The first time he saw her was in the parking garage of their apartment complex. She lay on the concrete amid spilled grocery bags, her beautiful face strewn with ketchup, salad dressing dripping from her blouse. She looked up at him with an expression so lost and vulnerable, he fell in love instantly.
He ran over to her. “Are you okay?” He offered his hand.
She took it and pulled herself to her feet. “I … think so,” she answered, glancing down at her stained clothes and ruined food. “Except for my pride. And a big mess.”
He helped her gather the salvageable foodstuffs, and they cleaned up the rest. Then he got her phone number.
It turned out she lived directly above him. They began to date. Soon she was spending more and more time at his apartment — toothbrush and toiletries in the bathroom, clothes in his closet.
After a year she began suggesting they might as well move in together. But he was slow to take the hint.
Then it occurred to her that the thing that had first drawn them to each other was the clumsy fall in the garage. So she began to have accidents.
At first she would drop things. She’d phone him from her kitchen: “Sorry, I’ll be a bit late with the main course tonight, but I just spilled wet pasta everywhere.” Soon she was spilling food in his kitchen.
She would stumble and he’d catch her. She could see his instant look of warm concern. Always he was gallant and helpful. But still he balked at making the bigger commitment with her. In fact, she sensed him growing distant. Clearly her efforts weren’t enough.
They went bicycling. She fell and broke her wrist. He stayed at the hospital with her overnight. That was encouraging, except he brought in a specialist who gave her a series of tests of coordination and balance.
One afternoon he was sitting on his veranda, reading a magazine, when from the corner of his eye he glimpsed an object hurtling downward, followed by a sickening thud as it struck the sidewalk below. He leapt to the edge and looked down.
She lay there awkwardly, one leg at a gruesome angle, blood pooling from an ear. Residents ran to help her. She gazed up at him with the same vulnerable expression he’d first seen in the garage so many months earlier.
He looked away for a moment. Then he called down to her:
“I’m breaking it off.”