By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"It's nothing," the nurse said.
"I've had an accident," I said to the old woman, "and I need . . ."
"Have her come in," the old woman said, in a tone so calm and easy it was clear she never had to say anything twice. I wondered what that must be like, only having to say something once.
I followed the elderly woman into a pale-blue living room a step down from the tiled entryway. The room was enormous, you could swim laps in the carpet if it were liquid. The furniture matched the old lady.
"Please sit down," she said.
I sat. She sat across from me.
"I've had an accident," I said. "I just need to call a taxi, that's all."
"Have you enough money for a taxi?" she asked.
"I don't think so," I said, wondering why this was relevant. That particular problem seemed a long way off at the moment.
"Ah," she said, nodding. I was looking around for a little dog, because I smelled one. The nurse reappeared with a glass of water and some red-and-white capsules on a saucer, handed it to the old woman. "Thank you," she said. "Can you make some milk toast for the young lady? With salt and pepper."
I didn't say anything at all, watching her swallow the medicine.
"You're in shock," the old woman said. "You must have something to eat, rest for a while, and then we'll see."
I started to open my mouth, and she stopped me. "I don't know the answer to any of your questions. That's why I said, 'We'll see.'" She smiled with an expression of understanding, though of what, exactly, was unclear.
I ate the milk toast in the blue-and-white breakfast nook. It was limp and sweet, and the grains of salt and pepper were like little exploding stars in my mouth. I still had trouble breathing, and I was staring at my plate trying to remember how to do it. How do you breathe? How does skin work? What am I doing that holds it tight, and what happens if I forget and stop? How do I remember to do these things all at one time?
A small gray muzzled poodle was staring at me and agitating near my leg.
The old woman came through the kitchen. "Your room is ready," she said.
I followed her.
The room was in the back of the house, small but full of delicate things on shelves behind glass, a couple of comfy, wing-back chairs beside the bed, which was very high and deep, with pale, blue-flowered pillows. A gauze-draped window looked out on a garden. On the nightstand was another tumbler of water on a saucer, and two capsules. The old woman pulled some heavy drapes to block out the sun. A filmy polyester nightie was draped over the foot of the bed. She left the room while I changed into it, then came back and tucked me in, handing me the capsules.
"You need rest," she said. "You've had a great shock. This will do you."
I felt the bed spin around as I lay down on it. I wanted to spend the rest of my life in it. I slept. I woke up, and the old woman was there by my bed in a wing-back chair. She gave me two more capsules, and I fell asleep again. I woke up again, and she wasn't there. The third time I woke up, she was there again, asleep, a thick novel open and resting on her frail chest. I closed my eyes.
I DON'T KNOW HOW LONG IT WAS before I opened my eyes again. I could see a sliver of sun shining through a crack in the drapes. It filled me with a sense of urgency, but I couldn't move. A long time passed while I looked at the shaft of light. I thought about living my life, then fell into a familiar sex fantasy I lifted off a porno rental. In it, two French foreign-exchange students drift onto an American construction site, where they fall into a round of group sex with the construction workers. Sometimes I'm one of the girls, sometimes I'm one of the guys. Sometimes I'm watching. It seemed as real as I was, which was not very. Thinner than a dream, or a memory.
Eventually, the nurse came in, her face passive. She peeled back the covers and helped me up. My limbs felt numb. She helped me to the bathroom, and back to bed. She gave me some more capsules, saying nothing.
As the pills kicked in, I considered that I might be kidnapped, that I might never leave. Leaving in any capacity seemed remote, and undesirable. Then again, staying seemed so too. Sleep took over.
Then it was night, a lamp was lit near the bed, and the old woman was back in the chair. The nurse brought a tray, with a bowl of broth and some toast. I was hungry.
"How long have I been here?" I asked.
"Oh, a couple of days," the old woman said with a faint wave of her hand. "I lose track of time, the way I live."