The summer moon was full and I came bounding out the front door of my house, feeling no pain, in hot pursuit of a pack of cigarettes that I had left in my car.I didn’t see the jogger at first. He was passing the house as I was coming out, and I must have spooked him. He took a tumble on the sidewalk, and, naturally, I wanted to see if he was OK.
“That looked like it hurt,” I said. The young man made a grunting sound.
I gave him a hand to help him up and I noticed that he had blood running from his knee. “Your leg is bleeding,” I said.
“That’s a good sign,” said the jogger. “I’m more worried about the other leg.”
That’s when I noticed it – the other leg was made of stainless steel or something like stainless steel. It looked like something from The Terminator. The jogger was rubbing the little ball of his knee cap, which was perfectly round, checking it for scuff marks. Two slightly angled steel rods with a space of open air between them took the place of what would have been lower leg bones, and those rods met at a complex ankle joint engineered to disappear into a special New Balance running shoe.
I could see why he was so proud of the fake leg. He hopped up and down on it like a pogo stick and declared himself fit. Before he could go, I extended my hand again and introduced myself. “I’m Howard,” I said.
I didn’t remember seeing him around before, but he said his name was Matt and that he lived down the street not too far. He wasn’t very old, several years younger than me by the looks of his face.
“Do you mind telling me what happened to your leg?” I asked. I couldn’t help it; I didn’t want to let him go until I found out the story.
He gave me an odd look, as if trying to decide whether or not I was worth it.
“Most people are afraid to ask,” Matt said. “So I guess I can tell you.”
He shifted his weight onto his good leg and started talking, and he didn’t give me the short version either.
“I was going down the road with a guy who was maybe 19. While this kid was driving, he was telling me all about the sluts he’d done it with back home. Crude stuff. But here we were and we were laughing and joking. The kid had also been farting all morning. He thought that was so damn funny. Finally, I decided, what the hell? I might as well make a contribution…”
Matt put his weight back on the fake leg now, snorted, and looked down at the ground before continuing.
“And that’s when all hell broke loose. It was like I had ignited the atmosphere. I could feel my leg exploding and then everything was on fire, everything around me was red. I don’t remember anything else until the hospital. They must have pulled me out of there fast.”
He looked up. I nodded, and I guess he felt like it was OK to keep going some more.
“I woke up in some hospital, I don’t even know what country it was in. Everything was hazy, but I tried to sit up and look around. I was surrounded by all of these patients, you know, and I could already see that they were missing arms and legs. I wasn’t even thinking about my own leg at this point. I think I was probably crying or laughing like a mad man, waving my arms, trying to get the attention of a nurse. I had this overwhelming feeling that I had blown all of these guys up, you know, that it was all my fault.”
He studied my reaction now. “Crazy,” he said, as if that summed it all up. “No way,” I told Matt. “You’re probably the biggest hero I’ve ever met.”
I don’t know if he was buying it, but he looked relieved. I didn’t ask him what happened to the kid he’d been driving with.
“I’ve been back for a while,” Matt said, “but I’m just now trying to push this thing a little at night, you know, when not a lot of people are out. Walking works fine, but apparently I don’t have the running thing down just yet.”
He jumped up and down again. He didn’t really bounce that much, but his leg really did make a sound like a pogo stick makes.
“You like to fish, Matt?”
I don’t know why I asked him that. It was right out of left field. I just felt like he should definitely be able to get away and do the things guys like to do, that it was important. But, for all I knew, he already had buddies to go fishing with.
“I haven’t been fishing in a long time,” he said. “I used to know a few places to catch bass.”
“I know a pond,” I said. “You wanna go some time?”
“Tell you what,” Matt said. “Next time you see me, ask me again. I just might be in the mood to catch a few one of these days.”
I didn’t see Matt again for a month or so. To tell the truth, I had pretty much forgotten about meeting him. The Fourth of July came and went, and then I saw him again. I was on my way to the store to pick up a 12-pack one night when I saw him jogging in the neighborhood.
I pulled up right beside him but didn’t spook him too bad. He was trying to figure out who I was.
