'To hell with it, and to hell with you too, ' I yelled, hearing an edge of hysteria in my voice. 'I'll fucking decide what sort of day I need. The sort of day I need is one where I wake up and my fucking leg's where it ought to be and I don't get assholes asking me to choose the prosthesis I like best. Now fuck off and die.' I threw the phone at the wall and felt ashamed of myself almost immediately. She was only doing her job. The hell with it. It was time to fall over in the shower again.
I twisted awkwardly, fumbling for the crutches that stood by the bed, and a wave of self-loathing swept over me. I used to like myself a lot, but Iraq had changed that. The guy who went out there, proud to serve, had been shipped home as something less. One of my legs was still there, although no-one had ever found it. They were too busy stabilizing me and cutting me free from the twisted metal that had been the vehicle and getting the hell out of there before anyone else caught it.
I should count myself lucky, said the doctor at the hospital. Whoever had used the length of cable as a tourniquet had saved my life. Hadn't left much for him to do, really: just trim the ragged edges and tuck a pad of skin over the stump to make it look nice. I was a healthy young man, he'd said, and I'd make a fine life for myself.
'I tied the cable round my thigh myself, ' I'd told him, 'and assholes like you make me wish I hadn't bothered.' And then the Army had descended on me again and sent me to talk to the physiotherapists, and the psychotherapists, and all the other fucking therapists who still had two fucking legs.
I swung myself sideways out of bed, grabbed the crutches, and heaved myself upright. Staying clean was about the one habit I hadn't been able to shake. All the rest: eating right, not drinking too much, interacting with other people, you name it, had gone down the toilet along with my leg, playing ball, my career, going out without being noticed and pitied.
My mom had put a stool in the shower for me but I didn't use it. Just like every morning I leaned against the wall, shaved, washed, pulled the shorts down and washed my cock and balls, staring at the wall, and then used the sponge to wash my stump and ass. I closed my eyes for that: staring at the wall wasn't an option. I fumbled for the shorts again and pulled them up.
Every month I handed my mom the check the Army sent me and told her I'd be insulted if she didn't accept it for my keep, and every month she said she didn't need it and deposited in my account. Every month I felt a little guiltier. She works, always has, so the house was empty when I swung myself into the kitchen. I drank the juice she'd left out for me and decided to forget about the rest. Just like every morning, I told myself sardonically that there was less of me to nourish now. Just like every morning, she'd left the paper too.
I wasn't laughing at any of the funnies when the doorbell rang, then again, and after a while again. I levered myself upright. Telling someone to go away would be good therapy.
'Whaddya need?' The words died in my throat as I saw her. She was my age, mid-twenties, and about the size of a dormouse. Slender, skinny almost, with dark hair, severely cut, framing a triangular face. Wearing a skirt and blouse, a thick, official-looking folder held defensively against her small breasts. Good legs. Round, wire-rimmed glasses reflected the spring sunlight as she looked up at me.
'I need an apology, Mr. Lennox, and I'm going to stand here till I get one.' Her voice was quiet but determined, and my heart sank.
'Oh shit. You're the lady on the phone. I'm sorry. I'm having a bad day and you were who I yelled at.' She stared at me then nodded her head briefly.
'That'll do, but try to remember that "Have a nice day" is usually better than "Fuck off and die". Let's start again. My name's Lily and we need to talk. Can I come in?' She was up the porch steps and nose to chest with me before I could say no. Outclassed by a dwarf, I thought as I shuffled out of her way. She went through to the kitchen and sat at the table as if she visited regularly, and I hobbled after her.
'Lily, I'm not sure this is a good time to talk. Like I said, I'm having a bad day and... ' She tapped the folder.
'This says that every day is a bad day for you and that you're losing weight and doing nothing but drink, and bitch about your life, and feel sorry for yourself. The type that gives up easy, said the last psych report. You have a comment on that assessment?' I stared at her.
'Go lose a leg, lady, and I'll come round to talk to you about it.' She was quiet for a moment.
'Good point, but not enough. OK. When you do stop hating the world, what next?'
