Short Stories

Sweet Em
March 21, 2019
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Photo by Brooks Leibee on Unsplash

Previously on Biker’s Island …

The day Alan stumbled through my door reeking of liquor, I didn’t have the foresight to stop what was coming. I was groggy from the remnants of morphine I had received that morning before I was discharged from the hospital. The stitches on my leg felt tight and sore. To keep from scratching and pulling on them, I had popped more painkillers in the hopes that they would knock me out for a few more hours. Still, I have to wonder. Could I have known that trouble wasn’t far behind?

I was snoozing on the couch when Josh – who had by this time learned the sound of his father’s car at the gate – rushed out. His face was still wrinkled with sleep, having just stirred from a nap of his own. He unlatched the gate with the strength of a boy twice his age and before I could protest, let his father in. He, of course, saw no reason why I would object to that. It was the weekend and he’d gotten accustomed to his father coming around on weekends. Only I knew that that particular Sunday wasn’t Alan’s weekend. To my fury, Alan had broken the only condition I was categorical about. He’d shown up hammered. But then I’d just been in a biking accident and word had gotten around. A silly part of me thought, with a tinge of delight, that he’d come to look in on the mother of his child.

It was five o’clock in the evening when he showed up unannounced. The last of the sun was shimmering between the branches of the weeping bottlebrush my dad planted in the backyard. The sky was a rich tangerine orange; daytime was sighing it’s last before bowing to the night. Lenny had just ducked out to get popcorn for the movie marathon ahead. We were going to start with Mary Poppins Returns during which Josh would inevitably fall asleep. After we put him to bed, we’d watch the movies we really wanted. Something mushy because we’d just had a scare and I had the first pick. I hadn’t gotten round to watching Adrift but I’d watched the trailer. I thought it had just enough mush and besides, I’d liked Sam Claflin on Me Before You. How could I not have known?

*

The previous day was a Saturday and Lenny had taken me out riding on the cruiser. We’d gone out in the morning before the sun got too hot. After that first fight, all walls had been stripped away. We were as synched as one human being can become with another. I’d have a song playing in my mind and then he’d sing it aloud. Twice I’d been thinking about calling him when my phone rang and his name popped up on the screen. It wasn’t just the little things either. We had a transcendent evolution in our relationship. He allowed himself to be vulnerable despite being afraid that I would reject him. I stilled my anxiety to love his darkness without being afraid that I would one day be on the receiving end of it. Our bond didn’t fray or break. It held fast. We were in a great place.

I was on the handlebars. We had been talking and laughing. Lenny was braving my hair in his face to kiss the tattoo on the back of my neck. I’d gotten the hang of riding, even picking up speed because Lenny said any slower and we’d topple over. Coming up to a bend, a matte black van speeding up the wrong lane surprised us. I swerved away hard. Too hard. The bike skidded. We tipped over and the motorcycle continued hurtling down the slope and appeared to have been stopped by a tree stump.

My breath fogged up the visor on the helmet that was slowly asphyxiating me like a boa constrictor. A sharp pain stabbed my shoulder when I tried to take it off. I might have torn a ligament. Through the haze, I could see savanna grass in my peripheral field of vision. Directly above was a wisp of cloud and a hawk hovering in a mostly clear sky. It was a great day to be out riding. I might even have enjoyed the view if not for my predicament.

I tried to take it off again, this time bracing myself for the pain. I managed to wrestle the glove off one hand and wriggle out of the helmet. Blood dribbled out of the side of my mouth where I’d bitten my tongue on impact. I tasted dust on my lips. Fetid burnt rubber made my stomach roil, but not as much as the ghastly white sight of my shin scraped to the bone. The ringing in my ears subsided so that I could now hear the wind whistling through the valley below. I had a few more glorious moments of shock before my body reoriented itself and registered the extent of my injuries. A few more seconds before warm blood snaked down my leg.

