Kids out driving Saturday afternoon just pass me by
I'm just savouring familiar sights
- Flame Trees- Cold Chisel.
When Wilson stopped the car in front of his place House just sat for a moment, before opening the door and ducking out. His shoulders cracked as he stepped out of the car. The traffic noises were loud. His hearing was acute from the silence of the car, and he could hear a radio playing the local classic hits station out of someone's garage, a dull clunk as someone put down a tool, probably a heavy spanner or socket wrench. Tinkering with something. House could see them lying back on an old blanket to keep the cold away from the small of their back, letting the pieces float together in their mind while they wiped their hands on an old rag before reaching in and fiddling...
Then again, thought House, it could be some harassed office drone trying not to get creases in their pants as they changed a tyre.
Just hanging around tinkering with a car did hold some attraction to him at the moment, if he had a car that was worthy of tinkering with, if he hadn't thrown out or loaned out indefinitely most of his tools, if he would actually be comfortable fixing a car, having a car to fix.
He pushed off the side of the car and told Wilson he'd be fine carrying his own bag, and to emphasise that he stepped around to the trunk and grabbed it himself, putting the short straps over his left shoulder so the bag lay against his ribs. His nose was running in the cold. He sniffed.
Wilson still came around the car with him. He closed the trunk for something to do as House trudged gingerly through the puddle of sludge that had collected at the base of the stairs up to the front door. He didn't have the ice grip on his cane, so he stepped carefully, conscious of the risk of slipping on the stairs. He heard Wilson behind him, trying not to get mud on his shoes, stepping lightly.
Wilson came up the stairs too, not overtaking House, and stood there, leaning nonchalantly against the rail as House rooted around in one of the pockets of his bag, where Wilson had thrown his keys and a lot of other last-minute stuff.
The outer hallway smelled of floor polish, and when he opened the apartment door (it was easy if you twisted a certain way) there was more mail lying on the floor. Just bills. Boring.
He dropped his bag as soon as he came through the entry and bent over to pick up the mail, immediately in front of Wilson as he came through the door. Wilson made a little hello-I'm-standing-here, don't-fall-over noise, but then House was walking through to the kitchen to put down the pile of bills. Electricity, Gas, Cable, Hot Sex. The Usual. He asked Wilson if he wanted a drink, and he declined. Wilson quickly asked if he was fine, House said Yes, He Was, Wilson said Ok, Fine. He might come over later. (Which really meant that he would). House said OK. Wilson nodded and left. House stood in the kitchen, leaning on the bench as Wilson turned and left, hearing the click of the door, the faraway click of his shoes in the hall, the slam of the outer door. Going back to work.
Damn, this kitchen was cold. House could see his breath as he stood there with his hands on the cold bench, so he went to the switch by the door and turned on the heating. The heat was getting a bit old in this building, now, and he heard a dull clunk under the floor somewhere before the warm air started coming through.
House went through to the bathroom to pee, and as he bent over the tap to wash his hands he bent and cupped water to his mouth as well, his forehead pressed against the cool metal. He sluiced water to his face and watched it drip off in the mirror… He was bent almost double over the basin, his face pale, and sickly-looking, offset nicely by the red around his eyes and the huge bags under them. His forehead was wrinkled, his eyebrows raised to his reflection, and his stubble had graduated to a full beard. He'd definitely lost weight – he could see it in his cheekbones and the way his chin and jaw looked sharper.
He felt like he needed a couple of days in front of the TV with a box of pizza on his chest to feel right again, and that a daytime nap was in order.
He put on some Rachmaninov, down low as background noise, then hopefully (and vainly) cruised through the kitchen looking for something to eat. The place was warmer, but the tiles were still very cold.
He had a tin of peaches in the cupboard, as well as a carton of long-life milk. In the fridge there was a jar of olives and a bottle of chocolate topping. There was a carton of cup-a-soup out on the counter, and he wondered where Wilson had found it. It was probably right at the back of the pantry, hidden behind both the peaches and the milk.
He wasn't that hungry, so he just settled for a mug of instant cup-a-soup (Generic Flavour, he called it, but he thought it was meant to be chicken or vegetable or something). He left the kettle to boil as he walked through to the bedroom and surveyed it.
