There was an accident, one afternoon, with the buzz saw. He hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before and took his eyes off the machine for a second.
It was so routine. He’d worked as a carpenter or handyman for more than forty years. This once, though, there was a flaw in the wood, or his hand slipped, and the blade severed his fingers. Things happen so fast, sometimes.
He called his wife from the hospital. She didn’t believe him at first. They’d given him a painkiller, and he was a little loopy.
“Peter,” she said, and her voice echoed in a way that made him laugh.
She sighed. She was busy, he could tell. Distracted. She asked, “Where are you really?”
“At the hospital,” he said, “I swear,” but he was choking down the laughter.
Once, years earlier, he had called her from a bar. In the booth, feeding a quarter into the pay phone, he had barely been able to stand upright. She had come looking for him then, and put his arm around her shoulders to help guide him out to the car.
Where was he now? The question haunted him. He fell back against the pillows with the phone pressed to his ear. His mouth was dry.
There was something significant that he had meant to tell his wife.
His hand. The bandages. He couldn’t remember what he had already said.
It could wait. But the words came out as another question. It could wait? He felt the urge to laugh again but didn’t.
Her voice drifted farther and farther away from him.
Suddenly nothing seemed funny anymore.
“Please don’t hang up,” he said, and she didn’t.
Leah Browning is the author of three short nonfiction books and six chapbooks. Her most recent chapbook of short fiction, Orchard City, was published by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2017. Browning’s fiction and poetry have appeared in The Broadkill Review, Mojave River Review, Four Way Review, Poetry South, The Stillwater Review, and elsewhere. Her work has also appeared in anthologies including The Doll Collection from Terrapin Books and Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence from White Pine Press.