Sunday, March 21, 2010

Again, it's fiction

Meg Morley
Professor Stephen Tuttle
English 318
17 March 2010
I slide the potato wedge to the other side of the plate in an exaggerated gesture of dismay. It’s not so much that my appetite has diminished as I think that my appetite should probably diminish. In times of uncertainty people usually can’t eat, right? But Sam’s fervent love for food seems undeterred, and he fails to be too consumed with worry to be hungry. Or maybe he’s the politer sibling, dutifully eating the grilled cheese and fries that grandma and grandpa have generously bought at our favorite cafe. It’s just that Annie’s pre-op doesn’t feel like a time for favorites. We should be eating cold, pickled beats or dry bran or at the very least the hospital green beans and jello Annie has to stomach while we sit luxuriously in a booth for four chatting about college football, the only thing left to talk about after malignant versus benign, recovery time, anesthesia what-if’s and Doctor Lee’s qualifications.
Annie’s room on the third floor is private. It belongs to her the hours before and the days after the operation. Already wearing the pale blue gown, her body lies still on the inclined bed as her head rests against the stiff pillow. The teddy bears on the wallpaper are pastel and faceless, like teddy bear ghosts. Mom and Dad have gone to chat with Dr. Lee, and I wish they hadn’t.
“How are you?” Grandpa asks Annie as the four of us enter the room.
“What’s a catheter?” Annie asks in response.
“Annie, you look good” says Grandma. Weird and not an answer to her question, but better than “Annie we love you” or “Annie don’t die”,” or “It pees for you,” the only things I can think to say.
“Anne I had a grilled cheese,” says Sam.
“I bet it wasn’t as good as my jello.” Good. She still has a sense of humor. Dying people don’t make jokes.
Mom and Dad and Dr. Lee finally return.
“You ready Annie?”
“Ready Freddy.”
Dr. Lee smiles. Obligatory.
Blue’s Clues is playing on the TV. Anywhere but here Blue’s Clues is fun and charming and perfect for occupying a young, healthy mind while babysitting. But in the rec-room of a children’s hospital the innocence of Blue’s Clues becomes tragic. The hairless little girl in the pink pajamas sits on the floor and stares up at the screen. She will probably only ever watch Blues Clues and Barney and Mr. Roger’s. She’ll probably never watch the shows her parents tell her not to watch or buy a restricted movie ticket. I wish we were watching Friends or Pulp Fiction. I solve Blue’s clues. It’s under the chair, Blue. Steve’s missing sweater is under the chair. Mom reads Newsweek on a couch across the room and Dad stands by the window, fiddling with his watch and periodically staring out at the freeway traffic. Grandma and Grandpa promised to be back in an hour an hour ago, and I secretly hope with snacks. Sam returns from the downstairs cafeteria holding a can of Dr. Pepper. He sits next to me on the vinyl loveseat.
“Remember when Annie threw a rock at my head?”
“Why would you bring that up?”
“Only the good die young.”
“Only the good die young.”
“The Eagles?
“Billy Joel.”
“Right. Billy Joel.”
It’s been two hours. The specialists call the operation exploratory, and it would seem that every possible nook and cranny in Annie’s tiny abdomen would be well explored by now. Any new territory would have an American flag planted in it and the its currency already switched to the dollar. But it’s not appropriate to think of funny imagery with a sister in surgery. Maybe they’d found what they hoped they wouldn’t find.
I turn to Sam.
“Remember when she called Dad a jackass?”
“Or when she said Mom’s chicken casserole tasted like poop?”
Grandma and Grandpa return with donuts. I’ve forgotten to feign “not hungry”.
“Still in there?” Asks Grandpa and mom nods.
With mouths full of chocolate sprinkles and maple glaze Sam and I continue to reassure ourselves of Devil’s sure grasp on Annie’s soul evidenced in her wicked deeds.
“Remember when she asked Aunt Lil why she was fat?”
With every recalled memory we know that she’s not near pure enough to die at age 11. The girl in the pink pajamas sitting on the floor staring at the screen practically has a halo. I can tell that she only says the nicest things to people and loves her family and quotes inspirational stories from a book of inspirational stories when the going gets tough. Annie throws rocks at heads. Or she did in her younger years. But then on my birthday this year she wrote this great note about how special it is to have a sister. And she drew a picture. Of me. Here I am remembering only the worst in her. Me, the child who purposely starved Freckles the pet bunny because I was tired of filling his tin with pellets once a day. And Sam, who dismembered every doll in the house and set the Barbie Corvette on fire within the thirty minutes Mom was at the grocery store.
“But Annie’s pretty great” I say because I should.
“Only the good die young.”
Sam walks away.
Aunt Lil buys us a chocolate Haagen Daz bar. Annie lies in bed, serene, recovering. Six hours and they successfully removed the benign growth the size of a grapefruit. Only after they taught the natives English and the Star-Spangled Banner. That’s okay now, right? And it’s ok to eat favorites, too I think. And Aunt Lil offered. So Sam and I chip the outer layer of chocolate off with our teeth, and smile. But it’s not enough really. It feels more like we should burn a sacrifice in gratitude or donate three million dollars to the oncology ward. Mom and Dad probably don’t have three million dollars. Sam and I definitely don’t. Maybe the charred Barbie corvette is sacrifice enough.

1 comment:

Don't be shy.