Fiction

Wakeup

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 FICTION

Wakeup

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When he came to, it was all gone. All of it: his name, the town where he lived, his age. He could still speak, and he could understand words when he was spoken to. His ability to read was impaired; it seemed to the specialists who tested him that he recognized common words or groups of words, but that he had lost the ability to interpret letters phonetically. He could define words, but their more subtle meanings, the implied relationships between words and what they stood for, were muddled or lost altogether. Many tests were administered to determine the level of damage. Scans were performed. Questions were asked. X-rays were taken.
   She had been sitting on the chair next to his bed for two weeks by then. She had watched the cuts scab over and heal, the bruises fade from blue to yellowish green to yellow, and then disappear. She had watched the cast on his hand — the hand with which he must have tried to break his fall — become dingy, and she had spent many hours wondering how that was possible, even in this room which smelled of antiseptic, even in this hospital room where the air was filtered in by a central system and vented through a line of thin metal slats in the floor.
   His hair had begun to grow back on the side of his head. It had been shaved for the emergency surgery to remove the shard of skull which had lodged itself in the left lobe of his brain. A tiny steel disc had been inserted, pressed in there to make up for the missing bone. His scalp had been stretched over the disc and sewn back up.
   She had asked to keep the piece of his skull, and the doctors, to her surprise, had obliged. Her request was not as unusual as she’d thought it would be. The nurse who handed her the little plastic specimen jar with its bedding of cotton wool listed things that people had asked to keep. Kidney stones; a finger chopped off by a table saw; a yellow jacket that had flown into a child’s ear and stung her eardrum, leaving her half deaf. The nurse said the strangest request she had heard was one that the doctors did not, could not, fulfill: a man who had asked to keep his cancerous vocal cords after their removal.
   She had taken that specimen jar in her hands and sat in the waiting room. This had been just one day after his accident, when it was still unclear whether he would live or die. She had held the jar to her chest, buried it between her breasts, pulled her cardigan around it.
   She didn’t care what the others in the waiting room thought she was doing. Everybody in the waiting room was behaving exactly how they needed to behave. And she, she was there, alone with her jar. At one point, she unscrewed its lid and carefully lifted out the piece of bone between two fingertips. She pressed it to her lips. It was smoother on one side than the other. She kissed the rougher side as tenderly as she would kiss a baby’s forehead.
   By the next day, it became clear that he would live. One of the doctors, a man with dark skin and white hair, talked to her about the fact that he might never regain consciousness. She ought to consider, the doctor had said, whether she would want to keep him alive indefinitely; she should look inside her heart.

She imagined that the woman wanted to slide her tongue inside his mouth.

