From Issue 20: Mourning in an Office with No Windows

Twila Newey

Sitting on a child’s chair in the doctor’s office, I fold a thin line, make a crease in the paper.  There is a sentence here about an old woman’s heart.  He sits next to me on a small blue chair, nine-years-old, tall and thin as green meadow grass. He begins sorting little wooden animals into their habitats.

The thyroid is shaped like a butterfly.  It wraps its glandular wings around the front of his throat and mine.  We feel the flutter, its urge to dislodge and fly up and out of his mouth, like something wild.  Most apparent in the rare moments when he is still.  At night when I lay my ear on the thin bones of his chest and listen to the race of his heart.

We sit and wait for the pediatric endocrinologist: a specialist who will give us the answers we already have.  His T4 levels are high.  His TSH is normal.  His skin is hot to the touch.  His emotions volatile.  His heart, on fire, burns the body of evidence: four pieces of French toast, a full bowl of yogurt and granola, two milkshakes, three large plates of roast, mashed potatoes and gravy.

I am re-reading the line about the old woman’s heart when they begin. They are well dressed.  The woman is blond and wears lipstick.  The man clean-shaven, in a suit and tie.  In unison they chant, 

This is your fault, your failure.  Another one. 

I know.  Shut up.  I’m trying to read.  I’ve read this same sentence nine times. 

We followed the long curve of double yellow lines for an hour.  He sat quietly in the back seat.  What is the thyroid? 
It’s a gland that tells your organs what they need. 
Mine isn’t working? 

That’s what we’re trying to figure out.  He breathes on the window, with the tip of his finger draws a butterfly in his breath.  

I love you.  

His smile in the rearview mirror, crooked.  His wavy blond hair a nest for wild birds, a tangled net to catch blue winged meadow flowers. 

Love you too.   

By the ninth explosion on a normal day, the twenty-seventh on a bad, I sometimes forget to breathe.  In and out.  In and out.  Instead of breathing I yell:  

STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP YELLING AT ME!  

My voice rising to match his.  My heart racing to match his.  My body full of adrenaline.  As if my child is a threat that I must flee or fight.  Nothing solved, least of all his fluttering red mystery. 

You are a bad mother, they chorus. 

I know

Pull him in close. Feel his body wanting flight.

I lick the folded edge of the paper and tear, as though I am calm.  His BMI is less than one percent.  If he gets sick and cannot eat, his head may stop growing to compensate.  His bones might be as old as the earth, might crack beneath the weight of air.  The door opens.  A small woman in a white lab coat comes in.  I slip the line between the pages to hold my place.  The old woman’s heart beat like a blue butterfly.  I reach out catch the flit of his hand and feel him settle in next to me.

 

Twila Newey graduated from The Jack Kerouac Disembodied School of Poetics in 2003. She has completed her first novel and is currently querying agents. A portion of that manuscript won publication in Exponent II Midrash contest.  Her poetry has also appeared on Poetry Breakfast and in Rust + Moth. She lives in the mountains west of Denver with her husband and four children.