Strong Bones by Kevin Spaide
My wife fell out of the tree in our backyard. I didn’t see it happen. I was in the kitchen cooking dinner – stuffed eggplant. I was in the middle of frying the mushrooms and chopping up a bunch of parsley when she limped through the door.
“You fell out of the tree again,” I said.
“You’re burning the garlic.”
“Well it doesn’t matter now, does it!”
We went to the emergency room. She didn’t want to go, and neither did I, but we agreed that it was probably the responsible thing to do. We were adults. We didn’t want her leg to wither.
The woman at the reception desk knew my wife. They were Facebook friends. This was probably the first time they had physically seen each other in years.
The woman said, “Oh my God, I was just checking your profile. What kind of dog is that?”
“He won’t let me have a dog.” She pointed at me.
“I’m allergic,” I said.
“There’s a dog in your new pictures.”
“Oh, I don’t know whose dog that was. We were just wandering around together one day. I took some pictures of him. I think I was a little drunk when I posted them.”
None of this made sense to me, but I didn’t want it to make sense.
We sat in the waiting area. My wife filled out several forms while I leafed through a pile of magazines dedicated to keeping people stupid. A woman sitting next to me caught my eye and said, “I do that too.”
She was old - older than I would ever be. I knew I could never make it that far. And if, by some ridiculous miracle, I ever reached such an age, I doubted I would be willing to chit-chat with strangers at the emergency room.
“When I pick up a magazine,” she said, “I start on the last page and work my way through to the beginning. Always have. It’s kind of a rare characteristic.”
“I didn’t even know I was doing it,” I admitted.
“I’ve been watching you since you sat down.”
I looked at my hands holding the magazine. They looked like someone else’s hands.
“Shit, I spelled your name wrong,” said my wife.
“God, how is that even possible? How do you manage these things?”
“It’s not my fault I married somebody with a weird-ass name.”
“Well it’s better than nothing.”
“Right, you just keeping telling yourself that.”
I started looking through the magazine again. The old woman was watching me, so I began at the beginning this time. But it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t do it. I wanted to flip straight to the last page. I’d never noticed this about myself.
What else didn’t I know?
My wife said, “I’m hungry.”
“If you hadn’t gone up that stupid tree we’d be home right now eating.”
“Go get me something from the vending machine.”
“There’s nothing in there. Just crap.”
“Get me any old thing. I don’t care what it is. I feel like I’m going to die if I don’t eat something.”
I got up and walked over to the vending machine. I thought of all the others who had made the same journey before me. I bought a bag of peanuts.
“Jesus, I hate those things,” said my wife.
“How can you hate peanuts?”
How many years had we been married, and I was learning this now in the emergency room?
She tore the bag open and tossed a few peanuts into her mouth.
“Well I wouldn’t call them disgusting, but…”
“I mean, they’re so basic, so simple, so – I don’t even know what I’m trying to say here.”
She tossed more peanuts into her mouth.
“They’re just peanuts,” I said. “They’re nothing.”
“I’m not a fan. That’s all. Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
In the chair across from me sat a guy with a screwdriver stuck through his hand. It didn’t seem to be bothering him. He didn’t even seem to notice it. He smiled and chatted with the woman sitting next to him. I don’t think he knew who she was.
Somewhere someone was screaming.
The old woman, instantly aware that I was wondering about those screams, said, “There’s a kid back there with a screwed up leg. Something fell on him. He’s got cerebral palsy.”
“Do you work here?”
The doctor called my wife in. An orderly was summoned to push her wheelchair.
“I can do it,” I said.
“Against the rules,” said the orderly, a large menacing type of person. “Insurance.”
“I can walk,” said my wife. “I’m fine. I fell out of a tree, but I can walk.”
“Regulations. Get in the chair.”
The doctor found nothing wrong with her.
“You’re fine,” he said.
“God, I must have fallen twenty feet,” said my wife. “I must be in pretty good shape.”
“Evidently you’ve got strong bones.”
We left the hospital. The sun was shining. The sky was so blue I thought I’d go crazy looking at it.
“It’s like a different day now,” I said, “an extra day someone forgot to include on the calendar.
“Let’s go to the beach and dig for cockles,” said my wife.
“Exactly! That’s why I married you!”
We got into her car. It started.
There was no one else at the beach. The tide was out. We got out of the car and walked down the path through the trees.
“This place is stunning,” said my wife. “I’m glad I fell out of that tree.”
“Otherwise we’d be home eating eggplant right now,” I said.
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I put a lot of effort into that.”
“I know you do, baby. And I appreciate it. Seriously. You’re a good guy.”
“I’m not sure I like the tone of your voice.”
“You borrow that line from your mother or something?”
“Oh, Jesus. Fine. Let’s just drop it. No more goddamn eggplant, all right?”
“I suppose you’re going to accuse me now of faking. I staged the whole thing. Is that what you’re thinking? All a sham to get out of eating your precious eggplant.”
“I thought you liked eggplant.”
“You bastard! I fell twenty feet out of a tree. I could have broken both my legs off.”
“You’ve got strong bones.”
We wandered around the beach looking for cockles. The seagulls were doing the same. My wife was limping a little. You wouldn’t notice unless you knew she had fallen out of a tree earlier and hurt herself.
After a while she said, “I don’t know why I ever married you.” She was laughing.
“Ah, it was so long ago now. Who cares? I doubt anyone understands these things.”
We filled our bucket with cockles. Then we walked back to the car. My wife opened the trunk and I set the bucket inside.
At home I found the cat licking the tomato sauce out of the pan, so I dumped it in the trash.
“Fuck,” I said.
My wife said, “I didn’t mean to attack you out there.”
She was sitting at the kitchen table rubbing her knee.
“Ah, whatever. I probably had it coming.”
“My leg is numb.”
The phone rang.
I never answered the phone. That was one of the things my wife did. She saved me that terrible indignity.
“Can you get it?” she said. “I don’t think I can get over there without falling down.”
“Jesus, hold on a second…”
“Answer it. It could be important.”
“It can’t be more important than your leg.”
“Maybe it’s the doctor.”
“Why would the doctor be calling?”
“I don’t know. Answer the fucking phone!”
I picked up the phone. It was my mother.
“Your father broke his collarbone,” she said. “He’s in the hospital. The damn fool.”
She told me what had happened.
“What was he doing on the roof?” I asked.
“Oh, you know how he is.”
I hung up and told my wife about my father.
She laughed. “Well let’s get over there and see him.”
“How’s your leg?”
“It’s better now. I can feel every square inch of it. I think it was a false alarm. Psychosomatic. I was looking at the tree out the window.”
At the hospital the woman at the reception desk said, “You’re back already? I just wrote on your wall.”
“What did you write?”
“Nothing. I just asked how you were.”
“I’ll tell you as soon as I get home.”
I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t want to know.
We found my father. He was watching MSNBC. He looked the same as he always did except that his arm was in a sling.
“I fell off the house,” he said.
“Mom told me.”
“Are you in pain?”
“They gave me something.”
“I fell out of a tree in the backyard,” said my wife.
She knew the exact minute she fell out of the tree.
“The first thing I did was check my watch for some reason. I don’t know why I did that.”
“That’s exactly when I fell off the house,” said my father.
The moment wasn’t lost on either of them. If my father weren’t immobilized they might have high-fived each other.
They looked at me.
My wife said, “What were you doing then?”
They laughed in unison, as if I were already dead.
I said, “Don’t forget the cockles in the trunk.”