But two days after that, he began to normalize. He could breathe on his own. His brain waves were more like those of someone who was simply asleep. She was told that he was in what was called a coma-like state. He was moved to a room with an armchair, windows, and a television.
   She was walking back from the vending machines when a nurse’s aide came running up to her. The aide said that he had come out of his coma-like state, that he’d opened his eyes and said "Hi" to a television technician who had been installing new cables. She and the aide hurried back to the room. His eyes were still closed and he was breathing deeply; he appeared to be just as he had been when she had left fifteen minutes earlier.
   The television technician had not been lying, though: he had come out of it. After the aide left the room, she sat down to keep watch next to his bed, but drifted off to sleep after a couple of vigilant hours during which nothing changed. She was awakened by a hand on her arm. She opened her eyes. He was on his side, gazing at her. He smiled. His fingers moved up her arm, along her shoulder, into the curve of her bare neck. She shivered.
   "Hi," he said.
   "Hi," she said, smiling back at him.
   "I’ve missed you," he said.
   "I’ve missed you, too," she said. "Where did you go?"
   He did not answer. His eyes held hers, barely blinking. Trembling a little, she took his hand in hers, lowering it to his sheet. Then she leaned forward and pressed her cheek against his. She rested her chest on his chest. She wept, and her tears pooled next to his ear. He held her tightly. He stroked her hair.
   She put it off for an hour, and then she had to force herself to press the red call button. She knew that when she did, it would start the next round of tests and treatments. He seemed bewildered but was good natured over the next several days as he was wheeled from floor to floor of the hospital, and the doctors and psychiatrists and neurologists asked him their hundreds of questions and tested every reflex in his body. It was during this time that they learned the extent of his memory loss, the oddities in his understanding of language. Whenever he wasn’t sure how to answer a question, he’d say, "Hmmm, I don’t know."
   She was shown charts and printouts; she was asked to bring photographs and objects from home; she herself was counseled by a social worker, on the recommendation of an intern.
   He began physical therapy sessions on the top floor of the hospital. She watched the physical therapist, a young woman with long black braids and silver earrings, touching him, holding his thigh down while he lifted the opposite leg, helping him grasp a light dumbbell in his good hand, gently encouraging him to push a bar with his injured one. She imagined that the young woman wanted to press her lips to his; she imagined that the young woman wanted to slide her tongue inside his mouth. She imagined that the young woman wanted to move her hand to his groin, to cup it and stroke. He didn’t seem to notice that the young woman was beautiful; he was affable and appeared eager to learn, but he didn’t seem to desire her.
   About ten days after he woke up, she had a formal meeting with two of his doctors. The doctor who was overseeing his case told her they would need to keep him in the hospital for another two weeks, minimum. Even though he seemed fine physically, it was really impossible to tell without constant monitoring. Then, after he was allowed to move home, he would enter a phase of intensive out-patient rehabilitation. The therapies would continue for a long while. The second doctor, his neurologist, said, "I’m very hopeful. I’ve seen cases like this, worse even, get back their memories, become themselves again. He’s energetic and he wants to learn. He’s not depressed. These are all good signs for improvement."
   She nodded, smiling. Then she felt her eyes getting wet. She heard herself make an ugly noise, a kind of choking gasp. "I’m sorry," she said.
   The neurologist said, "It’s okay. You’ve been great, really strong, and I’m sure that’s part of why he’s doing so well."
   The doctor said, "Some people get hysterical in your situation, and it doesn’t help the patient at all."
   "Thanks," she said.
   She knew she could start sleeping at home again, but she didn’t. She stayed on in his room, sleeping on the reclining armchair.
   That night, he woke her up, very late. "Hi," he said.
   "What is it?" she said, sitting up. She glanced out the window. The moon was huge; there were no stars. Then she looked over at him. He was sitting up in bed. She could see him smiling at her in the silver light.
   "I’m getting tired," he said.
   "What?"
   "I’m tired of this. How much longer do we need to be here? Everybody’s really nice, but I’m getting bored."
   She was silent for a few seconds.
   "I don’t know," she said.
   "Don’t you? They tell you things they don’t tell me."
   She stood up and turned away from him, facing the window. She looked out at the sky, then down at the parking lot, Route 9 beyond it, and the river on the other side of Route 9. The water looked black and silky, and the moonlight reflecting off its ripples looked like the scales of a snake. She left the window and walked over to his bedside.
   "Whenever you want to go," she said, "we can go."

By early dawn, they were in the mountains. He was asleep next to her. She glanced over at him a couple of times a minute, to make sure his chest was still rising and falling, and once, she reached across the gear shift to feel his pulse. In places, the road cut through the rock; in others, it wound through great pine forests. Sometime close to sunrise, she pulled off into a rest area with a small parking lot and a structure that resembled a log cabin. She stopped the car in front of the building and patted his hand. He opened his eyes and said, "That was a funny dream." Then he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, near her chin, and his lips grazed the corner of her mouth. She pulled away a little and smiled at him.
   "Do you have to use the bathroom?" she asked.
   "No," he said. "Do you?"
   "Yes. I’ll just be a minute, okay?"
   "I think I’ll go for a walk," he said, looking out the window. They were near the top of a mountain peak, and the trees were low and sparse. White flowers dotted the patchy grass around the rest stop. No other cars were parked in the lot.
   "Please don’t," she said. "I’ll be really quick, and then, if you want, we can take a walk together."
   He nodded. She got out of the car and went into the building. Inside, it looked nothing like a log cabin. It had concrete floors, a water fountain, a rack with flyers and pamphlets for local attractions.
   In the ladies’ room, washing her hands, she looked at herself in the tilted mirror. During those many weeks in the hospital, she had trained herself not to look in the mirror — she knew that she would look shockingly tired, that her skin looked dry and gray, her lips bloodless, and that dark bluish semi-circles puffed out under her eyes. Under the fluorescent lights of the hospital ladies’ rooms, every wrinkle had looked like a deep canyon in her skin, and she could see clearly how her freckles were transforming into age spots, larger and darker than before. But now her cheeks had some warmth to them and her lips were rosy. In the dawn light that came through the high windows of the fake log cabin, she found herself admiring her face for the first time in a long while. She splashed some cold water on her eyelids and went back outside.
   The passenger’s side door was open, and he was gone.
   She started to run, calling his name, zigzagging the grass to the edge of the trees. She jogged down to the edge of the road, and looked up and down it, shouting with her hands cupped around the sides of her mouth. Then she jogged back up to the parking lot. She was sweating, panting. He was there, sitting on the hood of the car. He held a pinecone.
   "Where the hell were you?" she said. "Didn’t you hear me calling you?"
   "I went for a walk," he said.
   When she reached the car, she grabbed his shoulders and shook him.
   "I told you not to go for a walk without me. Do you know how worried I was?"
   "No," he said. "How worried were you?"
   She looked at him. He smiled at her and handed her the pinecone. "It smells good," he said. She sniffed it. "I’m going to keep it," he said, taking it back from her.
   "Please, get in the car," she said.

