The morning of Mike’s surgery it snowed. We got dressed and out by five-thirty and walked away from Hellgate Bridge a few inches apart, because if I touched him it would hurt. A train screeched above us. Under the streetlights of Ditmars Boulevard it was a damp, orange, phosphorous cold.
“I’m going to kill Clark Jones,” said Mike. “Six months of recovery, that’s a long time to strategize.”
“Don’t kill Clark Jones,” I told him.
“He’s dead,” he said.
“I’m hungry for breakfast,” I said, bleary, imagining the greasy crunch of a sausage.
“Me too, doll,” said Mike. “But if I ate breakfast I’d vomit under the anesthetic and choke on my vomit and die.” He sighed through his nose.
“Right, Chief,” I said. “Even without the breakfast, you might die anyway.”
“Thanks, baby.” When he says it that way, hurt and sardonic, that’s when I hate him. It was arthroscopic surgery for a shoulder, which he hurt doing martial arts.
“I really have to have breakfast,” I said. Snow collected under the collar of my jacket.
The flakes were in Mike’s hair. “You know what else you really have to have, Kitten,” he told me in the fratboy voice.
“No, what else?”
In the cab to the hospital we said nothing.
Mike made the hospital clerk laugh while he was in the room off the waiting area, signing DNR certificates with his left hand, with a squiggle. I fell asleep on a chair after he went inside. I had a long dream that my father was alive again and frowning at me over a barbed wire fence, disappointed.
Much time passed. Finally they called me in to get him.
The recovery room was yellow and so was Mike’s skin—they’d had him out for two hours. There was a giant bandage on his shoulder that made it bulky like an action figure’s, but he looked small in the short hospital gown and socks, his chest streaked with iodine. An orderly named Eleanor Paredes gave him a can of apple juice; he sucked the straw listlessly. She left, drew the curtain on us. Mike looked up at me and drawled, “I want to get the fuck out of here.”
Mike is irresistible, though— a skinny guy with worried eyebrows. He likes to hustle poker, does not own a TV, and carries a handkerchief around for his allergies. His apartment is directly under Hellgate Bridge; he gets it cheap because a train shakes the building six times a day. The last time he had the flu, I was making rice for him when I heard him retch prodigiously into his wastebasket. The train crashed over us at the same time that Mike puked, its thunder mixing with Mike’s esophageal roar. I let the floorboards rock beneath me and thought, With the force of you, train, charging and steaming. That’s how I love this man.
“We’ll bring you home, baby, get you a cup of soup,” I said. Mike shivered and lowered his eyelids slowly, like he hadn’t heard me. There was a shitty-looking hospital blanket draped over his recliner; I spread it over him, trying not to look at the IV.
A minute later I was sitting down, reading the orgasm questions in Redbook, when he answered. “I don’t want soup,” he said. “Pancakes.”
“Okay, Boss; pancakes,” I said. “Whatever you need.” I, too, was still hungry for breakfast, which I hadn’t managed to get yet. My hand found his, south of the action-figure bandage. I stroked his knuckle with my thumb.
“I can’t feel that,” he said.
So I stroked the back of his other, non-anaesthetized hand.
“That’s not working either,” Mike said after thirty seconds. “That makes me feel like throwing up.”
“It does?” I said, alarmed.
“Yeah, it has akind ofdevastating effect on me. Sorry, Kitten.”
“You know what else has a devastating effect on you,” I muttered.
Eleanor Paredes heard us laughing and tore back the curtain with release forms. Her scrubs had toy trains on them. Pointing the pen at my nose, she asked, “What is his relationship to you?”
Sister, I told myself. Your eyes and hair are the same color. Say you’re his sister.
“Honey?” Mike pushed his lip out.
My head jerked back to Eleanor Paredes. “I am his girlfriend,” I said, hands clasped over my knee.
“Bad news for you,” she said, and handed me a piece of yellow paper. The doctor had written that Mike couldn’t have sex for five days.
In the cab back to Queens we said nothing. The windshield wipers pushed snow back and forth, and I remembered how much my father used to hate illness. He once screamed at me for vomiting down his back while he was carrying me. I was three.
At the market, water ran off my sneakers onto the aisles. Clark Jones was there— he came up behind me, grabbed me around the waist, and lifted me a foot into the air. I yelped, exhilarated. The other shoppers stared at us.
“So it’s six months of recovery?” Clark said. “How did he do it?”
I was not too embarrassed to tell him the truth. “A big man fell on top of him in jujitsu class,” I said.
Clark bent back and laughed at the neon lights. When he’d recovered he said, “I have two questions. How long has Mike been rolling around with big men? And, when are you gonna start rolling around with big men?”
“I’m about done with this conversation,” I said. I needed buckwheat mix, blueberries, eggs.
Clark said, “He’s lucky to have you, Sugar.”
“I know,” I said.
“Seriously,” said Clark Jones. “You’re a great beard. Guy’s got a beard like Charles Darwin.”
Clark left. As I walked through the aisles getting the groceries, I thought of poor Mike, lying in bed on his back, breathing in and out. I suddenly understood that something was changing. It was a slow change, but inexorable. I dreaded it.
On the way home, my feet got even wetter and colder in the snow. I noticed the butcher shop and splurged last-minute on a pound of sausage, pink gristle stuffed so tight into its casings that they almost burst.
AMANDA NAZARIO has an MFA in fiction writing from The City College of New York, where she works as a writing tutor. She is also a dog walker in Manhattan. Her stories can be seen in Harpur Palate, Pindeldyboz, failbetter, and Alligator Juniper.