Household Words 9

The emergency room wasn’t the panicky place I expected—there were no red buttons, wailing alerts, or breathing machines huffing. There was just my mother on a bedlike contraption, with a blue bag on her elevated knee.  A loose curtain on metal hooks was drawn to separate her from everyone, though the next exam space was empty.

“Hey guys,” she smiled.  My dad had gone back there first, alone, and now we were allowed to join them.  She kissed us on our foreheads, Jerry’s under a Braves cap, and mine edged by the worst haircut of my life.  We let her.  We didn’t see Louie before he went up to surgery.  His spleen had to come out, and probably they didn’t want to scare us.

My dad kept his hand on my mom’s arm as we tried to talk to each other.  He told her about the spaghetti.  He told her he had turned the burner off.  She said it was enough excitement for one day, without a house fire.  Jerry asked when Louie would be done, and they said they didn’t know, maybe a couple of hours.  He played with the flap on the top of the hospital water pitcher.  Louie was allowed to take his pitcher home, and my mom put it in our kitchen cabinet and filled it with her tea bags.

I thought about Louie’s Star Wars pajamas, long-sleeved, cotton, the ones that had been mine.  He put them on after his bath.  They had a red Jell-O stain on the left sleeve that was my fault, and a spot of cocoa that was Louie’s, on the white ribbed sleeve cuff.  I thought of the Bon Jovi tape he had stolen from me, the one I bought from a cardboard box in our neighbor’s garage sale.  I knew he had taken it, and I’d held him down and hit him until he admitted where it was.  He didn’t bleed, but I bruised him.

I studied all the unused hospital gadgets while my parents kept talking.  “He just came out of nowhere,” my mother repeated, a little defensively, a little guiltily.

There was a tall metal rod on rollers, for IVs, I guessed.  A cabinet with some charts heavily decorated in pharmaceutical ads, and a cart of some sort, full of plastic bag packages– probably the souls of dead babies, or broken spleens.  I wondered if there were teeth and amputated fingers in the “Biohazard” bin, or just syringes contaminated with AIDS.  What does Louie look like inside?  Is it easy to fix him?

“We’ll just wait.  It’s pretty routine, really,” my dad said.  “They do ten of these a week.”

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