She lay upon her twin bed, her death bed, though neither she nor her husband knew that gloomy fact yet. Her vigilant husband stood above her, his own twin bed across the walking space that separated the two like a moat. Beside the woman's bed was the closed door leading to the bathroom they shared--or took turns using, which is a more accurate phrase, for their modesty precluded more than one of them in there at one time.
Commenting on the heat of the room, the wife had, moments before, thrown off her covers, revealing her legs: one of them of flesh, the other of wood, both of them lying still, as if lifeless. She had lost her leg as a child and had no recollection of ever having it. Way back then she had been fitted out with a wooden one much like the one Cap'n Jack used to have in the old pirate movies, and she was fitted for a new one whenever growth made it necessary.
She met her husband when she was twenty; he was twenty-two, and they were married only weeks later. Because she was self-conscious about her wooden leg and figured men would be put off by it, she was thrilled and surprised to land a husband. During their short courtship she always wore shorts, skirts and dresses, because she wanted her future groom to know exactly what he was getting. She couldn't believe he was genuinely pleased with her, a woman with a wooden leg. To his credit, ever after he insisted she continue to wear her shorts and skirts, and she complied happily, except in wintertime, when she found warm pants to be more comfortable--after all, she did have one good leg, and it was as sensitive to the elements as was anyone else's. In the back of her mind remained the idea that he was only trying to prove to her that her wooden leg didn't bother him.
Theirs was a quiet marriage. She wasn't as quiet as he, at least at first, but she grew to be that way herself, mostly because he was so quiet. His quietude stemmed from his having read in the bible, during Sunday school when he was ten, that any speaking beyond "Yes" and "No" came straight from the devil, and he never forgot that lesson, though he sometimes erred by spouting as many as eight or ten words at a time, after which would follow a tremendous feeling of guilt on his part.
Yes, they were a quiet couple, the kind of couple that might live next door, down the street, around the block. Their neighbors sometimes whispered about them, as neighbors do, and as the years passed, the questions they whispered changed a bit, ranging from: "Why don't they have children?" to "Why have they never had any children?" to "Why didn't they have children?" And sometimes, if the neighbors pondered the curious couple long enough, they eventually might ask: "Have the two of them never even . . .?"
The day before, the ailing wife had told her husband about a most unusual dream she had had the night before, a dream in which she was the possessor of two real legs and fled from her bed and out the door into the sunlight. "Wasn't that an unusual dream?" she asked. "Yes," he said, one of his two pat responses.
The husband remained watching over his wife. A jackdaw feeding at the window sill took flight, and the woman took a turn for the worse and began moving restlessly about in her bed.
Casting aside all his fear of sin and its consequences, the husband urgently suggested that he get her to the emergency room at the nearby hospital. But the woman would hear nothing of it. She said that those hospital gowns were "too immodest." She asked him, "Don't you think they're too immodest?"
"Yes," he said.
She became downright chatty and began to tell him how much she appreciated the comfortable life he had always provided for her. "We've been quite happy, haven't we?" she said.
"Yes," he assured her.
She said, "If I ask you a question, will you answer truthfully?"
"Why did you ever marry a woman with only one leg?" she asked, turning away from him, rather afraid to hear his reply.
He was touched, moved by such a question. He said, "But my darling . . . my dear . . . honeybun . . . it was such a nice one."
With that, she laughed and said it was just like him to keep that inside for all those years, and that she wished he had mentioned it sooner. They regarded one another lovingly. Moments later her jaw rattled, and she died happy, her wooden leg clattering against the safety rail he had installed immediately upon hearing of her recent dream about leaving her bed.
Her vacant, staring eyes seemed to be monitoring him, inhibiting him, so he reached into his
pocket for his handkerchief and closed her eyes with it. All his inhibition gone now that she wasn't
"watching" him, he sat down on her bed and touched her good leg, the one that was still so lovely to
him. He had always wanted to touch it.
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