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The Kept Man

I have been waiting for my husband to die for six years. Martin has been in a coma ever since he knocked his head --- hard, of course, it's not as though he just bumped it one day and then was (almost) gone forever --- in his studio. First there was an aneurysm, an explosion of sorts in his brain, and then he fell from the ladder he was standing on, fifteen feet up in the air, knocking his head on a painting, another one next to it, the edge of an easel, and finally landing solidly on a paint can, a serene blue oil, that tipped over and spilled forth, mixing with the blood that began to ripple from his head, so when I found him --- oh yes, I found him, when I came back from my morning walk on the waterfront, maybe an hour after the fall, but don't worry, if I had gotten home earlier it wouldn't have made a difference the doctors have told me, he was completely fucked on impact --- I at first thought he was merely sleeping in a sea of paint, a mix gone bad. (Purple? He hated purple.) It wouldn't have been the first time he had napped on the floor of his studio. He spent nights there sometimes, instead of walking through one doorway, and then another, into our bed.

But then I saw the easel, and the second painting --- an impressive piece depicting a woman bearing a strong resemblance to his mother in her younger days; the woman holds a cross made of garish red bulbs, the kind that might line the stage at a strip club, and she has the same peaceful, creepy look, the glazed smile and eyes, and the grey hues in uncomfortable places, that permeated so many of Martin's paintings --- which had collapsed on its back on the floor. He wasn't careless like that. All of his work was neatly organized in stacks by year and then subject matter and then title as if at any moment someone might want to catalogue his work, which in fact several someones have since he entered --- entered, like through a door, that's the only way to explain it, in one door, though never out the other --- his coma.

I kneeled in my summer skirt, yellow, I remember, like a sour lemon candy, my bare knees impressing an outline in the paint next to him, and I touched his head and I tried to turn him but he was heavy and I said, "Martin," and he said nothing, and then I said his name again, but louder, and still nothing, and then I slapped him and he didn't move, and then I said, "Martin Martin Martin." There was the ambulance, and a lot of noise, and me and Martin in the hospital, paint on his face, paint on my knees, the two of us the weirdest people in the room as usual, only this time I didn't have anyone to talk to but myself.

Then came six years of waiting, all different kinds of waiting. Waiting for the doctors and test results and the final word (even though nothing has ever been final, really), is a different kind of waiting than waiting in the hospital lobby for the car service to take you back to Brooklyn at the end of the night, wrapped in a soft, small blanket stolen from his room. Waiting for phone calls to be returned from his parents, who start praying the minute you tell them, or his best friend who can't stop cursing, is different from waiting for phone calls from a lawyer, who is all business and zero hope, or an anxious owner of a small art gallery whose whole life will be transformed. Waiting for visiting hours to start is different from waiting for visiting hours to end. Waiting for the nurse to give him his medicine is different from waiting for the pharmacist to bring yours; the pills that help you sleep through the night. Waiting for him to get accepted into the first nursing home, the first one that will take him, anyone please, take him, is different from waiting for the second nursing home (the one that wins awards, the ones that people whisper about and pray for, like a dream come true this place, they say) to open their doors to him. Waiting for the first doctor is different from waiting for the latest doctor, the one who will tell you what you already know. Waiting for Martin to wake up is a different kind of waiting than waiting for him to die.

Wake up. Die. Wait.

Excerpted from The Kept Man © Copyright 2012 by Jami Attenberg. Reprinted with permission by Riverhead Hardcover. All rights reserved.

The Kept Man
by by Jami Attenberg

  • hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1594489521
  • ISBN-13: 9781594489525