'One day at a time, Lily. I've got enough problems without planning a future that isn't there.' Her turn to stare.
'You've lost a leg, Mr. Lennox: one limb out of four. So you're batting seven fifty, and you're pretty mobile, and you can wipe your own ass when you take a crap. That's more than some.' She stood. 'I'll come back tomorrow. Have a nice day.' She turned and stomped out, leaving a trail of anger behind her. I went back to the paper and wondered why the funnies were even worse than before. It was mid-afternoon before I even thought about the first beer.
For some reason I'd woken up earlier the next morning, and had even had some crackers with my juice, but my stomach still felt hollow when the doorbell rang.
'Door's open, ' I called. Casual as hell. She came into the kitchen hesitantly.
'Mr. Lennox, I shouldn't have said what I said yesterday. It was unforgivable. It's my turn to ask if we can start over.' She looked embarrassed, and as cute as she had the day before.
'Stress happens. And my name is Steve.' She sat down opposite me and put the file on the table.
'Thank you ... Steve. They passed your file to me because... '
'Because you're the therapist of last resort, I guess, or else the junior who gets the no-brainers.' She flushed.
'I'm not the oldest person in the department, but I'm probably the smartest.' She reddened again. 'I didn't mean that the way it sounded. And you're not a no-brainer. The Army says you're smart, and so do your old High School teachers, but the last five months you've been sitting on your butt being dumb. What I need to know is what happened to the smart.'
'You've talked to my High School teachers?' She nodded.
'Sure. Know your enemy, my dad always told me.' To my surprise I felt an unfamiliar movement in my face. I tried to smother the smile, and she watched me and said nothing. I felt myself reddening in my turn and then let it out.
'Point taken. What else is in the file?' She looked at the folder, and closed it firmly. When she spoke her voice was different. Less Miss Efficient, more country, still brusque, but real approachable. Persuasive maybe.
'Crap, mostly. You wanna go get a coke or something?'
'No.' She looked at me carefully and a flicker of comprehension crossed her face.
'At the Drive-Thru of your choice? My treat?' I hesitated a second too long, and she smiled broadly, and stood up. 'You gonna put a T-shirt on? Or is the bare-chested look good?' I fumbled for the crutches and began the process of rising, waiting for her to try to help. She started clearing the table and stacking stuff in the sink, so I went to find the T-shirt.
'You're not like the other people they've sent round, ' I said as she pulled out onto the highway. She hadn't watched me get into the car, merely taken the crutches and put them across the back seat. She shifted up a gear and glanced at me.
'And you're not like the other guys they send me to, ' she said. 'Most of them move on from where you are, start to think a little, stuff like that. You always been stubborn?'
'You spend your whole life being told to stick to your guns, tough it out, stuff like that, you end up believing it, right? Now, you say that I've been crippled but life goes on, and I say yeah, but it's not the life I want so I'll tough it out instead, and then you try to talk me out of it. That's the way the script goes.' She didn't reply immediately, but braked way too hard and swung into a MacDonald's Drive-Thru.
'You got part of it right.' I didn't say anything while she ordered a whole bunch of stuff and paid, then took the bags from her, setting them awkwardly on my lap. She turned the car and took it back to the highway, then up a dirt road I knew well.
'Hooters Pool?' She nodded and looked at me briefly.
'They told me the kids call it that. Skinny dipping heaven, huh?' I shrugged.
'Used to be once. There won't be anyone there this time on a school day.'
'Only time I was ever here it was deserted.' She gunned the little car up the track and parked in the same spot I used to a long time ago. 'I'll take everything up and then come back.' She slung a rug over her arm and grabbed the bags. It seemed to me she went a hell of a long way before setting the stuff down. I squirmed round and managed to drag one of the crutches over the seat, then opened the door and maneuvered it out. I followed it with my leg and managed to get upright, and leaned against the car wondering what came next. I didn't hear her approach.
'You need practice. We'll do this again.' I felt churlish and incomplete and unattractive.
'Why'd you wanna do that?'
.... There is more of this story ...