She Falls Down -- Short Story
Originally published in Opium Magazine
She Falls Down
She falls down. Whenever I kiss her. Whenever I ask her where she's been. Whenever she sees Mr. Miyagi nod at Ralph Macchio in the last scene of The Karate Kid.
It's a congenital neurological disorder. Something about the frontal lobe. Something about endorphins and oxygen, extreme emotions cutting off blood flow. I can never pay attention to the doctors long enough to understand it. Apparently, it's common in a certain kind of goat.
But what does it matter? It is what it is. It's not going to change how I feel. It's not going to change how I act.
"I'll be damned if I'm going to walk on egg shells around you," I tell her.
She collapses. Of course.
The bruises scatter across the back of her head, her neck, her thighs, her shoulder blades. They become constellations of our emotional life one week at a time. Each purple blotch is a memory. This is the argument over the fact that my mother still buys my underwear. This is the gentle kiss I placed on her throat last week. This is the time I told her I dreamt we were old and married with six children, one five years old, slightly retarded, and unable to pronounce "Mom," so instead she called her "Mush."
I've tried placing pillows around the house. We've coated the coffee table in bubble wrap. It only helps a little. The world has more edges than you can soften. We never realize how much things hurt until she falls on them.
And I've tried catching her. Admittedly, I used to put more effort into it, but it doesn't matter. What am I going to do? Make sure I'm standing behind her every time I open my mouth, every time the Bee Gees come over the radio, every time the newspaper runs a story about some kid with no legs who's competing in the state high school pole vault finals. At best I could get to her half the time, and even then I can barely break her fall. It's not like in the movies. When women fall, they fall hard. Dead weight--even 120 pounds of it--is heavy enough to knock you on your ass.
I tried to leave her once. This was before we moved in together. Back when we'd been dating for a month or two. We'd gone out for tappas at some new Mediterranean place. I'd had three glasses of plum wine and told her I thought I was falling in love. She shattered her wine glass with her face, then slumped sideways out her chair and hit the ground nose first. Blood everywhere.
"It's for the best," I told her in the emergency room lobby.
She wobbled slightly, put a hand on one of the plastic chairs. "This is me," she said. "With you, without you. You can't change that."
"But I'm obviously not healthy for you," I said, clumsily gesturing toward the gauze covering half her face.
"It's not about me. I'm fine with this. I've lived with it my whole life, and I can handle it. Maybe you can't. Maybe I'm not healthy for you, but don't act like you're doing me any favors."
There you had it. It was like a challenge. Stick around or admit I was a wuss. Plus, plum wine or not, I was falling in love with her.
In time, I actually grew used to her condition. It was exciting in a way. We lived always on the edge. Each moment held the promise of disaster. She fell down the steps. She knocked over breakables. She crashed into the shower curtain, tearing it loose from the rod ring by ring as her wet naked back clung to it. She fell over while driving, slumped against my shoulder as I frantically grasped the wheel and steered us into the curb.
By the time we moved in together I'd grown fascinated with the things that might knock her over. I kept a record of her collapses. Monday: Found out sister was pregnant -- fell into living room entertainment center. Tuesday: talked to mother on phone -- tumbled head-first into kitchen sink. Wednesday: found old high school year book -- slumped gently to bedroom floor.
The more time we spent together, the more fascinated I grew with the whole thing. Sometimes I would just sit and watch her, waiting for the moment her body would slip from her control. You could see it almost before it happened. Her muscles would suddenly relax, an eerie calm washing across her flesh. Then everything would go slack. I'd watch her shoulders slump and knees buckle, everything so fluid, so free. All of it giving in only to gravity, limbs splayed across the floor like something spilled.
I have over 100 photographs of her collapsed on the carpet, draped over a sofa, stretched out on a staircase. No two poses are the same.
So we're together for a year, and things are good. But then about a month ago, she starts disappearing for long stretches. Showing up after nights away with bruises I'd never seen before. She asks me to touch them, press my fingers into their center so she can feel the pain fresh.
Obviously, confronting her gets me nowhere. So I hack into her e-mail. I get her password "gravitylove1" in three guesses and find all these cryptic messages from some guy she works with. Chris. It's all inside jokes and innuendo, so who knows? But then I call around, ask her other coworkers.
"Has she been falling down a lot at the office lately?" I ask.
They tell me yeah, and I know I'm screwed.
Week by week I see her less and less. She goes days without falling in front of me.
Of course, I torture myself wondering what he has that I don't. Plush furniture? Padded floors? Does she want the falls to be better or worse? Should I buy some marble end tables? Rig up a system of ropes and pulleys so she can move about the house without ever touching the floor?
It's no use. If I bring it up she gets moody and distant. "You don't get it," she says. "There's more to me than this. The majority of the time, I'm on my feet. You'd think you could show some interest in that."
A week ago we get into a screaming match over a long bruise on her calf I'd never seen before. I call her a whore, a slut. I break down in ridiculous tears, fall to the floor. She doesn't even look dizzy.
Then, last night without coming home, she calls to tell me she's leaving. She'll be coming by today to pack up her stuff. I begged her not to bring him with her. Then I went to sleep and had this dream.
It's all I can think of now. Like a revelation, an omen, something.
I dreamt I built her a house without floors. A world without floors. It was one of those dreams that seems like it goes on for weeks. She fell endlessly, her limbs limp, contorting in slow circles as she tumbled against nothing. I woke up with my hair wet at the temples from my tears, my face sore from smiling.
When she gets here I will tell her about the dream. How her back arched and her legs swam wildly, how she turned clumsy somersaults over and over, how her hair spun out from her head, tangling around her fingers as they grasped at the air. I will make her see herself through my eyes—endless, free.
I can only hope that there's enough still there to knock her on her ass. That she will fall and I will tell her the dream over and over. That I will tell her the dream, and she will never leave.
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