by David Pace
Kathy turned her head to the right, where the sun dripped red across the harbor. Seagulls floated across its face, pocking the sun with blemishes. Kathy said, "I need more sun." She crossed her palm with her forearm, comparing the whiteness. "You really look fine ," Simon said. "I want to be black. I want to look like a nut, " she said. "I want skin cancer before I'm twenty-five." Simon turned his head and breathed against the car window, misting it. He said, "It's winter, you know." Simon drove them home. He and Kathy wanted to get married, but Kathy tried to kill herself too often for either of them to commit to something permanent. He parked almost in front of the apartment, and came around the front of the car to open the door for her. She reached into the back seat for the brown paper package that they'd just retrieved from the post office and stepped onto the curb. Halfway up the stoop beneath their apartment, Simon kicked the bottom of Kathy's foot while she was between seeps. He wanted to see her look at him over her shoulder with half a smile and half a frown, pretending to be mad. She didn't—he'd knocked her foot off track enough to make her miss the step. Her support- ing foot slipped off a glassy patch of ice. Kathy cradled the package and snapped the fall with her elbows. Both dug into the corners of the concrete steps and spiked pain all the way to her chest. The elbows puffed like dumplings. Kathy lay still for a second and breathed sharply as tears bled into the corners of her eyes. Simon watched Kathy fall, and his stomach wrenched. He remembered seeing his father step on a steel pipe in the garage. His father's feet kicked into the air, and his upper back and head smacked into a pile of pipes on the ground. Simon had thought he was watching his father die. Simon lunged to grab Kathy, but he couldn't do more than flap his arms through the air. 'Tm sorry," he said, after she lay crumpled on the steps. Kathy reached and set her package two steps above her head, on the edge of the landing. Then she stood up like a baby giraffe afraid of snapping its knees. She grasped the handrail, but tried to nurse her elbows at the same time—she kept them pinched into her sides, like an old woman. Although the pain was in her arms, she limped up the steps. Simon grabbed her arm and Kathy swam herself free. He reached for her shoulder and she shrugged his hand off. Simon skipped up a step, picked up her package, and then opened the door on the landing and waited for Kathy to shuffle through. Inside the apartment, Kathy let Simon ease her peacoat off. He folded her coat over the edge of the recliner, shrugged off his matching coat, and set it on top of hers. He sat next to her on the sofa and rubbed her diamond solitaire with his thumb. Simon said, "I didn't think. Forgive me?" Kathy said, "Would you open my package for me?" Simon found a fillet knife and slit the brown paper and string, revealing a shoebox, which he handed to her. She pulled off the lid and picked out a wad of tissue paper that contained a worn wooden figurine. Kathy cooed. She looked up at Simon. "This is all I wanted of my mother's. It was all she had as a little girl." "I can polish it," he said. From her nod, Simon ducked into the kitchen and returned with a can of Pledge and a soft cloth. Kathy held the figurine gingerly, and Simon sprayed Pledge onto his cloth. Instead of vapor, however, green foam hissed out of the can and dripped onto the wooden coffee table. The puddle of de- natured Pledge soaked in. Kathy leaned back into the couch, clutch- ing her inheritance, while Simon dropped to his knees and tried to keep the Pledge from making a permanent mark. "Simon, what can you do right?" She placed her figurine on the mantle while Simon scrubbed. She walked into the darkened kitchen. Simon followed her and flipped the light switch on. "Could you leave the light off, please," Kathy said. Simon stood in the door with his hand on the switch and his mouth open. Simon watched a tear bead up under her half-inch eyelashes. He'd pulled the eyelashes once, just to make sure they were real, but had only gotten mascara-blackened fingers, a laugh, and a punch in the stomach for his troubles. "Could you turn the light off," she said. She marched three steps to the door and knocked the switch down, under his hand. She looked at his dim silhouette in the doorway, lightly haloed by the light from the living room. She sat at the table in the dark, while rain popped against the windows. Simon walked to the bedroom. After reading the latest Newsweek, Simon found Kathy bleeding on the kitchen table. She stood, then fell towards him. Kathy's blood soaked