March 1, 2014 by The Citron Review
by Michael Chaney
There’s asphalt in the curtains. It silts the pillows of the couch Sid knows too well and powders the rug by the door he cannot get his wheels across. That screen door should be sifting summer, a baleen sieve of sun. But the federal stimulus has come round to Sid’s neighborhood. Now men must the road all day and have been for weeks. Since before the accident.
Asphalt brings company. Depression is a shy girl who waits by the stairs or lingers over the kitchen sink, Sid’s bath. She won’t come in and introduce herself. Sid’s not sure if he wants her to.
His crutches stand guard beside the couch. For the first time he notices their circular notches where the interior shaft locks into place. They look like phases of the moon on an almanac. Only these have height numbers next to each moon. His tell a lie that takes two inches away from him.
“So they won’t pinch at the armpits,” the nurse assured him when she set it. Pain hadn’t let him pay attention but he appreciates the gravity of that moment now. How many more inches will a broken ankle steal, improving its loot with each passing moon?
While Jackie takes their little girl on the bus to the market or carries laundry across a lot he hasn’t seen in weeks, Sid watches the men on the road through the picture window. The wall size of the window is the reason Jackie insisted on renting this place. “It’s big,” she said. “Mansion big.” He never felt much like looking through it until now.
Yellow hard hats bustle. Their badges bob along the length. There are ladders and trucks, pylons and vests. Shovels, knucklebooms, and bunchers. Steel toes kick the soft tar, tilling it into submission over cigarettes and flagpole downtime. Sid can hear them working their jokes and pride over the mixer, the pavers, and the BFHs doing what Big Fucking Hammers do best, making noise and passing time until you get your blue, which is what Sid and the boys used to call checks back when Sid used to get them for being a worker and not a wreck.
In between his crotch bath on the toilet and Jackie bringing him things, and after the periodic cruelty of the urinal jug, Sid watches the window for the work that stinks up his convalescence. Bitterness glues his eyes to the glass and the unpunctured mesh of the storm door until evening when his heart, heavy as cast plaster, turns to the wall and then to television flicker, until Jackie coaxes him again to come to bed and his daughter kisses his cheek good night where it will harden against the couch pillow.
Except tonight something changes in him. Steady watching has hatched new bitters, pecking the egg from the inside out. Tonight Sid wants the street in embryo. And he wants it all to himself.
Quietly he positions himself in front of the chair. He checks the brakes and slides onto the seat. The sound of the shift is frogbellies on lily. It feels like alligator teeth to Sid. Hoisting up the leg rest, he unlocks the breaks and attempts the rug. It is more pliant in moonlight. Even the pneumatic plunger of the storm door hisses for the latch without a fuss as Sid maneuvers to the lip where house kisses world. The up and over is rough. He is sure that his stifled shriek will wake Jackie, so he waits half caught by the brief railing that stubbles the chin of his small house, waiting for murmurs upstairs within.
Instead, the outside hums louder. It calls for him to roll away from this eventuality of a stoop he hadn’t thought of sufficiently in reverse. Just before pushing his wheels towards the street, he knows that he will not be able to get back into the house on his own.
In the distance a clever train plays the piccolo. But here, nothing is louder than the streetlamps or the whir of his wheelchair up and down the cakey tar top of the unfinished road. The smells and sounds are a night circus. So different from his days of waiting shame and endless asking. The night is drunk on fresh road. His sensuous wheels stick to the surface and let go with every moist revolution. He can read the road through his articulate chair. The road is a curing. Melted moon lives here. Its darkside lays thick. Its body is a spice. Once known, it cannot be mistaken for anything else. Steeped in sun, it rests its juices.
Yet even as Sid rolls, the tension returns. He will not be able to go back in, inside, independent. He’ll have to wake up his wife without waking their daughter. Every delicious minute out here deepens her sleep, and so the louder his knock will have to be. The thought of it is itself a knocking inside his head, jarred bugwings against glass. A muffled plea that has become him, in the chair and out.
Facing the storm door once again, Sid decides he was wrong earlier. Depression is not a bashful girl, but a wheelchaired man ready to sit and stay a while. For that kind of visit, only the doorbell will do.
In addition to being an academic and a dog walker, Michael Chaney plays percussion in a one man band using a two-basin metal sink (with working faucet). In addition to that he has been published in decomP and SmokeLong Quarterly and has work forthcoming from JMWW, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Harpur Palate. He lives in Vermont and blogs about flash at michaelalexanderchaney.com.