I am to deal with Dad’s finances; he makes me a manila folder of ink-faded receipts and unopened envelopes from places like “Larkey & Smith, CPAs,” and “Final Notice – Remit Payment Now.” He used to be good at handling things.
He says, “I used to be good at handling things,” and struggles to scoot his chair back, wood feet scratching on wood floor, echo of wood-paneled walls in the semi-detached dining room off the kitchen.
In his bedroom, I help remove his elastic-waisted pajamas. The incisions on his lower thighs are orderly. They bear no trace of the violent procedure of which they were recent gatekeepers. One thin red line runs upward on the inside of each leg, just above and behind his knees: diagonal, covered in opaque white tape, intersected by more tape, the tiny cross-stitches visible beneath the peeling sealants. They make centipedes on your blue and brown flesh, and in two weeks’ time you will walk better than you have in a decade.
“I’m fifty-nine years old,” he says, as I ease his sweatpants up around his new knees and he places his hand on my hair for balance. “This is so fucked up.”
It’s very common. People swear by it. You replace your old bones, aches, cartilage with artificial ones. Make a fresh structural start, gain motility, leave behind years of habitually living in pain. I can’t understand the reality of it, or of any act of surgery—replacing parts like we’re cars, cracking open skin. Because of something to do with my false perception of human frailty, I think it’s fucked up.
After the backyard fence fell down on the overflowing trash cans and something died in there and smelled so bad and Dad didn’t tell us for weeks, though, we all decided.
We bought him a case of nicotine patches and a walker that looks like a teenager’s scooter and we signed him up for the best new set of bones.
“I’m afraid,” he says from the living room, as I’m soft-boiling the eggs.
“The bad part’s over, Dad. You already took a shower alone.”
He begins to cry.
“There’s things in me, like, objects, I can feel them.”
I peel two of the hot eggs, place them on a piece of toast, and use a fork to smash them into the buttered bread. When I bring them to him on the tray, he has tilted his head back and is staring at the ceiling. His jaws are working silently, back and forth, and his white beard stubble stands out, sharp against the wooden wall. His orange juice spills a little bit, and I move the paper towel napkin to cover it.
“Are you in pain,” I ask.
“No,” he says, and his eyes begin to widen. “I don’t think I like this,” he says.
Manjula Martin‘s work appears in The Rumpus, Post Road, Fugue, and Used Furniture Review(forthcoming). She has been an editorial assistant and reader for Zoetrope: All-Story and a blogger at The Record Daily. Make bird sounds to @manjulamartin.