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Dan Crawley

O’Connor In Pain

We drive up and pile out of the car, noticing O’Connor skipping all over his front yard and driveway. It’s like he’s a kid again and all of us never could stand this ludicrous way he deals with pain. He’s even skipping through the sprinklers; he’s getting pretty wet.

"O’Connor," we all call out, as he leaps and hops from the grass to the cement, "you didn’t fall off your bike, did you?" We laugh. "Did a garbage bag fall on you lately?" That was a good one. See, when we were kids we once had this major water fight and some of us filled a plastic garbage bag up with water and bombed it off a roof, right on top of O’Connor’s head. Unfortunately, instead of exploding, gushing a lake on him, the bag held strong and knocked him to the ground. Then it wouldn’t let go of him. When O’Connor finally got out from beneath it he went off skipping, like he always did, down the street. None of us could catch him. He broke speed skipping records. Anyway, that’s how he dealt (deals) with pain. Fall off his bike, off O’Connor’d skip. Get nailed with a baseball, off O’Connor’d skip. When in pain, we’d hit the ground, crying hiccups, screaming for medical attention, knowing full well that vital organs were splitting open inside of us, our blood flowing like rapids just inside our stomachs.

"What is it, O’Connor?" we want to know now. "Here are your pals, ready for a rollicking game of golf, and here you are, skipping around like a crazy person."

O’Connor’s face lets us know it’s bad. His fists are two balls of white knuckles, side by side, between his legs. He’s soaking wet; we turn off the sprinklers. We can’t tell if he’s crying or not because he’s so soaked. That’d be a first. He’s skipped, but never cried, at least never in front of us. O’Connor’s pace is picking up, his lines of skip are widening. We decide to venture into his house and see if his wife knows what’s up.

O’Connor’s wife, Shirl, looks very stressed. We hate to see her like this; doesn’t suit her. She’s much too attractive for a clenching jaw and shallow eyes. Not a good look for our Shirl. Most of the time she’s a regular discharge of exploding fun, our Shirl. We’ve gone on trips with O’Connor and Shirl: skiing, camping, Las Vegas, even got a houseboat. We like to play with them. The harsh truth: she makes O’Connor bearable to be around.

"Shirl, what’s wrong with your hubby?" we say. "Why is he skipping?"

She’s sitting on the couch with a do-it-yourself doily set in her lap.

"What?" she says right back, very defensive like.

"We haven’t seen him skip for years and years," we say. "Did he hurt himself? Did he drop a sledgehammer on his foot? Did he lose a finger in the garbage disposal?"

"Can’t you all just leave! Go away!"

"Did you...hurt him, Shirl?"

"No!" she screams. "I haven’t touched him!"

"Calm down," we say. "We believe you."

We stand and Shirl sits, all of us waiting on each other. We’re not about to leave now. Something is very wrong.

"Listen, guys. It’s really, really all right," Shirl says in a cracking, soothing, desperate way. Right off we know she’s faking serenity. "Just go away now. I know you’re his best friends, but this is a personal problem between my husband and myself."

"Are you mad at us?" we ask. We kind of sense this in her right now.

She’s crying a hard hiccup-trying-to-catch-a-breath cry.

"What’s is it, Shirl?" we say. "Tell us, please."

She falls off the couch, her doily set goes everywhere. She’s rolling around on the carpeting; she’s in pain. We gather around her.

"He found out," she says, gasping.

"Found out?"

"About us!"

"Us?" We all look at each other.

"Us!" Shirl screams. "USUSUSUSUS!!"

Our faces are bent now like none of us knows what she’s talking about, like we all know. We can’t stand to look at each other anymore.

"What did you tell him?" we say, holding her down on the carpeting like vice clamps. She’s trying to wriggle out of our grips, but she hasn’t got a chance.

"Nothing! I didn’t have to tell!"

"What do you mean by that?" We squeeze her limbs.

"He’s never been with anyone else but me! Now he’s skipping, skipping, all morning, skipping!" Shirl is going into hysterics.

"But why is he skipping?!"

"He was...screaming in the bathroom this morning...then he started skipping...," she says.

"What are you saying?" We think we already know.

"I...we...I think gave him...something...."

"She’s talking about some kind of disease or something!" we yell at each other.

We sit in a circle, like we’re around a campfire and Shirl is the flames. She’s scorching our palms, fingers. We finally get up the nerve to ask each other if any of us have had the slightest hint of pain down there. None of us admit to it.

We didn’t wear any protection. It’s like swimming with socks on. It’s like finger-painting with gloves on. It’s like eating Thanksgiving turkey with a ski mask on.

Shirl glares at us. Her body’s limp and all tension, all fight remains only in our hands. We let go.

"It can’t be that bad," we say. "O’Connor’s always been a baby when it comes to pain. He’s overdoing it. Still, we better go to the hospital and make sure we’re all right. Just get checked out––but we’re fine, we’re doing fine!" We bolt for the door, running like maniacs, leaving Shirl, poor burned up Shirl on the floor with her scattered hobby. We’ll come back later. We’ll make her feel better, later.

While making it for the car, we notice that O’Connor’s nowhere around. He probably took off down the street. He’s probably halfway across the country by now. We pile into the car and race off through the neighborhood, just barely missing kids on bikes, running stop signs. We get out in traffic and ignore red lights. Other cars try to slow us down by getting in the way. We hit a couple of them. No time to stop now. We could be dying for all we know! Now we’re soaring up the on-ramp of the freeway, darting out into the farthest, fastest lane; tires skid behind and beside us. Then: there! In the emergency lane! It’s O’Connor! He’s still skipping! Or more like hobbling. We fly by him; our car is a blur to him, we are sure of it. He probably doesn’t even know it’s us. We look in the rearview mirror, all of us rolling now, crying hiccups, dreading the pain to come. "We need drugs!" we scream. "We’re going to die!" we bawl. Our car is moving along too fast to go back and pick up O’Connor, our friend. But our eyes stay with him in the mirror, though now he’s just a speck, and it’s like we are in some kind of hypnotic realm, barely missing the cars falling away in front of us, to the side of us, all around us, none of us able to take even a blink away from O’Connor in pain.

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