A new holiday is instituted, National Action Day, in which everyone is expected to perform a heroic act of some kind. The rules are loose, but eventually certain traditions form. Fundraising groups make it easy for the less creative and plunking a wad of cash down becomes the humdrum but acceptable way to participate in the festivities. People have ‘Good-Deed Parties’ and go around town picking up trash or buying lunch for bums. Old ladies knit sweaters. Every year, college kids pull a stunt and get in the papers.
“I think this year I’ll jump off a bridge,” a man tells his wife.
“Whatever gave you that idea, dear?” she says, her doe-like eyes widening.
“It would sure save you a lot of grief,” he replies smartly.
The woman thinks seriously about this for a moment. Her husband has come to expect these little calculations. “Jeeze, she is slow,” he thinks. He doesn’t care anymore. He sips his beer in front of the TV.
“Does that mean I’d have to save you to qualify for having done a good deed?” After years of marriage, he can no longer tell if her witless remarks are in earnest. He switches channels.
Over the course of the afternoon, he gets increasingly bombed. The edifice of beer in the fridge looses mass like a melting iceberg. There is a parade of idiotic do-gooders marching and twirling for the half-time entertainment. When she brings him lunch, he is red faced and surly.
Unexpectedly, he staggers to his feet, knocking over the tray where she has set his lunch. He struggles to put on his coat and digs for his keys with exaggerated motions, a pot bellied steam shovel churning in a shallow pit.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“I’m gonna go be a hero. You wach’a fort, ok?” He staggers out the door and she hears the car start.
She is stands in the hallway with the lunch tray, unable to react. She moves to the kitchen window and watches the car jerk round the corner. The phone rings, but she doesn’t answer it. It rings for a while, then stops. Commercials jingle away on TV.
That evening, she learns that her husband has been involved in a serious car accident. He is alive, but unconscious. He has severe injuries. After several weeks, he comes home an invalid. He doesn’t seem to recognize anybody. The wife is devoted to her husband. She takes care of him and he recovers physically, but he is not the man he was.
He is surprisingly kinder. As a kind of therapy, he works in the garden. He is manic about it and he looses a considerable amount of weight from the effort. He is still taciturn, but his eyes, once bloodshot and vacant with spite, are now attentive to the world around him and to his wife. He never fully expresses himself on the subject, but his behavior is both penitent and grateful.
His scars prevent him from being truly handsome, but his changed character is imbued with a new, gentle beauty. They make clumsy love, as never before.
Sunday, September 9, 2007