A Love Transaction
It takes us hours to get everything cleaned up. I do the lighter jobs. He does the heavier jobs. He does anything with lifting, anything with twisting, anything that I cant do because I am prone to having cramps around the baby-thing. The entire area is sore, and lifting is bad, it provokes the pains down there. I have never told him about my health condition but I assume he must have guessed that I am not completely normal. I know he makes it easier for me, and in exchange I let him hurry me through. He has a standing plan for after work. It is probably a girl, I dont know, I almost dont want to know, I never ask and he never volunteers.
If he wants to know about it indirectly, he can find out from the office manager. Shes the only one Ive told, and I only tell her about my situation when it affects my job. Even then I dont tell her everything, not too many details. So far I have only told the minimum, that it pinches inside when I have to lift the metal gates and drag the hose out. I told her about the pressure from the baby-thing and the problems caused by the partial bones, because although they are small, and soft, its uncomfortable when I have to bend down to do the gutters in the indoor runs.
We can have him do it for a while, she says. She seems sympathetic, but people dont really want to know the private story. I am sure it makes her want to go home and get away, get comfortable. Shes got a husband. Thats what she says, she likes to go home on time so that she can see her husband. But sometimes she stays a few extra minutes to check in with us. With me, since hes usually already started on something. He doesnt talk at all during the first part of the shift. He sweeps, then turns on the waxer and guides it away from her, pretends he cant hear when she says its time to have a word. So I listen. She tells me whether there are any overniters in the back, how many, what the special needs are. Someone puts a towel over their doors before we arrive so that we dont upset them with the equipment. We never even see them.
Depending on his mood he will let me give him a ride somewhere. He likes to get out at a certain intersection midway between the clinic and where I live. He points and I pull over. At the intersection are a gas station, a tavern, and a dark apartment complex. He waits until I pull away before he starts walking. Im sure he goes into the apartment complex. It is a poor-looking place. I think theres a girl in there, waiting. I know that he thinks Im spoiled because I have the car. He doesnt understand the necessity. I cant do the walking that he does. I try to tell him this while we drive but I want to keep it vague. I always hope that when we talk he wont ask openly about my health. Saying too much about it would give the wrong impression, especially under the circumstances, he and I alone together in the darkness of the car.
I have appointments I need to get to, I say. I have to drive. I cant do the walking, for my medical reasons. I really cant.
He looks away out the window. He says, thats probably not any of my business.
I hope he wont make me say more. The best I can do is to think about my situation as hard as I can, and hope he picks up on it. I picture the proteins, the spotty tissues all sealed together. The baby-thing with hair and teeth comprising twenty percent of it. I think about how much I dont want to describe it to him just then. How much I want to be natural and not suggestive with my details. And he has mercy. I think he sees how it is with me. I think he knows that it isnt my fault, that it was a sterile happening, and that despite everything, Im still a very nice girl. By this I mean that I have a good heart, and could be helpful. He could ask me for anything, and Id give it to him.The office manager waits and talks to me in private. First she asks about my health, and I tell her that none of the doctors is telling me anything new, that its going to be surgery eventually. Even though I dont want to take the time off. She says that I can cross that bridge when I come to it. Then she asks how its working out to have both he and I doing our shifts at the same time. I say that it works well. She asks whether it isnt too distracting and whether it isnt taking us too long to finish. Distracting? Did he say that? I am careful to be neutral. I ask her whether he has made any comments about me. Her kindness wavers and I see envy in her face. Not in so many words, she says. Hes concerned with getting out on time.
Well talk again later, she says, getting ready to leave.
But I know that something is going on. Hes been thinking it through on some level or he wouldnt have said anything about me, one way or another.
I stay out of his way, to make him wonder, to make him notice my absence when he goes out back to smoke. In the exam rooms I listen for him. I know that he is right there. I know that he is being careful not to think about me. My heart expands. The baby-thing shifts with excitement so that I have to stop and steady myself against the stainless steel table. I am almost sick with all of the possibility, all of the potential for happiness.Nothing changes for several days, except that I avoid him. I find myself taking more time with the overniters. Adjusting the draping over the recovery area, repositioning the green mesh over the heatlamps.
