|The Cruelest Month
Author: Namaste PM
No one hates spring," Wilson says. House shrugs. "I do."Rated: Fiction K+ - English - G. House & J. Wilson - Words: 2,454 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 3 - Published: 04-13-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4194820
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The sun lies, like everything else. House stares out his window at it, filling the blue sky. He squints against the light, forcing himself not to look away, as if he could stare it down, make it confess.
It looks warm. It taunts them all with whispers that winter is over, that it's safe to come outside. It's bright, but the light just tries to blind everyone from the truth. House knows the truth.
It's still cold. Ice and dirty snow hide in the shadows. Anything that melts during the day freezes every night, waiting for him to come along, to knock him down. That's not a metaphor.
Late the night before, his cane caught on a patch of ice and skidded out from beneath him, knocking him to the ground. He'd lain there for a moment, feeling the thin layer of ice beneath him, the skin of his hand rubbed raw where he'd scraped it on rough concrete. He'd had to slide himself across the sidewalk to a spot where there was bare pavement, to a place where he could trust the cane, a place the sun and cold hadn't turned against him.
He'd pushed himself up muttering curses at the night, at the sun, at the season.
Now he stands at the window, lifts his right hand and makes a fist, feeling the twinge as the damaged skin over the scrape pulls and stretches against itself.
"It's almost spring," Kutner says as he walks into the conference room. He's smiling and his coat is unzipped. He believes the lie, of course. He hands House a bag with a sandwich from the deli, and a large coffee from the shop down the street. "It's really warming up out there."
"That's what you said last week, just before we got another four inches of snow." Taub takes another bag from Kutner's hand, looks inside and tosses it on the table.
"And the week before that, when we had the ice storm," Thirteen says.
Kutner shrugs off his coat. "But that was March," he says. "It's April now. It'll be different. Just wait and see."
Nothing is different except the calendar, House thinks.
He tucks the bag under his arm, takes the coffee in his hand. He doesn't say anything, just grips his cane tighter, ignoring the new burst of pain from his palm. He walks into his office, shutting the door behind him.
He sits at his desk, his back to the window. The sun streams through the blinds and he feels its heat through the glass, the way it seeps past his skin, easing the tight muscles of his shoulder, his back. He wants to believe it -- believe that Kutner's right, that it's warm, that spring is finally here -- but he knows better. He gets up, closes the blinds and turns on the TV.
He eats his sandwich, not really tasting it, and stares at the TV, not really paying attention to the actors on the screen.
When he was a kid, his Mom scrubbed the house from top to bottom. "Spring cleaning," she'd say. It didn't matter that the house wasn't theirs, that it was just another anonymous base house somewhere. She'd say that it was a way to make any house feel like their home.
When he was little, she'd take him by the hand and lead him into the gardens whenever she found them, pointing out crocuses and daffodils and tulips that forced their way up through dark soil in the first cold days of spring.
She loved spring, because she loved flowers. She'd take note of a patch of earth outside the windows of each base house that they lived in, saying that it would be the perfect place for a flower bed. She'd flip through seed catalogues every spring, planning the garden that she'd never plant. She'd circle ads for tulip bulbs, knowing that even if she put them into the ground in the fall, Dad would just get new orders and they'd all probably be gone by the time the first flowers bloomed.
When he was six or seven -- when they were in North Carolina -- he'd snuck away one day, went into the gardens and picked fistfuls of blossoms for her. Dad got mad. He saw the mud tracked over the floor from Greg's shoes, heard that Greg had taken them from the flower bed outside the Officers' Club. Found out that someone had seen him.
Mom told Dad she'd take care of it, but Greg could see from the look in Dad's eyes that he wouldn't let it go, that he'd still have to answer for everything later, when Mom wasn't there.
"They're beautiful, honey," Mom said and sat down on the kitchen chair so she could look Greg in the eye. "But these flowers belong to everyone. If we leave them in the ground, we can all enjoy them."
"You should have them. You like them best," he said.
Mom took his hands in hers, pulled him closer. "We don't know that," she said.
All House knows now is that no one gets what they want in the spring. There's snow when there should be rain, rain when there should be sun, potholes where there should be pavement.
He'd hit one of those holes, hiding under three inches of dirty water two years after the infarction. The steering wheel jerked to the right, spun out from beneath his hands. He got the car back under control, pulled off to the side of the road and stopped. He got out of the car already knowing what he'd find.
The right front wheel was sagging, misshapen. When he bent down he could see a jagged hole in the side wall, the tire useless and hissing out air as it sank further down toward the pavement, the entire car leaning at an unnatural angle against the curb.
He shook his head and finally pushed himself upright, circled around to the back of the car to the trunk. He pushed aside an old blanket, a couple of empty bottles left behind some from forgotten night and reached beneath for the spare tire. He braced himself, pulled hard and felt his leg tremble, felt the pain ratchet up before the spare had even budged an inch. He gasped, dropped the tire, grabbed instead for his leg, gripping the muscle above his knee.
Another car went past as he stood there, trying not to move -- not to fall. He felt water from the puddle splash up against him, felt it soak through the denim.
He let go of his leg, reached again for the tire. He told himself that he could do this, that it was just a flat tire. It was nothing. He'd changed flats more times than he could count. His Dad had showed him how to fix a flat on Mom's car before Dad left for Vietnam for the second time -- just in case -- telling him that every man should be able to do it.
