by Carolyn Kegel
She woke up in the morning and was unable to get out of bed. Her fingers were dry and she needed to apply shea butter lotion, but that was asking a lot—to move, to sit up, pull out a drawer and rifle through the clutter. The unbearable part was that she could no longer hear her children. She could assume, easily, that they had left the floor, gone away somewhere. They had finally accepted that a closed door means do not enter. Mommy is not responding. Or perhaps they had just wandered off to something more interesting. They had stayed there in the hallway, sitting on the carpet, playing so nicely for such a long time and she could hear their sweet voices modulating with terrifying stories they told to scare each other silly, and then, of course, the sounds had stopped.What she did not want to deal with was her daughter's diagnosis.
The first feeling was that she was going to convulse, to vomit and now it was a sickness. Her whole body was sinking underneath the weight of it all.
It was simply a code, a series of numbers scribbled on a prescription pad, something to be folded and filed for future investigation.
To divert herself from thinking about the number (what's in a number, but what the number evokes?) she picked up the telephone and contemplated phoning the doctor and getting very angry with him. The doctor was an incompetent man with little sensitivity and even less integrity. How dare he tell her she looked nice? How dare he allude? He was someone who had frankly never learned that life is more interesting, more exciting, more valuable, when you are honest with yourself and when you level with everyone you deal with. He'd obviously gone the other route, preferring to push the edges of interpersonal envelopes to check and see what spills out. He was sloshing things down with scotch and carrying around dark secrets.
She stared at the body of the telephone. White. Princess.
She closed her eyes.
She would definitely have to call the elementary school and tell them, "Look, my daughter has Asperger's and she cannot be bullied. Please tell that third grade boy to stop throwing the ball at her head."
She would do that.
With her eyes closed she could see her little girl circling the periphery of the playground with a jump rope dangling behind her back. Day after day. Week after week.
She opened her eyes. It was time to get up.
She found the slippers. The bathrobe with the pink rope. She made it down the stairs. It was late in the morning and the house was cold, oddly empty though she could hear the faint murmur of the television from the den. A fascinating cartoon was captivating her children, holding them prisoner for forty-two interrupted minutes as they learned the subtleties of sarcasm and ridicule. She considered glancing in at their small heads fixated on the screen, but she did not.
She walked right past them and headed into the kitchen. Fixed a cup of coffee. Brought it out into the dining room where she could sit and stare out at the street. She sat there sipping, feeling a little bit better because she was actually doing something.
Snow, she saw. It was coming down like golf balls.
It was later in the day and things really hadn't changed very much. She was back in bed and after lying there a long time, because she simply would not move from the bed, the husband was bringing her food, and when she asked for a favor he would also bring lemonade-vodka drinks, over crushed ice, with a straw, please. He would do that, smiling, slightly arching his eyebrows. Knowing it would lube her up for sex later and she'd let him smack her into submission. She didn't even mind it. Sex was more intense that way, when she let go of everything and let him hit her, let him hurt her. It was such an act of giving in, of utterly surrendering.
But he didn't come back. After the husband put the kids to bed (easily, they had gone off readily—it had been a weary snowy, wet day) he stayed downstairs. There was no way of knowing what he was doing out there on his own. They weren't talking now. There was nothing to say. Her arms had fallen down to her sides and if he asked her any question anyway, she would have to say, I don't care. I want it back the way it was.
He'd come up in a while and find her sleeping.
Carolyn Kegel has an M.F.A. in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She is married and lives in New Jersey.