by Windy Lynn Harris

His eyes search me for help while the nurse urges him to sit up. He doesn’t want to do this, but I can’t will myself to defy the medical authority in the room. I don’t know what to say.

I’m not in charge here.

He’s supposed to get moving now, though they’ve only stitched him up a day back. It was the kind of tumor you can recover from, though the surgery itself was long and dangerous. Monitors beep and pulse in the room. I haven’t brushed my teeth yet. A whooshing sound announces an automatic blood pressure check. If this was a television show, they’d let him rest.

The nurse sets a walker near his bed and I know already that it isn’t big enough for him. He’s far too tall for the little chrome contraption at his side, but I don’t say anything. Instead, I watch the nurse adjust the handles. She purses her mouth while my husband pulls his long tired legs from under the covers. It’s too short, of course. It’s far too short.

She tells him they might have a different walker, and then she tells me she’ll be back.

When she’s gone, I come to his side. I almost sit down on the bed next to him, but he shakes his head, lifts a tube. There are many things plugged into him, around him. He doesn’t want to do this, and I’m a betrayer.

The nurse returns with a man in scrubs. He has a wide smile and a walker made for athletes. He’s got jokes and quick hands. Soon, my husband is up. He’s bent too far forward, but he doesn’t straighten. His grip is white on the handles.

The male nurse adjusts the tubes and bags and the long white cord attached to my husband’s finger.

I hold the door open and watch my husband take shaky steps toward me. A gurney passes the doorway rolling another woman’s husband to his room. He’s fresh from the Intensive Care Unit. I know this because his wife is trailing behind with his overnight bag and she’s having trouble keeping up.

Over the next six weeks, I’ll become an expert in breathing exercises and pancreatic fluid calculations. I’ll meet a 75 year-old poet named Joan and I’ll crush a huge black spider in the women’s bathroom sink. I’ll cry in the parking garage, twice, and on one of those days I’ll finally call my father, and then I’ll regret calling my father and I will seriously think about buying a pack of cigarettes, but I will be too tired to stop at a store.

My husband nears me at the door and I don’t understand the look on his face. I smile at him and wait for him to smile back. He looks down at the scuffed linoleum as he shuffle-walks past me. I close the door behind us. He’s supposed to go all the way to the nurse’s station on this first journey, and I’m supposed to cheer him on. I’m supposed to be the one who knows what happens next.