Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Arlington, VA, July 2008

He could make breakfast for dinner. It was easy. He always liked breakfast, and the smell of potatoes and onions frying was guaranteed to make him hungry. Not even AZT-induced queasiness could hold out against that.

He juggled three red potatoes out of the fridge crisper bin. Red potatoes didn't take much scrubbing with the vegetable brush. He could use the wooden spoon, pinched in his right hand, to hold each one steady against the side of the sink, and scuff gently with the brush in his left. That kept his cast clean and dry. He did it without moving anything above his biceps, and only had to stop to rest once.

Just like a bouldering problem. You looked it over, decided what needed to be done when, then did it. He felt absurdly pleased at having washed three potatoes.

He reached across the counter (ow) for the cutting board. Then he opened the drawer and pulled a knife out of the rack.

A chef's knife, with his long, bony fingers around the handle.

It clattered to the countertop.

He clung to the edge of the table, eyes closed, panting. He was as far from the counter as he could be and still stand in the kitchen. He couldn't remember getting there.

At least he hadn't dropped the thing on his foot. Come on, you idiot. You have to eat. This is where food comes from. It's your own knife. It's just a tool. You can do this.

He opened his eyes, gritted his teeth, and took the three steps back to the counter. He set the first potato on the cutting board and reached for the knife. You can do this.

Sweat itched on his face, flecked his t-shirt, slicked his palms. His heartbeat shook his body. His stomach heaved, and he swallowed and swallowed. His hand came down on the knife handle, but he was shaking too much to close his fingers. He stepped back from the counter.

The constriction in his throat shamed him. Emotional lability is common in the aftermath of trauma, he recited to himself. From the Latin labi, "to fall."

I fell, baby boy.

No. There was no falling involved. Nothing to be ashamed of. No one was watching.

You couldn't climb if you couldn't fall. And sometimes falling was something you chose. An exit.

He pushed the cutting board to the back of the counter, the knife wedged between it and the backsplash tiles like a dead spider swept out of sight.

It was all right. He'd get better. Until he did, there was no shame in takeout. Whatever he had to do, that's what he'd do.

He probably wouldn't have been able to lift the cast-iron frying pan out of the cupboard, anyway.