Rachel Cooper has life under control: good job, good friends, and good plans for the future. All of that collapses one early morning when she falls and breaks her ankle. Now she must face the horrors of preparing for an upcoming move and handling her tenth year of teaching while clomping around on crutches. Worse, somewhere in the shadows, the Memento Killer lurks—a serial murderer who stalks women with four anonymous gifts before moving in for the kill. When unexpected presents begin arriving on Rachel’s doorstep, she fears that she'll soon be crutching for her life.
Rachel's total life implosion came about in this way: one Wednesday morning in early April, she tripped and broke her ankle.
She didn’t remember falling. One minute she’d been rushing to finish her drill on the agility ladder, and the next, she was going down hard. Her scream covered the sound of the snapping bone—a sickening little snick—and she found herself lying flat on her back on the gym mats, right leg elevated, foot lolling strangely. Somehow her foot had looped through the ladder on the way down, and now she rolled on the floor in a snarl of straps and plastic rungs.
This couldn’t be happening.
Coach Donovan whooped. Then, there he was, dropping down beside her, so close that she could feel the heat radiating off him. One of his giant hands cupped her calf to stabilize her leg while the other hovered in the air, poised to intercede if necessary.
“I think I’m hurt,” Rachel said, alarmed to hear her voice wobbling strangely. Not that her ankle actually hurt, though. Not exactly. It just felt wrong somehow.
The buzzer went off across the room to signal the end of the final round. If she were to have even a prayer of showering and getting into her classroom before her students showed up, she needed to pack her gym bag and jump into the car immediately. Instead, she lay writhing on the floor of the gym tangled in the agility ladder, leg cradled awkwardly by her coach, heart still hammering from the final cardio push.
Rachel turned her head to the side and saw a set of feet approaching. She looked up and beheld her sister’s face, dripping sweat. “What happened to you?” Ann asked.
“She rolled her ankle,” Donovan said.
Rachel felt thankful that she and Ann worked out with Donovan privately instead of as part of his workout classes. This scenario was embarrassing enough with only two witnesses.
Rachel winced as the pads of Donovan’s fingers pressed against her foot to keep it from listing to starboard. She blinked through the mist and reached a hand to swipe back gobs of clumpy red hair from her forehead. “I hope it isn’t sprained,” she moaned.
Ann grunted dispassionately, using her teeth to pull away the hook and loop strips of her boxing gloves. She pulled off the gloves and swiped her forearms across her face. She leaned down to take a closer look at Rachel’s ankle. “Yikes.”
“Ann,” Rachel gasped, “do something.” Although what exactly she wanted her sister to do, she wasn’t sure.
“There are cold packs in the mini fridge in the office,” Donovan said.
Ann jogged away and Donovan tightened his hands around Rachel’s leg. He narrowed his eyes. “Lie still.”
Rachel curled an arm over her eyes. “This is the worst,” she moaned. She could feel her heartbeat everywhere: behind her eyeballs, down her legs, through her toes, and in the tips of her fingers. “Let go of my foot for a minute.” Cautiously, she rotated her elevated foot in tiny spirals, breathing a sigh of relief when it moved. Surely if she could move it, it couldn’t be too badly hurt.
Ann reappeared, threaded her arm around Donovan’s, and pressed an ice pack against the quickly-swelling ankle.
“I think it’s OK,” Rachel said, ignoring the looks that Donovan and Ann gave her. She looked away and concentrated on keeping her breathing even. “Let me see if I can stand.”
“You’ll have to get untangled first,” Ann said. She squatted and began to tug at the straps to the agility ladder. “Scoot your hips up,” she told Rachel.
Donovan shook his head. “I don’t know, Rachel. If your ankle’s broken, you could do some real damage by trying to walk.” He moved the flat of his hand against the sole of her foot to provide further stability. “Just stay put for a few minutes until we see if—”
“I’m fine.” As Rachel struggled up to her elbows, her arms trembled beneath her. “It’s not broken.” Her sore abs convulsed in protest, and she subsided against the mats, panting slightly.
Ann worked the rest of the ladder free and pulled it off to the side, straightening it out neatly before coming back to stand over her sister, hands on hips.
“You should still have an X-ray,” Ann said, frowning.
“There’s a walk-in clinic down the road.” Donovan squatted back on his heels. “But it’ll be closed at this hour.”
“I don’t need that. I’m fine.”
“So,” Donovan said to Ann, ignoring Rachel completely. “X-rays?”
Donovan scooped his arms under Rachel, lifting her. She could no more have stopped herself from squawking than she could have reversed the flow of time. This was to remain etched in her memory as one of the least dignified moments of her life.
Given Rachel’s life, that was saying something.
Question 1: With which character in the story do you most identify?
Answer 1: Answers will vary.
Question 2: Rachel draws great strength from her friendships. How might this story have turned out differently if not for the influence of Ann and Lynn?
Answer 2: Without Ann and Lynn, Rachel would have had no words of wisdom. She would have acted on instinct at every turn. Given the questionable nature of Rachel's instincts, this would only bring disaster.
Question 3: What spiritual lesson could most benefit Rachel?
Answer 3: Answers will vary, but discernment should certainly appear near the top of the list.
Question 4: How do Rachel's interactions with her students help to reveal her to us fully?
Answer 4: Despite Rachel's personal failings, she's chosen a profession in which she shines. She takes her responsibilities seriously, handles her students well, earns their respect, and demonstrates a strong working knowledge of her subject matter. Almost exclusively in the classroom does Rachel appear as an adult. Without these scenes, Rachel would seem almost completely at a disadvantage.
Question 5: Do you believe Rachel to be a reliable narrator?
Answer 5: Due to her highly opinionated nature, lack of discernment, and tendency to trust snap judgments, Rachel is an unreliable narrator.
Question 6: Discuss Rachel's treatment of Sharon Day. Do you believe Rachel is fair to her?
Answer 6: Answers will vary, but Rachel's weaknesses are most apparent in her unkind treatment of Sharon Day. Although she's perfectly polite to Sharon on the surface, she's constantly judging her and mentally discrediting her without ever having made an effort to know Sharon as a person.
Question 7: School administrator Yolanda Martinez appears only as a shadowy figure. What are we able to infer about Rachel's opinions of her?
Answer 7: Rachel obviously has a high respect for Ms. Martinez's abilities, although she doesn't seem to hold any personal affection for her.
Question 8: Throughout the story, Rachel and her students muse over the nature of irony and coincidence. How do both elements play into the story of Collapsible?
Answer 8: At several points in the narrative, readers are invited to wonder whether or not Rachel's chance meetings are ironic or coincidental: meeting Matt is a primary example. Only at the end are readers able to look back and determine what was irony and what was coincidence.
Question 9: Do you find hints at a potential romantic relationship between Rachel and Lee problematic? Why or why not?
Answer 9 Answers will vary.
Question 10: How does Rachel's final conversation with Detective Smith reveal a change in her character?
Answer 10: For the first time, she acknowledges that she might not be able to trust her own judgment.