Carmella was awakened from her demerol induced sleep, by the sounds of splashing, slurping, gulping, and lapping. Like a Siren’s song that sound beckoned to her. Her eyelids strained against her eyeballs. The mid-morning sunlight shone through her half-opened blinds leaving faint stripes across her comforter. An empty water bottle lay on the carpet beside her bed. A wet ring encircled it.
What she had heard was Pete, their red nose pit-bull, drinking from his water container, an old roaster—a wedding from twenty-six years prior. The nerve he had, drinking while she laid there helpless in her bed suffering from her surgery. Every cell within her body was parched, and thirsting for a drink of water. Just one droplet evaporating over her dry tongue would have sufficed. That was how desperate she was.
Glancing at the clock on her night stand, the red numerals indicated that it was nine-fifteen. Juan, her husband, had kissed her goodbye in the predawn hours. He had planned to stay at home with her while she recuperated from bunion surgery but had gotten a call sometime around four o’clock from his boss telling him there was an emergency. He worked for City Water and Sewer as foreman of the repair crew and was expected to go help fix a rupture in one of the city’s water mains.
Her previous dose of demerol had worn off, and her foot began to ache. So, Juan propped her up while she took her prescribed medications, an antibiotic to prevent infection and demerol for pain, washing them down with the water from the bottle now empty on the floor. Upset that he had to leave her alone so soon after her surgery, he turned to Pete for help.
“It’s up to you Boy. Look out for our diva—you know how stubborn she can be.” Juan had been against her elective surgery. He told her she was crazy for worrying about what her foot looked like. His philosophy was: if it didn’t matter to him, her husband, why should she care what others felt about her feet.
But she was persuasive. Her nursing class’ thirtieth reunion was coming up soon, and some of the girls were planning a trip to the Bahamas. And…well she didn’t want her bunion to be exposed and look ugly in her sandals. She knew for a fact several of the others had made some subtle changes in their appearances too, in preparation for the trip. Her classmate Nancy, worked for a plastic surgeon. She kept up with all the latest procedures and never guided them wrong.
Often while they were standing in the grocery check-out lane Juan liked to look at the cover of those magazines like “Star” and “The National Inquirer,” and poke fun at celebrities for their botched facelifts. She once told him, “No, I’m not planning any changes to my face—at least not yet. So you may as well drop the subject. And I am a nurse, that in itself should make me an expert on my health issues. Wouldn’t you agree?”
He had rolled his eyes and retorted, “Your health, my ass.” Yet he went along with her plan. Really, what else could he do?
Seeing that her eyes were opened, Pete jumped back up on the bed and moved to the spot he had left moments earlier. He must have noted her thirsty condition because he pressed his nose up to her mouth and kissed her right on her lips—a wet, tantalizing kiss. Then he moved down toward her bandaged foot, the site of her day-old bunionectomy. His red whiskers twitched as his nose undulated, investigating the bandage. His sweet brown eyes, the color of tootsie rolls, alternated glances between her eyes and her foot. She could tell what was on his mind. For her, it was easy to do. It was Juan reiterating his sentiments. “Just yesterday morning you were walk’n fine. Now look at you—an invalid, you can’t even get a simple drink of water. All this just to keep up with your friends. Was it worth it?”
“Pete, you saw my toes the way they were pushed over to one side with a gnarly knob of bone. Now look at my toes sticking out of the bandages, they are nice and straight, aren’t they? They look like it to me. Oh well, it’s a moot point, the deed is already done. Right now, all I want is a drink of water, the demerol is making me so thirsty. I must have knocked the bottle off in my sleep….What am I going to do now, Boy?”
Pete’s curiosity was piqued, so he looked back at her gauzed foot. He drew in a deep breath and then let out a mournful groan followed by a long snort that sounded more like a sneeze—a sound of disgust. Then with his butt up in the air, and his tail arched over his back; he crouched down on his front legs placing them straight out in front of him like a sphinx. She figured that was where the name for the yoga pose downward-facing-dog came from. Pete could have been a yoga master the way he held that pose—medicating. Moments later, he seemed bored with her predicament because he got up, yawned, nosed his way under the covers and flopped down against her pack-to-back. Comforted by his warm body, she dozed off. But soon her mind went to work dreaming all sorts of crazy delusions.
