She is admiring his firm legs, the round of his bottom, and there it is. A purple bruise the size of a flattened orange on his left hip.
She drops the pillow she was plumping. “Where’d you get that bruise?”
He looks down, touches the bruise, shrugs. “It’s just a bruise.”
“It’s really dark.” The bruise is a dull purple, like a matte finish photo. “So, where’d you get it?”
He climbs into bed and pulls the sheet up to his chest. His shoulders are broad. They usually tempt her. He gives her his sheepish look. “I don’t want to tell you.”
Now she knows. “I’m not getting in bed until you do.” It is cold and she is naked and he can hold out longer than she can. People think she’s the stubborn one. He doesn’t show the mule part in public.
“I didn’t want to worry you.” He smiles his little mustache grin at her, the one that is supposed to woo her. She would love to stand there, hands on her hips, all righteous indignation, but he would just laugh at her. And he would be right. She would look silly.
The corners of the smile turn up right into the ends of his mustache. Forty years and it’s still endearing. She gives in. “You fell off your bicycle.”
A lift of his shoulders. “You know that narrow bike lane on Broadway?”
She knows. He rants about it. Lousy planning. Too many hotels. Cars in the bike lane. Oblivious entitled people. One of many rants. Right hooks, dooring, stupidly entitled drivers honking, lifting middle fingers, cursing.
He wants her to bike with him. He doesn’t get that every rant makes it less likely she’ll ever do that.
“I thought you weren’t taking Broadway anymore,” she says.
He looks out the window. There is nothing to see out there. It’s dark. A moonless night. He turns back to her. “Anyway, I got hit by a side view mirror. Big SUV. Knocked me off.”
She pulls the sheet back and climbs in bed, lies flat on her back staring at the ceiling.
He kisses her neck. That certain spot below her ear. “Emma, c’mon.”
She reaches over and runs her hand up his thigh till she finds the bruise, hot under her fingers. It is pulsing. She feels an answering pulse where she doesn’t want to feel one. Not tonight. This bruise is not going to woo her.
He pushes himself up and rests on an elbow. “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
Again. She rolls onto her side away from him. He stays leaning over her for a moment, then sighs, flops down, an exaggerated flop, and turns his back.
When the clock chimes two, she is still awake, all the ways he can be hurt or maimed or killed on that bicycle running in a loop. All the ways her fear of risk disappoints him. The balance of accommodation in this marriage, any marriage.
The next morning, he puts on his helmet for his daily ride, snaps the strap under his chin. She picks up her purse and keys. She is having breakfast with a friend. He wheels his bike through the living room from the balcony and struggles with the door to their apartment. His bottom is almost as fetching in the tight bike shorts as it was naked. Still, she doesn’t help him.
He turns at the last second. “I’ll text you when I’m home,” he says. “Tell Julia ‘hi.’”
The slam of the door cuts off anything she might have said.
It is time to find another book about taking risks. She reads them compulsively. The polar explorers. Shackleton and poor doomed Scott. Nansen. Cherry-Garrard. Denali’s Howl, that excruciating one about the twelve young men in Alaska. Seven had died. She hadn’t slept for a week after finishing it. Maybe she’ll just reread Into Thin Air. It’s in the stack on her bedside table. Krakauer actually has moments when he wonders what his risk taking costs his wife. She read somewhere that his wife threatened to leave him if he didn’t stop climbing. She wishes she could talk to her.
The café is bright and bustling around them. Julia crosses her knife and fork on her plate and pushes it to the side. She leans forward, saying something about staff being let go at the library. Emma isn’t following the thread of the story. Music sounds from nearby, not the Gillian Welch the café is playing. Vivaldi she thinks, just as Julia says, “Emma, isn’t that your phone?”
She fumbles in her purse, looks at the screen. “It’s Tony,” she says. “He shouldn’t be calling now.” He shouldn’t be calling at all. A text to let her know he is home safe is their standing agreement.
She jabs the button. “Tony?” she says. Traffic noises, muffled. “Tony,” louder. Nothing. “Tony?” She tries to keep her voice down. This is a restaurant, after all, and she never likes it when people talk loudly on their phones.
More traffic noise. Then a siren. Getting closer. Her breathing feels like the air is passing through a squeezed tube. “Oh god, it’s a siren,” she says and Julia reaches across the table for her free hand. The call drops away.
