I think I made some good progress today. I added a little over 2000 words, and I think I managed add some nice exploration of Marshall’s character and the reasons he’s doing what he is doing. It wasn’t a big day for plot, but I did move a couple of things forward. I got a nice note from someone today about the story. It was great to hear that someone out there is actually reading it. Thanks Deb!
Day Eight – 13783/50000 words
When they arrived back at his apartment, it was close to ten o’clock. Catrin insisted on helping him down the stairs, even though Marshall made it clear that he could manage. She put her arm around him as they went down, and continued to keep it there as they walked down the short hallway to his apartment. He wanted to be happy that a pretty young woman was holding on to him, but the fact that it was due to injury just made it the latest in a long series of people who felt they had to help him function. There had been physical therapists, occupational therapists, a case worker, and various friends and family who all thought he needed help. Marshall didn’t like needing help. Aside from a three year relationship in his twenties, he had lived alone his entire adult life. He hadn’t realized how much he valued his independence until it was threatened.
“Listen,” he said once they were back in his apartment. “I appreciate your help today. I barely know you and it was nice of you to take me to the doctor and all.” He felt her hand separate from his back. She took a step away from him and immediately missed it. “I just wanted to ask you not to tell anyone anything about my accident. You kind of got a glimpse into my medical history, and I kind of came here to avoid people who knew about that.”
“Oh,” Catrin said, “Yeah no problem. I get that completely. “I hate how much the people here think they know about me. Boy, that was not what I expected you to say.”
Marshall looked at her. Her cheeks seemed flushed. “What did you think I was going to say?”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said and turned her back on him and headed over to the freezer. “Let me get you your ice wrap. It should be good and cold by now.”
Marshall sat down on his couch. His leg was throbbing worse than it had before they had left. For a moment, Marshall allowed himself to speculate on just how much easier his day might have gone if he had never answered the knock on his door. Then he scolded himself. That was not a good way to think. Thinking positive had never been his strong suit, but he kept trying to learn the skill. It seemed like an important one to have if he was going to make the next forty-two years better than the last forty-two.
Catrin came over with the ice pack and a glass of water. “You need to elevate that leg,” she said.
Lifting his leg up from the floor, Marshall twisted around so that his leg went up on the arm of the couch. He found himself talking before he thought to edit. “I’ve never been very good with relationships. I never dated a lot. I used to be a pretty big guy. I met one woman though, Magda. She was older than me by about fifteen years. She wasn’t particularly attractive, or even very nice, but she liked me and at that point in my life that was good enough. So, I wouldn’t say we fell in love, but I moved in with her and for a while things were OK. It wasn’t a great relationship, but at least I was in a relationship and people stopped bothering me about being alone. I think the appeal was about the same for her. She had a son, just five years younger than I was, but she had never been married. So the only real relationship she had ever had was taking are of a young man, and I guess she liked that because she started doing it for me as well. I was always kind of a border in her life. One she could have sex with.”
Catrin had sat down at the kitchen table. She’d gotten one of the beers out of the refrigerator. She had unscrewed the top and was playing with the bottle cap. “So, for three years I was in this relationship. It was never going to lead anywhere, but it was still something. Eventually though, she got bitter. She kept accusing me of things. They were minor things like going through her photo albums, or denting her car. We stopped talking almost entirely. We stopped having sex. We would barely be in the same room.”
Marshall closed his eyes. He regretted starting the story, but he was caught up in it now. “Then one day things changed. I came home from work and she was incredibly nice to me. She cooked me a nice dinner. We had sex, we snuggled. She started talking about our future together. She wanted us to take a trip to Europe. I don’t know where she thought she was going to get the money for it. Anyway, to make a long story short, the next day I started looking for a new place to live.”
“You did what?” Catrin asked.
“Do you understand why?” Marshall said. Catrin didn’t say anything. He waited for a bit, just to see if she would come up with something, then he said. “At the time, I sure as hell didn’t know why. I just knew I had to get out of there. Now, after a few years distance, I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of things that are pretty much related. Either I was afraid of it becoming permanent and that being my life, or I finally realized that I was happier alone.”
With his eyes closed, Marshall could not see Catrin’s face, and she never said anything, so he let the rest of it come out. He felt sleepy and the words came out slowly. “She was way more upset, when I left, then I thought she would be. She took it very badly. At one point she ordered her son to find me and beat the hell out of me. He didn’t do it. He and I actually got along pretty well, and so he came and let me know. After that, there was a suicide attempt on her part. It was weird. It was apparently one of those cry-for help things. She was never in any real danger, but the weird thing was that when she did it, she didn’t call me or her son. She called her friend Sharon. I guess it makes sense. They had been friends since the third grade. I only heard about it through Sharon, who decided to call me and tell me how terrible I was. I changed my number after that.”
