Considering a Story Told by My Mother About a Patient
An hour before the tire of her husband’s car crushed the first through fifth metatarsals of her right foot, did her son ask her, How do you tell if an egg has gone bad? Did she, then, remove the carton of eggs from the fridge, perhaps organic, brown and freckled, and place them on the counter by the stove top? Get a bowl, sweet-pea, she may have said to her eight-year-old boy, maybe named Lucas or Arthur or Nico, Just deep enough. One day after her husband agreed to stay and work on things for a bit longer, she may have brought out the stepping stool for the boy, so he could hover over the counter and see right down into the metal mixing bowl, medium-sized, maybe, nothing larger, right before she filled the bowl three-quarters of the way full with cold tap water. Now, she may have said, dropping three or four eggs, one by one, into the bowl, If they sink to the very bottom, then they’re still very fresh. Grounded means they’re as safe as can be. Dropping the third egg, she may have said, If the egg dances lightly on the bottom of the bowl, then it’s not as fresh but still perfectly fine to eat. Then, maybe, dropping the fourth, she could have said, encouraging Luke to evaluate the contents of the bowl, If the egg floats all the way to the surface, if its toes don’t touch the ground anymore, then it’s bad. So very bad. Do. Not. Eat.
At the end of the demonstration, maybe, the boy stuck his hand into the cold bowl to cook the floating eggs, mistaking weightlessness for something good. Maybe she slapped his hand, sending the eggs to crack on the floor. Maybe, she made him get on his knees to scrub up the gooey mess, to make up for what you did. Maybe, she said, You’re just as careless as your father.
Or maybe she told him to remove the perfectly fine, perfectly edible eggs from the bowl and crack them into another bowl for immediate scrambling. Whatever the state of these eggs, the state of this mother and son, I will never know.
What I heard and what I know: this woman, her legs spread in stirrups, a paper gown shielding aching breasts, told her doctor, my mother, this: one month ago, fifteen minutes after omelettes, when her husband got up from the breakfast table and said he had changed his mind, had decided he was in real love again, his wife planted her foot behind his rear right tire, and, when he told her to move, she didn’t.
In the exam room, the woman’s foot dangled from the end of the reclining table, her belly filmed in jelly, right metatarsal yellow-bruised, the dance over now.
Lee Matalone writes a column on death and loss for The Rumpus. Her fiction has appeared in Nat. Brut, Joyland, Cosmonaut’s Avenue, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, among other publications. She lives in Louisiana.
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