My wife crashed her bike again (the front wheel came off during a race) and fractured little bones I’d never even heard of in both of her hands. The implications of this were unclear at first. What it meant was that I had to do everything for her.
For example, I had to wipe her when she went to the bathroom. I’d never done this for another human being. Not even a baby. The mechanics of it baffled me.
I asked her to stand and lean forward.
She did. I took hold of her left hip, but that didn’t feel right. I put my hand on her stomach. That was better. I adjusted my stance, trying to find the most advantageous position.
She said, “What’s the hold-up back there?”
“I’m not sure of the angle.”
“What angle? Just clean me off.”
“I feel like I need more traction.”
“Listen, just put your hand down there and wipe the shit off with the toilet paper. Then put the toilet paper in the toilet. Repeat until there is no more shit. Then pull my pants up and wash your hands. It’s very simple.”
She was right, of course. Once I got in there and did it, it was as if I’d always known how to do it. As with many things in life, it was just a matter of that first awkward move.
Another thing I had to do was help dress and undress her. She couldn’t manipulate buttons or snaps. Zippers were impossible. I had to do it all. I changed her underpants and put her pajamas on at night. When I took her underpants off, she said, “I feel like your plaything. I feel like your dolly.”
Handless sex was different from hands-on sex. She used her mouth more. She bit my neck. She sucked my fingers – something she had never done before. It was like being in bed with a different woman. She compensated for her loss of hand-control by sudden aggression with other body parts. She bumped me with her forearms. She elbowed me when I got out of line.
After a few days of staying home she got stir-crazy, so we went out. It was the first time she’d been out since coming home from the hospital. She couldn’t drive without hands, and my driver’s license had lapsed, so we walked.
It was raining. I put her hood up and tied the drawstrings under her chin and held the umbrella over her head. Then she had an itch on her neck. I had to take the hood down and hunt for it.
“Back,” she said. “Up about half an inch. A wee bit to the left. There!
“Oh, that’s good. You’re like my slave.”
We walked in the rain. She walked with her hands elevated because that’s what the doctor had told her to do. She looked like a surgeon who was prepped for surgery and didn’t want to touch anything.
As usual, she had her camera with her. I worried about that. I knew she was capable of forcing me to hold it for her while she took pictures. I tried not to think about it.
Her phone rang.
“You mind answering that?”
“Where is it?”
I frisked her. It was in the inner pocket of her rain jacket. How had it gotten there? I unzipped it, found the phone, pushed the green button and held it to her ear. With my other hand I held the umbrella over her head.
When she talked on the phone she forgot I was alive. My arms got tired. The backs of my legs got wet. I closed my eyes and listened, but I didn’t understand. Nothing was making sense.
“Yes, I have to elevate them,” she said.
“No, they’ll be all right.”
“I don’t know, probably some physical therapy.”
She said, “I’m done. You can take the phone away.”
Then she said, “Sorry, I had to take that.”
I put the phone in my pocket.
“What? Give me my phone.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier if I hung on to it?”
“No,” she said.
“Take it away from me then.”
She karate-kicked the back of my knee and I collapsed. I got up and put the phone in her pocket.
We kept walking.
“Let’s have a hot whiskey,” she said.
“Exactly! That’s just what we need.”
We went into a bar and ordered hot whiskeys. Coming out of a chilly rain, it was the perfect thing. It was like medicine for people who aren’t sick, a magic potion. When I took our coats off, steam rose out of our clothes.
“Can you push the hair out of my eyes? I feel like the Bride of Frankenstein over here.”
The bartender dropped off our hot whiskeys and went away.
“Take the lemon out and squeeze it a little, if you don’t mind,” she said. “I don’t like drinking it with the lemon in the glass.”
“I know,” I said. “I’ve been married to you for as long as anyone can remember.”
I stuck my finger into her scalding drink and plucked out the lemon.
“Ah, hell. You squeezed it too hard!”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“It’s like lemonade now. You ruined it.”
“I knowwhat I’m doing. It’s perfect.”
“I don’t want it now.”
“Fine, you can’t drink it anyway. Not unless I help you.”
“Here comes the big power play.”
She watched me lift my drink.
“I could knock that glass out of your hand,” she said.
How stupid was I?
She knocked the glass out of my hand. It broke on the floor. The lemon landed in my lap.
“You bitch!” I said.
“You’re the little bitch,” she said. She was calm.
The bartender said, “Get out.”
I stood up and put her coat on, put her hood up, and fastened the drawstrings. Then I put my coat on and set the money on the bar.
“Why am I even on this planet?” I said.
Her phone rang.
“Can you get that?”
“You get it,” I said.
“You bitch,” she said. Then she laughed. “Come on, I think it might be good news.”
For some reason that made sense to me.
I said, “I don’t mind wiping your ass, but I’m not holding your phone to your ear every two minutes.”
The bartender was sweeping up the glass. He said, “Go.”
We went outside and stood in the doorway. I answered the phone with one hand and opened the umbrella with the other. I put the phone to her ear and held the umbrella over her head. She kept her hands elevated.
I said, “I still love you a little.”
She said, “Hello? What? No, I broke my hands. Of course it hurts. Jesus, of course. Fuck, I don’t know. Yeah. Yeah. No. Yes. Bye.”
It wasn’t the good news we were hoping for and maybe even expecting. It was nothing. As usual.
We walked down the street until we got to another bar.
“Hot whiskey?” she said.
“I don’t care anymore.”
“Well, I have to pee.”
We went in and ordered hot whiskeys. When I took our coats off, steam rose out of our clothes again.
“Just drink it with the lemon in it,” I said.
I went to the bathroom with her. I undid her jeans and she squatted over the toilet and peed. She kept her hands elevated. I got the toilet paper ready. I looked at the top of her head. By the time she was done I had an erection.
I wiped her with the toilet paper.
“OK, pull my pants up,” she said.
I rubbed my fingers between her legs.
“I foresaw something like this when I married you,” she said.
I didn’t respond.
We had sex. It happened fast. We were husband and wife. When we got back to the bar our drinks were still hot. We drank them and left.
Life went on in this vein. I dressed her, fed her, wiped her, bathed her. Friends came over to visit us. Mostly they were her friends. She had no qualms about ordering me around in front of them. They laughed, but I didn’t care. I did what she said, because I knew who she was. I didn’t like plucking the hairs out of her chin, though – that was gruesome. Otherwise I fell right into the routine of doing everything twice. Once for her and again for me.
The bones in her hands healed. We went to the hospital and the doctor removed the splints. He examined her hands and did tests, took x-rays. It was miraculous, he said. Her hands were in perfect shape. Probably stronger than before. She was lucky, he said. She had wonderful genetic material. Sometimes people weren’t lucky. Sometimes they were fucked for life. He actually said fucked, almost making it sound like a terrible medical condition. Almost, but not quite. Who did he think we were?
My wife walked along the hospital corridors flexing her fingers and touching one hand to the other. She made two fists and punched the air.
“Man, look how dirty they are,” she said. “I have to wash these things again. I also have to pee.”
She gave me a look. Then she dragged me into the blue hospital bathroom.
“I’m just so used to you now,” she said. “I need you.”
“I’m tired. I want to sit down.”
“You can sit down at home.”
I went into the stall with her. First she unbuttoned her pants, then she unbuttoned mine.