I should have taken the time to wash my hands, get some paper towels, and dig the slivers of dirt out from under my fingernails before I came back to you. Maybe I should have just walked out of the kitchen altogether, dragged my eyes over the teal paint on the hallway walls, and grabbed a bath towel to help staunch everything that seemed to be happening. And I know, I know I should have gotten to the phone faster. I should have lunged for the receiver and waited for the ring to cleave into my ear and said good morning, yes, it is an emergency, here is my address, I am an adult, so is my bleeding friend, please come if your paperwork permits, thank you, have a nice day, and see you soon, and you’ve got a lovely voice, and do you have brown eyes? Because it sounds like you have brown eyes.

I sort of hoped, the whole time you were hurting, that I looked like I knew what I was doing with my hands, gloved in pot-holders, clamped over your red red shoulder. I think some part of me expected it to feel hot under my fingers, which is why I went for the potholders before I thought of gauze or bath towels or calling an ambulance. But your shoulder was not a bubbling vat of lasagna, it was your shoulder, and I was treating it like something I’d over-baked and had to hold far away from my body just to carry to the table. Heat is contagious, but knife-wounds from ex-husbands are not, and potholders are not medical supplies. I can say I know this now and mean it.

The kitchen tile was so so white underneath you.

I used to write instructions down for my mother about how to use the computer: where the power button was, where the trash icon was, and why she had a computer. Later, she wanted more instructions. She wanted to know how to use the stove and where the light switch was and how to open the fridge and why my father hadn’t come home yet. I wrote all of it down just to keep her head in one place. One time she’d asked me what my eyes looked like while she was looking at them. This made me understand I had to make contact with her through something other than pupils. It worked like this: for every neuron she had that retired from good memory, there was a sticky note on her wall. Her thinking got splattered all over the house, bits of grey matter scrawled in cursive over neon pink paper. Spaghetti. I’m sure that’s where I’m headed to, even if it’s far off. I’ve tried to start making my own paper brain in case it comes soon, but it’s a lot harder to tell what I should remember when I haven’t forgotten it just yet.

I would have liked instructions for this day. I would have liked sticky notes for how to be better at helping your spaghettied shoulder. There weren’t any though, because people don’t write that sort of thing down. Maybe now that it’s all over I’ll write one for myself in case it happens again. It would go like this:

1. If a man named Harold with half his face shaved breaks in through the second largest window in your friend’s house with a fish knife and starts yelling and your friend yells back, you should call the police. Use your cell phone, wait on the line, do not think about the eye color of the policeman, this is not important right now.

2. If a man named Harold with half his face shaved treats your friend’s shoulder like the spine of a salmon he needs to break, avoid the urge to stay behind the white white door. It is not “not your business” once there’s blood. Blood means it’s public. Blood means you should charge that half-shaved man and try to knock the adrenaline right out of his skull.

3. If a man named Harold with half his face sad pulls the knife back and goes out through the window before you’ve done anything but breathe and watch, remember how some of his hair might still on the tile floor. Set it aside. It is a nerve-ending and it is how you can yank him back into the red after it’s stopped spilling. Do not, with your hands shaking like a container of shredded parmesan, mop that hair up later along with the rest of the spill. You can’t call that cleaning.

4. Understand that there is nothing “good” to do.

This would be a long sticky-note and I think I’d have to use the back side and write very small to get it all to fit. I sort of wonder what instructions you were following when you put your right hand over your left shoulder and looked like you might break into the pledge of allegiance right there in that red-white kitchen. You can tell I wasn’t helping because I was trying to think of something blue to bring into the room to make it all the way American. When I finally came over with the potholders, you sputtered a few recommendations.

“Press down hard.” Your voice got sliced in the air in the same way dough gets sliced into noodles by pasta-makers. You sounded like linguini and hell. I didn’t press hard though; I cupped the red softly and you looked at me again because my vast incompetence was impressive.

I was gentle. I think I lost you your arm.

When the ambulance came, we didn’t hear it. The neighbors had called it over after seeing Harold slip out of our window, half-shaved and red from wrist to fingertip. Our county has one ambulance, and we didn’t hear it because its siren was out. They would tell us later that they had gotten the call, and, knowing it was an emergency, didn’t take the time to repair the sound that let them cut through traffic. I would have reprimanded them more, but our doorbell had the same problem, so when they came to ring it we didn’t move from our private hospital of you sitting and me standing. After a minute of the medic’s finger getting sore jamming the button, he knocked. I thought he was the mailman, so I yelled and re-adjusted the red red potholders. He would knock three more times before I was willing to leave you and go to the door and actually let him in.

