Through the vapor hissing from the cracked radiator, she can see the other driver is dead. She stirs in her seat and tries to open the door. Her nose is crushed into her face. Some of it is on the steering wheel. She can’t move her legs. She doesn’t feel them. It is as if she were born without them. A hole has opened in her right thigh, white bone jutting through the stringy muscle. She vomits into her hands.
In a blurry hospital, and much later, with her leg propped up on two pillows, a sweating glass of sweet tea on the nightstand, Thomas leans over her bed and kisses her forehead. The image of the dead woman clings to her and she wipes it from her face like a spider web. Screeches echo down the hall. Her baby is unhappy. He’s been fed, he’s been changed, but still he screams all day. He will always be an infant, she thinks, and that is why she loves him so much.
Thomas pushes back her bangs with his palm and leans the glass toward her mouth. She sips at it, catching the ice on her teeth. He takes it away and sets it on the nightstand. She apologizes for the way she looks. She apologizes for the way the room smells, though now she’s used to it and can no longer smell it. He shakes his head and waves his arms and crosses them over his chest. He takes good care of her even if things didn’t happen like they were supposed to. And if they did, life would be so boring. He’s a good man, but wouldn’t he go and make that baby shut up so she could get some sleep?
The doorbell wakes her. She’s asleep and then she’s awake. There’s no transition because she knows who’s at the door. Her children have come home. She’s worried about how she looks because it’s been so long since she’s seen them. It seems as though time isn’t moving. What are they doing out there on the porch? Why are they taking so long to come up? She knows Michael is wearing his suit because he just flew in from Atlanta. He heard about the wreck and he brought chocolates and a necklace from Macy’s. It isn’t pure gold because of her allergy. He’s a good boy and he remembers she can’t have pure gold. And Tony is smoking a cigarette. She told him to quit, but she’ll smell the menthol on his breath when he leans down to kiss her. His head is shaved and maybe Thomas rubs it because he’s a good father. Mary will be holding her own daughter. She’ll rock it in her arms and kiss its forehead. They’re all talking, she can almost hear them through the window. Maybe she can peek out there and see. But her leg hurts too bad. They’ll come see her. They’ll come upstairs.
Thomas steps into the room and smiles. He’s holding their child in his arms. It’s screeching, its brown hands grabbing at his nose. She only wants to know who was at the door. He scrunches his face and sighs. It was the neighbors. Their television set wasn’t working, was ours? He moves over to the bedside with the bundle and sets it in her lap. The monkey is screaming, but she’ll take care of it. It’s wearing a diaper. She holds it against her chest and rocks it slowly. It smells of dried fruit. It wraps its arms around her neck and pulls at her ears. He’s her little boy, she tells him. He rolls onto his back and claps his feet.
Do you remember when you woke me in the night? We cooked bacon on the stove and drank right from the milk carton. We watched the sun come up. You laughed at everything. You were a happy baby. I don’t cook anymore. I don’t have time and the mornings don’t come as easy. It’s hard to wake up. Frank tells me I can’t be late every day, but I don’t think he means it. He says it in front of everyone so he looks like a real boss. But he saw me crying by the water cooler, and even though he didn’t try to comfort me, it was only because he didn’t know how.
Eugene Harrogate is from Lexington, Kentucky, and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from NYU. His essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Publishers Weekly, Guernica and The Rumpus. He lives in Brooklyn and tweets here.