Fiction

Cool for America

Andrew Martin

I snapped my leg in two and lost the summer—six months on crutches and I’d be lucky if I didn’t limp for the rest of my life. I went to the ground for a slide tackle in a pickup soccer game and felt what turned out to be my tibia shoot through my skin. I couldn’t believe how fucking badly it hurt, and I must have conveyed that, since I spent the next three days on morphine. They sent me home all messed up and helpless, but it’s amazing how much trouble I got myself into anyway.

This was in Missoula, Montana, where I taught a photography course in a summer program for gifted rural high schoolers. (Show the kids the big city!) Even before the leg thing, the summer wasn’t going well. I broke up with the woman I’d been seeing back East over some petty bullshit right before we were supposed to drive west together. She kept the puppy. I got through the drive with a thirty-six-hour audiobook of Lonesome Dove, by the end of which I was convinced Larry McMurtry was the American Tolstoy. Then, my rented house, in the part of town ominously called the Upper Rattlesnake, was full of mice and mold, and there was an unadvertised pickup with no tires in the backyard. I drank myself to sleep and showed up to a classroom of seven dead-eyed teenagers. I distributed battered digital cameras, showed them the button to press, and sent them away with a self-portrait assignment. Then I went outside and joined the instructor-student soccer game.

Missoula has mostly treated me well in the four summers I’ve spent here and I don’t want to come across like an asshole. But when I got hurt it was hard to get anybody to come around and help me, even though the Rattlesnake is ten minutes from downtown. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t teach, the leg hurt so much that at first I couldn’t even use the crutches unless I had to piss. On my second day home, Jim, a climbing instructor from Boston who’d gone native, left a Tupperware container of homemade granola at my front door with a note reading, “Get good, pal.” For the next couple of weeks I got to know an older church lady one of my colleagues had tipped off to my existence. She brought pasta salad and talked up Rand Paul. On days when no one came around I tried to read through the haze of pain medication, but it depressed the hell out of me. I ran out of cigarettes and didn’t want to ask anyone to bring me more. I got lazy and pissed in bottles. I took pictures of the bottles.

One day during this rough patch there was an unscheduled knock at the door.

“It’s open,” I said. “If you’re here to kill me I won’t stop you.”

“It’s Chloe,” the voice at the door said. “Jim’s wife. I brought you a pizza and beer and some cigarettes.”

Whatever Chloe looked like, I loved her. “You are an angel sent from God,” I said.

She backed through the door with the stuff stacked on the pizza box. She was pretty in a messy way—dark hair piled up on her head, a sharp, bent nose and big mouth. I guessed she was five years older than me, midthirties. She was wearing ratty pink denim shorts that looked like they were about to fall apart. She put the pizza box down on the coffee table and opened the pack of cigarettes. She took one out and tossed the pack to me. “Do you smoke in here?” she said.

“Do I have a choice?”

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