The road slalomed down the other side of the mountain, and the morning sun strobed as she took the hairpin turns. She was driving fast, her heart pounding and her stomach rising just a bit with each switchback. As she remembered it, a high valley sat between the two mountains, and in that valley was a town. And yes, at a crossroads where a gas station faced a tackle shop, a sign for the town pointed east two miles. She was hungry, and she was driving recklessly. Her head ached.
   As they approached the town, she slowed the car, and they drove by a small white church across from a schoolyard with a swing set and a roundabout. She had not spoken since the rest stop, and neither had he. He had been fiddling with

He opened his lips and pushed her thumb between them.

the pinecone, bringing it to his nose, tossing it from hand to hand the whole time. Now she spoke.
   "I came here once a long time ago, before I got married."
   The pinecone made a tapping noise as it hit his cast.
   She looked over at him. He was looking out the window, craning his neck as if to see something they’d passed — at the swings, she thought.
   "Are you hungry?" she asked.
   "Famished," he said.
   In the middle of town, they found a coffee shop. Behind the counter, a young girl with pink hair and a ring through her eyebrow waited on them. They were the only customers. They stood there, staring at the blackboard that hung high on the wall.
   She saw the counter girl looking him up and down. The girl was playing with something inside her mouth, and it made a click-clicking sound. She imagined that she was the girl, taking in his skin, which, always pale, had become truly white during his month in the hospital. Taking in the way his thin arms moved from sockets hidden deep inside the short sleeves of his t-shirt. She imagined that she was seeing his blue eyes for the first time, his dark eyebrows.
   The girl spoke: "Know what you want?" and a silver ball glinted from her tongue.
   She ordered her cappuccino and muffin, and he copied her order exactly.
   "Aren’t you Kev’s brother?" the girl asked him as she handed them their cups.
   "Hmmm," he said, looking down at his torso, his feet. "I don’t know."
   "We’re not from here," she said to the girl. "We’re passing through."
   "You look so much like this kid Kev," said the girl, corkscrewing her tongue as she spoke.
   When they sat down, she leaned forward and whispered to him, "This place doesn’t seem like a small-town place." She peeled the paper off the bottom of her muffin and took a bite.
   "Small town?" he said. "Place." And then: "This is a place." He bit also, and then started to make little spitting noises.
   "Don’t eat the paper," she said.
   "Oh, okay." He said.

     

  

 FICTION

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Back in the car, she drove around town, up and down its few streets, looking for the hotel where she had stayed years earlier. She remembered that it had advertised itself as the oldest inn on the mountain; she remembered the postcards in the lobby and the small bar with a fireplace. She remembered that she had been desperately in love, that she had made all kinds of pledges and declarations on that trip, each one more romantic than the last; she remembered how she had yearned to have her words echoed back to her exactly; she remembered how she had instead been told how sweet she was, how flattering. And she remembered how she had accepted these answers, telling herself that they meant what she wanted them to mean. Now the only place she could find that resembled the hotel seemed to have recently become an office building. So she continued east out of town.

