The day after, when the realization that she’d be living with this man in that house for the rest of her god-given life sank into her like weighted water, Kathy decided on the wallpaper. She had never felt more focused or determined or desperate to acquire this thing she knew she must choose carefully, because only it would remain unchanged by this life to remind her of who she thought she was, or could have been, or might still have a chance to be. She spent hours in the hardware store in town, paging through oversized books smelling of soured vinyl, and finally had to drive clear to Omaha to find a pattern that stunned her, a picture on paper in textures and colors so lush and lovely she wanted to scrape them off the page with her blunt broken fingernails and plaster them over her
eyes, in her ears, to chew and swallow them whole so they’d stain her insides, her skin, the breath she exhaled, and when the salesman responded to her shaking voice that yes, they did have that pattern in stock, Kathy felt her heart through her sweater for the very first time. Though the wallpaper turned out to cost more than what he’d given her, she withdrew the money she’d saved waiting tables for a future that seemed incapable of announcing itself, and just bought it. And though it turned out he did not like the pattern, the colors, and refused to let it be hung anywhere in his house, she kept it, hiding the twenty-odd rolls in the dark, unused bathroom in the basement, neatly stacking them in the porcelain bathtub criss-crossed with webs of dark spiders, where years later they put his slashed, broken body, waiting for the doctor to come, and his old blood soaked through the brittle paper, dyeing it red before it swirled down the rusty drainpipe instead of into the earth where he’d fallen, clutching the heart stopped in his chest while the blades of the plow cut through him. Sometimes she still heard the sucking swish of that drain, and then later, months later, water sluicing through the sugary strands newly knitting the tub’s surface. Her footsteps clipped on each wooden stair and the view from the doorway was a tiny hand floating like worn, puffed rubber, splayed fingers wafting in currents of cold water and Eugene crouched next to him, fingers bruised, still wet. He was smiling at his game and her son was dead—no, she pushed it out and sought instead the view from her bedroom while she waited for them to take him, of this infinite grey land, the color of old soap or dingy tile, but no one ever came—FUCK she heard now, yelled from the examining room. There was a crash. Kathy leapt up, book dropping, page lost, and stood outside the room, leaning into the closed wooden door, knocking. No, she thought, now what had he—
GODDAMMIT that hurt MOTHERFUCKING kid SHIT—the doctor grasped his lower abdomen right above where that GODDAMN kid just kicked him because that—he clenched his lower lip with sharp white teeth—nurse just came running in to see what the hell all the yelling was about. I’ll tell you what all the yelling is about he thought, but instead instructed her to HURRY UP and fill that syringe, which he took right out of her hands that were shaking and stuck it, right into that kid’s upper arm, violently pressing the plunger with the wide chapped pad of his thumb to squeeze every ounce of goddamn fluid into those reprobate veins. The effect was instantaneous: both arms dropped to his sides and the offending foot now just swung limply, as though buffeted by a slight, invisible breeze. The boy’s head lolled forward, eyes fluttering closed. The doctor was surprised he could still see a child’s face below the greasy shock of blonde hair, under that downy scrim and in those constricted features not yet hardened into the angular, eroded faces of men here. Only a matter of time. His shoulders contracted, then dropped. Not his problem. Everybody has options, everybody makes choices. Just a matter of focus the doctor reminded himself, shutting out the slow drip through flexible yellowed tubes that were like ex-corpus veins tethering the girl and that woman, her mother he guessed, rushed to him through the crowded room fists flailing asking him why, why. He listened to the swishing punch of compressed air. Her chest rose and then dropped. It was simply a body the machine kept alive. The woman grabbed his arm hard then, explaining her daughter’s son could now be found, if he cared to look, in a bleached pine box just twelve inches long, buried with the other stacked anonymous calcified in lime but he pulled his arm loose and he left, suddenly, he was gone, the doctor was told the archdiocese of Chicago must protect their endowment, some Tribune reporter was caught sneaking around, last thing this hospital needed was more negative publicity, this time from a botched routine surgery, his second but who knew—maybe was her, maybe when she wandered in off the street, baby half-born, her 12-year old body and child mind said I am not equipped and just shut down—could shut them down for good this time so the doctor was asked to leave, left. These fucking people he was a trained surgeon, top of his class at Northwestern and of course his wife did not understand either, would not leave their Lincoln Park duplex nor let their son so now he is here, alone, sent back to his land of vast white waste—he paused, had to before bruises formed because his thick palpating fingers seemed crushing and insentient against the boy’s small joints and narrow bone he might snap in two if he wasn’t careful.
So he cupped his left hand under the boy’s elbow and grasped his wrist with his right to slowly extend the forearm, coaxing the ulna back into place, working ligament over bone until snap— the boy’s eyes flew open and the doctor gasped at that black, the infinite fury there, and thought: in the beginning, a hand was raised. The primal shove was a slap and the passing of wrath is unabated—but he blinked, and child eyes were restored. The boy’s groggy head fell forward. He wondered what he thought he saw. That nurse of course cowered in the corner practically pissing in her bloomers. He needed her over here