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Authors: Stacey Donovan

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Dive (9 page)

BOOK: Dive
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Instead, he began to sleep nonstop. They had to wake him up for meals. He even slept through the changing bloom of my mother’s black eye. Actually, she covered it with makeup when she went to see him. Yesterday was the first time in days he was fully conscious, and yesterday is also when he started to gag and twist all over his bed.


As I look out the kitchen window, my brain has a mind of its own. It tosses the reminder of yesterday into my head and starts this roaring behind my ears. Oh, the questions. Not that I even need to ask them. Who hit my dog? What’s wrong with my dad?


The phone rings. It’s Baby Teeth.

“Have you ever seen a red spider?” she says.

“Not lately. Where are you?”

“I just came out of the Connors’ bathroom. He’s in there now, crawling up and down. What should I do?”

“Who’s in there?”

“The spider, on the wall, V.”


I worry about my sister. Especially about her being worried. “Why do you have to do anything?” I say. At least it’s Eileen’s house, someone I know.

“It goes up and down on this invisible thread, up and down.”

“So you’ve been watching it. Does it look unhappy or wounded?”

“I’m watching it, uh-huh. No, it’s okay.”

“Good. So why don’t you leave it alone? You should get back here soon, anyway. Lucky needs you to sing to him—he misses you, I can tell. Is Eileen home?”

“No. That’s a good idea; I don’t have to do anything—I miss him too.” There’s a big silence. Did she hang up?

“Hello?” I say.

“Hello. Are we starting over?”


“Baby Teeth.”

“What? Is Mom home?”

“No. So where’s Eileen?” That hat surfaces in my brain again. “I don’t know. Should I mention this?”

“Mention what?”

“The spider. Eileen’s mom made me a ham sandwich. So you don’t know how Dad is.”

“No, clamshell, I don’t. But don’t say anything, okay?

Maybe that spider’s just moving in, setting up its web in there. I guess it likes the wallpaper in their bathroom. Which bathroom is it? The blue one downstairs?”

“Downstairs, yup. It’s so red. Do you think he’s okay?”


“Red is a good shade to be, so . . . so vibrant.” I look out the window. The grass does not move, but something sad happens in the air. “Yeah, I bet Dad’s okay. He’s been sleeping a lot and maybe the sleep will help him.

So promise me you’ll leave that spider alone.”

“I will. What’s vibrant?”

“Alive, nutshell. Do you want me to come get you?” I might cry. I am such a good liar.

“No, I’m coming.”

“What about the spider?”

“I already promised. Then what will happen? After the web, I mean?”

“Well, maybe, Baby Teeth, that’s the talking spider we’ve all been waiting for—maybe when you go back to visit she’ll introduce herself.”

“Oh, sure, V. I have to go if I’m coming home.”

“Hurry up,” I say, but it’s the dial tone I’m talking to.

“Don’t be scared.” Maybe the spider can hear me. Or maybe I’m talking to myself.


| | |


There was a book I read once, about this huge guy who used to kill little animals by accident—because he didn’t know how strong he was and he would love them to death. What was that book?
Of Mice and Men.
But Baby Teeth is not incredibly strong—is she?


I look out the window again. The grass still does not move. There’s nothing sad out there. The algebra problems loom before me. I hate algebra. It’s all about calculation, which has nothing to do with real life. I open the James book instead. Oh, no, not the piano-strings again.


. . . The buzz of life ceases at their touch as a piano-string stops sounding when the damper falls upon it.
Of course the music can commence again;—and again and again—at intervals. But with this the healthy-minded consciousness is left with an irremediable sense of precariousness. It is a bell with a crack; it draws its breath on sufferance and by accident.


Well, he can say
again. It’s amazing to me that when I open a book, there is always a miracle somewhere on its pages. An entire novel can be miraculous, but if not, a paragraph here and there, sometimes a single line, maybe even just the
in the book is enough to slay me. To send me off, to relieve me of my self and whatever predicament I happen to find myself in at the time. “Draws its breath on sufferance and by accident,” indeed. Sufferance is my father and the accident is my dog.


But if the next paragraph mentions anything about bone marrow, I believe I might just drop dead. Forget that the grass doesn’t move; neither will I. This morning was my father’s bone marrow test.


