“You just going to hang there?”

That’s Jolene, my therapist. She’s the bad cop. Kyleigh—her student in training—is the good cop: all positive reinforcement, sips of water, and pats on the back. Jolene tells me to use the bars or get out of the way, asks me if that’s all I’ve got, or says she’s seen more effort out of octogenarians.

It’s an effective mix.

They remind me of Coach Mattix, who can make every girl feel like she’s the reason why we won the game, but also has no problem specifically saying whose fault it is that we lost. I want Kyleigh to be proud of me and I want to get to the end of these bars so that I can kick Jolene in the teeth, I don’t care which leg I have to use.

I make it.

I pitch forward at the end, nearly landing on my face if not for Jolene. She catches me, a mix of snot and tears left behind on her shirt as she eases me into a wheelchair. Normally I would refuse it, but my good leg is shaky and weak, and my bad one feels like the night sky on the Fourth of July.

I sink into the chair and Mom comes over, hands balled into fists at her side. I know she wants to wipe my face, push my hair out of my eyes, hold my head up for me because right now all it wants to do is loll to the side. But I told her at the beginning of this that there will be no fussing, or I’ll make her stay in the waiting room. She can watch women push other human beings out of their vaginas and stay calm; she’s got it in her to watch me walk ten feet without getting emotional about it.

“Good work, Mickey,” she says instead. “You look strong.”

I don’t. There are enough mirrors in here for me to know that. I look like a toddler, off-balance and awkward, complete with runny nose.

“How do you feel?”

I can feel the screws, three points of hot agony drilled right into my bones.

Grandpa taught me how to manage pain, with logic first and a good dose of storytelling later. He was a farmer, years of sun and wind making his skin as tough as the baseball glove I found in the barn, my first one. His scars were numerous, a story for each one: fire, chainsaw, a tear along his jawbone where a tree branch touched his molars.

I was helping him stack a wood cord when I was eight, anxious to make him proud, working against the sun that would set soon, taking with it the burning heat of summer, and our light as well. I was stacking like he taught me, making cradles with one layer for the next one, when my hand skidded along the surface of a piece of dry hickory.

There was pain, bright and hot, but more than anything I felt confusion, not knowing what had happened. I wish I hadn’t looked, hadn’t seen the thick splinter that ran underneath my fingernail, all the way to the white half moon at the bottom. I couldn’t speak, it hurt so badly, only held up my hand to show Grandpa, who stacked two more pieces before reacting.

“Well,” he finally said, pushing back his hat to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “You gonna pull that out or am I?”

It was a logical question, the next step that took the focus away from the pain. I remember biting down on that splinter, pulling it out with my teeth and spitting it onto the ground, leaving behind a tiny, bleeding valley under my fingernail. Grandpa drove into town and bought me ice cream, a Band-Aid he’d found in the glove box of the truck not quite making everything better, but coming damn close.

Sometimes I wonder what he thought as he lay in the ditch last year, that same truck a wreck of metal beside him. I bet anything he thought about the next steps, what needed to happen, rather than what had just occurred.

Sometimes I think of the screws in my hip as massive splinters, digging in as the bone grows around them. And I grit my teeth, and I take the next step.

Carolina is waiting for me when we get home, Mom’s face lighting up at the sight of her car in the driveway. I’m glad she’s there too, but I brace myself against the inspection I know is coming as I push Helen W. in front of me through the front door.

“Damn,” Carolina says. “You’re pale.”

I’m always a washed-up mess after physical therapy, hair grimy with sweat, bright-red exertion spots on my cheeks. I lower myself onto the couch next to my friend, trying to keep a straight face as I do. Carolina lets out a low whistle.

“Seriously, girl. You’re so white right now I bet you can’t even remember a word of Spanish.”

“?Mámame el bicho!” I say.

“Sólo los insultos, veo,” she says, shaking her head. “Basic.”


I get my leg up onto the coffee table, edging aside a pile of my schoolwork Carolina brought with her. I used the holiday break to catch up on everything I missed while I was flat on my back, with IVs in my arms. But January brought a flurry of assignments, along with the snow. There are a few hours of work in front of me, at least. From the kitchen, I hear the click of Mom turning on the stove, the rattle of pans as she pulls together something for dinner.

“You should stay,” I tell Carolina. “Eat with us. We can do homework and Netflix.”

Usually, I wouldn’t even ask. It would just be assumed that she’s going to stay with me, dirty plates on the floor and background noise from the TV as we work. Now though, she checks her phone before agreeing.

Aaron, really?

“Yeah, I can do that,” she says, and I relax, the tension that radiates from my leg letting loose a little in my jaw.

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