Then I arrive and he is smoking outside in the parking lot. When I walk in he follows and goes into the back. The office manager is waiting. She says, he wont listen to me. Can you make sure that he knows theres a leak in the big room? He simply wont listen to me.
The concrete walls are painted white. Water runs down them like glaze. I hear him turn on the waxer in the back.
Hes going to be electrocuted, she says. I tell her that I will take care of the water. I promise. She wants to leave, and I want her to leave, to go home to her husband, to leave us alone.
When she is gone I bring towels from the utility room, dirty towels from the bin, Im touching them with my bare hands but I dont care. The water slowly accumulates in the corners. I need more towels. Just leave it, he says. Ill do it.
There is a chill from the seeping water. I listen to the overniters and check the controls on all of their heating pads. I turn them each up by one setting. Not too much, otherwise the overniters who cant move will become dangerously overheated or even burned. Sometimes they are too weak to shift themselves off the pad. I hear him in the next room, moving towards the phone, making his usual call. I dont look under the toweling but I can hear stirrings behind the bars when I pause outside each berth.
He is on the phone. He says, did you find out?
There is nothing but the sound of water, and then he says, I dont believe it.
There are jerky movements in the last recovery berth, the sound of nails against stainless steel. I move the toweling a little. I make larger movements than necessary, to catch his eye and remind him that I am here but he doesnt notice. He stares straight down at the phone. He says, are you sure? His voice gets lower; are you sure? Okay, he says finally. Okay, but stop. If youre sure then crying wont help now. He hangs up. I repeatedly adjust the toweling. It is light pink, frayed around the edges. I tuck it more securely around the frame of the door.
I keep my back to him. I am giving him the chance to make up his mind about something. My fingers are between the bars for a long moment during which I hear nothing from him in the room behind me. I try to maintain my calm. I hear the nails again faintly and I am afraid that the overniter is about to touch my fingers. Maybe bite my fingers. But I know they are all delirious, not even aware of me.
Can you give me a ride somewhere? he says. It is the first time he has had to ask.
Of course, I say. Inside I feel a mounting pressure. I slide my fingers further into the cage. Labored breathing. Delirium.
He puts the equipment away, the floors undone. He lines the corners and baseboards with rags to catch the seepage. He is on his knees.
I drive him to a cash machine where he withdraws the maximum allowed. Then he asks me to take him to another cash machine nearby, where he attempts to make another withdrawal. He has reached his daily limit. He reads the screen, appears not to understand. He tries again but cant take out any money. He gets back into the car, waits, and then asks me to drive him to another cash machine.
By now it is dark out. I tell him its no use, that no machine will let him take more. He says he has to keep trying. He wont look at me. I know he is thinking that I dont understand, that I cant understand the frustration.
How much? I say.
His hand twitches on his leg.
I dont know, he says. Anything.
I step out of the car with my purse, take out my debit card. It slides neatly into the machine. My fingers feel swollen when I press the numbers. I know what kind of gesture this is. I would take it all out, if it werent for the limit, and so I go that far, and will give it to him in crisp new bills. I get back into the car and sit beside him. Breathless. My hand touches his when he takes the money. His eyes look shiny and red. I feel a pulsing everywhere, a throbbing even in my throat, because now I know that eventually I will have him. Now I know that the girl in the apartment complex will be easy enough to forget, it will only take money to fix that situation. And I never even had to bring up the baby-thing. All of that has been left undescribedthere is still all of the telling to look forward to. Im thinking about the patience he will have to have, and the secret things he will do for me when we are alone together in a safe place. I have to sit and hold it in for a second before I can drive, before I can even turn the key, because of the movement, the excitement, the hidden cartilage twisting in anticipation of him.
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