Friday, November 16, 2007

Deformed (a short story)


My last night at the hospital, I cried and cried. They had assured me that the pain-killer and the sleeping pill would give me the rest I needed; but what did they know about what it was like to be maimed?

I cried until my leg swelled inside the cast, making the pain unbearable. At three o'clock in the morning, they got my doctor out of bed to order more sedation.

I woke up hung-over, tired and empty. All the tears had not eased the pain even the tiniest bit.

Wear the seat belt, people told me over and over when I was learning to drive. But I hardly ever did. I always fumble when I'm undoing my seat belt, and I wonder if what would happen if the car were on fire. Every time I snap the buckle shut, I see myself trapped in the car, burning. Right away, I practise undoing it. But when the time comes to undo it, I still fumble.

I wasn't wearing a seat belt when I ran into the truck.


My sister Claire helped me manoeuvre my plaster-encased leg onto the back seat of her car. Mom wanted me to go home with her, but I told her that the doctor wanted me to start living independently right away. That was a lie, of course -- all we'd discussed was physio for my leg and reconstructive surgery for my face.

I was clutching my referral slip from the plastic surgeon. I would look fine afterwards, they assured me jovially. Hardly scarred at all.

Claire offered to stay with me overnight. I said no. I wanted to be alone.


I hobbled around my kitchen, taking charge of my territory again. I made some tea and sat on the sofa with my leg up, playing with the remote control of the TV. Being alone was turning out to much more difficult than I had expected. But I would have to get used to it.

The phone rang. It was out of my reach, so I let the answering machine take care of it.

Afterwards, I tottered over to the phone to see who had called. I had no intention of calling back, but I was curious.

While I was standing there, the phone rang.

It was Daniel. He sounded as he always sounded. Friendly and non-committal.

"You've been away," he said.

"I had a car accident," I said. "I lost my right eye."

I paused. He said nothing. I listened carefully for some quick intake of breath, some indication of a reaction.

"I look terrible," I said.

Another pause.

"Can I come over?" he asked. Just the same way he always did, in a take-it-or-leave-it tone.

"No," I snapped petulantly. "I told you. I look terrible. I need plastic surgery."

In the early days of our relationship, when I was desperately in love with him, his casual attitude cut deep, made me feel cheap and used. But now it was a relief. I didn't have to worry about hurting his feelings.

"From what you say, you're going to look that way for a while," he pointed out with maddening logic. "I might as well come over now."

"I told you -- NO!"

I slammed down the receiver and started to cry.

After I wiped the tears away, I went through my mental list of friends, hoping to think of someone who could cheer me up. Everyone I knew had loaded me with sympathy and made things worse. Everyone except Daniel. And I had just finished chewing his head off.

Daniel consistently declined to be my Prince Charming, but he was calm and reliable and accepting. He had tried love once, he said, and he hadn't enjoyed it, so he wasn't going to do it again. We talked about our mutual interests, went riding on his motorcycle, and slept together. Uncomplicated. For him.

I tried to bring guilt into it, but he just said, "If you weren't getting something out of it, you wouldn't be doing it."

No pressure. No passion.

"I'm a Taurus," he'd say when I wanted to talk about our relationship. "Enthusiastic and friendly."

I had been gone for three weeks and he didn't even care.

I sat alone on the sofa and wondered what to do. I never wanted to leave my apartment again. But there would be physio and doctor's appointments and grocery shopping. How in the hell was I ever going to cope with the stares and the pity?

They told me my artificial eye would perfectly match the real one. But it would just stare lifelessly, as obvious as the patch over my empty socket. Everyone would know. No matter how hard everyone tried to ignore it, I would never be normal again.

Beyond my balcony, the sky turned purple and pink and red, and the room slowly darkened. I didn't bother putting on the light.


The knocking on the door startled me. I must have dozed off. For a moment, I didn't remember the accident and the hospital. When I tried to jump to my feet and crash-landed half-on, half-off the couch, it all came back. "Just a minute!" I yelled, wrestling with the cast.

It was Daniel. With a bottle of wine.

I let him in.

"You look terrible," he said, with a small grin.

"I told you not to come!"

We drank the wine, and I started to feel better.

We talked about music, and literature, and role-playing games. I didn't tell him about the accident. He didn't ask. He kissed me and nibbled my ear, the way he always did when he was feeling friendly and enthusiastic, and he helped me haul my cast to the bedroom.

"I don't know if we can do this," I said. "I'm still pretty sore."

He hunted for unbruised parts of me to kiss. He was extraordinarily successful, and soon I was breathing hard and momentarily forgot all about my deformities.

He did not put his full weight on me, but supported himself on his elbows. It looked uncomfortable, but he came right on schedule.

I came too. I couldn't believe it.

We lay together for a while, relaxing. Then he got dressed and left. He had to work in the morning.

I went to sleep without any sleeping pills.

After the surgery, the scars were not bad at all. We drifted apart, and married other people. He never told me he loved me.

He didn't have to.

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