He still felt pretty shitty, but his mind was too active (and his body too restless) to lie still or sleep yet. Still. He could never sleep very well after such a journey in the car, normally, not when he had so much to think about. He could usually only step out of a car into bed if he was drunk or he'd been out late, and it was neither of those things. Not to mention the fact that he'd just had such a D & fucking M conversation with Wilson. So he waited for sleep. It always came eventually, and he didn't think it would be so laggard today. He yawned, a slight itch in his chest, but he didn't cough.
There were the remains of two Wilson-brand triangles of toast, now dry and hard, on a plate next to the bed. (He didn't even remember that). The bed itself was rucked up, and no matter how tired he was he wasn't going to sleep on those sheets, the ones he had sweated and coughed and – hallucinated – in. He discarded the bedspread, quickly stripped the sheets off the bed and the pillowcase off the pillow he'd been using. There was snot on it, which was really, really gross. He had to run a wash through as soon as he could.
He threw the sheets on the floor where he had a bit of a makeshift dirty-clothes pile going, then grabbed the last set of sheets out of the linen cupboard in the hall, one comfortable and worn flanellette topsheet, a cotton fitted one. He made the bed as quickly as possible, not worrying too much about tucking, because he tended to untuck well-made beds anyway, and he was way too tired to make the bed properly, he just didn't want to sleep in the sweaty manky old ones or have to deal with creases and the cold mattress when they came off in the night. He replaced the blanket and the pillow, feeling strangely domestic.
Now he was beginning to feel tired. He walked through to the bathroom and turned the shower on hot, closing the door against the cold draught. He sat down on the edge of the bath and slowly undressed, quickly limped to the shower, shivering. Damn, it was cold. Especially sick as he was he didn't want to have to stand up for too long.
He stepped carefully into the shower, lifting his leg over the ledge of tiles at the edge of the stall and leaning back against the wall in one movement, the tap just digging into his lower back. The feel of the hot water on his back and legs, the warmth of the vapour billowing through the room, the feeling as he closed his eyes and let the water cascade down over his head and face, was such a release, such a rush of relaxation and relief that he wanted to ease down onto the floor of the shower and just sit there until he dissolved. He probably would have if it wasn't incredibly impractical, but as it was he quickly shampooed his hair, then soaped all over as best he could, scrubbing until he didn't smell like sweat and sick and hospital patient. He spaced out and just stood there in the shower until his fingers were white and wrinkled like prunes and his leg protested despite the heat.
He shut off the shower and stood on the bathmat, shivering, feeling the heat rise off his skin, watching steam rise from his hair in the mirror. He could see that he had lost weight, his shoulders and ribs protruding slightly. He didn't flex the muscles in his arms, too tired for that, he just looked.
He gave a sarcastic eyebrow raise to the Gregory John House, MD, in the mirror, curling his lip, looking him up and down. His upper body was ok. So was his left leg, but with nothing like the muscle tone it used to have.
His right leg was wasted, with a pretty nasty scar. Nothing you could whip out and show the boys at summer camp:
Hey check this out.. where I had my appendix out… Where I fell off my bike… twelve stitches and gravel rash…
Hey dude! Check out this mad fucker! A six-inch scar and a playdoh leg from knee to hip!That was what the girls saw now, too. Looked straight past his cock to the scar on his leg.
He limped quickly over to the cupboard and grabbed a towel, drying his hair so it didn't drip down his back, quickly chafing at his back and stomach. He could smell soap, and the clean smell of the towel. Nothing like being sick to make you feel dirty.
He was tired, but now he felt driven, and falling into bed really exhausted would be good, so he coughed a bit from the steam (and the infection) and quickly shaved electrically, rubbing his face afterwards ruefully. He'd missed Monday's shave, partly because he was too sick to get up... now he'd have to shave twice in one week if he wanted to get the routine back. Either that or he could grow a beard, but there was a hugh line between stubbled and bearded that he didn't want to cross.
Now he felt better somehow, clean and respectable, smelling like soap and shampoo. All I need's the talcum powder, he thought, maybe a singlet to tuck into my underwear, thinking of his mother and her constant assertion that all minor illnesses could be warded off by not going outside with your hair wet and drinking hot liquids.
He remembered his stomach, grabbed his cane and walked through to the kitchen. He made instant soup and sipped a little of it as he ran the tap hot for the hot water bottle, and some more as he walked to the bedroom with the mug in one hand and the hot water bottle wrapped in an old towel tucked under his right arm, but most of it lay cooling on the bedside table as he fell asleep with a paperback beside his head, a pleasant warmth against his leg.