Lenny found me trying to stand up. He said his elbow was bruised from breaking his fall and that his calf pinched a little but that was all. If I could rest my weight on my right leg and keep off the injured leg we could get back up to the road and flag down a car.

“Did I completely ruin it?” I asked glancing at the twisted cruiser.

“It’s just metal Em, don’t worry about it.”

“We can’t just leave it there.”

“We have to get you to a hospital,” he said. “I called Mike, he’ll come take care of it.”

I managed a laugh. “I really wish you hadn’t called Mike. You know he tells Janet everything and Janet can’t keep anything to herself. Everyone will know before we get to a hospital.”

Did I know then? Perhaps. Perhaps what I was really worried about wasn’t that everyone would find out. Rather, that Alan would.

“Mike is the only one I know with a pick-up truck.”

There was, of course, the little matter of me being an unlicensed rider that I had completely forgotten about. I could feel myself getting faint and growing limp at Lenny’s side. I tried to keep talking to distract myself but I couldn’t say anything just then. I bit back the pain. On the road, the cars were few and far between. Lenny had a hard time getting at least three cars to stop for us. The last thing I remember was the smell of dried grass when he sat me down before I passed out.

I came to once, in a stranger’s car. Through a slit in my eyes, I made out red, green and yellow equalizer music bars. Kwangaru was playing on the stereo and I wanted to wake up and tell them to shut it off because I thought it might kill me before my injuries had their chance.

*

When I awoke again I was on an exam table in a hospital cubicle. Lenny’s voice floated through the curtain. I inferred from his end of the conversation that he was talking to Mike about the bike. There was a nurse hovering over me while a doctor stitched up my leg.

“What’s your pain level?” the doctor asked when the nurse informed him that I was awake.

“Uhm, actually I can’t feel my leg,” I said, alarmed.

“Good. It’s still there,” he chuckled. “We’ve just numbed it.”

I sighed mirthlessly. Amputation jokes aren’t funny when you’re the butt of them. The doctor said I had to have an x-ray to make sure my leg wasn’t fractured but it wasn’t swollen so I wasn’t too worried about that.

“Will it leave a bad scar?”

A bad scar. That was my biggest concern. It was all I could talk about while Lenny wheeled me to the wing with the X-ray machine. I did notice him limping but he’d said that his calf was pinching a little. I should’ve said something. I should’ve insisted that he get it checked but he was on the phone the whole time sorting out the mess I created. Besides, he’d made it clear that he could take care of himself. I, on the other hand, was relieved not to have to take care of everything myself. I was not alone. I could breathe.

They kept me overnight for observation and as I had predicted, Janet, Mike, and Fiona – who brought the kids – flocked my hospital room. I would’ve preferred that Josh not see me immobilized on a hospital bed. It scared him. Both he and Lenny remained unusually quiet while the rest tried to keep the room alive with good vibes as people do in hospital rooms. I wasn’t calling the shots though and no one asked me whether or not it was a good idea to call Alan. No one has copped to that offense yet.

*

We spent Sunday morning waiting for a doctor to make his rounds and discharge me and an even longer time trying to sort out payment of the bill. By the time we left for home, I was more than ready. I suppose no one had had a good night’s sleep because we all dozed off after lunch.

*

As soon as Lenny walked back into the house, the air went so thin I began to feel like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. He did look winded from the walk, or perhaps from the displeasure of coming back to an uninvited guest. The conversation went a little bit like this.

Alan clapping Lenny on his shoulder, “Bro, This here is my family.” He thumped himself on the chest. “As a man, as a man -”

Lenny shrugged Alan’s hand off his shoulder and set the popcorn on the couch. The movement set Alan off balance, making him stagger back.

“As a man, ehe,” Lenny said pressing his lips together.

“As a man,” Alan continued to slur, “I cannot allow you, me as a man,” his hand to the chest again, “To put them in danger. You see?”

“Alan,” I tried to interject.

