The Ironworker and the Steel Reed
by R C Larlham
Challenge: Write a romantic story or a poem. It can be fiction or non-fiction, humorous or amorous.
He came awake in a fog of drugs and anesthetic. His brain went searching for the pain, but couldn’t find it. Well, that was something, wasn’t it? He was lying on his back and his right leg felt like it was being stretched. He tried to sit up and a slim, long-fingered left hand appeared and pressed him back down. There were no rings. “Whatever you need, I will get it,” said a contralto voice in a West Virginia accent. “You lie still.”
“Leg feels funny.”
The contralto laugh was much more pleasant than the last sounds he’d heard, which had been someone screaming. Probably him, he decided. Someone had grabbed his leg as they moved him onto the operating table.
“OK.” He could hear the smile in her voice, “Do you want to see?”
He nodded vigorously.
There was rustling in the darkened right side of his room. He turned his head and saw a tall, slender nurse with coal black hair in a starched white uniform. It was the uniform that was rustling. She caught him looking at her and waved. “Be there in a sec, Hun,” she said. “Gotta find th’… oh there it is.” She turned back holding a large barber’s mirror. She walked toward the foot of the bed. She stopped at the end, facing him and held the mirror above her head. He looked up at the mirror.
“What th’ fu…?”
“Mr. Lar-ham!” the contralto cracked like a whip. “There’s no need for bad language.”
He ignored her, staring at the contraption in which his right leg was suspended. Like a miniature trapeze set, it was connected together and cabled off to his bed and to things out of his sight. His leg lay within a cradle of wires and straps, surrounded by the “trapeze.” That worthy body part was encased in plaster and fabric through which protruded stainless steel rods that seemed to… “They look like they go through my leg,” he slurred.
There was that laugh again. “They do,” the nurse told him, “They are there to maintain the spacing among the pieces of your shin. You broke it seven times, you know.”
“I know. I counted.” With sudden clarity it all came back…
Twenty below and the cable had snapped like twine when he hit it with the short spud to knock the thick casing of ice off it. All the oil tanks under construction were cabled every few feet around the top edge to augers screwed deep in the ground. It was the only way to keep them round until the chimes (top edge reinforcement to which roofs were attached) and the roofs were installed. As the night got colder the steel ropes shrank and tightened. When he smacked it with the spud (a short, heavy iron bar with a long point on one end for lining up rivet holes and a flattened opposite end), the cable not only snapped, but it coiled back like an oversized rubber band and wrapped around his lower legs.
As the cable came around front, it hit the shin of his right leg and broke it. Before he could move or even cry out, it did it again. And it kept doing it. In the end, the cable had broken his shin in seven places. In fear of it hitting him in the head, he had maintained himself upright. When it stopped coming around, he let himself fall, huddling in the snow against the cold and pain, hearing the bull gang thunder toward him, not bothering to answer the shouts of “Dick! Dick! You OK Dick?” He was definitely not OK.
As soon as they got there, someone raced to the office shack to tell the foreman. Grabbing blankets, the foreman raced to the knot of men that told him where his top welder lay on the ground. When he got there he pulled one blanket off the stack in his arm and handed the rest to the man who’d come to get him, “Lay ‘em out, one on top of the last. Make a stack and put him on it. Get him off that cold ground.” His eyes never left the obviously destroyed shin.
The foreman turned to the man on the ground. “We’re gonna put you in the bed of my truck on a mattress and take you into Ravenna Hospital.” Dick nodded. The foreman pulled keys from his pocket and handed truck keys to one of the men. “Manny, you and Scotty go to the rooming house and get a mattress. Tell the old bat the Company will stand good for it. If she gives you a hard time, set her aside. But be gentle about it, mind?”
“Sure Cap’n.” Manny called everyone in a supervisory position “Cap’n.” “We’ll get it.”
Fifteen minutes later, with the officer the rooming house owner called leading the way they headed out onto State Route 44 for the eight mile drive to the south that would bring them to Ravenna Hospital. Dick held onto the mattress, and the two men in the back with him lay down beside him and locked their arms over his chest. The cop turned his lights and siren on, but they had all decided that the worst possible thing would be a bad bump or pothole, so the cop kept it at a steady fifty.
When they got there, the three men in the back of the truck were tooth-chattering cold, but Dick’s leg muscles had begun to contract, grinding broken edges together. The ER doctor had an orthopedic team assembling as he took a medical history and began measuring time. Dick had been down for less than forty minutes. He began watching the door. The ortho team began to arrive about fifteen minutes later, and the ER doctor grabbed two he knew to be willing to go a little beyond. “He doesn’t have to lose the leg,” he pleaded. “You guys can save it. Cross-bolt it at every break and keep it in place with a trapeze. C’mon, you’ll put this guy on the street if you take that leg.”
“No, you save the leg and he’ll be fine.”
Dick had heard enough. “Take my leg and I’ll hunt you down,” he bit out against the pain. “Talk about me as if I weren’t even here. Wouldn’t even let the ER give me anything for pain. So here’s my vote… and you don’t get one. Put this leg together however you have to and let me deal with it from there. Now give me morphine, put me to sleep and get to work.” Tears leaked from the corners of his eyes. Only the ER doctor saw, but it was enough to get him something to knock the pain back.
Now he was looking at this slender reed of mercy through drug hazed eyes, and he thought he might be in love. “What else?”
“There’s a sandbag connected to the rods through your leg. It will maintain the stretch necessary to keep your tibia, your shinbone,” she amended hastily, seeing his eyes go blank, “from being distorted, maybe crushed by the strength of your leg muscles while it’s healing.”
“Oh.” He had lost interest. Truth to tell, all the description and the memories had made him a bit ill. He studied the mirror for another moment. “Your arms are gonna fall off if you keep holding that up there,” he said. “You might as well put it down.”
“Will you be good if I leave you for a few minutes? I have other patients to care for on this ward.”
“Oh, sure. You go ahead.” He cleared his throat and looked around. She watched him for a moment.
“Anything else I can get you before I go back to work?”
Dick looked down at his knee and tapped the cast that went all the way up his thigh. He cleared his throat. He opend his mouth… and closed it again.”
“Mr. Lar-ham,” she began.
“It’s pronounced “Larlem,” to rhyme with Harlem,” he said.
She just looked at him.
“My last name, it’s British and it’s pronounced to rhyme with Harlem. What’s your name?”
“Hattie. Hattie Gadd.”
“Well, Miss Hattie Gadd, I suspect we’re gonna see a lot of each other for a while. Why don’t you go take care of a few less fortunate fellas, and then come back and talk to me some more?”
“Less fortunate?” He obviously didn’t know there was still a good chance he would lose that lower leg.“ How so?”
“Well, after you’ve taken care of them, they’re not the ones you’re gonna sit and talk with, right?”
When he left the hospital early in July, five months later, she left with him. It was 1931. They were married in November. Their marriage was loud, contentious, filled with love and anger.
The Old Man had found his best and truest chance for love and greatness.
In 1986 she finally left him, a victim of that most terrible of diseases, Alzheimer’s Syndrome. He went looking for her ten years later.
(C) Copyright 2014 – R C Larlham – All rights reserved to Author