"That's O.K.," he assured her through not quite clenched teeth. The white around his mouth told her a lot more about the pain he was experiencing than the strained smile and automatic response.
"Let me take a look at it," she replied, hating herself for lapsing into the proper mother's role.
"No, no. It'll be fine. Bleeding is good for a wound, you know. Cleanses it. Washes away all the dirt, they say."
Allie ignored his protests and bent down to take a closer look. The slash in his shin was about one inch long. She didn't like the way it was gaping open, almost as if a chip of brick were lodged in the wound. "Why don't you go over and sit down in one of the patio chairs so I can see better?"
"No, I'm all right I said," but Allie sensed that clipped response was said not so much out of irritation as out of the need to keep his responses short.
"At least let me get some ice to try to slow down some of the bleeding," she suggested. She knew she had to get this man to sit down before he fainted. "Please just go sit on the chair, prop up your leg, and I'll go get some ice." If she could get him to sit down and elevate the leg, maybe she could get a better look at the suspicious looking gap in the gash.
As Allie sprinted up the two steps from the patio to the driveway, she said a little prayer that Mike hadn't used up all the ice cubes and put the tray back into the freezer empty, as he so often did. Now that the boys were beyond the state of falling on their faces and getting big knots on their foreheads, she had been less vigilant about making sure the ice cube bin was always full.
When she opened the freezer door, she was relieved to find the ice trays full, even if the bin for cubes was empty. She hadn't noticed Steve sitting in the breakfast room pouring over his freetyling magazine until she took the ice trays over to the sink and unceremoniously whacked them on the side of the sink, sending two dozen cubes careening noisily around the stainless steel pen.
"Mike said some weirdo was mowing the lawn."
"Steve, please run upstairs and get me some old towels out of the rag bag."
"Old towels? Who threw up?"
"Nobody, at least not yet. I need them to wrap ice in." And to sop up the blood, she thought.
"Who's the ice for?"
"Later, Steve. Just get me the towels. Rag bag towels, not the ones in the linen closet, all right? I'll tell you about it later." Once I find out his name myself, she groaned. She had filled a plastic bag with ice and cleaned up the chips off the floor before she finally heard the rag bag thumping down the steps a la Winnie the Pooh. As Steve rounded the door, rag bag in tow, he picked up where he had left off with the questions.
"What's going on, Mom?"
"Just give me a couple of towels -- and get your shoes on, both of you. I think we're going to have to take him to the hospital."
Steve pivoted on his one heel and darted off back upstairs, knocking over the rag bag in the process, spewing the torn, frayed, and tattered contents about the kitchen floor. Allie grabbed several towel remnants and burst out the door herself. When she got back outside, she could see that at least he had enough sense to follow her instructions and sit in one patio chair, propping up his bleeding leg on the other.
"How's it doing?" she asked as she approached him from the driveway. She didn't really expect him to be very good, but his back was towards her and she didn't want to come up behind him and surprise him-just in case he was privately grimicing.
"I think I'll live," he said, "but I'm not sure about the lawnmower." He didn't try to turn around when he responded to her question, but his voice had lost that edge of panic, much to her relief. She was encouraged that he could even joke about it a bit.
"Forget the lawnmower. Do you mind if I look at the gash?"
"Yes, I mind. Just let me put the ice on it a bit and I'll get out of here and stop dripping blood on your patio."
"It looks as if there's a sliver of brick in the cut -- I wish you'd let me take a look at it."
"Are you a nurse of something?"
"No." Allie was glad to see the color back in his face, even if he was being obnoxious about letting her see the cut. "But I have two sons, one of whom managed to bang himself up at a fairly regular rate. Wrap the towel around the ice so it keeps your skin from getting frostbitten."
"I thought the whole point was to keep it cold."
"Cold, yes. Freezing, no." He fumbled around with the towel-encrusted ice bag and Allie thought he was going to dump the contents all over the patio before he got the gash covered. In arranging the ice bag on his leg, he had lumped up the towel, leaving too much towel here, too little there.
"Here, let me help you." He didn't argue this time, but he refused to look her in the face as he handed the ice bag over to her. Instead, he busied himself studying the cut -- much in the same manner she poked at the dirt on the lawnmower with a stick. She knew the ploy well. She rewrapped the ice bag and moved towards him, ready to place it on the gash.
"Oh, no you don't."
