A tall, skinny boy enters the pediatrician’s office wearing a Poison t-shirt, jeans, and a fisherman’s cap, pulled low over his eyes. He drops into a seat and the back of it bangs against the wall, startling a little girl.
She says, “You should probably sit over there,” pointing to the portion of the waiting room reserved for the unwell. There’s a picture on the wall there of a droopy eyed child with a thermometer in his mouth.
The boy says, “hmm” and begins rifling through a copy of “Modern Parent”. He’s thinking about a boy named Phil. Over and over in his mind the boy is whispering Phil. Phil. Phil.
The girl walks over and stands in front of him. She’s rubbing a satin pillow against her cheek. Her left eye is covered with a yellow patch with a smiley face on it. The boy hears a humming sound and doesn’t realize at first it’s coming from her.
He closes the magazine. “What I have isn’t catching. Besides, I’m just picking up my mom.”
“Very well,” the girl says and returns to her seat. Her mother, sitting next to her, has not looked up from her book.
The girl sits swinging her legs for a bit, then jumps up and looks out the window. “Is that your truck?” It’s an old 4 by 4, green, with “Midnight Dream Lover” stenciled on the side and an accordianed right fender.
“That would be my truck, yes. That’s very distracting by the way,” he says, pointing to his eye.
The girl touches her patch. “It’s meant to be.”
The receptionist hangs up the phone. “Neal, your mom has a couple more patients. I let her know you were here.”
The girl, whose eye is drawn to the front desk, shifts her gaze back and forth from a poster on the wall behind the receptionist and the boy.
“That’s you,” she says.
Finally the girl’s mother looks up from her book, to the poster, to him. He rubs the frayed edges of his fisherman’s cap between his thumb and forefinger. The mother regards his toenails, poking out of his sandals. They are magenta colored and in need of trimming.
The poster shows a senior picture of the boy. He’s sitting under a tree holding a guitar, managing to look both earnest and irritated. The particular name of his disease is written in block letters, as is his name: NEAL FIGGENS. The fundraiser was the receptionist’s idea. She made the poster with markers and glue and glitter pens.
The boy says, “The deal is you can purchase a chocolate bar or you can purchase a bracelet that says ‘hope’ on it. Most people get the chocolate but it tastes like tofu.”
The girl jumps off her seat again. “Do you get all the money?” Her other eye, the one without a patch, darts around as if seeking its mate.
“The money goes toward my medical bills,” the boy says. He watches the mother’s eyes flick away from her book for a moment, to somewhere over her kneecap.
“How does it feel?” the girl asks.
Upon hearing her mother’s voice the girl starts humming again.
In Biotech the teacher teamed him with Phil for the drosophila project. Three times a week they stand side by side in the lab, breeding fruit flies in jars. Phil’s lower lip is much fuller than his upper lip. The boy would like to bite it. He closes his eyes and feels himself sinking through the floor. As if to the bottom of a snowy ocean. It’s happened before and it’s not terrible but he never gets used to it. Alarmed, he opens his eyes again. Phil!
“This helps,” the girl says. She hands him her pillow. The boy presses it to his cheek.
“It smells good. It smells like lavender if lavender were very lonely.”
His mother is a phlebotomist. She works drawing blood all day long. It is just the two of them. Soon she’ll emerge with her lab coat slung over one arm and she’ll touch his cheeks with small, careful hands and he’ll ask her about the veins. If it’s been a good day she’ll smile and say the veins were great, as fat as earthworms.
“Do you fish?” the girl says.
A woman walks in with a baby on her hip. She swings her hip back and forth as she signs in and the baby swings with her, its eyes growing wide. The baby looks substantive and wise like a future emperor. Neal Figgens thinks he would like to hold this baby for maybe a minute. He watches the baby suck on its pacifier. The motion reminds him of a small, beating heart.
*This story was originally published in January in Connotation Press. Many thanks to Meg Tuite.