," Mary answered.
"Oh, you know what?" Mom asked. She caught herself suddenly, remembering their agreement not to let Ba know about the accident. "Uh...what I mean is, you know that boy who had that car accident you told me about? What was his name? Carter?"
Nice save. "What about him?" Mary asked.
"I asked about him," Mom said. "You know, just curious. Did you know he was released just a couple days after the accident?"
Mary picked at her food. "Yeah. I know."
Ba looked at her out of the corner of her eye. But she didn't say anything.
"Did you see him at school?" Mom asked.
Mary nodded. "It was kinda hard to avoid him."
"Who is this boy?" Mrs. Penny asked. "Is he a friend of yours, Mary?"
Mary hesitated. She suddenly wished that Mom hadn't brought Carter up.
"No, I'm not friends with him. He just goes to my school and everyone was talking about how he was in a bad accident. But he seems fine now."
Mary and Mom exchanged glances.
"Sounds like a miracle from the good Lord," Emma said. "God Almighty preserved that boy for great things. Amen."
"Amen nothin'," George said. He wasn't wearing his teeth, since the bánh cuốn were slippery and didn't need much chewing. "Did I e'er tell y'all 'bout the time I was workin' my granddaddy's farm and I nearly sliced off my left leg at the knee?"
"Yes," they answered in unison.
"Please don't tell it again, George. We're eating," Julia said.
He ignored her. "They thought I was gonna die from all the blood I lost. Already started makin' funeral arrangements. I'm tellin' ya, I lost more blood that day than I e'er did in all my time in Korea."
"You were a cook on a base, George," Julia reminded him.
"And dangerous work it was, woman!" he snapped. "Like ta see you try and feed a mess of men with rifles everyday for three years on powdered taters and condensed milk."
Mary set down her chopsticks. "Mom? Have you ever heard of someone…changing? Like, after a traumatic experience?"
"Sure, honey. Trauma can do a lot of things to people's minds and bodies."
"Did I e'er tell y'all 'bout how I had post-trauma after Korea?" George chimed in. "One time, I was dreamin' I was fightin' a buncha North Koreans, and I kicked my sweet Betty—may her soul rest in peace—"
"Amen," Emma added.
"—kicked her right outta bed. The woman couldn't sit straight for days."
"I've heard of things like that," Mary said. "But I was wondering if a traumatic experience can change someone for better. What if they were suddenly really, really, really nice when being nice is unusual for them?"
"I've heard many a time when people were snatched out of the jaws of death, and they turned from their wicked ways and confessed the Lord Jesus their savior," Emma said. "Amen!"
Mom smiled. "To answer your question, Sweetie, yes. Trauma can bring out good in people, too. Sometimes they realize how precious life is, and they don't want to waste anymore time not appreciating it."
Mary thought for a moment. Then she asked, "Has there ever been times when they changed back? You know, to the way they were before the trauma?"
"Look at me! I'm proof!" George said.
"There are treatments," Mom answered. "And sometimes people just decide to go back to the way things were. But that doesn't mean the trauma never happened."
"If you don't mind me, dear," Mrs. Penny said, "why do you ask? Do you know someone like that?"
Mary shrugged. "I was just wondering."
After dinner, they played Scrabble. George insisted that "cu" was a word, which sent Mary on a hunt through the Agape game room for a dictionary. Some of the residents were watching a movie on the TV.
Mary was about to go back to the others when a terrific crash! caught her attention. She turned just in time to see a guy in the movie get creamed by a bus.
She lingered for a while and watched as an ancient ghost possessed his body. Mary had seen this movie before. Unlike the pre-bus guy, who was rather clumsy and light-hearted, the possessed one spoke clearly, directly, and politely.
Mary dropped the dictionary.
She didn't really believe in paranormal and supernatural stuff. But Carter's polite speech and his miraculous, for lack of a better word, recovery just didn't make sense in the natural world.
And then there were his eyes.
Mary never forgot how his eyes opened for a split second while he was hunched over in the wrecked car. And she didn't forget the tear she saw in the emergency room, which only came after the doctors were ready to pronounce him dead.
What if Carter wasn't suffering from brain damage? What if that wasn't him who had looked at her? Or had shed that tear? What if something, like a soul from that Italian hell she read about in English, had taken hold of his body like this guy in this movie?
Was it possible?
Was Carter Maxwell possessed?