There was still silence. He felt himself drifting on the edge of sleep. He kept talking though. “I saw her only once after that. It was at a restaurant. I was having dinner with my sister. I should tell you about my sister sometime. Anyway, I was having dinner with sister. It was a restaurant, but one with a bar attached, kind of like tonight, and I saw Magda sitting at the bar. She was alone, and something about that made me feel sad for her. I pictured her life going on without me in one long chain of sad, lonely days. I’m not really sure if she ever saw me. If she did, she ignored me. Whatever the case, just as I was putting this heartbreaking narrative in my head, a man walked up to her. He was probably in his fifties. He had think hair, but gray. He was handsome though, in a way that I most definitely am not. He walked up to her and put his arm on her shoulder. She turned around and smiled, and then they kissed. It was just a quick peck of course. They didn’t make out in the bar or anything. But there was something so happy and relaxed about it. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to see that happen. The fact that she was happy, and he seemed happy with her, made me feel like life wasn’t so bad after all. There was someone out there for her.”
Marshall stopped talking then. He tried to remember the point he was trying to make to her. Was he trying to tell her that it would never work out between the two of them, or was he trying to tell her it would? He opened his eyes and looked over, and noticed she was gone. He closed his eyes again and said to the empty room. “Someday you’ll understand.”
Marshall woke up with a full-bore headache. He hated when they crept up on him in his sleep. Even worse, the ice pack was still wrapped around his foot and was room temperature. He decided to stay where he was on his couch and he started doing his breathing exercises: in for four, out for three. It felt like it took a long time to get it under control, but without his phone, but he had no direct view of a clock from the angle he was at, so he had no idea when it began or how long he kept up the breathing exercises. Time tended to get stretched out, or compressed, or otherwise mangled during a headache. He rode it out until the pain was just a trickle in the back of his head, then he got up. His ankle twinged with his first step, which strengthened his headache a little, but Marshall managed to walk across the floor and put his wrap in the freezer.
He looked at the clock and saw that it was seven in the morning. He had slept through the night. This made Marshall feel a little better. He had somehow gotten back to a normal schedule. Marshall limped his way to the bathroom. He felt like he had to pee very badly, but when he went to go, surprisingly little came out. “I’m dehydrated,” he said to his reflection in the mirror. He realized he needed a shave too, so he ran the water to get it warm and applied some shaving gel to his face. He stood staring at his reflection, covered in a green-white beard, for a long time before he grabbed the razor from its little cup and let it get wet under the hot water. He shaved slowly and deliberately. His hand wasn’t shaking, but he felt like it might start.
When he finished shaving he looked at his reflection in the mirror. His face looked thin. His face had never looked thin before. “Hello stranger,” he said. He remembered the scale from the day before. “I weigh 199 pounds,” he said to his reflection. He smiled at himself, but he didn’t quite like the look of it so he stopped. Limping back into the kitchen, he opened a cabinet and took out a jar of peanut butter. He ate a spoonful, and then made himself a glass of water from the tap to wash it down. He took turns eating spoonfuls of peanut butter and drinking water until his belly felt tight. In all, he consumed three glasses of water and half a twenty-ounce jar of peanut butter. This seemed like an improvement.
Marshall looked over at his phone. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt like there was something on there he didn’t want to deal with yet. Instead, he took his hand crank radio / flashlight out of the cabinet and carried it with him to his bed. He lay down on the bed and turned the crank a few dozen times, then turned on the radio. A somewhat tinny version of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain was playing. He stared up at his ceiling and listened to the radio. Warren Zevon followed James Taylor, which led to Steely Dan, and after that The Beatles. Marshall didn’t quite fall asleep, but he drifted along with the music, his brain never settling too hard on any particular thought. Lying perfectly still, in just the right position, nothing seemed to hurt. His headache had faded. His ankle was content to stay where it was. He wondered how long it would last. He thought about Catrin. Yesterday had been weirdly pleasant, considering it involved a trip to the doctor. He realized that he was looking forward to seeing her today, even if it did involve a trip to the Sheriff.
When his phone started to ring, he considered not getting up to get it. It was a fleeting thought though, passing though his head as he was already rolling his body to get up out of bed.