Lean Too Far
Joanne Faries

Matthew hefted the chainsaw to his other hand. Faded blue eyes squinted as sunlight leaked through the branches of the tree. One more dead limb and I’m done.  He wanted to finish before his daughter, Alexis, arrived with dinner. Matthew leaned against the old oak, rearranged his footing on a solid branch, fired up the saw, and swayed.  

“Dad, you’re in the hospital. Don’t move.” Alexis patted his arm. He blinked, could hear her and yet, he ached and choked. “Ssh. You’re tubed and need to rest. Don’t worry.”  

As days and weeks passed, Matthew pieced together the story. Early September at his Chestnut Hill home, he’d been clearing dead branches. Sue, his “new” wife, was out in Lancaster to visit her daughters. He sniffed. Sure, they’d been married a year, but at age eighty for him and seventy-six for her, what was the point? She could polka, but he should have left her at the dance hall. Bossy and not a good cook like his Julia. Now, that woman was a wife. A tear rolled out the left eye, but he couldn’t raise a hand to wipe it.  

Darn, if he hadn’t leaned too far, caught the saw wrong, and crashed out of that tree. He remembered pain, immobility, and Alexis’s cries. Vaguely, he recalled the ambulance ride to Philadelphia’s Temple Hospital. Two broken legs led to a heart attack, and then a day later, a mild stroke. Couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk. His legs healed and he regained strength for the move to a rehab facility.  

Sue called, “Oh Matthew I miss you, but I’ve been sick and I don’t want to pass on stomach flu.”

A week later, “Oh Matthew, there’s a dance at the senior center. We’ll dedicate a polka to you.”

A month later, “Oh Matthew, I know your kids are taking care of everything. I’d be in the way.”  

Two months later, still in rehab. “Dad we offered to bring Sue, but she’s got her daughter, Peggy, at the house.” Alexis shook a bag. “I have some soft pretzels fresh from the street vendor. I’ll find some mustard.”   

One hundred days of torture. Matthew walked with a cane, could scrawl his name, and with a lopsided smile he could greet his wife. “ Sue, you’re here for the good news. Tell her Doctor Levin.”  

“Mrs. Corelli, Matthew has worked hard to be released on December 22nd. You’ll have him home for Christmas.”  

Sue’s honeyed words attempted to mask her intent. “Oh, Doctor, I’m not sure he’s ready.”

She turned to Matthew. “Sweetheart, there’s going to be too much..Um…  Why don’t you get stronger and plan on January?”

First published: February, 2008
comments to the writer: leilarae@iceflow.com