JUST IN CASE
It wasn't a sound I was familiar with. I knew it was a sound, and not a word, because I was alone.
A little louder this time. I squeezed the brake.
'You're a crock, man!'
OK, so it was a word after all. I looked around -- no one. All I registered was the wind, and the pain in my knee, which I duly rubbed.
'About time, too! You know I can't take that kind of incline, get your fat ass outta the saddle. Jeez.'
'Ehh,' I said, '...did you call me a crock back there? Was that you, ehh, knee?' I glanced around, then added, 'You can come out now, Steve,' just in case.
'Listen, friend,' my, ehh, knee continued, 'I can't take much more of this, I feel like shredded fucking wheat.'
'I'm not having this conversation.'
'No? Tell it to the surgeon!'
I put the whole thing down to excessive exercise and endorphins and moved on. But the following evening, my legs supported by the coffee table, relaxed and sipping a cool one, there it was again.
I flicked over to the game, whistling indiscriminately.
'I said, hey!'
'OK! What already?'
'About my operation...'
'Operation? There isn't going to be an operation. Put your... you have a mind, right?
'Don't patronise me, I'm sore.'
The letter arrived a couple of days later.
'This is ridiculous, where you going to go?'
'Oh yeah?' said I.
'Yeah,' said it.
'So be it,' said I, thinking how's he going to make the fare?
A gaping 4-inch wound opened above my knee, and I fell over. My blood-soaked kneecap fell to the carpet and rolled across the floor, out the back door. 'Freedom!' it hollered.
The medics were quite understanding.
'Fine, sir. So can we see the letter your knee sent you?'
'The little shit must have hid the damn thing.'
'That really sucks, sir. And, ehh, your knee said it was going to Miami?'
'I know, I know. If anyone told me this I'd think they were nuts.'
'Lets not jump to conclusions, sir. Sorry, jump, ahem.'
Six months later I was slicing beets for salad when I heard the faint rap on the window. There he was, down low on the sill, looking tanned but, well, older, I guess.
'Don't think for a second that you can come barging back in here like nothing's happened.'
'Open the damn window!'
So I let him in. He rolled over to the couch and made himself comfortable on a cushion.
'You changed the curtains,' it said. 'All the years I was here, but you wait till I'm gone to change the curtains. IKEA, right?
'And you wanted?'
'I was in the neighbourhood, thought I'd stop by. Didn't notice you were limping.'
'I did, for a long time.'
'You got a, ehh...'
'And how's it going? OK?'
'You can't beat the real thing. But good to hear it's working out.'
'And how was Miami?'
'Hot! And the babes -- you should see the babes.'
'So, how long you in town for?'
'Can't say. Depends.'
'Lemme cut to the chase. I wanna come home.'
'I'm sorry?' For a second there I thought you--'
'Yeah. The road's not for me. I wanna come home.'
'And that's supposed to work how? I mean, I paid five grand for a new knee that hasn't caused me the slightest aggravation. In fact, since you left, I've only spoken to other humans. And another thing -- you left me, you, ehh ... walked out on me, having caused me excruciating pain.'
'You know, somehow, I really kind of missed you. Sometimes.'
'No, not one bit, not one iota. So, bye.'
He rolled into the distance, leaving some strong-sounding language in his wake. It could have been Spanish.
Within a month he was barely a shadow of his former self. He was always behind the liquor store. I'd hear him before I'd see him, harassing people, women mostly -- 'Hey Chica! Nice tendons!' or 'Hola! Carrying a little water, huh?' He was a mess, and he didn't try to hide it. Personal hygiene is the first casualty of a break-up; I could smell him from the corner. But because he'd been part of me once, I took it upon myself to talk to him.
'Hey, buddy, spare a dime?'
'I've been worried about you.'
'Do I know you?'
'It's me, your old host.'
'My old host is dead.'
'No, I'm really quite alive. I thought maybe we could talk.'
'Spare a dime, buddy?'
He'd come up close, the smell was repulsive.
'Hey! Back off!' But it was too late -- they came from all sides. Appendages and organs of all shapes and sizes, cast-offs and runaways.
I was conscious, albeit restrained, and being examined by the Simpsons' doctor's doppelganger.
'Well, it's a miracle, really. It seems you didn't need a knee-replacement in the first place. The original kneecap was just floating back there, ehh...somewhere, and has reattached itself, ho-ho-ho. I've never seen anything quite like it. How we didn't find it on the X-rays I do not know. It doesn't explain the wound, of course; why would you do this to yourself? Drink much?'
'You mean it's back.'
'Well, yes. You could put it that way.'
'Did it say anything?'
'I'm not quite following--'
'The knee, did it -- never mind.'
'Anyone I can call for you -- spouse maybe? Not married, huh. How 'bout a counselor?'
'A cab, call me a goddamn cab.'
Two weeks later, I was asleep when my knee woke me up.
'Me and you good?'
'I need some time,' I said, 'it's been a rough ride.'
'You know, as we lie here in the dark, it's just like the old days. Everything's gonna be different from now on, I swear.'
'Like I said, I need some time.'
'Wanna see my stuff?'
'My cool stuff, from Miami.'
'Not right now.'
'Tomorrow maybe? It's in a locker at the station. I left the key outside under the geranium. It's great that you can take me around the place again. Things are so much quicker with a host.'
I turned on the light.
'What the fuck are you talking about -- locker?'
'There's some stuff you need to know.'
'See, in Miami I met some Colombians. We kind of hung together. They had this beautiful boat you'd have loved--'
'Good people, you'd like 'em.'
'Locker at the station?'
'Oh yeah, maybe we can talk about that some other time. I'm so tired. So, night.'
'What's in the damn locker?'
'OK, OK, relax, man.'
'20 pounds of Charley.'
'Charley? Charley who?'
'Ha-ha, good one!'
'Charley! Cocaine! You never cease to amaze me, really. So, goodnight... Hey! Where we going? Get back into bed, man, I'm tired! Hey, no! Put the knife away!...'
That, I thought, was the end of that. But I've been wrong before.
'About time you kicked his sorry ass outta here,' said some--
'Who said that?' said I, and glanced around before adding 'Steve? Steve? You can come out now Steve,' just in case.