Love and Other Injuries by Steve Carr
From the top of the street, the rows of red brick houses on each side all look the same. The falling rain has washed them clean. The street pavement is slick and shiny and small streams flow down the gutters. Dead maple leaves from the trees that stand along the sidewalks float on the currents and clog the storm drains. The street’s steep incline gives the impression that everything on it is slightly leaning downhill. I’ve waited for the telephone poles to fall like dominoes, but it’s never happened. My parents’ house is the third one down on the right. The wind has knocked over their garbage can that was sitting on the sidewalk. It rolled down the sidewalk and is lodged against a fire hydrant. A trail of trash was left behind.
I didn’t have time to put on my shoes, a shirt, or grab a coat before Donna kicked me out of our house. The rain that batters my flesh is cold and tiny ice crystals feel like stinging bees. Goosebumps cover my torso and arms. The concrete is as smooth and chilled as walking barefoot on ice. Tendrils of icy cold have wound around my legs and grasped my nut sack. I have years of memories of walking down the street when it was covered with frozen snow to know how to walk it now without falling, but I take each step very carefully as if this is the first time.
At the bottom of the steps leading up to the walkway in front of my parents’ home I momentarily stop and stare up at the windows made opaque by condensation, rain and frost. I smooth back my wet hair with my fingers, hearing my mother’s voice, saying, “Being well groomed is important.” Feeling like a puppet being pulled by the strings because this is where I always come when I’m in some kind of trouble, I walk up to the door and knock loudly. I know that one of them looks out the living room window to see who it is before they come to the door, because that’s what they always do, but I don’t see them. When they open the door, I don’t know who’s face shows more disappointment, mine or theirs.
My mother says, “You’re soaking wet. Don’t come in until I get a towel to protect the rug.” She turns and leaves.
Standing in the doorway, my father shakes his head. “Why didn’t you drive over?”
“Donna wouldn’t let me back in the house to get the keys or my cell phone.”
Water from an overflowing rain gutter is running down my back and into the back of my jeans. It’s like having ice cubes run up and down every single vertebrate of my spine. It occurs to me that my father would be easy to push aside. He has become prematurely frail. Old age caught up with him early. His hair is snow white and he wears a hearing aid and thick glasses. When he talks his voice quivers. It seems like speaking every word takes effort.
My mother returns with two towels. She tosses one to me and after my father steps to the side, she lays a large beach towel on the carpet. “Come in, but don’t get anything wet,” she says.
Unlike my father, she’s full of vitality. She stopped aging at fifty and she stands and walks as if always aware of her posture. She’s an attractive woman, but isn’t fussy about her appearance. As she watches me, dressed in a simple cotton shift, with one hand on her hip, and a loose strand of hair curled on her forehead, I’m convinced she has purposely cultivated her image as an earth mother.
“Why did she throw you out this time?” she says as I dry my upper body. She tries to control the tone of her voice, to not sound as if she is taking anyone’s side, but I’m not fooled. I know she thinks Donna is too good for me.
“She caught me on the internet looking at porn,” I say. That’s only part of the truth. There are just some things I don’t tell my mother that I do on a regular, almost obsessive, basis.
With water still dripping from my jeans, she turns to my father and says, “Let’s give him some privacy so that he can take his pants off and put the towel around himself.”
Before they leave to go into the living room, I say, “If Donna calls to find out if I’m here, tell her no. I want her to think I died out in the cold and rain.”
My bedroom while I grew up, is now scrubbed, polished and painted free of any trace of me. I’ve pulled the rollaway bed out of the upstairs closet and set it up against the wall with the window that looks out over my mother’s backyard flower garden. Rain and sleet slashes sideways across the yard. The empty flower pots are filled with water. Dead vines cling to the rose trellis and leafless stalks of unknown flowers stick up through the mud. The only colors in the garden are varying hues of brown.
Lying here in one of my dad’s sweatshirts and a pair of overalls left behind by a hired painter, and listening to the wind making the window rattle, I think about Donna. For better or worse, she has been my wife for nineteen years. We know each other too well; we’re like reruns of old television sitcoms in each other’s eyes. We’ve been separated and on the verge of divorce so many times I’ve lost count. Almost always I’m the one to leave the house, usually by her demand. Our love for one another runs hot and cold by the moment.
I hear the phone ring downstairs, and sit bolt upright. A few minutes later I hear my mother’s footsteps as she comes up the stairs.
She knocks on the door. “There’s a call for you,” she says.
“Who is it?”
“I told you to tell her I died.”
“She’s at the hospital emergency room. She had an accident,” my mother says.
I jump from the bed and rush to the door and fling it open. “Is it serious?”
“How should I know?” she says. “I’m not a doctor. She wants you to go pick her up.”
“So, she’s walking and able to go home?”
I pass by my mother and go down the stairs two at a time. In the living room my father is sitting in his barcalounger sipping on a cup of tea. Steam is rising from it in curls that swirl around his face.
“I need to borrow your car,” I say. “Donna has had some kind of accident and is at the hospital. I need to go pick her up.”
“I know,” he says. He takes a long sip of tea. “The keys are on the kitchen table. Don’t wreck my car.”
“Why would I do that?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
After getting the keys I grab an umbrella from the stand by the door and go out the door. Dark, gray light has blanketed the street. Even with the umbrella opened and raised, rain abrasively washes my face. The walkway is littered with twigs and dead vegetation. The steps leading down to the sidewalk have become small cascading waterfalls. Most of the trash that had been spread on the sidewalk has been washed away. The garbage can is still lodged against the fire hydrant. My father’s car parked along the curb is plastered with dead maple leaves glued there by the rain. I peel them from the windshield and throw them in the overflowing gutter and watch as they are carried away. There is a thin layer of ice on the street.
The dry, leather-fragranced interior of the car is like being enveloped in a cocoon. I toss the umbrella in the back seat and start the car. As soon as I pull away from the curb, I know I’m in trouble. The car begins to slide down the hill, and stomping on the brakes does nothing. Frantically I try to steer the car to adjust for whatever way it’s shifting. Unable to control it, the car picks up speed and bangs into other cars. As soon as I enter the intersection at the bottom of the street I see the truck heading right for me.
“I’m sorry, Donna,” I say as I close my eyes and prepare to die.
In the hospital emergency room I drift in and out of consciousness, aware that there are people hovering around me, touching me, mending me.
When I finally awake, I ask the nurse standing by my bedside, “What happened?”
She is very tall and she bends down to talk to me. “You were in a car accident.”
That I knew. “I mean what’s wrong with my body?”
“You had a concussion and you sustained a fractured tibia. Your leg has been put into a cast.”
I glance down at the cast. It looks like my leg has been packed in hard snow. “Am I going to be admitted into the hospital,” I say.
“No, you can go home in a little while. Your wife is in the waiting room.”
Now seated in a wheelchair in the waiting room with my leg propped up I am overwhelmed with sympathy for my wife. “How did you hurt your hand?”
She gently rubs the cast on her left hand as if it’s another layer of skin. “I was throwing your clothes out of the bedroom window and the window slid down and crushed it.”
I look out the large plate glass window at the dark of night. The storm has stopped, for now. The air that comes in through the opening and closing hospital doors is cold and damp. Donna is sitting on a bench across from me. Her face is pale and she is keeping her eyes averted, the meaning of I can’t interpret.
My sympathy turns to repressed rage. “You threw my clothes out?”
I dread the thought of returning to my parents’ house, but suddenly I feel like I’ll never be returning to my own home. “You’ve never thrown my clothes out before,” I say.
“I know,” she says. “That should tell you something.”