I was there yesterday, wincing in the background, when my dad started twisting all over the bed. It was like he was suddenly plugged into some horrible socket. His blanket slid to the floor in a fast and hideous yellow heap.

“But what is it? What is it?” my mother jumped up from her chair and yelled, loud enough to reach him if he were in some other hospital, in another town, even.


My dad’s left arm was connected to the intravenous saline drip by a fingernail-thin plastic tube so transparent the fluid was visible. What color was that tube? Like old spit, and it ended up attached to the flesh of my dad’s forearm with a needle battened down with a piece of thick white tape.


My dad must’ve forgotten he was connected, because in one jerking heave he twisted his entire weight over to his right side, and the needle flew out of his arm. It swung through the air and his arm started spouting blood like that’s what it was meant to do, like it was some kind of bloody fountain. My mother’s mouth dropped open and my eyes shut tight without my knowing. When I opened them, my mother was leaning over the bed trying to reach the button on the other side that sends an electronic signal to the nurse station—a panic button, just not with the word
written on its blue surface. While her pale hand pushed, I saw my mother’s face strain as if she were trying to lift a thousand pounds.


That’s when I stopped breathing and my father started gagging, but there was nothing for him to upchuck because the only food he had been able to keep down was this saline solution and only because it was attached to him, intravenously, that’s what that means, through the veins and to prevent dehydration. So he was twisting and gagging and coughing and moaning and bleeding all over the place and the bloody sight of my father’s arm only exaggerated the white look on my mother’s face. My dad was saying, “What? What? What?” And then he suddenly stopped moving, and I gasped for air because I had forgotten how to breathe and suddenly the blanket was in my hands. And then my mind said tourniquet, but that’s when a nurse swished in above her raspy stockings and wrapped his arm with gauze and a towel that she grabbed from the drawer of the night table and stopped the spewing blood as quickly as she might have turned off a faucet. She checked his pulse and pressed his forehead with her hand.


And nothing moved until the nurse swished out of the room. Was it all a dream? No, blood was everywhere. An aide came in with towels and a mop, swabbing at the mess. After a while Dr. Sweeney appeared in the doorway and said hello to everyone. We all looked at him. He cleared his throat and announced, yes, it was an announcement, that “It’s possible a bone marrow test is called for. We’ve run out of possibilities.”

“Possibilities?” The word came in a white-hot hiss from my mother’s throat.

“Listen, Doc,” my dad said, coughing, “quit with the possibilities. Do you know what just happened to me?”

“That’s why I’m here, Mr. Dunn. I’m sorry. I wish I knew . . .”

“Just find out what the hell is going on. What was that? Some kind of fit? Was that a convulsion? You want to do a bone marrow test—do it. Every part of me feels like it’s on fire, including my goddamn bones.” That’s when the flesh on Dr. Sweeney’s forehead began to shine.


This place is a tangle of vines. Rimbaud was right. The buzz of life ceases. . . . There are no pictures of him in the few books I found. I wonder what kind of mouth he had. Was it lush and soft, would I want to kiss him? If he was alive today, maybe we could run away together. In reality, I’m looking out the kitchen window, leaning my echoing head on my arm, and what I see is like a bell with a crack. I don’t see any angels in the sky.



Do the Watusi. There is a word, far from any dance, for what this house feels like. My breath is like wind on my arm, the place is so terribly still. Even with my siblings home, each of us in separate rooms. Wound tight as the metal spring behind the clockface, or deliberate as the ticking hands beneath the glass, we are waiting. Somewhere in the ticking, even Lucky wandered away.


| | |


Waiting for the mother to return from the hospital. For news about the father. For the wind to disappear. My sister’s teeth to show. My brother’s eyes to clear. Eileen Connor’s hat to burn. Ha ha! Romeo to Juliet! The silent-footed stranger, the Rimbaud, to appear again, maybe. The wind will disappear, I am certain. I am, too, such a good liar, but this we know.


If only my mind could catch up to my thoughts. My thoughts have a mind of their own, and pass through, uninvited, like this is my party and I’ll do the Watusi when I want to. But all I can really see, as I sit at this table in this kitchen on a May afternoon, all I’m certain of, is Baby Teeth’s cellophane-covered sandwich.