The sign said ranch. The smaller sign below that one said lodging. A third sign said water filters. She took the turn too fast, and the car slid and lurched, kicking up gravel. Dust billowed into the car, and he began to cough.
   "I’m so sorry," she said. "Are you okay? I’m sorry. I’m so tired."
   The driveway ended in a gravel circle on the edge of a sloping green lawn. A neat white farmhouse sat at the top of the slope. A couple of barns and a gray prefabricated shed were clustered near the circle, and a tractor and an old green sedan on blocks were parked in a small gravel rectangle off to the side of the barns. She heard a dog barking somewhere nearby. Two dogs, maybe.
   She pulled over on the edge of the circle.
   "There’s no one here," she said.
   "How do you know?" he asked.
   "Because there’s no car," she said.
   He pointed at the green sedan, "Isn’t that a car?"
   "Yes," she said. She reached over and patted his knee. "But it doesn’t have any tires. It can’t go anywhere."
   He rubbed his hand on the dashboard. "Isn’t this a car?"
   "Yes," she said. "But it’s our car."
   He took her hand, which was still on his knee, and raised it to his mouth. "Our car," he said, making the words rhyme. "Our car." He opened his lips a little and pushed her thumb between them. His mouth was hot and wet. She closed her eyes. She felt his teeth gripping her thumb, and his tongue pressing against her flesh. When she opened her eyes again, she saw that his were shut. She pulled her arm back a little, but he kept a firm grip; he held her hand where it was. His lips made a little smacking noise around her thumb. She looked at the veins that ran through his eyelids. His skin was so thin, so pale; his eyelids looked like the inside of oyster shells, pearly and mottled with gray and blue. His long eyelashes fluttered ever so slightly. She had sometimes envied those lashes, though there had been a time when hers had been just as dark and lush.
   She heard a motor. She jerked her hand out of his mouth. He opened his eyes, blinking. The sound got closer. She looked in the rear view mirror. A pickup truck careened into the gravel circle. She wiped her hand on her pants. The pickup stopped short behind them. She got out of the car, putting a smile on her face. A man hopped out of the pickup. He was short and trim, with white hair, and he wore a clean white polo shirt and khaki shorts.
   "Barbara?" the man said, smiling back at her and extending his hand.
   "No," she said.
   "You didn’t call about the cracked filter?"
   "No," she said. "We saw your sign. The lodging sign."
   "Oh," the man said. "Right. The bed and breakfast thing. My wife…"
   She heard a car door open. She turned. He was getting out of the car, holding his pinecone to his nose. She felt blood rush into her cheeks.
   "But you do have a place for us to stay?" she said. "We’ve been on the road for a lot of hours, and we’re exhausted."
   "My wife…" the man repeated, trailing off. Then starting up again: "I believe the room is set up for guests. I haven’t checked in a while."
   "Room?" she said.
   The man looked at her and then over at him.
   "It’s kind of a suite," he said. "It used to be where the help lived, I guess. Not that we have help." The man laughed a brief laugh.
   They followed him into the house and through a large, modern kitchen. She took note of the granite counter tops and stainless steel refrigerator. A door in the corner, near an old brick hearth where iron pans now hung, led to a winding staircase. They followed the man up the stairs. The place was not set up for guests. What the man had called a suite was two rooms across from each other, with a small bathroom in between. One of the rooms contained a pair of low twin beds, a table, and a single floor lamp. The mattresses were bare. The table was covered in dust. Dead lady bugs coated the windowsill. The other room looked like an office: a white desk, a white chair, a white filing cabinet. She wondered if the man noticed that their only luggage was her purse and a plastic shopping bag full of hospital pajamas and slippers.
   "Sorry. I guess it’s been a while since anyone’s been up here." The man said. "I’ll get you sheets. Towels."
   "Thanks so much," she said.
   "You don’t mind making the beds yourself?" he said.
   "No, it’s okay," she said.
   In a slightly lower voice, the man said, "The beds can be pushed together if you want. You can move that table."
   She laughed. All at once she was on the verge of hysterics. She squeezed her eyes shut and felt herself grow hot. She thought she might choke. Forcing her eyes open, she said, "Thanks."
   The man looked back and forth between the two guests. Then he raised his fingers to his forehead and flicked them at her in a kind of salute as he turned to leave.