I had the windows down. “It’s Howard,” I said. “Remember, you had a fall in front of my house.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said.
“So when do you want to go fishing?”
He moved closer to the car. “OK, then,” he said. “When do you want to go?”
He told me where his house was and we decided to go the next day.
It rained the next morning, but by late afternoon there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I loaded the poles carefully into the car and put my tackle box and a cooler of beer in the trunk. I put on my fishing hat and felt good about things. Then I got back into the trunk to get a few beers for the drive.
I don’t know what Matt’s story at home was, whether he was living with his parents, or if he had a girlfriend or a wife, maybe even kids. He came out the front door before I had a chance to honk.
We headed south out of town a few miles. A guy I used to work with had a nice pond that was full of small-to-medium-sized largemouths. They liked to take purple plastic worms, and I had rigged up both poles.
We drank a beer on the way out there. “I can’t say much for your taste in beer,” said Matt, looking at his can of Old Milwaukee. “This stuff will probably give me the shits, but it sure does taste good right about now.”
We parked on the side of a gravel road by the pond and then unloaded the stuff. I could have kicked myself for not bringing the folding chairs, just in case. “We’ll just fish for a while,” I said. “It shouldn’t take long for us to catch about a dozen.”
We drank another beer beside the car and then hit the pond. The bank was muddy from the morning rain, but we were able to find a spot where the mud gave way to some harder dirt and grassy weeds. You could practically cast from one end of the pond to the other, so positioning ourselves close wasn’t a big deal.
“Just bring it in real slow,” I told Matt after he made his first cast. “They like to tap it first.”
Before I could get my line in the water, Matt was already reeling in a nice one. He had the biggest grin on his face. “Hot damn,” he said.
By the time the sun was starting to set, we had lost count of how many bass we’d caught and released. We lipped all but one. Matt threw it into a mess of cattails on the side of the pond. Set the hook a little late on that one,” he confessed. “Oh well. A little something for the turtles to eat.”
This is where it gets kind of weird, and I’m almost ashamed to tell it. But, as we were making our final casts of the evening, I got the urge to break wind out loud. I thought it would be funny – you know, guy stuff. But as soon as I farted, and it was a big one, Matt jumped forward and went down like his hair was on fire.
He was crouching by the water, covering his head. Things had been going so well, and now this. I walked over and tried to give him a hand. He looked up, disoriented, embarrassed, and maybe a little disgusted. “I’ll manage,” he said.
But when he tried to stand up, he was stuck in the mud. The New Balance running shoe attached to his fake leg was really planted. He pulled hard on the leg with both hands. He finally got himself free, but the shoe was still stuck.
It took us a few minutes to dig the special running shoe out with our hands. Matt tried to laugh once and even said he was sorry for freaking out, but he didn’t say much of anything else. The foot on his fake leg was like a little clamp. Without the special shoe attached, everything was difficult. He had to hop on his real leg until we got completely away from any mud and he was able to put some weight on the nubby device at the end of his other leg.
In the car, Matt just stared at the muddy shoe in his hands. I don’t know if the clamp was broken or what, but he didn’t try to reattach the shoe.
“I guess I wasn’t ready to go fishing yet,” he finally said as we pulled into his driveway.
“It’s my fault,” I said, feeling horrible about what had happened back at the pond.
Matt hobbled out of the car, holding his shoe. He started to head for the house, but he stopped and glared back at me.
“Don’t apologize,” he said. “You were never even there.”
I thought he was going to leave it at that, but then he said something else.
“Couldn’t they have thought about it a littler harder before they put us in this position?” he asked.
He didn’t wait for an answer, but it wasn’t hard to imagine what he was getting at.
I still had five or six beers left by the time I got home. I put on a Nirvana disc and felt stupid and contagious. Then I tried like hell to scrub the fish smell off my hands. I used half a bar of Lava, but, no matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t go away.
Lance Feyh still lives in the Ozarks where he continues to enjoy indoor plumbing. He has published short stories in Community Slop and Third Wednesday.