Spacing Lee B. Montgomery
Whose World Is This

Whose World Is This

That night, the night before William left me for good, I lay awake and asked myself what would happen if I closed off all my senses except for sight. If I plugged my ears, my nose, cut my tongue, taped my fingers, just shut the door to all my senses, could my eyes possibly compensate for my loss? Could I see more? Could I see myself for who I was? Could I possibly know from here what I might find there? Then?

There is only freedom in not wanting. This is what William had told me. And my problem was wanting. My problem was desire. Hannah, you always want this or that, he said. You have to understand that this is not the true nature of things. This wanting business makes you small. It makes your mind go to places it shouldn’t go. Life only opens if you accept. Now.


Sometimes during those afternoons, the California sunlight flew through the windows like tiny golden volleyballs and William laughed and chased me all around the house. There are some things that you just come to know, he teased. With patience, baby, there are some things you just come to know and with whoosh and a bang, we flew down the hall, me running, William close behind, his wheelchair buzzing like a fly, its wheels squeaking and grinding against the shiny wooden planks. He was fast and the air felt like rain. It occurred to me one afternoon as I fell to the floor, I didn’t want to run anymore. I played possum instead. Played dead. Played still. I watched him upside down and holding my breath, he grew crooked and strange like in a dream, faster than the speed of sound. The motor stalled, and William flipped his elbow several times to hit the control forward, but it was a random motion, luck of the draw; sometimes he couldn’t move at all.

“Transmitting,” he said staring at his fingers.

I pushed myself up and slipped my arms around him. “Transmitting,” I repeated, tightening my hold and feeling him then, cold and awkward, I  felt sad, and because he was paralyzed, I felt I had the right to this sadness.

I met William in the spring of 1976, when I was working the graveyard shift at a nursing home in a town called Locke, a nowhere town east of San Francisco where the Sacramento River wound around levees and dams and the bars that lined the main street had flashed neon martini glasses out front. I was twenty-six or seven and doing a lot of drugs, trying to find God, trying to figure out how many men I could make love me at the same time. I think there were four of them before William, all boys I met at a bar named the Bighorn in town, all boys who couldn’t get their eyes to meet mine straight on, and this was the first thing I noticed about William: He looked me in the eyes and when he did, the others drifted away; one by one.

Graveyard meant I worked from midnight to seven in shifts of three. Each shift I turned twenty bodies to ensure each body would stay in one place for only so long. Deep sores dug into bony hips like small gaping mouths and sometimes late at night when I looked into these mouths, I saw these wounds churn into rosy throats and at the bottom where I imagined voices would call, a wall of bone, white and stony glaring out at me. Tending to these people was always harder, taking more time to roll bodies and change bandages, taking more drugs to get through. I was working that shift the night I first met William. I had just finished my first round when I walked into the empty room at the end of the hall. The room had been empty for months and I went in there sometimes to turn my back on the night, to summon peace, but invariably as I lay there, I replayed my nights over in my head. Mrs. Harper wasn’t eating. May had seemed angrier than usual. Mr. Schultz was on his way out. And I would always be left with imagining that moment when I watched the light leave these people’s eyes. In an instant, whatever was there would be gone and I found myself afraid I would die, too. I had dreams of talking to dead men in caskets, dreams where I saw phantoms wearing purple knee bands jumping out at me to slit my throat, but that night when I first opened the door to this room, I forgot all this because there was this handsome man, my age, maybe a little older, lying flat, not out of choice but out of necessity.

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