She dreamed she was back in nursing school when Miss Butler, known as Miss Bertha Butt behind her back, was calling on each student in class. When it was Camella’s turn she asked, “Miss Diaz, what are the properties of a droplet?”
Grabbing her notes, praying—”For purposes of administrating liquid medicines, a droplet is a group of liquid particles of less than five-hundredths’ of a micrometer…”
But her mind didn’t stop there. Whirling in the vortex of a liquid sea, she saw drops, droplets, and droppers of all kinds: eye droppers, ear droppers, nose droppers, big droppers, little droppers, and droppers used for infants—all with a glistening droplet suspended at their tips.
Just as that dreadful dream started to morph into a new one, Pete woke her up by poking her under her arm, right in the armpit. He poked and prodded until she started to cry because right then her wound was quiet, but she knew as soon as she stirred a gnawing ache would set in. Yet, he persisted…”Okay, you’ve made your point. I am up, so what now?”
Of course, the answer was right in front of her, and had been all along. “Knowing you like I do, how independent you are—and the experience you had working for that orthopedic surgeon, I bought these crutches at Goodwill just in case you might need them,” Maria had said, the night before as she held them out for her.
“Oh, please don’t remind me. It was just too pitiful, how those old folks came to our office with worn-out bones and joints looking for a miracle Dr. Jefferson couldn’t provide.”
“He did specialize in geriatric orthopedics, didn’t he?”
“Yeh, but I went into nursing to help people, Ay yi yi. I got so frustrated seeing them still limping and gimping, still using walkers and crutches after their treatment was over I quit and went to work for a pediatrician—remember that.” They both laughed then hugged and clung together for a moment “You are so sweet, thank you.” She held Maria, held at arms’ length, and peered square into her sister’s eyes, “I’ll keep them right by my bed, and will use them. I promise.”
That had been a little white lie, she didn’t mean for it to be, but it was. Her sister had been right about her, she had no intention of using those wretched accouterments of the lame; afraid of what she might look like—hobbling. And she assumed she wouldn’t need them, either. After all, the doctor—and Nancy—had told her that a bunionectomy was merely a simple procedure, nothing to it. The podiatrist had been wrong, and her lie came back to haunt her. Now that her foot was showing her who was boss, she had no choice but to use them—if she wanted a drink anytime soon.
With an extra nudge from her canine compadre, she stood up. As expected, with every beat of her heart, her foot throbbed in complaint. “How will I look using those damn crutches, anyway?” The thirsty side of her mind could have cared less. But the vain side—the diva, the person who the surgeon had appealed to when selling her on the surgery, had her say.
“You’ll look like a gimped toad, hobbling along on those crutches with your arm pits jammed up under your ears, just like those old folks; with your stringy dark hair falling around your neck all the way to your shoulders like a curtain—with no neck a’tall.”
Regaining her grip, “Just how far was it to the nearest water spigot, anyway?” Stepped it off in her mind, “I calculate it’s approximately twenty feet. How many times have I made that bathroom trip and never given it a second thought? But right now, I may as well be twenty miles from that retched spigot.”
Overwhelmed by the distance of the journey, she wanted to lie down and go back to la-la-land.Yet, turning in her dimwitted brain was the vision of a water drop, sweet and pure. The substance us mortals here on earth can’t live without. Determined, she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear then grabbed those goddamned crutches and stood up. Pete jumped to the floor—her cheerleader. He touched his damp nose to her calf, the one attached to her good leg. She took her first hop, the measured hop of a giant toad
Easing past the mirror on her dresser, she shut her eyes afraid of what she might see. She preferred envisioning herself with straight toes—no grotesque lump poking out the side of her foot, wearing new sandals. Pink leather ones with tiny white shells sewn on the straps.
Giddy with delight, she could see herself traipsing along the streets of Nassau passing pastel painted shops scrubbed pristine in the tropical sun, or sashaying down the white sandy beach where the waves tickled her toes—a frozen strawberry daiquiri in hand. Hopping passed her closet, “I wonder if Juan moved those sandals?” She flipped on the light and peeked inside. There they were; the shoe box was opened. The tissue paper laid back just so. Her new sandals—a well-spring of hope.
