Worth an Inch of Star
After people started dying from the rash, the war started.
My hung awkwardly off the table in the exam room. My naked legs sticking to the crinkled sanitary paper that broke the silence in the room when I moved. I looked down at my white sandals. They were dirty, and my toes were caked with mud.
I didn’t even get time to wash them off when my mother lifted me from the cold earth, her body tense, her screams drowning out the world. She carried me, running to her truck. I gripped her neck hoping not to slide down her body.
She didn’t waste time to put me in the passenger side, but threw me in the driver’s side and I managed to crawl over the console as she put the truck into gear. Spreading mud, the red truck sped away from my home.
My home, a little house on the hill that my dad insisted would be beautiful someday as he toiled in his free time tearing it down to the studs piece by piece. Ridding it of it’s tattered ugly history so we could be a family there together. He should have kept it ugly because it matched what happened after the chickens died.
My house got smaller in the background as the truck made it onto the main road. My house, with my favorite chair, where I laughed and played and swung on the tire swing my dad made special for me. It was all gone. I knew I would never return. I didn’t even have a change of clothes.
I hopped off the exam table and pressed my ear to the door. I could hear my mother, yelling, crying, perhaps pleading with the doctor to let me go. She wasn’t going to leave me here. I wasn’t meant to die today.
I reached up and touched my face. The bullet had grazed my face and ear, ribbing off a large piece of cartilage from my left ear. There was a lot of blood. It splattered the grey seat of the truck. You barely noticed the bumps of red rash that had covered my eyes and lips for weeks. It didn’t hurt or itch or make itself known to my body. It frightened my mother, but I didn’t feel any different.
I jumped back from the door when I heard shuffling on the other side. My mom came through the door, her t-shirt soaked with blood now stuck to her chest. A nurse promised to find her scrubs.
The doctor was a tall, thin man in dress pants that cuffed at the bottom and brushed his shoes. He wore the biggest mask I had ever seen. He wanted to admit me to the hospital, but I certainly wasn’t going upstairs. Something about “observation” seemed more like a death sentence.
I missed my father. He was off fighting his own war, whatever that means. My mother says we all have demons to fight. I remember the day they came and dragged him away. The chickens were dead that morning, all of them. Each one of their heads chopped off, their bodies discarded without a thought. Thrown against the side of the coop.
My mother thought I had been shot in the head, there was too much blood to know and my body was silent in the aftermath of the slaughter. She screamed my name all the way to the hospital, but I couldn’t hear her or respond. She took the risk to bring me to the hospital. There were very few people we could trust anymore.
The doctor was arguing with my mother, insisting I needed to stay. My mother insisted that the hospital was trying to kill me. “I just want you to patch the ear, she’s fine.” The doctor took a softer approach, “Mrs. Minklewhite, we just want to get your daughter better. She needs medicine.”
My mom’s fiery blue eyes turned and looked right through me. Her words were loud and clear now, “Esme, we’re going back to the truck.” She grabbed me by the arm and we ran through the exam room door and down the hallway. I struggled to keep up as my arm pulled tight from my shoulder socket. I focused on my feet, looking down at each step. I didn’t want to fall.
Through the maze of people we made our way out the double doors and out onto the bright sun.I closed my eyes. Gripping my arm, my mother led me back to her truck, with my bloody hand print along the side. She started the truck and tore out of the parking lot, looking behind her and breathing heavy. She turned and merged onto the highway going north. Her fists pumping the steering wheel.
Out of nowhere I turned and said, “We need to find dad.”
“Shut up and let me think baby,” my mother shouted at me. Getting off the highway on exit 17, north towards Whistler, she stopped at the gas station. She bent down and searched the floor of the car until she found a dime.
“Head down, baby, don’t move,” she insisted. I watched her over at the payphone dialing, coming back to the car for more money. I was thirsty and I had to pee, really bad.
“I have to pee,” when she returned to the car the second time. She got in and started up our Ford. “OK, she said, let’s pull off the main road.”
I never wished to be a boy as hard as I did while peeing standing up along the roadside near the trailer park in Whistler, where the down and out go to shoot drugs into their arms and forget about the virus and the war. My mother reassured me no one was looking as I squatted down with the door open.
My mom remembered dad’s bag in the truck bed stuck deep inside a giant cooler dad had tied down in the bed. My mom rustled around and inside was a coke. We shared it as we headed north in silence.
I laid down and thought about Manny. I missed his laugh as he threw a ball to our dog, Chuck, and smoked a cigarette just out of earshot of mom and dad. I could find him out there as the sky got orange and purple, standing tall, his skinny arms throwing the ball over and over. He let me come stand with him as long as I didn’t tattle about him smoking.
The school pictures on the mantle, and the family photo taken last year in our backyard were smashed into pieces. My dad broke each one and went to the back porch to sit alone and smoke in the dark. The smell filling the house night after night. He grew dark and quiet.
Manny disappeared in the middle of night. I didn’t even know he was planning on leaving. I didn’t know where he went, and he never wrote me letters or called me on the phone.
He was just gone. My mom never spoke his name in our house again.
In fact, in a few weeks it was as if my brother Manny had never existed at all.
This is a work in a series...