“I have to go.” She grabs her purse from the back of the chair, opens it, scrambling for bills.
“I’ll get it,” Julia says. “Call me.”
She is in the car, trying to turn left onto Morrison. Going to work traffic. No one lets her in. Finally she swings into a small break, hears the loud honk behind her, glances in the rear-view mirror. A Dodge Ram bears down on her. She resists flipping the driver the bird.
She crosses the river, slows for the bottleneck coming off the bridge onto Washington. He never takes 3rd. Fifth is the bus mall. He wouldn’t take Broadway again. Eleventh has the streetcar tracks. One of his spills a while ago. Not as bad as the black ice spill. His shoulder still gives him trouble from that one.
Thirteenth. Has to be. Vivaldi again. She looks for a place to pull over. Just a bus stop. She checks the rear-view mirror. No bus. She pulls in. Grabs the phone. “What happened?”
“She drove right into me,” he says. “I was in the bike lane.” His voice is perplexed, as if that should have protected him.
“You called and didn’t say anything.”
“The cops came right when I called. They wanted my statement and the driver’s. She stayed. And it was noisy. You know how noisy it is on 13th by 405.”
She was right. She wants to feel a moment of triumph but can’t muster it. “Where are you?”
“The ER. They want to do an x-ray.”
“How did you get there?”
“I rode my bike. You were having breakfast with Julia.”
“I heard a siren.” She wants to scream it at him.
“The cops called an ambulance.”
“But you didn’t take it.” Of course he didn’t. She knew what the next sentence would be.
“I didn’t want to leave my bike.”
Right again. A long honk behind her. Bus 15. “I’ve got to move. I’ll be there in five.”
She finds him in a curtained cubicle, looking smaller in a hospital gown. “I didn’t hit my head,” he says, as if she should be proud of him. “I landed on my side.”
Later, she can’t remember the hospital.
That night the bruise is a purple splotch on the side of his thigh. She rubs Arnica on it. The flesh is tight under her fingers, not an ounce of fat. He winces and shifts away from her. She caps the Arnica and tosses the tube on the bedside table.
“Hey,” he says. “It’s not like I want to climb Everest.”
He’s right and that makes her angrier.
Next day the bruise spreads and darkens. By nighttime the whole side of his thigh is black purple and hot under her hand. She buys another tube of Arnica, a bigger one. And she buys The Climb, Anatoli Boukreev’s version of the 1996 Everest disasters. He’s so hard-core, so unforgiving of anyone who questions risk taking, that she’s avoided it.
The bruise sends out streaks in back of the knee and down the calf, like tails off a storm cloud. The tails thicken. She has never seen a bruise this dark or this big. It is spectacular, magnificent even. Each time she tells the story, she calls the color aubergine, a joke as if joking could quell her fear. Her friends smile when she tells them that she knew where to find him. She is the heroine of the story, riding off to save her man. She doesn’t tell them he rode his bike to the hospital.
He has her take pictures with his phone. People gasp when he shows them. “I was lucky,” he says, an unwarranted note of pride in his voice.
A week later the bruise has crept near his ankle. Finally, it runs along the side of his foot in a single purple line. By this time there are spots of yellow green blooming on his upper thigh where the bruise began.
She lies beside him. He is turned away from her. He can’t lie on the side with the bruise, can’t spoon her the way he does before she yields to sleep. She presses against him. His skin is cool, slightly damp. They fit together the way they always have. She kisses the back of his neck, the freckle on his shoulder. He smells of the Borage soap he prefers. She is slightly allergic to it, but it keeps his skin from breaking out.
She rests her hand on his thigh. The bruise warms it, right to her fingertips. “Just a bruise,” she says.
She closes her eyes, feels her own thigh. A bruise. It is warm. It grows. Its deep purple spreads across her bottom, up her back and over her shoulders, over her breasts, belly, and legs until her whole body is a dark purple mass under her hands.
Helen Sinoradzki’s work has been published in various journals, including Bellingham Review, Gravel, and Gulf Stream. She has finished a memoir about being in a Catholic cult and is working on a collection of stories. An English teacher turned technical writer turned indie bookseller, she moved to Portland, Oregon, 25 years ago and plans to stay for the rest of her life.