I hit the clicker. I was, I realized, like the stock market. My day-to-day progress in rehab, and any healing I’d done since my injury; all of that was just noise. Nothing but temporary victories obscuring my regression line: a steady downward slope of permanent compromises. I’d given up driving at night, and then given up driving almost entirely. No more smoking in front of the television; no more smoking indoors at all. No more eating the foods I liked. No more walking up staircases.
Everything I had was just something I could lose. My son. My house. My mobility. My mind.
The door of the unit opened, and Rose came in. She’d joined a mah-jongg club that met in the main sitting area every afternoon, during the time I usually went to sleep for a while, after rehab. As far as I knew, she had never played mah-jongg before we moved to Valhalla, and she’d never shown any interest in games of that sort, so I suspected she was just using it as an excuse to get away from me for a while.
She looked at the television: “Is there any good news?” she asked.
“Is there ever?”
At two in the afternoon, the phone rang and woke me up. Nobody calls me at two in the afternoon. Courteous people show some goddamn respect for naptime, and anyway, not that many people call me to begin with. Mostly just my daughter-in-law, who calls once or twice during the week to check in, and my grandson, who calls every Sunday, just before dinner.
I yelled at Rose to pick it up, but she wasn’t in the apartment, so I grabbed the cordless handset off the nightstand and pushed the talk button.
“What is it?”
Instead of a response, I heard a dial tone, and somewhere else in the room, a phone was still ringing. I was briefly confused, and then I realized that call was coming in on my cell.
I never got calls on the cell; that phone was just for emergencies. Except, I’d given that number to Elijah. I didn’t want him to call on the regular phone, because Rose might pick that one up. I’d meant to put the cellular someplace I could get to it easily, but I was tired and angry after having such a poor session at rehab, and I forgot. I left the damn thing in the pocket of my pants, which were now draped over the recliner chair, all the way across the room.
I’d never be able to pick it up in time, and I didn’t know how to call him back. The cell held on to the numbers of recent missed calls, but Elijah was likely to be calling from a pay phone or some other untraceable location. I didn’t have much of an understanding of how these machines worked, but I knew that he wasn’t the sort of man who could be reached by hitting the redial button.
Ninety-two days, I’d been doing my rehab. Hurting myself and pushing my body to the point of total exhaustion. If I couldn’t get out of bed to pick up the phone, what was the point of any of it?
It was only a few weeks previous that I’d managed, for the first time since my injury, to get out of bed without any help, and it seemed like a huge triumph after three months of having to call building staff into the unit every day to lift me upright. But the process still took me several minutes, including a couple of brief rests to catch my breath. The phone would ring for maybe twenty seconds.
Rushing this was not a great idea. If I put too much weight on my legs all at once, they might give out, and then I’d fall and hit my head on the floor and die like an asshole. A needless risk to get a phone call that I shouldn’t even be taking.
But sooner or later, I was probably going to die like an asshole anyway.
I slid my left leg onto the floor and reached for the stability rail on the wall. With my other hand, I grabbed on to the walker, which I’d parked next to the bed.
Thus secured, I slid my right leg to the floor, clenched my teeth, and attempted to sit up. The motion strained my weak core muscles and yanked at the tight scar on my lower back where I’d been sewn