Baby Teeth placed it on the table with such care when she came home a little while ago, it began to look as though it
something, that somehow it was important. What can a ham sandwich mean? All dressed up with nowhere to go. That’s not it, no. Like an offering, yes. A sacrifice, maybe, to the gods. What gods?


The kitchen door swings open. My mother doesn’t have to say a word. I see her eyes. Black as the bottom of the old empty well in Elaine’s backyard. She steps over the threshold, pushes the door shut behind her. “I’ll get everybody,” I say, grabbing my books from the table. As I cross the room, I hear the chair legs drag across the floor, the slump of my mother to the creaking seat.


As we enter, Baby Teeth dashes to the table, slides the wrapped sandwich to my mother’s elbow. “See what I got, Mom? You could have it.” She places her hand on my mother’s arm. But my mother doesn’t move. One hand over her eyes, the other spins the lazy Susan, which makes a hushing sound. The salt and pepper, the sugar and spoons, go around in circles. We’ve eaten almost every meal of our lives at that table.


My brother and I glance at each other and walk to the table. Do we want to protect Baby Teeth? Or is that innocent hand on my mother’s arm what I can’t sustain, what hurts my eyes as I see it? Edward sits on a chair, his legs seesawing beneath the table. Can I hear his teeth clench? I can hear. I grip a chairback, my feet on the floor, watch the spinning. Hush-hush, the sound comes from the turning, hush-hush. The cellophane shrieks under the busy fingers of Baby Teeth’s free hand. Even the air is loud, but none of us says a word. Why would we? We know about Dad.


Edward grabs a napkin and starts tearing it to bits. Usually he rolls little paper balls, which he tosses into his mouth, but he doesn’t do that now. “So I guess you got some news,” he finally says.

My mother looks up, her eyes heavy-lidded. “Your father . . .” And she sees Baby Teeth, stretches her arms around my sister. The spinning slows.


What? I can’t hear. My mind says no. Oh, Baby Teeth, don’t cry. A somersault in my throat. “What is it?” Words actually surface, because I have to say something, because Edward is groaning, because the salt and pepper have stopped spinning and I see only my mother’s eyes. It feels like I might tumble into them, instantly sink to the dark bottom. Cover Baby Teeth’s ears, but I have to know.


My brother is almost doubled over, his chin inches from the tabletop. Napkin pieces are scattered. Can’t you sit up? I want to scream and kick his chair. But my mother doesn’t move, won’t say what it is.

“So it’s a blood thing, Ma? Like leukemia or somethin’?” says Edward.

“The damn blood,” my mother says.


The air sounds like static, like some invisible hand is searching for a radio station. Or it’s raining on the windowsill.

“No such thing as blood cancer, right? Not cancer,” Edward says.

“Not cancer,” Baby Teeth says. Does she know what cancer is? Her eyebrows are raised, surprised. Tears fill her eyes.


| | |


“No, no.” There are the pale hands, around Baby Teeth. “Cancer would be good news.” A sneer crosses my mother’s face. “If it was, they might at least be able to treat it. Radiation, chemo, whatever. No. Not this time.” She closes her eyes. Her eyelids as pale as her hands. “Twenty cases across the country in twenty goddamn years. That’s what Dr. Sweeney said, why it took so long to find out.”


Is she talking to us? I might fall down. I have no legs. I could learn, maybe, that trick in which the tablecloth is yanked from the table but all the plates, piled high with steaming food, stay in place. What am I thinking? Where’s Baby Teeth? I can’t focus. My seeing blurs.


“What about Daddy?” Oh, there’s Baby Teeth’s little voice, but it splinters the still air, like the heels of some great big beast.
What about Daddy?
I want to scream. But no, no. I can see my mother’s shaking hands, my brother’s twisted mouth. The dimples have fled my sister’s damp face. Hush-hush. Daddy, she said, the word kicking through the air, knocking the wind out of the way. Is that my sister’s hand in mine? Hush-hush. My mind is spinning. The air is splitting. The sacrifice has already been made.


“Daddy’s not going to make it.”

BOOK: Dive
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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