into his white shirt. Her eyes rolled white, like a horse corralled with a wolf, and she slumped. The hair ring- ing her face was soaked with blood, and her forehead was caked. He pressed his palms into her gashed wrists, but couldn't stop the flow. "Kathy. Kathy honey. Kathy stupid. Speak?" Simon held her up by her wrists, trying to keep her upright by pinning his elbows to her sides and pulling her against him. He took shuffling steps to drag her through the doorway and over by the phone. Simon knelt by the phone and eased Kathy to the floor next to the coffee table. Blood dripped from his hands and onto the front of Kathy's blouse. Simon knocked the receiver off the phone with his head and extended a pinkie to punch 911. He rested his face on the table to talk to the dispatcher and waited for the ambulance to come. Simon counted seconds while he waited for the ambulance. He appeased the dispatcher with shouted answers. The bleeding had mostly stopped when the ambulance crew burst through the door and carried Kathy away. * * * Simon waited at the hospital in a freckled vinyl chair welded to the wall. The greasy-haired man in ripped clothes, the lady in the pink pantsuit, and the boy in the corner all stared at Simon over the tops of their magazines. Simon yawned and felt the dried blood flake from his neck. He looked at his crimson-stained pants, shirt, and arms. Simon said, "Damn. Lady Macbeth can't hold a candle to me." He walked to the bathroom. Simon bent over a porcelain sink with the cold water running. He thrust his hands under the spray of water and let it pummel the blood from his skin, filling the sink with red water. Individual flakes left wavering trails of rust in the water as they settled to the bottom. Simon closed his eyes. A man in a Harris tweed suit stepped into the bathroom. He unzipped his pants as he walked by Simon, but he stopped half- way to a urinal and stared at Simon, who was filling a sink with Kathy's blood. The man gasped and leaped to the paper towel dispenser. He pulled the raw wood pulp towel protruding from the bottom and folded it over. Simon cocked his head to watch. The man jumped back, then grabbed Simon's left forearm and jerked it out of the sink. The man slapped the paper towel onto Simon's wrist, and said, "Don't hurt me. I'm here to help." The man clamped a hand onto the towel on Simon's wrist and turned to the dispenser for more. Simon parted his lips, then raised one eyebrow. He flexed his shoulder to pull his arm from the clawed hand, but instead of pulling simply let his arm go limp. Simon dropped to his knees and leaned his head against the sink. The man clenched Simon's limp arm tighter and furiously worked the crank of the towel dispenser. He tried to push through the crank's automatic stops, banging it forward without reversing. With a burst of adrenaline, the man succeeded in pulling the crank from the dispenser without releasing a single sheet. He said, "Don't worry. I'll save you." His voice cracked. Simon exploded with laughter. He said, "You don't . . . have to . . . worry." Simon tossed his head back for a full belly laugh, then gave it a full-throated follow-through and slammed his forehead onto the edge of the sink. He crumpled to the bathroom floor. The man finally let the crank clatter to the floor and pulled a white silk handkerchief from his breast pocket. He gritted his teeth and pressed the handkerchief to Simon's right wrist. The man shouted for help. White-coated men came. Simon awoke in starched white sheets, on a bed next to Kathy. The man stood between the beds cradling a bundle of black- eyed Susans, daisies, and two sunflowers. The man said, "Sorry." He turned the bundle towards Simon, then twisted around to Kathy, but kept the flowers in his arms. Simon rubbed the lump on his head. Kathy said, "You're not supposed to be here, Simon." "Maybe," said Simon. Kathy looked at the man. "Why are you here?" He said, "I was confused. I'm just sorry he got hurt." He shuffled his feet. "Could I give my flowers to someone?" Simon pointed to Kathy's nightstand. "Put them over there." Kathy smiled. "They're all like little suns." The man set the flowers next to Kathy. He said, "I didn't want to get involved." Simon said, "You were good. I thought it was funny." The man shrugged, and waved, and walked out the door. Simon looked at Kathy, who had laid a sunflower on her chest. He asked for the other, and Kathy passed it across to him. Simon looked at the flower's face of seeds. One of the buttery petals drooped into the face, like a shock of blond hair. He said, ''Are we going to be all right?" Kathy turned the sunflower on her chest face down. She said, "Of course."