Written 1975, Revised 2015

Author’s note: I cannot remember ever before revising something from a draft 40 years old. When this piece surfaced again, it invited a tune-up. Also it was nice to imagine telephone calls with a living father.


My father phoned long-distance to say I should hire someone to cut my grass.

He’d visited the week before and thought it looked shaggy.

Nonsense! I said. I will cut it myself.

I went outside and stared at the mower, a clunky old gas one, with a difficult pull-cord. When I couldn’t make the starter catch, I called over the fence to my Bolivian neighbor, Sorry to bother you, but.

He said that is what neighbors are for.

The mower caught after three strong pulls.

You want me to do it?

No, I said, a little too sharply, but thanks. He said good luck. I didn’t think I would need it.

It was pleasant cutting the grass for the few moments I was actually cutting it — almost as pleasant as washing dishes, which offers such satisfying immediate results – dirty on the left, clean on the right, and you in the middle. I enjoyed making long strips of short grass, then returning to catch what I had missed. Maneuvered around clothesline poles thinking how nice it would be to hang clothes when the tickly grass was low. Circumambulated my favorite tree, taking care not to come too close, so the tree could wear a little grass skirt. Took special care around grapevines propped crazily on bamboo poles – didn’t want to mow off any grapes — was pulling away from vines when the mower shrieked — large chips of rock shot out from underneath — one caught me at the knee. A bright stream of blood flowed instantly from the wound down my leg onto my sock and my heavy yellow Canadian shoe. I stood there bleeding, thinking about my shoe.

Leaving the mower running, I ran into the house, found a clean white rag, tore it into two strips, tied it tightly over the wound. I felt very angry at the distraction, at how a day could swerve, also angry at myself for not being more careful. But who could detect that stone in the grass?

I grabbed my purse and ran to the fence, mower still running. I asked my Bolivian neighbor to please call his wife outside. Do you think I need stitches?

One look at all the blood soaking the rag and they both said For sure. You want us to drive you?

No, I said. I can drive. It’s the other leg.

I almost forgot to turn the mower off before leaving.

The closest hospital was psychiatric. I dripped some blood in their lobby. The second hospital’s emergency room was full of bored-looking people sitting in rows. A baseball game on TV. A plump girl was reading PSYCHIC IMPULSES IN THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE. It was like stepping into a hypnosis zone. A few glanced at my bloody rag then went back to the game. A woman behind the desk fumbled paperclips, rearranging her desk, while a man with a bleeding forehead tried to tell her his name. I said loudly, Is there anyone else to help us? She looked at me. What do you need?

I was standing on one leg but she could not see that through her little window.

Ignoring the man, she asked my name, address and occupation, and told me to go through the double doors. In a silver and white room full of movable beds, I was told to lie down. A nurse applied something to my wound to make it stop bleeding. She covered it temporarily, said a doctor would be with me in a moment.

I looked around. Next to me a young woman was moaning and covering her eyes. Next to her, a lady with a tube up her nose. Somewhere down the hall, a man screaming. He would scream, pause, then scream again. I felt fairly intact compared to everyone else.

It was not at all the Sunday I imagine when I say Sunday.

Sunday, a leisurely meal, older family members rising slowly from the table to nap. Lemonade with mint, incense in the living room, fat newspapers scattered across the floor. Not ladies moaning and men screaming. Sunday is mown grass.

At some point the moaning woman stopped moaning and stared at me. Hello, I said. You must be hurting bad?

She nodded. My back is killing me.

What happened?

I don’t know. I couldn’t get out of bed this morning. It was very strange. My guy forced me to come here.

Maybe you pulled a muscle?

They took X-rays three hours ago.

I felt sad when she said that. Realized the nurse’s “in a moment” was just talk.

She said, It’s probably my own fault. I always said there is nothing to do on Sundays.

Ha, I said. Try cutting the grass.

We found out we live exactly one block from one another. I live on the south side of the drive-in serving beanburgers and famous onion rings and she lives on the north side. Neither of us has ever eaten there. Talking about our dopey neighborhood felt comforting under all that suspended tubing.

A fourth woman was led in by an aide. She was holding her right forefinger in front of her like a torch. Welcome, I said, sitting up on my elbows. What happened?

I burned my finger on the stove, she said. I feel like a ninny.

None of us feel very smart, I said.

A male nurse came to take her blood pressure. She said, Maybe I should mention I’m pregnant. He stepped back. What the hell does that have to do with me?

The woman with the tube up her nose was wheeled out. She had never said a word. Now the three of us were simply Burned Finger, Back Ache and Wounded Knee. We chatted pleasantly. A nurse poked her head in the door. Who’s laughing? she asked. The other two pointed at me. What’s funny about needing stitches?

Stitches have nothing to do with it.

There was something happy about being in that room and still being human.

One or two hours later an attractive young doctor breezed into the room and uncovered my wound. He had an artificial arm with a hook at the end. The nurse wheeled over a tray of equipment. He gave me a shot to deaden my knee. Then he threaded a needle with his hook. I was sitting up on my elbows to watch him. Nobody spoke. He sewed my leg together as easily as a homemaking teacher puts in a hem. Then he stood, gave directions for care, and walked out, nurse following.

There was a larger silence after he left. Then Back Ache spoke. My mind is blown, she said. Did you see that?

Burned Finger said, My God. A hook.

I felt exhilarated as I limped out of the emergency room, asking a tattooed young man with his shirtsleeves chopped off if his wife were inside with a back ache. Girlfriend, he said. He seemed suspicious Then, Yeah?

I said, She’s still waiting.

I wished she and I could get together someday and have a beanburger and talk about old times.

The following week was pleasant enough, considering I couldn’t take a shower, ride my bike, or finish cutting my yard. I couldn’t stop thinking about the hook. Threading a needle. There was grace in it. Everything I wrote that week contained the hook. My dad phoned and asked, How’s the grass? I told him it looked very creative.

Naomi Shihab Nye