House took a breath, braced himself again, holding onto the car with his left hand to shift all the weight onto his left side. He grabbed the spare with his right and pulled. The tire moved, slid out from its spot and across the trunk floor. He pulled harder and raised it up against the edge of the trunk.
He stopped, leaned forward, putting his weight against both hands on the edge of the car. He really could do this. It wasn't that hard. He could pull it out, let it drop to the ground, but then ...
He shook his head. He knew what he could do. He also knew what he couldn't: crouching down with the jack, raising the car, loosening the nuts, wrestling the old tire off and lifting the spare onto the wheel studs, hauling the flat around to the trunk, lifting it in.
He heard another car passing him, felt dirty water splash against his legs.
Wilson was there in fifteen minutes, didn't say anything about the tire, didn't comment about how long it took House to get on his feet when he got out of the car. He just took the spare out of the trunk in one smooth move, filled the silence with odd bits of hospital gossip, about Cuddy's chances to win the empty dean's post, about a new patient who was resisting chemo.
Wilson slammed the trunk closed when he was done.
"Thanks." House didn't look at Wilson when he said it, staring instead at the car, at the spare tire, at the road with its cracked pavement filled with more potholes, an obstacle course he'd never realized was there.
"No problem," Wilson said.
He'd turned and walked back to his own car, gave a brief wave as he climbed in. He'd waited until House drove off until he pulled away too, turned the opposite way at the corner, headed back toward to the hospital.
Now Wilson sits in House's office, leaning back in his chair, legs stretched out in front of him.
"You can't hate spring," he says.
"Because it's a thing, a date, a season," he says. "You can't hate an inanimate object."
"Sure I can." House nods at him. "That tie, for instance."
Wilson looks down. "What's wrong with it?"
It's too bright, House thinks. It's green and yellow and blue mixed into random patterns. Wilson probably bought it in the middle of winter, thinking it looked like a spring that he was sure was just around the corner, probably thinking that it would distract patients from the cold, gray skies, the short days and their own short and depressing futures.
"No it's not, it's ... cheerful." Wilson shakes his head. "And no one hates spring."
Stacy left in the spring, on a day clouds filled the sky, spitting out snow and ice, a freezing drizzle coating the branches, soaking his coat as he stood on the front step, watching her leave, watching the road long after she'd gone.
"Spring is better than winter," Wilson says.
House can tell that Wilson is trying to start an argument about something, about anything. He guesses that there's something Wilson doesn't want to do, that he needs a distraction. If he were to place a bet, House would say that he's got to go give someone bad news.
"At least you know what you're getting with winter," House says. "It's honest."
"It's just spring," Wilson says, "it doesn't have a hidden agenda. It's not deceit, it's just the jet stream -- or do you think the way the earth orbits the sun is just its way of pissing you off?"
House leans forward. "Would you be making this same argument if I was to say that I loved summer?"
House met Wilson in the summer. The sun had gone down hours earlier, but the air was still hot and humid. Everything outside had seemed thick, weighed down by stale moisture that hung in the air,. There was no breeze, nothing seemed to move except the man on the track ahead of him that House didn't know. House should have known then, should have remembered that when everything was hot and still and silent, when a warm front stalled, it was just waiting for something to move in, some new unseen pattern that would change the weather, change everything.
"That's different," Wilson says.
"How? How is hating a season any different than loving one? Bad things happen in the spring. There are tornados and flash floods and ..." House waves one hand in the air ... "allergies."
"Allergies?" Wilson snorts, then looks down, checks his watch.
"And whoever it is that you've got an appointment with, the one where you're going to give someone bad news, what are they going to remember about spring?" House asks. "Are they going to think about sunshine and tulips? Or is it going to be a reminder of the day they found out they were dying?"
Wilson shakes his head, but doesn't argue. He leans back, stares at the narrow band of sunlight that's broken into the room at the edge of the blinds. House looks over at the TV screen, sees a commercial with some woman happily hanging sheets out to dry on a perfect sunny day. He looks away again.
"What about the bike?" Wilson asks. "You can start riding it again now that it's spring."
The first year House bought the bike he hadn't put it away for the winter until after the snow started falling, riding it whenever the road was clear, until he'd finally given up in January. Two months later, at the first sign of spring he'd been tricked by the sun's lies, believed it was safe. He'd taken the bike out from beneath the tarp, taken it out for a long ride.
It had been too early. Rain caught him twenty miles out of town, then it turned to sleet. He was soaked through by the time he made it home, his fingers shaking so badly he could barely turn off the ignition. It took him nearly ten minutes, sitting there cold and wet, until he managed to shift his right leg off the bike, even the muscles in his good leg trembling from hypothermia and exhaustion.
House shakes his head. It'll be weeks until he gets the bike out this year -- not until he's sure.
"You don't like the bike," House points out.
"We're not talking about what I like," Wilson says. "It's about why you don't like spring."
"So now you admit that it's possible a person doesn't like spring?"
Wilson puts up his hands. "Fine. I give up. You don't like spring. It is now an established fact that some people hate spring."
"So now I'm just curious. Why do you hate spring?"
House turns, looks out the door, sees the sun beating against the window, sees the gray patch of snow in a shaded corner of the balcony that hasn't melted -- that won't melt for another week at least. He looks back at Wilson and shrugs.