His eyes were grey like stainless steel, like he’d pulled them out of the same knife-drawer your ex-husband owned. I almost didn’t let him in because of this.

I thought they’d bring the gurney into the house, but they didn’t. He just crossed the room and picked you up and walked out and set you down on the white bed outside and gave me a look. It was a long, sharp, bread-knife look.

“You coming?” he’d said. My heart skipped over the serrations of his half-invitation.

“No,” I’d managed, my hands still in the potholders, my head still in the sticky-note procedure I was trying to make up and follow at the same time.

“All right,” he’d affirmed before shutting the door on me and the red.

A policeman came in after the silent ambulance whirred off and asked me things. I wanted to pull him over and push him into the kitchen; I wanted to make him stand between the tiles and the stained chair in his blue uniform. I wanted to pledge allegiance to the aftermath even though I’d done so poorly in the beforemath. You were still in the math of it as I gave him my answers to things. I told him about Harold and about his name being Harold and you and your name that was spelled differently than most people expect it to be. I told him about the broken window and how its breaking was louder than the ambulance coming. He had brown eyes.

I do not think he liked me. I do not think I liked me.

When he left, he said not to go into the kitchen, to leave it be because he would have forensics come down in twenty minutes. He told me that they may need to question me again, but for now, they were going to go off and try to find the half-man that broke your window. He left. The potholders were still on my hands, soaked through in the palms, your personal red smeared up to my elbows.

I took off the blood-logged cotton, washed my hands seven times, and clawed at a bar of soap to get the blood and garden dirt out of my nails. It took me a while. I heard your ambulance ride was slow, too. I heard the driver had to honk the horn to break through traffic because the cars didn’t have a siren to scatter away from. I wonder which took longer because I can wash my hands very slowly.

After the noise cleared out, the kitchen looked like a room from a dollhouse. I sat in the living room and watched it miniaturize. The red started to look like paint, the counter looked like cardboard, and the sink, fridge, and lights all morphed into plastic. The whole pale clot of ceramic and cutlery started to belong to an exhibition, not a life. The phone rang a lot. I did not pick it up. It was in the kitchen, tied up into the presentation of some tiny plastic story.

I think what happened after this, after the room fogged into a play-thing, was that I fell asleep. I fell asleep on the couch with the irregular staccato of your phone ringing from inside the exhibition. When I caught my brain up with my body again, probably about ten minutes later, I was in the middle of the diorama and it was clean.

Your red was gone, the chair was pushed back into place, and the slight suggestion of chemical lemon hung in the air like a noose around my throat. I felt my hands tighten, potholder- less, around the neck of a mop. The forensics, an affectionately elevated title for the two men in this town who know the bare minimum about DNA testing, were on their way. One of them was having his lunch in the car. A smear of tuna salad extended from the corner of his mouth across his cheek. He would drag a napkin over his lips but he wouldn’t get it all off and when he came in the first thing I’d see was this little comma of mayonnaise branching below his cheekbone.

Once I realized the illegality of my cleaning the doll-room, even though re-arrangement is what doll-rooms are for, I shoved the mop into the closet like it was a carcass and tried to think in sticky-notes.

The citrus in the air covered up the metallic smell of where and what you bled. Before I cleaned, it had felt like the knife was still in the room— its blade dangling in the stale light and its violence gleaming in my lungs whenever I breathed in too far.

At this point, with the room clean and my hands bloodless, it’s clear I’m worth incriminating. I think I’m guilty of proactive pacifism. The forensics and the mayonnaise will be here soon. The crust of a tuna salad sandwich is sloshing up against a set of middle-aged molars right now. The kitchen is clean, you are stable, I am hungry. I make dinner. I make dinner in the kitchen and I have ravioli because that’s what’s in the fridge and I feel bad all the way through the boiling and straining and plating, but I can’t take myself out of my biology long enough to not want it.

You are trying to move your left arm, but it doesn’t respond to your phone calls. Something important got in the way of the knifepoint, and now you’ve got a limb that will sway when you walk. When you come home later I will see your newly-decorative appendage and do something like apologize, offer you dinner, and say that you should sit down, rest, and I’ll bring you some water. The kitchen shimmers like a pearl. This is the nicest it’s ever looked. You drink your water and eat your lukewarm ravioli. I sit down next to you and your hospital bill and say that next time, because I’ve seen this happen and know what colors were used, I will know how to press down harder.