Prompt #2: A piece in which something is broken
The first thing he saw upon entering the front door was his wife prostrated on the kitchen floor, a puddle of broken glass digging harshly upward into her knees and the makings of today’s dinner, scalloped potatoes, overturned onto the linoleum floor in front of her. She jumped when she heard the door close, and a sob escaped her lips when she saw her husband enter the room cautiously.
“Oh, you scared me,” she sniffed through her tears, wiping her eyes hastily with the back of her trembling left hand. Her wedding ring left a faint scratch on her cheek as it brushed across her skin.
She looked down at her knees and couldn’t help but emit a small chuckle, which was then enveloped by another tearful heave. “God.” Her hands shook as she held them out palms down; when she turned them over, they were spotted with scratches and blood from landing hands-first onto the glass shards.
He quickly dropped his briefcase into the nearest kitchen chair and hastened to his wife’s side. “What happened?” he said gently. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes.” She nodded, then immediately shook her head. Another wave of fear lurched over her uncontrollably. “No. Hold me.”
Dropping to his knees onto the glass-ridden floor, he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and wove his fingers through her hair, listening to her ragged breathing and short sniffles. The glass bit through his pants into his knees, too, but neither husband nor wife moved; he could feel her whole body shaking in his arms. He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and squeezed her tightly. He wanted nothing more than to calm her again, to make her feel safe and secure again.
Several minutes passed with no words exchanged. Only the wind blustering outside and her slowing breaths prevented total silence. After a moment, he broke their embrace and lifted her chin, raising her eyes to his. “How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know, maybe 20 minutes,” she whispered. “I was moving the pan from the counter to the oven to start dinner when I felt it slipping.” A pause. “It happens so much now that I consciously try to be careful. But Icunndoennythinabuddit,” She stopped and blinked hard. When she opened her mouth a second time, she spoke deliberately, with exaggerated enunciation. “I could not do anything about it. Fuck.”
“Shh, shhh,” he whispered, taking her by the hand. As they stood up together, slowly, her left knee swayed dangerously, causing her to stagger forward against him. “How’re your legs? Can you sit down in this chair while I clean this up?” He placed her gently in the kitchen chair next to him, then stood back up and left the room to find a broom and dustpan. When he returned, she was still sitting in the chair, but now she had pulled her knees up to her chest and was hugging her ankles. The tops of her knees were spattered with blood, which had dripped and dried slowly down the sides of her legs.
First he picked up the largest pieces of glass and carefully placed them in the garbage can; the smaller pieces he swept up into the dustpan slowly and pinched the glass dust with his fingers, brushing it all away. Then he returned with two wet paper towels, one for the ruined potatoes on the floor and the other for her bloody knees. He scooped the food into a cheesy mess in his hands. “Well, I guess dinner is served!”
She let out a hearty guffaw before a hiccup overcame her and her eyes brimmed with tears again. “That’s not funny,” she croaked in the tiniest voice.
The smile left his face quickly. He could see the intense fear in her eyes tonight; other nights a joke would have gone over just fine. “I know you have that number in your head, I know you do,” he said, tossing the ruined paper towel into the trash can. “But you have to stop thinking that way — we both do. Yeah, it might be three years like the doctor said; it just might. But it might also be five years, or 10 years—”
“Or one year,” she whispered, her throat suddenly seizing up. “It might be one year, too.”
He exhaled harshly. They’d had a similar conversation too many times in the past two months, since they first got the news. Every time she dropped anything or slipped on a spot of rough terrain, her breath would sharpen and she would squeeze his hand tightly, as if to say, Is it happening now? Is this it?
Not tonight. He hung his head in frustration, then stood and grabbed her hands, pulling her out of the chair. “Come on. Let’s have dinner.”
She braced herself against him as she stood, and allowed him to lead her to the kitchen again. Everything was where it had been an hour ago when she started preparing food, except the knife she had been using to slice the potatoes, which had fallen on the floor. He leaned over and picked it up, placing the handle gently back in her hand. Then he wrapped his own fingers around hers and gently helped guide the knife through the softened potatoes. She took a deep breath and steadied herself. The trembling stopped for now.