What are the plans for the weekend?
In 2009 I was attacked by a great white shark, when I got back to the beach I was relieved that I would die on land and not in the water. People came to help me, wrapping tourniquets around my arm, and I asked a guy there to call my wife—I just wanted to talk to her. I had so much left to say. The call didn’t go through, but this story examines that impulse, to say the things that have been left unsaid.
A Kenworth semi jack-knifed in front of me. I ran into it and was thrown from my car. In the air, I was okay. I landed in a ditch below the road and saw that my left leg was lying severed about four meters to the north.
This changes it, I thought. She won’t threaten to leave me now.
The Kenworth’s truckie came scrambling down the slope. ‘Oh God. Oh Jesus,’ he said. ‘You’re bleeding?’
‘Your belt,’ I said.
‘As a tourniquet.’
Considering my leg was shredded from above the knee, you’d have thought I’d be screaming. But no, it wasn’t like that. What I felt—I felt like a loose plastic bag on the ground being dragged around by the wind.
A doctor arrived. Luckily he’d been passing by. Early thirties, stylish, the kind of guy you’d see on The Bachelor. He said, ‘Are you allergic to anything?’
‘Allergic?’ I said, ‘No. But I’ve felt better.’
‘The blood,’ said the truckie. ‘There’s so much blood.’ The doctor frowned. Pints of me were pouring into the dirt. They can’t stop it, theycan’tstoptheblood. Atleasttheyarewithme, at least they are with me. At least, they are with me, I thought. They will wait with me.
‘I’m going to die,’ I said.
‘No,’ said the doctor. But the way he said no, it meant maybe.
‘I need to call my wife,’ I said. ‘She should know.’
The doctor looked at me. You know when you see love in someone’s eyes? Just a human love, the love for people? He had that. He dialed my phone and held it to my ear.
She was in the car with the kids.
‘Where are you?’ she said.
I wasn’t ready for that.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘I need you to go to swimming and get Jason, okay?’
‘Hon,’ I said.
‘Well, I’ve got to go to the dog appointment!’
I was going to tell her I was in the ditch, that was my plan, but there was this tension between us, this raw fragility, and the timing was bad. School pick-up was a shitfight. The dog was sick, it had swallowed something. The afternoon witching hour was near. The kids were fighting. In her voice was mild fear and panic, all in a tone reserved for me. But I heard her younger self too, under the tone, the woman I’d fallen for.
‘Why are you breathing so heavy?’ she said. ‘Are you on the toilet?’
The doctor took his shirt off and used it to improve the tourniquet on my thigh. It was MacGyverish. The guy was wise and he looked like he had a great diet, and he was good under pressure, calm when calm was needed, and I loved him. I loved him via an admiration for him. Was it love? It was a kind of love.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said to my wife ‘All the things with us are—’
‘Hang on.’ She yelled at the kids to shut up. Something about one of them having the pencil first. It was difficult to separate the kids when they were like that, about the fucking pencils, you had to divert them. My wife said, ‘Tell daddy about Jane.’ Our six-year-old was having trouble with Jane.
I heard my daughter through a filter that was like a five-beer drunkenness. Not all of me was there. Though the part that feared death was; that part was present. ‘Stand up to bullies,’ I said. ‘You’ll be scared, but it’s not cowardice.’ Did she know what cowardice was? She said it was the opposite of being strong.
The truckie was up on the road, watching for the ambulance. ‘It’s coming,’ he yelled.
‘Who’s coming?’ said my wife.
‘No one,’ I said. ‘Keep talking.’
‘What are the plans for the weekend?’
I didn’t follow her reply, though I think my promise to stain the porch was mentioned.
‘I love you,’ I said.
She got quiet.
We hardly ever said I love you. We had a new rule about it though, to say it once a week. A rule I hadn’t followed because I thought it was kinda bogus, up until I said it and it became real. Because when you don’t say it for a long time, then besides the other person wondering if you love them, you might start to wonder if you do or you might just forget. So it’s a good reminder, to say it.
‘Here’s the ambulance,’ said the doctor.
‘What ambulance?’ said my wife.
But that’s all I remember.
At the hospital they gave me a prosthetic leg. A plastic composite. They told me the Kenworth truckie was on speed, and he got fined. I’m not sure who got the money. The doctor visited me and we got to know each other. He was from Iran. He had saved many people from death and he’d learned to let them go after saving them. Because you had to do that, if you were a doctor. We stayed in touch for a while. I loved him, maybe it was only heat-of-the-moment love, but for a moment in that ditch it felt like the engraved love I have for my father. My wife said it was understandable that feelings changed because we had that happen too. Our love was always slipping away and then returning in a rush, we’d remember it and forget it and have to resurrect it again and again. And now when I call her, the first thing she says is, ‘Tell me right now if you’re dying in a ditch?’
Glenn Orgias is a writer from Sydney. His memoir, Man In Grey Suit, was published by Viking in 2012, and his writing can be found at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, X-R-A-Y, and Meetinghouse (forthcoming). He Tweets a bit @glennorgias.