Bleed For Me
By Jessie Andersen
She watched the white gauze blush red as blood seeped through the too-thin fabric held against his palm. Clenching his fist for a moment did nothing to stop the crimson stream that continued to flow. With the bare, calloused fingers of his good hand, he reached for the metal handle of the wood stove in the corner next to his favorite rocker. A flick of his wrist opened the door, and he tossed the soaked fibers into the flames.
Ripping the clean gauze open with his teeth, he pressed it against his skin. “Here, hold that,” he said, his voice gravelly, as she looked on helplessly as any seven year old would.
Carefully, she pressed her fingers against the gauze. Her hand in his was odd, out of place against his worn, leathered skin, a pool of fresh cream poured over a pile of dirt and grease.
While she pressed, he reached into his back pocket where she knew he’d pull out the handkerchief that lived there. With a snap, he stretched out the cloth from corner to corner and wound it around his hand, tucking one end under and tightening the knot with his teeth.
“There,” he said, squeezing his fist. “Good as new.”
But he couldn’t hide the tiny grimace that flashed over his eyes and forehead as he pressed on the makeshift bandage.
A sharp voice called from the other room. “It needs stitches!”
“I ain’t going to no doctor, Ginner!” Then he looked at the small girl at his feet and shook his head, his eyes twinkling lights over soft, blue velvet. “I don’t need no gol’ darn stitches!”
He winked as his lips pulled back in a grin, revealing the gold capped tooth on his upper right side. It made his smile sparkle as much as his eyes.
“How’d you cut it, Gramps?” she asked, staring up at him from the floor where she often sat at his feet. She’d walked through the door moments before to the sight of him sitting by the fire, attempting to nurse his hand while his wife, her Gram, cleared away some bloodied towels.
“Cuttin some pussy willers. Jabbed that gol’ darn knife right into my hand when I was cuttin ‘em.” He leaned his head back on the wooden slats of the rocker and closed his eyes.
She could picture it. All 5’4 of him reaching deep into the weeds, bending around a jutting rock with knife in hand, trying to be careful not to fall in the creek bed full of water. He’d have held the stems together with one hand and sliced with the other, driving the blade deep into his palm. Deep enough to need stitches. But he’d refuse to get them. She grimaced just thinking about it.
“Them pussy willers tried to best me, but I got the better of them, now didn’t I?” He tossed his head to the side, pointing toward the mantle with his gaze.
She looked up where, for the first time, she noticed a glass vase sprouting pussy willows and cat tails.
She laughed, “Gramps, why’d you need pussy willows so bad?”
He clenched his hand. “I just know’d you like ‘em is all.”
A white heat flooded her body. “Y-you got them for me?” she stammered.
“Yepper, and you can take ‘em home. I don’t want to see ‘em ever again,’ he snickered.
No, of course not. He’d not have the plant that bested him standing on the mantle in its full glory, taunting and teasing his injury. In his mind, he’d met the challenge of the willows and came out on the other side, the slightly marred victor.
For years those pussy willows adorned her vanity, evidence of a grandfather’s loving sacrifice. Now, though years and her grandfather have passed, the pussy willows displayed in her weed arrangement in her own home remind her of just one of the many sacrifices of a man whose memory still lives on in the willows. The same pussy willers he cut so long ago.