The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. In less than a minute, I found myself in physical therapy. Like the rest of the hospital, the room was green-tile sterile, but someone had made an effort to cheer it up. Porcelain clowns lined the windowsill. Stuffed circus animals—lions and elephants and a family of monkeys—surrounded the rack that held the free weights. And a variety of fresh-cut flowers had been set in mugs in the cup holder for each exercise bicycle and treadmill. Later, I’d learn from Ralph that Becky kept them fresh, paying for them out of her own pocket. He said she’d deny it, but he’d seen her sneak in on more than one Monday morning with an armful.
Fresh-cut flowers. Mom used to get them every Monday as well, to brighten up the gingerbread house. But after Dad died, she started leaving them too long, not replacing them until they’d decayed so badly they smelled. After Joey died, she stopped buying them altogether.
The girl I met in the courtyard stood over a rolling aluminum table, organizing things I didn’t much like the look of. She was sufficiently absorbed that she didn’t notice us until Ralph called out.
“Afternoon, Becky. Brought you some fresh meat.”
She turned and grinned. “Always love a new victim.”
“Great. I’ll leave you two alone. Sounds like you need some privacy.”
After he left, she went back to finishing her preparations, making me wait. Finally, she came over and extended a hand.
“We already met, but let’s make it official. You’re Lt. Williams, but I can call you Freddie. I’m your worst nightmare, but you can call me Becky.”
I reached out and shook her hand. She didn’t seem scary.
“Ralph says you’re the best, that if anybody can bring me back, you can.”
“Ralph’s wrong. I’m just the guide. You’re going to do most of the work.”
“But are you the best?”
“Let’s say I haven’t lost one yet.”
“So I’ll be back on the basketball court in no time.”
Her grin vanished. She grabbed a chair, dragged it over and sat next to me.
“We’re going to be spending a lot of time together, Freddie, so we need to be straight with each other, right from the outset. My goal is to get you back to as normal a life as possible. If you work hard, I’ll have you out of that wheelchair and on crutches in a month. A month after that, maybe a cane. Beyond that, we’ll see. I make no promises other than to work as hard as you will.”
She stared at me. I stared back, captivated by my reflection in her gray-green eyes. She blinked first and went back to the rolling table.
. . . . . . .
She sat down again and undid the Velcro from my brace.
I winced. I hadn’t looked at my leg much since my peek the week before. The incision was less angry and the oozing had stopped. But what shocked me were the muscles. Where once I had bulges, now there were hollows. Not the leg of an athlete or soldier. Not the leg of a guy who might someday dunk. The leg of an invalid. Becky’s words rattled around in my brain. Crutches, then a cane. After that, we’ll see.
“It may not be pretty,” she said, as if she’d read my mind, “but it’s yours. Take a good look. Let it motivate you when you start making progress. And trust me, you will make progress.”
She squeezed some ointment from a tube onto her hands and rubbed them together.
“This will feel a little cold.”
She spread the ointment, swirling her fingertips over what had once been my quad. When she started the e-stim treatment, I felt the muscle spasm and contract involuntarily, a strange but not entirely unpleasant feeling. As she slid the wand around, humming along to its buzz, I noticed her touch more than the current.
She spoke out of nowhere. “I read the report. Says you have no family.”
I kept staring at her making figure-eights on my leg.
“Is that right?” she said.
“I was born an orphan.”
She turned off the e-stim and looked up at me.
“Want to talk about it?”
“Ralph said you don’t talk much.”
“I talk when I want to. I don’t want to talk now.”
“Fine with me.” She resumed the treatment, hummed a few more bars, and then spoke without looking up. “Ralph was right about another thing.”
“You are a hard case.”
She was quiet after that, going about her job while I focused on the clowns at the windowsill. Every now and then, I’d sneak a look at her. A beautiful, happy optimist. But she’d never lived my life.
Crutches and a cane. After that, we’ll see. I was different from her—a realist. I knew what “we’ll see” meant. I’d need more than physical therapy to bring me back. I’d need a miracle.
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Genre – Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy
Rating – PG