Her Own Room
The man stood at the window. The sun was melting crimson onto the tree line, but instead he pecked at his phone with furrowed brow.
The woman sat in a chair, overaggressive springs prodding upward beneath the vinyl. Her soles fused to the floor, tacky and gleaming with disinfectant. She rested her arm on the bedrail and stroked the girl, who was upright and looking far away.
“Mommy?” the girl said.
“Yes, honey,” Sueanne said, paging through the magazine in her lap. ‘Nine tips to a shapelier bottom.’
“What did the doctor say?”
“Before. Just before, when he was in the hallway with you and Daddy.”
“Haley honey, I’ve told you, you need to rest and let the grownups worry about doctor things. It’ll only make you feel worse to worry.”
“But I just want to understand.”
“You’re too young to understand. I mean, you’re very brave but it’s just big words that don’t mean anything.”
Haley looked at her forearm. It was gaunt and paled to translucence, the blue veins showing through. Her mother’s red nails sailed across in a caress.
“Are they going to do something else to me?” the girl said.
Sueanne closed the magazine and leveled her head with her daughter’s.
“Honey, you really need to rest now. I know it’s been very hard and you have been a very brave girl. I promise we are making sure Doctor Malhotra keeps you comfy and happy. Blaine, tell her.”
“What’s that?” the man called over from the window.
“I said, we’re doing everything we can, aren’t we?”
“Of course, sweetie,” Blaine said. “And here we got you your own room. Just look at that view.” He cocked his head toward the tree line without looking up from the phone.
“See honey?” Sueanne said, reopening the magazine. “We’re doing everything we can.”
The girl glanced over at the white board. Your nurse today is: Isabelle, it said—a new one. Isabelle spelled her name with a lowercase I and made a sunflower out of the dot.
“Are you, though?” Haley said, inspecting her mother’s hair. Done up that afternoon.
Sueanne closed the magazine again – ‘Eight ways to spice up date night’ – and sighed. “Haley, of course. We just told you. What’s this about?”
“I saw something on channel seven last night.”
“Saw what? You’re supposed to go to sleep after we leave. Blaine, we need to talk to the supervising nurse about making sure the TV is off in here at night.”
“What’s that?” he said.
“Mommy, just listen. It was about a new treatment for people with what I have. It’s a surgical pump they put into the abdomen.” She annunciated each syllable: sur-gic-uhl. “They even showed it, but blurred out some of the gross parts.”
“What on earth were you watching? Blaine?”
“Yes, I’ll talk to the nurse on the way out,” he said.
“Haley, the person you saw could have had any kind of condition,” Sueanne said.
“No, Mommy, it was the same one as me. The problem was, it’s new and the hospital wouldn’t pay for it. Six thousand. Or six million, I can’t remember. How much money do we have?”
“Honey, this is all guessing.”
“But what if?”
“Haley, that’s something your father and I would have to discuss. What if? What if it’s unsafe? What if it’s untested?”
“On TV the parents said they spent five months raising money for it at church and they even borrowed some from the bank.”
“That’s a nice story, honey, but it’s TV. You don’t know how they edit these things. Maybe the people from channel four paid for it. We can’t know how realistic any of these shows are.”
“Are you saying you wouldn’t even try?”
Sueanne scanned the ceiling, rubbed her face with both hands. Blaine pocketed the phone and pumped his palms full of sanitizing lotion from the wall dispenser. A medicine cart rumbled by out in the hall.
“Honey, what I’m saying is, after this is all over we still have to live,” Sueanne said.
Haley lowered her eyes, onto the gown’s floral pattern, the IV taped to her arm. She looked ashamed at first but then nodded to herself as if she’d just solved a puzzle.
“Sweetie, I mean, it’s going to fine—you’re going to be fine,” Sueanne said. “Daddy and I haven’t really been home in three days, and I’m just tired and all mixed up. Do you understand?”
Calm settled over Haley’s face, and she looked at her mother for the first time as an equal.
“I understand,” the girl said.
“Haley honey, we’ll talk to Doctor Malhotra again in the morning. It’s all very complicated, really. But we’re doing everything we can. Aren’t we, Blaine?”
“What’s that?” he said, phone back under his nose.
“Damn it, Blaine. I said, we’re doing everything we can.”
“Of course, honey,” he said. “Just look at this view.”
Outside the sky was purple above the sun, a sliver of red above the tree line.
– David Gialanella