By Mary Jo Melone
. . .
More and more, doctors were filling the hours of her life. They behaved as though she might splinter at any moment, like an old boat battered against a dock one last time. This doctor told her to extend one foot outward and close her eyes. That was a hard favor to ask of a woman disinclined to trust, but she also knew well that ancient lesson of how to be a well-behaved girl and do as she was told.
The doctor wanted to know what she was feeling. Like you’re running a feather across my toes, she said. Now, the doctor said. Nothing, she answered. Again? Still nothing. Maybe a pinprick.
Now the other foot, the doctor said. Now. Stop with that feather, she said. Stop tickling me. Now, said the doctor, all low-throated command in his voice, as if in frustration that she wasn’t obeying, and she let out a yell that might have been heard down a turn or two of the hospital corridor beyond the closed door of the examining room.
He said it was good to know she wasn’t entirely dead. His idea of a joke. He told her to open her eyes and look at what he had been sticking her with it, an open safety pin, big enough for a weapon.
Her feet were going numb. He called what she might have neuropathy, said it meant the messages from her brain to her feet, that communicated the body’s sense of itself in space and powered her balance, weren’t getting through, said that was why she found herself nearly falling and not infrequently staggering, as though she were drunk.
It was true the landscape was shifting, trembling, and her ability to name what she witnessed was slipping. Neuropathy might be what the doctor called what had unsteadied her, but that was not the word she would choose. That word, she could not summon.
He handed her a scribbled note directing her to still another test, asked her to return in a month, and turn over another hour of her life to him.
She secured her mask around her ears before she stepped out into daylight. The doctor had never asked whether she was wearing it, whether she was staying indoors for all but the most necessary of trips, to avoid the disease, the irritation of tear gas that still sometimes lingered from the night into day, the occasional man in a grocery who drew his gun on the store clerk who asked him to wear a mask like everybody else. A few employees had died this way. At home, she isolated herself even from the TV, where the police cracked heads, most of them black, some white. She hated blood, always preferred her own invisibility, She’d heard crazy talk from friends that the election would be postponed, that the man who spouted about carnage would hang on.
She supposed the doctor had never asked about the mask because they were all supposed to be inured to the chaos by now, to walk through the fear while denying its presence, to go numb the way her feet had.
Her legs wavered for no reason she recognized, and she reached out for a concrete column by the hospital entrance. A security guard asked if she needed a wheelchair. No. Absolutely not. I need to go home. I need my car.
If you have a valet ticket, the valet can get it, the guard said. She ignored him and set out, keeping one hand against the wall of the building as she headed to the garage. The thought of one day needing a cane discouraged her, but she would take her place in line and walk, even if such a hobbled march made no more difference than an unanswered shout in the dark.
. . .
Mary Jo Melone’s stories have appeared in The Iron Horse Literary Review, 2 Bridges Review, Gris-Gris, Philadelphia Stories, Crack the Spine, and 15 Views of Tampa Bay. Her non-fiction has appeared in the Tampa Review.
She worked for many years as a metro columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times. She began her career as a radio journalist. She holds an MFA from the University of South Florida and as an adjunct professor, teaches Florida fiction in a writing and research course at the University of Tampa. She has attended the Yale Writers Workshop and received an Individual Artists Grant from the Hillsborough County Arts Council.