Saturday, June 22, 2013
The begonias on my porch and deck have taken on a life of their own. They flank the tables and chairs, resting on old shelves. The gardenia bush, given to me by my first writers' workshop, thrives in its place at the center of the table. In the cool of the morning, before summer clenches this day in its grasp, I sit on the porch with one in an endless stream of cups of coffee and a plastic plate bearing a crumpet slathered with a weird combination of cream cheese and strawberry jam. The cup announces that I Love A Mystery.
My life reverses in rapid shots, last year, last decade, last century. Last night, I stared out of the passenger's window as my husband drove, down a street near the Little Blue River where an old boyfriend still lives. We passed a man in a golf cart, wearing Blues Brothers shades and a crimped cowboy hat, talking on a cell phone. I twisted in the seat to watch his image recede as my husband accelerated the Blazer and we pulled back onto Bannister Road.
I closed my eyes and felt the softness of the car seat. As the motion lulled me into a stupor, the seat became a green recliner, in a fourth-floor apartment at the corner of 43rd and Warwick. The rapid thunking of cars passing over a metal plate, not quite securely bolted over a pothole, startles me awake again and again. It's 1982, early spring, and I have not been out of the hospital more than a week.
I shift the burden of the full-length cast on my right leg and reach for the cooling mug of coffee. A sheaf of notes sits beside me, weighed down by a cassette player. I've barely dented six weeks of recorded classes and meticulously compiled outlines. I could have listened to them incrementally, while I lay in my hospital bed, but I did not. I spent the first two-weeks post-accident luxuriating in star status from a haze of Morphine. At the end of that period, of which even then I had little memory, a surgeon laid my knee open to his indiscriminating knife, reduced the multitude of fractures, and stabilized the insides of my leg with a huge steel pin that I would one day marvel looked like a straightened coat hanger.
For the first few days after surgery, my star status spiked to immediately-post-accident levels. My Constitutional Law professor brought a small bouquet of violets in a thin glass bottle. The three Davids -- Boeck, Stever and Frye -- snuck real food into my room when I complained about the retched fare, and sat beside my bed listening to me belly-ache about my terrible troubles. Law student run over by a car, ooohhh, ahhh, ahhh, film at 11. Emmett Queener brought a giant chocolate chip cookie in a pizza box. I picked at it, then sent it out to the nurses' desk. I let them thank me as though I did it out of altruism.
I came home from the hospital six weeks after the accident. The social worker expressed concern that I would be in a 4-th floor walk-up, but I wanted nothing to do with the rehab center she suggested as an interim measure. Snow had fallen, got pushed to the curb lane in the streets of Kansas City, and melted while I dawdled in the hospital awaiting the doctor's permission to leave. My visitor count had plummeted as the semester drew closer to final exam week. I could not abide the thought of a shared bedroom in a facility of other struggling invalids. The doctor signed my release and my parents toted me to my apartment. They stayed one night, but my mother had already missed a lot of work on my behalf.
And so, I found myself alone. Saturday, midtown, the sounds of birds drifting through the balcony door. I could have struggled to my feet and crutched my way to the kitchen for breakfast, or sat on a chair in the bathroom to give myself a sponge bath. I did neither.
The apartment fell silent. I examined the scrawled names on my cast but then, listlessly settled my nightgown back over my leg. I pulled my glasses off and threw them down on the table beside me. A small sound from the back of the apartment, where the door stood unlocked, distracted me but no one appeared, not one of the many friends who had volunteered to traverse those stairs with groceries, coffee, and clean clothes.
A blaring car radio disturbed my stupor. I rose then, and staggered to the curtained French door. I peered outside, searching for the source of the noise. A car idled at the light, a convertible. I pulled the door open and leaned further out, clutching my robe against my chest. A woman sat on the top, her legs sprawled wide on the narrow back benchseat. In the front, the male driver and a female passenger dangled their arms over the car's side.
But it was the woman in the back who caught my attention. She arched her back, letting her long, thick hair fall behind and lifting her face in my direction. With its slash of red, her mouth curled in an upside down smile. She closed her eyes and let the boldness of the spring sun caress her face. From above, I felt the warmth that she must have been feeling, the coolness of the breeze, the complete abandon of her crazy perch.
And then, she opened her eyes. She could not have seen me, half in, half out of my apartment and three stories above her. But she raised her head, turned, and stared in my direction. Neither of us moved until the light turned green, and her companions called to her, and she slid down on the seat just as the car shot forwarded into the intersection.
An hour later, clean, dressed, and fed, I sat down at my kitchen table, twisted my newly brushed hair up into a clip, and pulled the first of many days of class notes toward me.
I hear our neighbor coughing. His wife lies in a hospital bed, where she will be forced to stay for the last month of her pregnancy. I saw him walking down the driveway last evening, towards her car, on his way to get food and bring it to her. He carried his worry in his shoulders. I stood on our porch, and watched his lean frame, watched the arch of his hand as he held a cigarette away, its smoke drifting over the asphalt and mingling with the waning heat of the summer night. I waved as he passed, and he acknowledged me with a raised hand. I watched the car until I could no longer see it, and then, went into the house, with a small shake of my head, and a certain understanding that has been years in the learning.
The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.