by Gina Troisi
I didn’t know whether I’d be able to do it
again, ever. I lay on the couch in the living
room with my eyes closed, imagined the
mangled skin on what was left of my leg, when
Sheila came by unannounced. She walked into
the house carrying a casserole. “I’ll put this in
the freezer,” she said. She offered to bring me
beer or milk from the kitchen, wanting to wait
on me in a way she never had when we were
married. Even suggested she give me a neck
rub, but I didn’t have the strength to move. I
liked it—her company. I was still so zonked out
on painkillers that I wasn’t even sure what was
real. The smell of smoke, of burning skin,
seemed years away, as if it had been someone
else running the race, some other poor guy’s
legs blasted out from underneath him. It felt
like the last ten years hadn’t happened, like
Sheila hadn’t ever left and married Doug.

I dozed in and out, catching glimpses of a
movie on TV—something our daughter used to
watch about a bunch of kids traveling
underground, searching for a buried treasure.
Sheila sat across from me on the loveseat. She
walked toward me with a plate of cheese and
crackers, tried to feed me small pieces. I shook
my head. I hadn’t even been able to think of
food, my stomach was so tweaked.

She held a bowl with a wet cloth that she kept
wringing out, then spread it across my
forehead. It felt softer than any of the towels I
own, the way a meal tastes better when
someone else cooks it. “Does that feel good?”
she asked. I nodded through Percocet laden
dreams. Woodsy trails with orange leaves. A
pink horizon seen from the middle of the ocean.

Sheila started to pull the elastic band of my
pants; I felt myself get hard, but my knee was
throbbing, and the pain was stronger. Then I
felt her tongue. In the ten years we were
married I don’t remember ever feeling her
tongue on me down there, not like that. It was
the strangest sensation, this feeling of being
stabbed in the leg, of raw, relentless hurt and
deadened nerves, so close in proximity, tingling
their way back to life. I could tell that she was
working hard to get me there, to wake me up
from the pull of sleep. To remind me of my
hunger. I asked her for a drink. “Something
strong,” I said. “I’m sorry.” She said nothing,
just stood up and found the glasses, the ice.
“Thank you,” I whispered, gulping, the burn of
bourbon a relief.

She took the empty glass from me, placed it on
the floor. “Do you want me to stop?”

“No.” The presence of pain was still there,
behind the film of booze coating my throat. The
pain pressed with a steady, relentless pulse.
But I was hard. She leaned down, touched my
stomach, peeled my pants back again. Her
mouth was cold from ice cubes, and I shivered.
“You’re killing me,” I said.

“I’m trying to do the opposite.”

“What about Doug?” I asked, half hoping she’d
stop in case I was unable to follow through. I
didn’t give a fuck about her new husband, or
their marriage, but I didn’t want her to see me
so incapacitated—I wouldn’t be able to take the
way she’d look at me afterward, the
disappointment stroked across her face, as if I
had held the power to save and release her at
the same time, and let it go. As if I had no fight

“Let me just do this for you,” she said. It was
the first time in weeks that I felt any semblance
of something other than pain. I stared at the
ceiling, but I was outside my body too.
Lingering there in the room while still hovering
above the finish line at the same time. Her
mouth closed, and I felt myself growing. I
grabbed her shoulders and reached to lift her
shirt, but she said, “Don’t move,” and pulled it
up and over. She wore one of those lacy bras,
the kind I used to love, that you could see her
nipples through, the fabric scratching my skin.
It was never our sex life that had been lacking—
I always wanted her, and I knew she wanted
me too—it was everything else that had come
undone. But now there it was, the type of
compassion neither of us exhibited when living
together. It was different from anything we had
shared during years of marriage. Different than
bringing our daughter into the world, raising
her, one of us holding her afloat in the pool
while the other taught her to kick. Different
from nights of roasted chickens and black tea
and wine. It was a rare tuning in and turning
toward one another, a syncing with the rhythm
of the other, the silent voices spurred from a
language of flesh and bone. It was the potency
and poetry of pain alongside pleasure, the
urgency of the situation that kept me there in
her mouth, her hands digging into my thighs.

“This has nothing to do with Doug,” she said.
“This is history.”

Gina Troisi received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from The
University of Maine's Stonecoast MFA Program in 2009. Her
prose has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous literary
journals and anthologies, including The Gettysburg Review,
Fourth Genre, Fugue, and Flyway: Journal of Writing and
Environment. Her memoir, The Angle of Flickering Light, is
due to be published by Vine Leaves Press in April of 2021.
She is currently at work on a novel-in-stories.