She was stretching the sheets over the second mattress when she heard a noise come from across the room, a gurgling, gassy noise. She looked up and saw him, turned partly away from her, looking out the small, low window, holding his pinecone in one hand and clutching his belly with the other.
   "Are you okay?" she asked.
   He nodded, but his face had a strange look of concentration on it. He was staring straight ahead, with his brow slightly furrowed. Then she smelled it.
   "Do you need to use the bathroom?" she asked.
   "Hmmm. I don’t know."
   She hurried over to him and grabbed his hand. She pulled him hard, and the pinecone dropped to the floor. She dragged him to the bathroom, unbuckled his belt, unzipped his fly and pulled down his pants. It was too late. He was a mess. He stood facing the toilet with his arms raised and his hands pressing into the rose-patterned wallpaper. She knelt down behind him. She started to clean him off with toilet paper. The smell was terrible. She tried to breathe through her mouth. She rolled the toilet paper into huge wads and wiped him down. He was hairy; his buttocks were covered in small black curls, which made it difficult to wipe him clean. The wads were so big, she worried that the toilet might overflow. It looked old. She flushed between each soiled wad. She dug into the crack between his buttocks and rubbed. She heard him grunt softly. She flushed.
   "Turn around," she said. He did. She unrolled some more toilet paper and made it into a mitt around her hand. She was still on her knees. She tried to let her eyes lose focus, to blur what she was looking at. She wiped under his testicles, pushed them aside with her paper mitt, and cleaned in the crevices between them and the inside of his thighs. He grunted quietly again. She squinted. She flushed and grabbed

She felt herself aching, in her belly and between her legs.

some more paper, made another mitt. She dug at him from underneath, rubbing. As she did, she noticed that he was growing hard. His penis started to rise in front of her face. She noticed that she was sweating, that she was panting. She felt his fingers on the top of her head. She jerked backward and stood up.
   "Okay," she said. She tried to adjust her voice, to make it sound soft. "All right, that seems good." He didn’t know, she thought. He didn’t know anything anymore. It was all gone. "Why don’t you sit down." He sat on the toilet while she started to draw a bath in the small tub.
   Getting him out of the hospital the night before had been so simple. The ward was short staffed; just two nurses were on duty. She had waited until they were both busy with patients. His room was the last before the bend in the hall which led to the offices, supply closets and vending machines. All she’d had to do was walk him quickly around the bend and get him on the service elevator. But she doubted it would be as easy to sneak him back into the hospital. She couldn’t imagine what they would say to her, what would be done to her.
   She made sure the bathwater was hot. Then she pulled off his shirt and his socks.
   "You like a nice not bath, don’t you?" she said.
   "Do I?" he said.
   "You do," she said. "Careful—don’t get your cast wet."
   He lowered himself into the water. "Ahhhh," he said. "You’re right. I do like it. A nice hot bath."

After his bath, she wrapped him in a towel. She showed him how to pull it tight and tuck one corner under the edge so it would stay up on its own. She handed him his hospital-issue pajamas, and he put them on.
   "I am so tired," she said as she finished making the second bed and patted it. "I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired. Except…" She thought of the night of his accident.
   "Except?" he said, sitting down on the bed.
   "I bet you’re tired, too." She said. "Let’s take a nap. Let’s take naps."
   He lay down on his side and pulled the blanket up to his chin. He tucked his knees up close to his belly, sticking one hand under his face and the other between his legs. Her heart jumped. It was how he used to sleep. Before. She used to watch him, just watch him sleeping. Once, he had woken up and caught her staring. "What are you doing?" he had said, pulling his hand out of his pajamas. "Nothing," she’d said. She had felt him glaring at her in the dark. In his hospital bed, with the sensors stuck to his chest, and the sheets tight around him, it had been different. He had slept on his back, just as if he were still in a coma, and she had wondered if he would ever arrange himself in the old position again, or if he had lost that, too.

He closed his eyes and snuggled his face into his hand.
   She took her bra off by unhooking it under her shirt and pulling it through a sleeve. She removed her pants and placed them, folded, on the table next to the pinecone, which he had recovered from the floor. Then she climbed into bed. It was the first time she had been fully horizontal in nearly a month.

