At Bill’s words, the man
In the bed began to turn, to roll
Over, in the careful way
That becomes instinctive when your kneecap
Is broken: first he planted
On the mattress like the bracing
Legs of a machine gun.
Then he slid
His attention down his trunk to where
His own legs
Were still those
Of a man sleeping on his side. Slowly he lifted
The weak one
From its resting place
On its uninjured partner, setting the immobilized
Length, gaunt and atrophied, slowly upon
Crumple of blanket.
So this guy broke
His patella too, I thought. That must be
Why I’m here. He needs
His eyes were still clinging
To the recently
Limb, as if his leg were a newly acquired
Item of fragile
That might slip when he let go
Off the bed. When, eventually, its stability
Seemed certain, he exhaled, leaned back in his pillows
And looked up at Bill.
“And how have you been, my friend?” said Bill.
“Real good,” said the man, shrugging
His shoulders, “but I’m thinking
Of quitting therapy. There’s a Fitness Center
Where I work—they have all
The same machines.”
“But you haven’t
Even started therapy,” said Janice.
That! I thought, as I looked
At the man’s
Shrunken leg. His right quadriceps had atrophied
To a bony nothingness.
“All in due course,” said Bill to Janice, with
A fatherly tone. Then he smiled
At the man in the bed. “It’s time for your daily
Quiz, my friend. Shall we
“Why not,” said the man. “Sure.
I’ve got a minute.”
Is that why
They brought me here, I wondered. To listen
To a quiz? Or had they forgotten
Was with them in the room?
Bill was saying
To the man. “Let us start
With an easy question. Can you tell me
Who I am?”
“Oh come on,” said the man in the bed. “You’re
Bill, my neighbor.”
“Your neighbor, do you say? I must admit I’ve been
Called worse, much
Worse. ‘Neighbor.’ Could you tell us
What you mean
“Well... I mean…” said the man slowly, trying to restrain
His impatience at the evident
Of the question, “that you rent
The back room. Behind
“Ah yes,” said Bill. “You’ve described this room
Before. My book-bedecked retreat. Tell me again: how long
Have I occupied
The man in the bed
Seemed troubled by the question. “Three months
Or so, I guess. But you... you’ve
For half that time. I just found you here—
In the hospital.”
“Yes, you have found me,” said Bill. “And indeed
This hospital is where
“What about me?” said Janice. “Do you know
Who I am?”
The man looked as if
It wounded him
That she would even ask. “You’re Janice,” he said.
“No. No I’m not,” said Janice. “I’m one
Of your doctors.
I talk to you
Everyday. Don’t you know
“Look,” said the man, “I understand that you
Might be seeing
“Janice is a woman
You used to sleep with,” she said. “She came
To visit you
Once, but she couldn’t—”
“On to the next question!” said Bill. He pulled
A large, plastic-handled
From the depths of a lab-coat pocket, and held it
Toward the man. “Do you
Recognize this face?”
The man in the bed stared into the mirror
For a long moment.
He said. “He’s in rough shape.” Then he reached
Toward the mirror, and Bill allowed him
To tilt it
Gently down, so he could see
His injured leg. “He broke his kneecap, didn’t he?
But he hasn’t
Made any progress. That’s why I’m here, right?
To give him
“And what sort
Of encouragement could you offer?”
“Well,” he said, “I’m a success
Story. Look at my leg, my clothes, my...
And I, who had been listening
Quietly, like a well behaved visitor, could not
One more moment.
“No,” I shouted, “that’s wrong!”