03/05/2009, 7:37 AM #
Edith walked slowly through the automatic sliding door of Publix, making sure to put her cane down firmly with every step of her left foot. She focused on this new three step walking because she had been warned, in not-so-pleasant terms, what disaster awaited should she misstep and fall on her newly installed hip.
Dizzy for a moment from the slap of the humid air and the brightness of the sun, Edith stopped and took a deep breath. Charlie maneuvered the cart around her still form, and paused by her side.
“You okay?” He spoke softly, trying to be patient. He’d been doing the shopping for over a year, and he enjoyed his solitary traipsing up and down the aisles. Charlie thought about how his character was still being built as he wrestled with impatience these days, now that Edith had to exercise that plastic and metal contraption in her hip.
“I’m fine,” Edith breathed. “It just took my breath away, this heat did.”
Edith’s voice was low and rumbly, Charlie has always liked that. Her voice softened his irritation, just as it has done for the last fifty-six years of married life.
“Here, hang on to the side of the cart, I’ll go slow,” Charlie offered.
“No, no, I have to work with this cane. I have to get the hang of it,” Edith said. “You go on to the car, I’ll get there.”
Charlie moved carefully across the lane of traffic, looking both ways and making sure the lunchtime crowds in sedans, college students in sports cars, and moms in SUVs saw him and his cart as he inched toward the silver Buick parked in the first handicapped spot outside the exit. If the drivers slowed down for him, he reasoned, then they’d sure see Edith coming along behind.
Charlie got the groceries loaded into the trunk and shut the lid. He checked on Edith making her way across the parking lot, then he moved toward the driver’s door to get in and get the air conditioning going before helping Edith with her door.
As he glanced back at Edith, things seemed to move fast and slow at the same time.
Shuffling her way to the car, Edith caught her foot on the concrete barrier, swayed gently and then fell to the ground like a tree chopped at the root. Charlie flt the thump in his chest as her body hit the ground, as if something great had struck him in the sternum. Horror wiped his mind blank, and for a split second he froze in place. Next thing he knew he was kneeling next to Edith, looking into her face and touching her softly on the arm, searching for signs of breathing.
“Edith, Edith,” breathlessly Charlie called to her as if she were far away. “Edith, are you alright?” He felt a lump forming in his throat and tear prick his eyelids.
“Oh Lord, Charlie, oh Lord,” was all Edith could say.
Once she caught her breath, Edith strained to get up but nothing seemed to work. The veins and tendons drew taut from neck to shoulder as she lifted her head. Her feet came off the ground two or three inches as, with great exertion, she tried to upright herself. She couldn’t think. All she could do was flex muscles, any muscles, trying to make something work. Heat radiated off the black asphalt and tiny sharp edges of rock and stone bit into the flesh of her lower back where it pressed onto the pavement. Embarrassment pushed her blood pressure higher and Edith felt her bladder release. An even warmer wetness now seeped up her back.
“Oh my God, Charlie, get me up,” Edith pleaded. Tears dripped down the outsides of her eyes, into her ears.
“Yes, yes, of course, just lie here for a minute and make sure you’re okay first.” Charlie felt adrenaline pound into his head.
“Excuse me, sir, may I help?” a soft voice came out of nowhere.
“I’m fine. We’re fine,” Charlie snapped, not knowing who was talking, unable to see the young woman offering to help.
Yvonne Lee was on her way to pick up cabbages and carrots to take to work at the Rice Bowl, a Vietnamese restaurant where she worked as a chef. Her heart had leapt into her throat when she saw Eidth fall, and she had immediately rushed over to assist.
At the same time, Greg Nettles came up behind Charlie. Having parked his car, he was on his way into Publix for beer and chips. Greg had also seen Edith fall, and made a beeline toward the couple struggling on the ground.
Knowing he should be grateful for their help, Charlie just felt anger rising in his throat, replacing the sad lump with rage.
“We’re FINE!” he nearly yelled. “We’re just fine, I can do this myself.” Impotence fueled the short, fiery fit of pique and then left Charlie limp.
“Of course you are,” said Yvonne softly. Then to Edith, “Here, rest your head for a moment, ma’am,” and she gently placed her neatly folded apron under Edith’s head.
Greg squatted on the other side of Edith’s head and looked kindly into her eyes. “We’ll have you up and in the car in no time, ma’am, no need to worry.”
Edith closed her eyes.
Charlie felt the lump and the tears again. Sorrow threatened to overwhelm him. Can’t I even take care of my own wife? He moaned to himself, but he nodded at the strangers, and held Edith’s right hand.
Greg looked at Yvonne and they nodded to each other. Some kind of telepathy brought instant recognition to them, a sense of what was needed. Each gently placed a hand under Edith’s shoulders, cradling her neck and head.
“Okay, sir, you gently guide her up to standing and we’ll follow,” Greg said with tender firmness. As if on cue the three of them floated Edith to a standing position.
With her can rigidly held in her hand, Edith commanded her body to stay erect. Waves of pain in her hip, her back and her elbows nearly threatened to blot her out. She felt nausea rising from her gut with humiliation right behind. She took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly.
“Thank you,” she said simply and quietly.
Being closest to the car, Yvonne opened the passenger door and Charlie slowly turned Edith around and guided her into the seat. Lovingly he lifted her feet and swung them into the car. He positioned the cane along the seat next to her, and carefully pulled the seatbelt across her lap, inserting the metal tip into the buckle by the console.
He cautiously withdrew from the car, and shut the door, turning to thank the strangers who had come to his aid.
They were gone.
Charlie scanned the parking lot, the entrance to Publix. Nothing. He looked down. The woman had taken her apron. Nothing remained of that moment, except a small dark puddle on the shimmering black asphalt. Soon it, too, would evaporate.