Wendy wore black. He loved that most about her. She made her way over, careful, slow steps, like a deer, like he was extending bits of food.
“Your arms are smaller than mine. I just need to loosen that nut. But I can’t reach it,” Carl said over the exposed engine.
“Smaller,” she repeated and made a show of flexing her arms.
He laughed, “You’re just more compact, is all. Come on, sweetheart. Give it a throw?”
She pulled her hair into a ponytail. Maybe it was her hair he loved most. She bent over the engine and maneuvered the socket into place. She had to stand on her toes. He leaned back and watched. Maybe it was her ass he loved most.
She worked cautiously at first. One hand resting on the carburetor for balance. She held the wrench awkwardly—difficult to find leverage in such a small space.
“Fucking thing,” said Carl.
Wendy looked at him, sad-eyed. “It’s not a big deal. Can’t we just take it to the shop?”
Carl shook his head and smiled, “Let me back in there. I’ll get the fucker off.”
“Patience, Carl. Patience.”
She adjusted the socket wrench so that she could get both hands to it. With one elbow framed against the air filter she was able to apply more torque.
“Careful,” Carl said.
Her face turned red as she put more of her body weight into the push.
“Careful,” Carl repeated, leaning over the far side of the engine.
With one more deep breath the nut broke loose and Wendy’s hand punched through to the engine block. She jumped back and let out a feral yelp.
“God dammit,” Carl said. “Are you okay?”
She held the new wound to her lips and a line of blood crept down her chin. Her wide, watery eyes glared with unwavering intensity.
“Let’s go to the sink and have a look.” He handed her a clean rag and she pulled her hand away from her mouth. Carl’s heart skipped a beat when he saw how much it was bleeding.
They made it to the sink and she placed it under the cool water.
“What the fuck?” he said. She didn’t dare look. The blood ceased its flow abruptly and you could see bone, as clear as day and white as snow.
“What the fuck?” Carl repeated.
“Is it bad?” she asked through clenched teeth.
“We just need to get you to a doctor. Jesus. Oh God.”
They took his work truck and he punched it out of the driveway. He couldn’t look at her. Her complexion pallored as shadows of street signs danced across her face. Occasionally she’d touch her hand to her lips.
“Turn on the radio or something,” she said. “I can’t bear to listen to the throbbing.”
He fumbled with the radio dial. Country music blared.
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden,
He moved to turn it down, but she shook her head.
One night a wild young cowboy came in,
He dared a quick glance at her hand. The wound had grown to twice its size—more and more bone.
“Don’t pick,” he cried out. “We’re almost there, just a few more miles.”
with wicked Felina, the girl that I loved.
He let her out in front of the emergency room doors. By the time he joined her inside she was already sitting.
There were four other people waiting: a mother and her son, a short-haired woman and a square-shaped man. Each—except the mother—had injuries similar to Wendy’s. The boy’s outstretched elbow showed a swath of bone the size of an egg. The short-haired woman held her face in her hands, looking forward toward nothing, and under her right eye was the same thing. Bright white. Smaller than the boy’s and in the shape of Illinois. The square-shaped man had a gash across his forehead. The flickering of the fluorescent bulb cast the injury in stuttered light.
Carl sat down next to Wendy and touched her good hand, “What’s going on here?”
“What do you mean?” she was annoyed with the question and didn’t hide it. “I’m waiting for them to come get me and put me back together, Carl. Because of you.”
He blinked his eyes as a sudden headache built above his nose.
“But, what about them?” he motioned his head toward the others.
She scanned the room then looked at him and shook her head. “That’s none of our business Carl. You need to stay focused.”
Three of her knuckles were now totally revealed and the injury crept up the back of her hand. He sat with her for what felt like forever. Fifteen minutes. Occasionally the square-shaped man would hum and the short-haired woman would make a show of adjusting in her seat. Carl focused on his feet. Every time he looked up their wounds seemed to grow. His heart thumped in his ears.
“I’m going to see what’s taking so long,” he said, mostly to himself as he stood.
The nurse working the front desk didn’t acknowledge him immediately, eventually pointing to an intercom button. She was safely tucked behind a plastic window.
He pressed, “What’s going on here?”
“Excuse me?” she responded.
“Wendy. She’s been over there for an eternity. Fifteen minutes. Twenty. Her hand, it’s…” he looked back at Wendy and took a deep breath, “… falling apart. It’s a major issue. We need help.” His words knocked together. “Right now, please. Right fucking now.”
“Sir, please watch your language. We’ll get to her soon enough.”
He looked over his shoulder again. The mother and son both looked at him. The boy’s wound now nearly encompassed his whole arm.
“When?” Carl whispered. “Please.”
“Sir, I assure you help is on the way.”
“She’ll die out here, you stupid bitch.”
The mother covered her son’s ears and gasped. Carl felt the eyes of the room dig into him.
The nurse smiled and nodded, “Okay sir, I’m gonna call security now.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Carl, “I just…” he put his face in his hands. The nurse was already on the phone, still nodding.
Before he could turn around security had arrived. Two men. A small man with a small mustache and a much larger man. The smaller man wore the clothes of an hourly security guard with an emblem on his chest reminiscent of Nazi-era aesthetic, meant to strike fear. The larger was an actual police officer. Barrel chested, gun at the ready, super-human smile.
“Everything alright here?” asked the officer, never losing eye contact.
“Yeah, is everything all right?” repeated the security guard, never making eye contact.
Carl nodded. “Fine, fine. Just waiting in the waiting room with Wendy.”
“Who’s Wendy?” asked the officer.
The security guard opened his mouth, but the officer lifted his hand in protest, always smiling.
“What does it matter who? She’s sick and they won’t help her.” He pointed at the nurse. “They lack urgency. There is no urgency here.”
“How about we step outside for a minute, Mister… What did you say your name was?”
“No,” Carl said. “Wendy needs me.”
“Wendy’s fine,” the officer said and motioned for the security guard to move behind Carl. “We’re gonna take this conversation outside. Let the autumn air cool us.” The officer winked.
“No,” Carl repeated.
The officer’s gaze faltered for a quick second, he seemed to be examining something just outside of Carl. “Only two ways, sir. There’s the front door and there’s the side door. Do you understand?” the officer said, eyes refocused.
Carl looked back and forth from the guard to the officer. Nothing was making sense.
“You see, I’m the side door,” the officer continued. “I exist as an act of kindness. Pure kindness. Unburdened by evil. You understand?”
Carl laughed nervously, “You have the wrong guy. I’m here for Wendy. Her skin is—it’s melting.”
In one lightning-fast movement, Carl was on the ground. The officer had pulled Carl’s arm one way and swept his legs the other. Guiding him down in an almost tender embrace.
The security guard yipped and clapped his hands together. “Great. Wow,” he yelled out.
The officer leaned over Carl, his smile ever wider, and said “The side door, then.”
Carl looked back at Wendy as the officer pushed him down a long hallway. She seemed fine. She smiled a full smile and Carl remembered that that was why he loved her most. Her teeth. Strange that he would’ve forgotten that, he thought. He waved and immediately regretted it because when she waved back he could see that her hand was mostly bone now. He felt himself scream, but couldn’t hear anything.
The officer and the guard accompanied Carl all the way to his car.
“Now, I’m gonna let you sit out here. Wendy is a beautiful woman. I’d hate for her to be stranded. But just remember what I told you.”
“Two ways?” asked Carl looking up from his driver’s seat.
“There is only one way, Carl.” The officer finally stopped smiling.
The guard did two fast punches in the air and yelled out, “One way, buddy,” and slammed Carl’s door.