The Helen Keller Ice Cream Social

There’s blood on her arms. I don’t know how long she’s been lying here. She’s wearing black pajamas. I used to laugh that she always dresses up like the Viet Cong when she’s angry. I’m not laughing today.
She’s awake, her dark eyes staring out from under her bangs, at the wall, at the couch. She won’t look at me, talk to me. It might be drugs, it might be rage. I can’t tell.
I’m not supposed to be here.
I go to the bathroom to get some towels. Pill bottles next to the sink. Wellbutrin, Xanax, Vicodin. The Xanax is almost empty but it looks old. The Vicodin is brand new. Pop it open and count. Twelve left, that means eighteen gone. They’re only five milligrams apiece, but she hasn’t been eating and probably doesn’t weigh more than 95 pounds. I put the cap back on and drop them in my pocket.
I find some washcloths that seem clean, run them under the faucet and wring them out. From the medicine cabinet I come up with some gauze pads and medical tape. She’s well-stocked with first aid supplies. Go figure.
She hasn’t moved. Still on the couch, turned toward the wall, staring into the corner.
“Here, honey, let me look.”
I roll her onto her back.
“When did you do this?”
She stares at my shoulder.
“Please talk to me, baby.”
I’m not supposed to be here.
I take her closest arm and stretch it towards me. The cuts are all on the outside. Nothing by her wrists.
“This won’t hurt, OK? I just want to clean you up a little.”
No response, but she doesn’t fight me. I start to gingerly dab the blood from the crook of her elbow. She flinches and jerks her arm back. Silently.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to clean it so it doesn’t get infected.”
She lets me straighten her arm again and wipe gently. It takes some doing to get the blood off. One of the cuts starts bleeding. It’s worse than the others but I’m guessing it doesn’t need stitches. As if I would know. None of the cuts are deep. She wasn’t trying to do real harm. She told me she used to do this because the pain helped. Back before I met her.
I’m not supposed to be here.
I’m afraid if I put alcohol on it she’ll recoil from the hospital smell and I won’t get her back. She’s afraid of hospitals. I clean it as best I can with the damp cloth, and then start to bandage it up.
She’s watching my hands now.
Bandaging is harder than it looks. The tape keeps sticking to itself and going on crooked, the bandages are all cockeyed and lumpy. I get one arm done, then get her to sit up so I can reach the other one. She’s passive now. She has no fight left in her.
Both arms are done.
I go to the breakfast table and get the bag I brought, take it to the couch and sit on the coffee table across from her.
“Hey, I brought you something. You want to try a little of this?”
I reach into the bag and take out a pint of ice cream, a styrofoam container of hot fudge and a spoon. The fudge is still warm, the ice cream starting to go soft. I take the lid off.
They packed it for me special. Sweet cream with crushed-up Oreos and Junior Mints. I had to make sure they crushed the mints exactly right. She considers these details important.
“I had this last night, it reminded me of you.”
Everything reminds me of her.
I get some ice cream on the spoon, dip it in the hot fudge and hold it out to her.
“Just a bite.”
She jerks her head sideways, like a toddler refusing stewed carrots.
“Come on. Just a little.”
Her chin falls to her shoulder.
I eat a bite, then fix another.
“Just one?”
I set the fudge down and gently lift her chin with my fingertips. She doesn’t resist, but she doesn’t look at me.
“Here, baby, one bite. That’s all.”
I touch the spoonful to her mouth, like a father feeding a baby. She opens the tiniest bit and gets it in her mouth.
“There you go. You want another one?”
She looks at the spoon and opens her mouth slightly. I feed her another bite.
She swallows, and mumbles. It’s the first sound she’s made.
“What’s that?” I ask.
She takes another bite.
“That’s fuckin’ good,” she says.
I laugh. A little bit. I want to laugh and scream and pick her up and swing her around the room, but I just laugh a little bit.
“Yeah,” I say, “it’s really fuckin’ good.”
She eats a few more bites, then shakes her head. No more. I wipe a spot of ice cream from her chin, then I pick her up, all 95 pounds of her. She puts her arms around my neck. It feels good. And I carry her to the bedroom and tuck her in. Her eyes are closed.
In the kitchen I find a dishtowel and lay it on the counter. I take her chefs knife and her steak knives and roll them up in the towel, then put the towel in a grocery bag. There’s a grapefruit knife next to the sink. I look at it for a minute, then I put that in the bag too. I’m guessing she has a stash of X-Acto blades somewhere in the apartment but I can’t find them.
On the fridge is a business card. “Ann Clarke, Licensed Clinical Therapist.” I put the card in my pocket, then change my mind and put it back on the fridge. I write the therapist’s number on my wrist, then I tuck the bag of knives under my arm.

I leave by the front door, swallow hard, and lock it behind me.

I’m not supposed to be here.
Late that night she calls.
“You did a really shitty job with the bandages. I had to redo them.”
She’s alive.
“Can you come see me?”
I fiddle with my wedding ring, push it against my knuckle. It feels tight. Constricting. I’m a coward. I tell her I can’t get out. I can only talk for a minute but I promise I will come see her first thing in the morning.
I flinch. I tell her I’m sorry, I just can’t.
“Not that. Fucking grapefruit. I’m trying to cut a grapefruit with a butter knife. Did you see my grapefruit knife when you were here? I must have been fucked up, I can’t find anything.”
I want to laugh again. Just a little bit.

© 2011 Ray Shea

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