The ground shook, the earth opened up, and down I fell. You know that feeling you get when you have a bad night tossing and turning and when it’s morning it feels like time passed somewhere but you don’t remember sleeping? While I was falling, it felt like that. Forever, until I hit the bottom and wondered if I lost time somewhere along the way.
Thankfully someone saw me fall, or else I’d have been filled in with cement or something, blanketed and forgotten. Paramedics lifted me out, bruised, bleeding, shattered. Dimly, I saw a concerned-looking young woman watching me as I was loaded onto a stretcher. She had wavy locks of dark chocolate hair, a series of tan-coloured freckles crossing the bridge her nose, and she was bundled up in a heavy checkered scarf and a long navy coat. She was wearing the same scarf and coat when she visited me in the hospital the next day.
I thanked her for finding me, and she said she didn’t find me, only saw me fall. I thanked her, then, for calling for help. She accepted that time. When my wife arrived, she thanked the young woman too, who smiled and made an excuse to leave.
“She likes you,” my wife said.
“She’s just checking up on me,” I said.
I was told I might not walk again. If I did, it would be a long, hard road to get there. My wife helped me for a while, visiting me in rehab often, wheeling me around when I was ready to come home, but she had her own busy life, and had to return to it. I didn’t blame her. As it happened, June, the young woman who saved my life, was looking for work, so I hired her as an assistant. My wife didn’t seem happy about the idea, but she didn’t seem threatened by June either. She looked at me with pity rather than love, like I was something to be cared for rather than someone to care for.
June looked at me the way my wife used to. Despite being half a man, I felt more whole than I ever had before. She brought me lunch after hard physiotherapy sessions, laughed genuinely at my jokes instead of kindly. She accepted my payments with a reluctant silence, perhaps ashamed or disappointed, like our visits were transactional. She was more concerned about the idea than I was, though it bothered me too.
I continued working hard virtually, but my position in the company was at a standstill–or, more aptly, a sitstill. Not being able to easily attend business meetings or go for company golf games, I was all but forgotten, a digital check-in rather than a human being. Still, they stuck with me, if not as closely, which was better than how my wife handled things.
After she left me, trying desperately to excuse herself without coming off as heartless, I could have been broken all over again, but I only resolved to build myself back up. I spent longer and longer in rehab sessions, slowly gaining the movement back in my legs, building the muscle there. One day June even offered to help. She held my ankle gingerly, her other hand under my knee, and lifted the leg, stretched it, massaged it to get the feeling back and the blood flowing. She had never really touched me before other than briefly during a laugh or to get my attention. Her hands were warm and white and they both had little freckles between the knuckles.
I told her I wanted to stand. She didn’t question the idea, only stood and held her palms up. I took them, just for balance, and slid forward out of the chair. My knees shook and popped and June squeezed my fingers. I pressed hard against the floor, making as though lifting a box, lifting with my legs, my back still hunched in a sitting position. Then, slowly and shakily, I straightened, like a curled piece of paper slowly unfolding to its proper shape. I lifted, my eyes on June’s eyes, until for the first time in my life I looked straight into them. And for the first time I realized she never looked down on me, even when I was in that chair or that hospital bed or that stretcher. We were always eye to eye.
And now we were face to face.
Day 362’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Romance,” “An assistant,” and, “A bottomless pit.”
THREE. Three days left.
It’s rare I go for a happy story. My heroes are always tortured, but sometimes they fight to save themselves. I’m glad it worked out this time.