House slept well (for him), and woke up with his head turned away from the afternoon light coming in the doorway. He hadn't closed the door or the blinds in the hall, and there was a bar of light across the bed, cutting across one spread-out forearm as he stretched. He could smell the rubber from the now-cold hot water bottle.
He was out of bed and dressed by the time the afternoon Sesame Street rerun started. The letter of the day was X (xylophone was still the old standby, he guessed not many kids knew what a xanthoma was). The number of the day was 17, sewenteen by the count, ha ha, and that was the Feller number. The atomic number of Chlorine. The number of syllables in a Haiku, how old the Dancing Queen was, he believed, and just after the ides of March. He was really grasping at straws now. Who was that Russian Novelist who had seen seventeen trees outside of his jail cell?
He was reading on the couch contentedly when Wilson came over, bearing pizza and a six-pack of Molson Canadian Light, some basic shopping as well so he didn't have to go out if he didn't want to. He asked if pizza was OK, and House said sure. He wasn't picky. He asked Wilson if he'd got Ham and Pineapple, the usual joke. He hated pineapple on pizza anyway. Wilson gave him a rebuking look accordingly, and then they sat and ate.
House was surprisingly hungry, and even Wilson looked surprised at the amount he put away.
They sat and ate pizza and drank beer, House scoffing down pizza like there was no tomorrow. It was almost funny.
House had his feet up on the couch, so Wilson took the easy chair.
They talked about music, and Madonna's lingerie fashion, and running shoes. House explained to Wilson that a guitar had more octaves than a piano. He then explained it again because his mouth was full of pizza the first time. He even hummed a bit through the pizza and mimed keys, but that didn't help.
They were both slouched back, nursing full bellies. (House was still on the last quarter of his bottle of beer, sipping in between idly playing with the condensation rings it left on the cover of the TV guide sitting on the coffee table. Wilson was on his second.)
It was the commercial, the new flavour of Coke they had out, and House said
"Did you ever do that cannonballing thing when you were a kid?"
Wow. A personal question and a conversation initiated.
Wilson raised his eyebrows and took a gulp of his beer.
"You know, you run up to something, like the edge of a pool, or a jetty, and then you jump off and tuck you legs to your chest, and keep 'em tucked..."
Wilson thought of the DO NOT RUN signs and the shivering kids among the chemical smell at the local pool.
House balled one fist and crashed it into the other laid flat, making a sort of splashing motion.
"… And then you hit the water, and it makes a huge splash, and your swimmers get pushed right up the crack of your ass, if you're not wearing shorts."
He grinned. Wilson wondered how he could find that so amusing.
"Yeah, I did it, at the pool, but only once or twice when the lifeguards weren't looking. And maybe in the Swim Team."
"When my dad was stationed in Hawaii we used to do it at the jetty near the beach… we'd run along these boards, trying not to get splinters in out feet, and then we'd take a huge leap of the end and see who could make the biggest splash. It was fun."
Wilson wondered where that had come from. Half the time when you talked with House you never knew where these (seemingly) random outbursts came from.
Wilson finished his beer, House was almost done on his too.
They talked a bit more, about swimming and sport, and shoes and the Appalachian Trail, and then the English murder mystery came back on and Wilson had to watch closely, because House had bet him that the murderer was the beady-eyed guy who polished the candle-sticks in the Church. Wilson thought it was the wife of the Vicar. House was right, and after assuring that he hadn't read the book or seen the program before Wilson grudgingly parted with his twenty bucks, reminding House that it was he who had bought dinner, and reminding himself that he still needed to cook up an ingenious way of paying House back for going walkabout in the hospital. Trying to get House back was playing a dangerous game.
The late-night news came on. House yawned and sniffed. He was still a little bit wheezy.
Wilson got up and took the pizza to the fridge, stowing the remaining three bottles of beer in there as well.
He heard House rise, sucking the last out of his bottle of beer as he walked. He came into the kitchen and threw the bottle in the right waste receptacle, started poking his nose around the groceries Wilson had bought. Bread, milk, the stuff that House would need for the morning and in case he wasn't well enough to actually go shopping in the next couple of days. Mind you, most of the shopping that House did was the corner-store essentials kind anyway (or the take-out food kind).