When she woke up, the room was dark. She heard dogs barking again, more this time, at least four or five. She looked at her watch and stared hard at the glowing hands. One o’clock. One o’clock in the morning. They had been sleeping for ten hours. Now her legs twitched under the sheets and her eyes were wide open. She thought about all the bargains she’d made while she was waiting, first at the emergency room, and then in the intensive care unit. Bargains, but bargains with whom? All the things she said she’d do differently if he lived; all the promises she would keep if he woke up. She rolled onto her stomach and pressed her face into the pillow. They had fought. He had said to her, "I hate you." They had fought the evening of his accident, and she had left the house, slamming the door, to go grocery shopping. She hadn’t been there when it happened. She tried to change this retroactively, reverse her memory, rewind, alter one of the thousand tiny choices, the chance elements that had led to the accident. She had tried to undo the fact that he had been alone.
   A dog howled, then others did, and then the barking started again. She got out of bed and went to the window. It looked out on the rear of the property. In the moonlight, she saw a large dirt area surrounded by a tall wooden fence. Inside the pen, silver bodies moved in a pack. She saw them rush to the near edge of the fence and stop. The barking grew louder. Then they all ran to the far border of their pen and howled. She tried to count. Eight, maybe nine. She watched them, running back and forth like that.
   Then she felt a hand on her leg, on the back of her knee. She remembered that she was wearing just her underpants and shirt. She turned. He was lying there, leaning halfway out of bed, with his arm stretched out to her. He stroked the inside of her thigh. Then he hooked his hand around her leg and pulled. She took a step. He pulled her other leg. She took another step. With her third step, she was standing next to his pillow.
   She looked down at his face. His eyes were so clear and pale, they looked like glass in the light that came through the window. His arm was white and the knob of his wrist bone shone like a jewel. He reached up and took her hand and pulled, harder now, so that she sat on the edge of the bed, next to his neck. He lifted the edge of her shirt and pressed his lips to her waist. She trembled. She felt his wet mouth on her skin. He pulled again, pulled her so she was lying down next to him. He kissed her neck under her ear, and then her throat. She felt herself aching, in her belly and between her legs.
   She pushed him away and sat up.
   They looked at each other.
   She whispered: "Do you know who I am?"
   "Yes," he whispered back. "I think I do."
   "You don’t know what it means, do you?" she said.
   "I don’t know," he said. "I don’t know if I know."
   He reached for her again, and she sank onto the sheets. He pushed her shirt up and pressed his fingers to her nipples. He moved his head down to her chest and began to suck. He sucked hard, steady, as if he were trying to pull something from them. She ran her hands over his head, feeling the place where it had been shaved and sewn, soft hair, rough scar. He bit her, she let him.

She woke up to a pounding noise. She looked around the room. She was alone in his bed. She quickly got dressed and hurried downstairs. He was standing there, in the kitchen, with the man. The man was hacking at something with a knife.
   They both looked up and smiled at her.
   "I’m helping," he said.
   "You are?" she said. She stepped around the kitchen table and saw that the man was cutting a big piece of raw meat.
   "Helping with the dogs," he said.
   The man said, "It’s their breakfast time. The young fellow here said he likes dogs."
   "Oh, yes," she said.
   The man said, "We’re going to go feed them these steaks now, aren’t we?"
   "No thanks," she said.
   "Oh," the man said, "no, I meant me and the boy."
   The man threw the steaks into a plastic tub, where many more pounds of raw meat were already piled in a couple of inches of blood. The man walked out of the kitchen, and he followed close behind the man. She followed the two of them as far as the back door of the house. She stood in the doorway. She watched them walk down the green hill to the edge of the wooden fence. The man whistled, and the dogs flowed out from a shed in the corner of their pen, kicking up clouds of dirt. She saw now that there were a dozen of them. The man threw two or three pieces of meat over the fence, and the silver dogs leapt at it. She watched the man hand him the plastic tub and demonstrate the arm movement for tossing the meat. He reached in and pulled out a dripping steak.
   It was early morning on the third day after the accident when the white-haired doctor called her into the hallway. "We believe he will live," the doctor said, smiling gravely, standing outside the darkened intensive care unit room. She knew she should feel happy, or at least hopeful. She thanked the doctor, but didn’t say what she was really thinking: he was not going to live. Even if he pulled through on this occasion, his life was temporary. She wanted to tell the kindly doctor how, when she’d first learned she was pregnant, she had been happy. She thought about explaining how she’d felt that in a way, she would become immortal, that she would live forever through the baby. All that used to matter was that he would outlive her.
   She said none of that to the doctor. But before they parted, she did say that she supposed she was lucky: she had only ever spent two nights in a hospital as a patient. She’d had a long labor and had lost a lot of blood. She’d been in terrible pain, unimaginable pain, but had resisted drugs until she was biting through the flesh of her own arm.
   The dogs devoured the meat, then paired off and licked each other’s muzzles clean. He looked over his shoulder and waved to her before he put his hand in his mouth and sucked the blood off his fingers. She had never seen his face so full of joy.  

  

     


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©2004 Nelly Reifler and Nerve.com   

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
 

Nelly Reifler is the author of See Through (Simon & Schuster), a collection of stories. Her work has been published in journals and magazines in the U.S., Great Britain, Italy, and Japan. She received a Henfield Prize for her fiction and a Rotunda Gallery Visiting Curator grant to mount an exhibition based on her writing.