The doctor said no driving for six weeks, minimum. Lifting restricted to five pounds, pending further examination of the wounds. That's why I was only going to buy a few things at the grocery store. Dairy and produce, a few cuts of meat. A whole chicken, maybe. But then it got to feeling so good to be out and about. Fully ambulatory, even if restricted. Driving my car to my grocery store, shopping for what I want. Free. Free to drop whatever I wanted into the shopping cart.
When the elevator doors parted there she was. Standing just inside the door, to my left. By the control panel. I needed to pause the elevator but she was in the way. Rather than step into her space I asked would she mind holding the elevator while I went about loading my groceries stacked outside the door. One bag at a time. Reduced to using two hands to lift one goddamned bag at a time and then groaning at that. Fucking pitiful. She smiled the smile one smiles while dropping an envelope into the passed collection basket, or while dropping a dollar into the bum's tin or grimy hand. The fully gracious but detached smile. Or is it fully detached but gracious smile? Either way, it sets me off. The poor you, poor poor you, poor piteous you, smile.
"Let me help you?" No. Fuck no! Can't you see - I've got it. "Please?" Without waiting for another mumble she stepped in front of me and grabbed up the remaining four bags and set them down beside the others. Turned and faced me, square on. Smiled. Rolled up a sleeve to show me a muscle she had an hour earlier been working on at the gym. Smiled an almost laugh. Posed like a bodybuilder, while the doors closed and the bell chimed. Posed one way then another. Finished posing and stepped closer. Cut the elevator like a skilled boxer cuts the ring. Cornered me. Just like that.
Her standing close. So close. What did I notice first? That's easy - the wash of her breath across my neck. Her breathing, full, deep, came in rushes. Like a pretty dainty soundless bellow? Sure, like that. Just as sudden as that. There's no planning for this sudden taste of her. Her breath pouring across my neck. Jesus. Her breath bending me over. Pulling my face and head down, towards the source. Compelling me to lean into it. To lean into her. Drawing my face into her breath. Then she is pouring breath into my eyes and I feel I might weep. But one needs oxygen to weep and I find myself without such. My own breathing long since stopped. I picture: a bent stickman, mouth agape, a silent gasp.
I didn't weep and I didn't suffocate. I got air into me somehow without choking, while appearing, I think, somewhat normal in the process. But I knew there was nothing normal about this predicament. Me: a shell, weakened to almost death, empty, barely a cardboard box of a man and quite fully ashamed of the implications. Her: so spectacular as to defy description, intelligent exuberance pushing against her every seam, clawing and shouting, even when just breathing. It was not lost on me that we were like two opposite ends of a spectrum, two distant outliers.
Then an odd thing happened: the discomfort of this predicament, of her, pushed into me, into all of me, into even the dark places I will not visit, and pushed words right out of me. Like a plumber's snake: winding and winding and winding, no telling what it will find? Well, this snake found words. Blurted shabby words, at the first. Like how a dope gabs. The first thought into the pea brain gets spat out, lest it be forgotten. But her breathing continued, uninterrupted. As before, as encouragement, or, maybe, as salve, and then blurted shabby words eventually became banter. Words and words and more words, Jesus, like a goddamned race or something to see who could get the most words out. Some laughter and smiles and I can feel her hand on my arm. No shutting us up as the lights on the control panel next to my head blink and blink.