Then she saw it, a drop suspended like a tear on the lip of the spigot, waiting. But she ignored it. “There is more, much more behind that one, still hidden in the pipe anxious to fill my glass to the brim.” Pete positioned himself next to the sink in anticipation of the splash. She twisted the knob, there was a brief gush of water, then the spigot coughed and gagged. It hissed and spat out rust, and dry air. “Was it the water main that our line was connected to that Juan was called out to fix?” In her disdain, she accidentally looked up into the mirror, and there it was. The dreaded toad staring back at her with its lumpy hide and oily black eyes
She wasn’t sure if Pete could see the toad too, but he left the bathroom in a trot, appearing to be flummoxed by the recent turn of events. Then he stopped and looked back at her, “I know you have something better on your mind. Wow, Pete, your face looks just like Juan’s, those angular jaws fixed and muscular…I know what you’re trying to tell me.” So she followed him.
She hopped out of the bedroom, into the hall past another mirror, looking away. Then they passed pictures of family, a gallery that the couple was proud of: Luna in her white dress at her first communion; Carlos graduating from high school—now both off at college; their parents at various anniversaries; caricatures of both kids done at Disney; Maria’s wedding. “I can feel you watching me as I hobble by. Close your eyes, I don’t want you to see me like this…I’m not that old yet.”
Nearing the living room her head began to spin, that damn demerol. “At least I am able to tolerate the aching pain in her foot.” Not waiting to sit and rest on the leather couch, they continued their parade toward the fridge—nope, nothing. Juan had taken all the bottled water, save the spilled one. She reached in desperation for the cranberry juice, then noticed little round gray fluffy boats were floating on the surface
“Damn it,” she pivoted on her crutches and heaved the plastic bottle into the sink. “Ice—there must be ice.” Standing on her good foot, she opened the freezer and peered into the ice bin. EMPTY, not one cube or small shard of ice was left. Juan had filled his cooler before he left for work like he always did, probably not realizing their water was effected by the break
She looked down at Pete and stared to sob, again. “My phone—I’ll call Juan or Marie and tell them.” Looking across the room she saw none of the lights on her phone were illuminated—dead. “Shit, I forgot to plug it in after I got home yesterday. Now, with my mind in the condition it was in, I can’t remember where I left the charger.”
Pete sat on his haunches a moment and then sauntered over to his water bowl positioned in the laundry room next to the kitchen. “I know what you’re suggesting, you have an answer for everything today, don’t you Boy?” So, she hopped, hopped, hopped over and stood above the bowl next to him. He stared into the old roaster and then back at her. Seeing her expression, he began lapping the water then stopped
Peering into his bowl, “Juan filled it up before he left, but didn’t clean it out. Yuck, you left a few crumbs of your food in here, Pete. They are floating around like tiny sopped up sponges, with a few red hairs on the surface.” She held on to the cabinet, closed her eyes and knelt down. “I feel like I might gag.” But she didn’t
Without hesitation, the Sirens hushed their singing mid-stanza, and the diva vanished as she leaned over the dented roaster and scooped up a handful of cool refreshing water. With each drop, her body began to revitalize. Every cell in her cried out with thanksgiving. Still bent over, she felt a oneness with all animals and their vulnerability when driven by their thirst to find water. How frightening it must be not knowing what dangers might be lurking nearby waiting to attack at the moment just as their thirst was being quenched. Or the agony they may feel finding their watering hole had turned into dried mud. “I am one with them.”
Dazed and exhausted, she sank to the floor and peered out the window. It was raining, a cleansing rain, a peaceful rain. First Pete sniffed her wet hand. Then he moved to the tears rolling down her checks. One by one he licked them away. She patted the tile floor, “Come, lay down by me.”
A few hours later, Juan came home and found them side-by-side asleep on the laundry-room floor. She heard him say, “Good boy Pete…good boy,” as he scooped her up and carried her away. After laying her on the bed, he walked back to the laundry room, picked up the crutches, and put them away in the back of the hall closet.
Suzanne Comer is passionate about crafting compelling stories. She is a retired baby-boomer, living in Florida, who is working toward her Creative Writing Certificate from UCLA. Her work has appeared in Think Pink Magazine and One Day’s Encounter, an online journal. She earned a Master’s Degree in Adult Education, and is an accomplished professional grant writer.