"I won't slap it on there," Allie replied indignantly.
"I know, I know. Just let me do it." His color may be better and he may be joking some, Allie thought, but she knew that the leg must be hurting him quite a bit if he insisted upon placing the ice bag on it himself. Carefully he eased the lumpy towel of ice onto the gash, trying not to wince too much as he did so, Allie guessed.
"Hey, I hear Mom's going to have to take you to the hospital," Mike blurted out with his usual lack of tact.
"Who says?" he challenged a bit too quickly.
"She does," Mike responded, his voice trailing off, indicating that maybe he wasn't quite so sure of his announcement any longer.
"Mike, hush. We haven't even talked hospital yet."
"I don't need anybody to take me to the hospital. I can drive myself there."
"With a bag of ice tied to your leg?" It was Allie's turn to smirk now.
"No, no. I'll just keep the ice on it until the bleeding stops a little and then I'll go to the hospital myself."
"Why don't you let me take you," Allie offered. "It's the least I can do under the circumstances. And anyway, that car has stick shift, doesn't it?"
"Of course," he said with a hint of hauteur in his voice. Aha, Allie thought. We're getting down to the real jock under that sensitive exterior.
"And you plan on shifting with that gash in your leg, even without the ice bag?"
"Sure do." Allie could see there was little point in trying to inject a little reality into this man's suddenly apparent macho fantasies. Alas, he had seemed so uncharacteristically decent there for a while, she had really gotten her hopes up. Better to get him up and off her patio and out of here as soon as possible.
"Are you ready to stand up now?"
He practiced looking casual about the prospect by wiping the excess drying blood off his leg, finally taking a firm grasp of the edge of the table before trying to put his food down on the ground. There was no wincing this time, presumably because he was in tight control of the effort on his part. The beads of sweat on his forehead were not due to the tropical summer weather, she was sure, but rather to his close study of the engorged tube sock wrinkled up around his ankle, the blood already blackening as it dried. Without thinking, Allie put her hands under his nearest arm as he struggled to get on his feet. He jumped-and winced.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." He was on his good leg now, trying to ease the foot of his bad one down on the patio.
"See. I can manage."
Yeah, sure, just like a kid, she thought.
"Manage is about the size of it," she blurted out. "How are you going to make it across that lumpy grass?"
"Very carefully." The three of them watched in silence as he determinedly put one foot in front of the other, absolutely unwilling to admit what it cost him to do so. Never one to mince words, Mike commented none to quietly, "Mom, that guy's nuts." "I think you may have a point there," she replied just loud enough that she hoped he heard her remark . They watched his every faltering step, but finally he got to the car, opened the door, eased in ever so carefully, slid his right leg under the steering wheel, and very cautiously lifted his left leg up with both his hands under his upper left thigh to maneuver the gashed leg into the car. He reached out to close the door but did not twist his body sideways to do so, staring straight ahead the whole time. Gripping the steering wheel with both hands just a telltale bit longer than usual before putting the key into the ignition, he fired up the engine. It caught immediately and hummed away in the manner of a well-cared for, well-tuned machine. But, being a TR-3, the car did vibrate quite a bit, nonetheless.
She wondered what that was costing him, but of course, the real test was yet to come-the big shift. She couldn't see his face as he thudded into first gear, but he pulled away from the curb jerkily, so she suspected he had let the clutch out none too easily. Before he had driven out of sight, she had picked up the raggy mess from her patio. The kids ran on ahead into the house, stopping to watch him negotiate the turn onto the main road.
"He made it onto Main Street, but jerked around a lot," Mike reported.
Allie forgot about the lawnmower as she trudged up the steps into the kitchen, tossed the soggy rags into the kitchen sink, and began putting the turned-over ragbag back together. She had no sooner gotten them all stuffed back into the bag and dug down into the bowels of the linen closet to try to make some space on the floor for it when she heard Mike yell something at her. She backed out and asked what was going on. He was clearly excited about something.
"He's back in the driveway."
"What do you mean he's back in the driveway?"
"Back in the driveway? On foot?"
"No, don't be silly. In his car. I think you'd better go see what's up."
"Did he say anthing?" she asked as they both tromped down the steps, soon joined by Steve whose radar had informed him there was another commotion.
"Not much. Just asked if I'd get you. He had sort of a funny grin on his face," Mike volunteered, but added "I don't really think he thought it was very funny, though."
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