by Nicholas Claro
The other day, I thought about when you got your cast off. Then I found myself thinking of the weeks leading up to it. Those first days you hated asking for help, resented me for it, but needed it for opening bags of chips, printing addresses on envelopes, pouring shampoo into the cupped palm of your good arm, twisting the cap off the almond milk, twisting it back on. When you had trouble tying your shoes one afternoon, I knelt to help and you slid your foot back. ‘Don’t,’ you said. Your anger made your left hand suddenly capable.
You rolled over, knocked your cast against the end table, and woke up screaming. I shot up out of bed. After I found the light switch, I half expected a burglar to bolt into the closet, mistaking it for the door that lead into the hallway. When I realized what had happened, I laughed. An honest reflex. I explained this when you cried and accused me of thinking your pain was funny. You reminded me that I was a stubborn asshole, that it was my fault your arm was broken. You said how embarrassing it’s been telling people I hadn’t fastened the refrigerator to the dolly and how I thought I could do things all by myself.
You were craving curry. Homemade red curry, but you didn’t trust my culinary abilities. Anytime I’d tried my hand at cooking, within minutes you’d demand the whisk, the spatula, the immersion blender, to show me ‘how it’s done,’ only to do the rest yourself. This time it was a chef’s knife. Rice in the cooker. Coconut milk on the counter, a white tear rolling down one side of the can. Nearly all the vegetables chopped. Fresh ginger stinging my nostrils. I was about to throw everything into the Dutch oven. All I had left were a couple carrots to cut. Annoyed, I went to the fridge and opened a beer while you pinned down the cutting board with your elbow. With your leverage compromised, you grunted, forcing the blade through a carrot. Metal striking wood, clacking like tap shoes. As you neared its thicker end, you put more and more weight down. When the knife went straight through, a rounded slice skipped off the cutting board and onto the floor. You kicked it beneath the stove. I took a drink and pretended not to notice.
I spent my day off alternating between playing videogames and reading. After dinner, I played Dark Souls III, and you sent me an Instagram message from the living room. Some story from Teen Vogue about a celebrity court case I couldn’t care less about. You wrote, Read this headline! Distracted, I died fighting the same boss for the twentieth time. I turned the game off, and read as much of the article as I could stand before joining you. You were on the couch, cast propped on pillows, face hidden behind your phone; I cleared my throat, and you lowered it like a drawbridge. ‘So?’ you said. ‘They both sound awful,’ I said, and summarized what I’d read. You rolled your eyes. ‘I just meant the headline,’ you said. ‘Kristen,’ I said, ‘then why’d you send the whole thing?’ ‘You never listen,’ you said. ‘Either you do this on purpose or don’t know you’re doing it, which is worse.’ We went to bed, enough room between us to fit another person. I couldn’t sleep. In my sleeplessness, I imagined us famous and in the same contentious situation as the A-listers. I tried coming up with a title for an exposé, but couldn’t come up with anything good.
I caught you in the bathroom smelling your cast. ‘It stinks,’ you said. ‘And itches.’ I went to the closet, grabbed a wire hanger, twisted the head around until it came loose, and straightened it best I could. You looked at me funny when I held it out. ‘For your arm,’ I said, and made scratching motions. You leaned against the sink, plunged the wire beneath your cast, pulled it out, pushed it back in, repeated this faster each time. Tilting your head back, you moaned, ‘God, that feels so good.’ I felt myself getting hard. We hadn’t had sex since before the accident, but I didn’t want to distract you from this new pleasure. ‘I have to shit,’ I lied. You were fine with me pissing next to you. Not so much with the other thing.
‘You’re annoyingly punctual,’ you complained. Translation: I’m extra early to everything. That afternoon, it was a movie. I figured it’d be packed. I wanted to avoid choosing between seats too far back or close to the screen. I didn’t want to miss previews. I stood by the door, arms folded, jingling keys even though you couldn’t hear over your electric toothbrush. Minutes later, you came out to the living room, then double backed to the bedroom, and reemerged with a sweatshirt draped over your shoulder. I checked my phone. ‘It’s eighty degrees,’ I said. ‘Theaters are always cold,’ you said. You grabbed your shoes and sat on the couch. The arm of the sweatshirt fell in front of laces of a shoe. By now you could use the fingers of your left hand without much worry. Still, they were out of practice. Between batting the sweatshirt away and fumbling with the laces, I figured this would take forever. I strode over, pulled the sweatshirt off you, then bent down and grabbed your foot. ‘Let go,’ you said. I didn’t. ‘I’m serious,’ you said. ‘Stop squirming,’ I said, and yanked your foot. You leaned back and kicked. Your foot ripped from my grasp and cracked me in the chin. Pain pinched my cheek. I wanted to yell, but my mouth tasted like blood. Outside, I leaned over the porch railing and spat a red glob into the flowerbed. I heard the doorknob jiggle, the bolt click. I had my keys, but knew you’d probably slid the chain too. My prediction was correct. In the thin bar of visibility, I saw your shoes on the carpet. I entered the empty theater as the lights dimmed. I had my pick of any seat.
The following Saturday, as you went out to the garage ‘to grab something,’ I tossed a banana peel away and found the hanger in the trash. Minutes later, a strange buzzing noise started up outside. Through the blinds I saw you leaning on your car, a hand curled around the yellow rubber grip of my hack saw, sawing the cast. I bolted outside. Plaster dust covered the hood like fine snow. ‘What’re you doing?’ I said. You didn’t look, didn’t stop. You said, ‘It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t itch. It—’ I interrupted. Reminded you of your doctor’s appointment Monday to have it removed. Here, you stopped. Sighed as you turned around. Pointed the saw at me. ‘Let me ask you a question,’ you said. ‘Which is better? Waiting around for something you know is going to happen, or taking matters into your own hands and just getting it over with?’ I wouldn’t have answered the way I did had I known you weren’t talking about the cast.
Nicholas Claro is an MFA candidate in fiction at WSU and reads fiction for Nimrod International Journal. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, The McNeese Review (online), Bending Genres, Heavy Feather Review, X-R-A-Y, Necessary Fiction and others. He lives in Wichita.
Twitter and Instagram @nicholas_claro.