“Nonononono, please, please,” he raised his open palms to his chest. “This is between us men. This is between me and this fella…this…tall, black, eer… eer…Biker! Biker, sindio? Hawa ndio mnapenda! Don’t speak on his behalf unless he’s a -”

“Hey, I think you should leave now.”

“I am here to see my family. That boy you see there is mine and this woman is the mother of my child -”

“No problem, you’ve seen them. They’re fine. And I’m here now. It’s time for you to leave.”

Lenny made to show him out the door and for a moment I was glad. Josh was starting to get upset and everything Alan was saying irked me. It wasn’t his place to speak on my behalf. I had no doubt that Lenny would handle it; get him to leave without causing a scene in front of the boy. But Alan wouldn’t take kindly to being bundled out. He had come to assert himself and this time would not go away quietly. At the last moment, he turned back and lurched at him, pounding him right on the chest. Popcorn flew everywhere as they jostled in my living room. I threw my blanket off and swang my leg slowly off the couch keeping in mind that my stitches could rip. Alan was yelling and I was yelling back. I don’t remember exactly what he was saying but I’ve thought about it now and it might’ve been, “Fight back!”

I remember noticing that Lenny wouldn’t fight back and I thought perhaps he was doing it out of honor. What kind of man pounds another in front of his son? I did wish he would fight back though. Because then I wouldn’t have seen the nose bleed, heard the coughing and the strained breathing and been so desperate to stop it all that I took out the gun from the safe in the next room. It wasn’t loaded, but it was menacing enough that it would get Alan’s attention. If I got him distracted for just a little bit, Lenny might be able to catch his breath. Maybe even get a punch in. Hell, maybe the mere sight of the Glock would get Alan to stop and leave. Wasn’t that what it was for? To protect us?

I hoped it would throw him off because Alan had never seen dangerous Emily before. He’d known the Emily without a backbone, with nothing to hold herself up. In our relationship, I had been a vine and he had been the tree – my only chance at catching some sunlight for myself. He had known the Emily who had worried her hair off her scalp. The Emily who slowly eviscerated herself in order to keep loving him. Sweet Em the tender mother and lover; but he hadn’t met this Emily. I was a new woman, fortified with the love of a man who made me brave in ways I’d never before imagined.

It might’ve worked out easy-peasy had the gun not been loaded. I got Josh out of the room, held up the gun and because my voice was reduced to water in my stomach, I went up to Alan and willed him to look up. He stood upright, staggered and said, “You want to shoot me? Go ahead!”

“Leave.” My fingers trembled. My voice shook. I had anticipated that he would underestimate me and he did. He dared me. Goaded me.

“Shoot me,” he said. “Shoot me!”

I expected a click. A click would be enough to demonstrate my seriousness. He’d hear it and know what I’d done. Then I’d put in a new clip and he’d watch me do it flawlessly. He’d know I wasn’t kidding. Instead, the recoil threw me off balance. The shot ripped through the air jolting me into ducking down as though I wasn’t the source of danger. A shell flew in the air and I caught it on the side of my eye ricocheting against the wall. With the gun surprisingly still in my hand, I covered my head until the sound stopped reverberating. I realized after a beat that the ringing was in my hot ear and stood up. I looked at the scene before me without registering anything.

The magazine was empty courtesy of my insistence on keeping the ammunition separate from the gun, but Lenny, anticipating a situation in which he needed to use the gun quickly, left a round in the chamber. I couldn’t blame him. We didn’t foresee any situation in which I’d be the one wielding the gun.

Blood pulsed in my fingers and I became very aware of it coursing all over my body and pooling at my feet. One moment I was standing and the next I was crumpled on the floor like a silk dress. I remember feeling my fingers being pried open and releasing the gun without protest. Then, the light gave way to darkness.

***

Biker’s Island continues next week.

19

About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u is a Published Poet and Founder of The Hooting Owl. She is an irretrievable, tea-loving nightowl with an ardor for matters of Personal Development.

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  • mary wanjiku

    Whaaaaat?
    The suspense….