As far as Wilson could tell, he was fairly domestic, but still ate like a first-grader. Even when he had lived with Stacy he'd had to be prompted to live on something other than peanut butter sandwiches and tinned spaghetti. Stacy had liked to come home and cook something romantic and complex. House still liked to come home and eat a jam foldover and get crumbs everywhere.
One of the last big fights they'd had before the infarction -before they realized they hadn't really had all that much to fight about at all- had started, as far as Wilson could tell, when House had been working on an article. He'd worked all evening at their desk, getting crumbs all over Stacy's case files, and the clincher, a large blob of Snak Pak brand fake vanilla custard over the surface of the desk.
Wilson could still remember laughing helplessly at the front door as Greg turned up with an overnight bag, Debbie looking on disapprovingly as he made a 'blah blah' gesture with his hand, and said in an amazingly accurate high-pitched Stacy voice "Use a goddamn plate, Greg, a plate!"
House cracked open the carton of milk and washed down a Vicodin with a gulp straight from the carton. He thanked Wilson for the food 'n' stuff and turned back to the couch.
Wilson said he might go, House said, Good, Ok, thanks. The channels flicked and the page of his book turned.
The last thing Wilson said before he stepped out the door was Don't go smoking any cigars, Ok? From that angle Wilson could just see the side of his face, still with the blue flash of the changing channels on it.
House turned his head and said said of course not, it'd stink the place up, he needed to air it out as it was, and did he look like head of the board?
Wilson smiled, closed the door, went home.
The date with Julie went well, and after House returned to work after milking his week's sick leave for all it was worth, House had hammered him for every single detail. He said he couldn't wait to meet her. Wilson said Oh Yes he could.
House did wait to meet Julie, but not for long, and she was well prepared.
Julie, oddly, did have a liking for House. The first time she met him (Wilson was slightly nervous at this, the true test of their relationship) she was just quiet for a few moments after he left. She asked, Was he always like that? Wilson said What, the limp, or the sarcastic, bitter part?
Julie couldn't believe that he was an asshole even before the infarction. And, unbelievably, she liked him. House liked her cooking (he was probably the only person who did) and laughed at her jokes.
The only thing about House that Julie ever publicly disapproved of was the pills. She'd get James to invite him over to dinner, and make sure he came, and ignore or laugh at his crude jokes, and then she'd only half-fill his wine glass. House knew, too, that she either thought he was a drug addict or thought that he didn't know how to handle his own medication, and so he accordingly gave Wilson his 'I know I'm being patronised' look over his scanty glass of red.
Yet House seemed to enjoy being around Julie, as much as he could seem to enjoy being around anyone for a long time. Wilson thought he might find the two of them funny, the way he seemed to have a sarcastic smile on his face when he came over to their place, the way he quietly wolfed down their food.
He was strange.
He was strange. That's what Wilson thought as he indicated and turned the car back onto the road outside House's apartment. He was a strange guy.
House languished at home. He watched TV, and read, and played piano, and by the time he bored of the stuff he did indoors and felt like going out he was well enough to do so without coughing his guts out in the gutter. He still stayed off work, though, because he was enjoying the break, and he wasn't that bored, and Wilson had (probably on purpose) not informed him of any interesting cases.
He went down to the music store he liked, and browsed in the bookshop. He beat his own high score at Addams Family Pinball. He even walked to the corner store to buy more peanut butter, albeit carefully.
On his first day back he slept in past the alarm, which he didn't set, and got up and ready in time to catch the really late bus, the last one that stopped anywhere near where he could get to the hospital for a couple of hours. He stood in the cold with a stamping kid in a WalMart uniform, someone wearing a pair of white orderly sneakers who gave him a sidelong glance. A college student wearing an oversized jumper and a kid's backpack looked at his face, his cane, his face, and gave him her seat. He looked her in the eyes and nodded to say thanks, and she blushed. He stared out the window among the old-lino and diesel smell of the bus and only coughed once.
The whole first day he did nothing but avoid Cuddy, play Gameboy and surf the internet, sending embarrassing links to Wilson, and around mid-afternoon he fell asleep, just hearing the pop, whirr, click as the record player reached the end of the record and the arm whizzed back.
He dozed in the brown chair in the corner of his office, but really he was just thinking with his eyes closed.