My wife wakes up and her left leg doesn’t work anymore.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
“What does that mean?” I say. She pulls the cover off the bed and looks scared, points at the normal-looking leg and says, “I can’t move it. I’m trying but it won’t move.” ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I say, “What do you want to do?” The word hospital eventually comes up. Hospitals are horrible. But thank the blue sky they are there. ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Ambulances, though. ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
We are so broke. An ambulance will bankrupt us. I go downstairs and try to find a taxi cab. But we live in a bad neighborhood and taxi cabs don’t come to the bad neighborhood. Down the block I see an ambulance. There is always an ambulance in front of one of the buildings. I want to talk to the ambulance driver and try to convince the driver to let us do, like, a carpool in the ambulance. Drive down the cost. They are all going to the hospital anyway. But the window opens up above and my wife yells out, “Just come carry me down the stairs. We don’t need anybody.” It’s not that far, really. It’s like six blocks and two avenues. We live pretty close to the emergency room when you really think about it. Walking distance. ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I carry her down the stairs. Three flights. No elevator.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
A neighbor sees this. The neighbor says, “Is everything okay?” We point at the leg that doesn’t work. The neighbor looks at the leg, like, ‘Wait? What’s the problem?’ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
After a couple blocks I’m huffing and puffing. I set her down. She leans on a streetlight. She says, “It’s probably a complication from birth control.” I nod. It probably is. We were having hard sex before, her legs worked fine. Her life is the same. I say, “Is legs not working a common side effect of taking birth control?” She says she doesn’t think so, but what does she know, she went to art school—and a leg ceasing working is certainly artless. I carry her an avenue. People on the street are staring. I’m sweating. Getting every day angry. I set her down again and go inside a bodega and buy two Gatorades. An orange one and a red one. We drink the Gatorades. “Maybe you’re dehydrated,” I say. She says, “Just do it.” I say, “That’s another company.” She says, “I’m lovin’ it.” ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
There’s a revolving door to get in the waiting room.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
We struggle through the revolving door. Shoes clanking against the glass and metal. The nurse at the sign in station sees us struggle. She finally says, “Didn’t you see the automatic doors to the right?” ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
It takes a while but it’s nice to be there. An answer is coming soon. The people in the waiting room are all dying and injured. And we are dying an injured, too, in our own simple way. But medicine is nice. It’s cool that we left the cave and invented medical science. Her leg is propped up on a little table I’ve dragged over. Someone asks for a magazine. I move the leg. Set it back down. Popular Science. You’ll love it. One by one, everybody goes through the curtain. Then it’s her turn to go through the curtain. They let me push the wheelchair. Triage is fun. Medical science is a big fat blast. ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
A young doctor comes to the exam room. He asks what the problem is. She says “My left leg doesn’t work anymore.” He looks at the leg, like hmmmm. But after minute or two of easy lil’ tests he’s decided that she’s lying about her leg not working for some complicated reason. ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I’m kicked out of the room. When I’m gone, the doctor asks my wife if I beat her up. She says I don’t. The bruises on her arm are from where her mother’s cat, Wilbur, who latched on and bit the hell out of her and kicked his back legs as he was fought like a maniac. She tells the doc how she had to smack the cat against the plaid couch to get it to let go, and seriously what the fuck is wrong with felines? He asks her if she is on drugs. She says, “Just birth control and an anti-depressant.” The doctor wants to give her a vaginal exam but she declines. He says, “We’re all done here then.” ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
The doctor comes and gets me and says, “Okay, you can come back in the room.” I wheel my wife back out. We sign some paperwork at the desk. The diagnosis is: Keep an eye on things and see what happens with your life and health and stuff. I carry her out through the automatic doors this time. Fuck an automatic exit.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
There’s taxi cabs waiting in front of the hospital. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
We take a cab home. You negotiate the price. I say a five they say seven, I say four they say five I say free, they say four and punch the gas. My neighbor is smoking a cigarette on the stoop and I carry her up the stoop. He says, “What’s the matter?” My wife says her leg isn’t working. The neighbor says, ‘Oh man, that’s a total bummer, feel better.’ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I carry her up the stairs. Three flights. No elevator. ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
We go lie down in the bed. We talk about what happened. It’s all just such helpless bullshit. Being alive is such a joke without a punch line. It’s so lousy and there’s no answers. And fuck it all, we start to laugh about it. We laugh until she asks isn’t here beer in the fridge. And of course there is. So I get it. And we tell each other horror stories about other people putting their lives against our lives in such a hurtful way and no witnesses or friends there to slap a bitch. But you know what you are? You’re a friend. You’re a witness. Nothing bad will happen again. We talk talk talk but even though we fight it, we fall asleep in our narrow bed. It goes like this: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-zzzzzzzzzz, like sinking into pleasurable quicksand and doing nothing about it. I hope tonight in your dreams your leg is fine, sure is a fine fine fine fine leg. ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
In the morning she can kind of move her foot a bit. ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The next day she can move her whole leg. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It’s so hot in the apartment and we can’t afford air conditioning or even the wish of air conditioning so we consider going back to the hospital just for the air conditioning. Sit in the waiting room and cool down. Instead, we walk down to the river and there’s a little breeze. We watch the people fishing for whatever kind of fish come this close to the city. I don’t know—Dumb Fish. And we walk on the rocky path that leads through the sad city trees. And it’s quiet there and private so we have sex in the grass. But I wear a condom because we still don’t want to have children. I pull out and cum on a dandelion and it’s dead and ruined after that and now I’m sorry. No more dandelions. ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
And then we walk back to the hot apartment and up the stairs and onto the roof of the building. We watch the airplanes fly up over the city and into the sky. It’s the magic hour. The airplanes are making all kinds of horrid noise and leaking all kinds of vapor across the sky. My boys. And then its night. Everything cools down again and it feels like the troubles of a life are peeled away and all that’s left is sweet fruit. Eat the fruit of the ordinary evening and try to heal all the scars in your mouth. But no luck. After a beer or two, she can do jumping jacks again. She’s happy. She’s spotlit in the beam hanging over the emergency door. And she’s perfectly American. And magnificently flawed and utterly perfect. She shows me. Look at this. Look at this. ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Topless jumping jacks—I meant to say. Legs like springs. Breasts smacking atogether. Gravity and joy. I take off my dress pants. I do jumping jacks too. You would think evolution would have fixed this by now. Jumping snakes on the roof hurts. It hurts. Oh this beautiful fucked up worthless limitless beautiful kiss right on the split lips existence. I hope we somehow somehow somehow make some kind of spastic baby for you to hold. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Bud Smith's books are I'm From Electric Peak, F250, Calm Face, Everything Neon, and others. His writing has been at Hobart, Smokelong, The Rumpus and Wigleaf. He runs Unknown Press, works heavy construction, and lives in Jersey City, NJ. www.budsmithwrites.com