Molly Beth and I sat in the hospital cafeteria; she was mashing macaroni and cheese under her plastic fork. ”We had a baby chicken a few weeks ago,” she said. ”It got a foot disease or something so its momma kept pecking it to keep it away. It died.” She said this matter-of-factly, like she was explaining the mechanics of a seesaw, or why all kids squish Jello through their teeth.
“You like that macaroni?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.
“Not as much as fruit snacks.” She giggled and her cheeks pinked under her long blond locks. She didn’t catch the subject change. Molly Beth is still innocent. ”You want a pink one?” she asked, sliding a star-shaped piece of goo across the table. ”It’ll make you feel better; it tastes like strawberries.” She raised her eyebrows as she said “straw” and “berries,” and her eyes opened wider, like blue full moons. Her gestures were emphatic, uninhibited.
Molly Beth’s sister, a diabetic, read my concern. At ten, Suze has become accustomed to the pin-pricking of life, the blood letting. She checks her sugar with ritualistic precision. She understands the body’a independence on food. In some ways she is my youngest son’s kindred spirit.
As we left the cafeteria, Suze reached for my hand. ”Is Titus getting better?” she asked. Not sure how to answer, I squeezed her hand a little and stared farther down the hall. Feeling the awkward moment, Suze returned the hand squeeze. If I had a daughter I hope she’d be as intuitive. ”Thank you for coming,” I told Suze. She smiled.
Molly Beth moved to my open side, grabbed my left hand and started swinging it like we were on the playground. The sisters skip and for a moment I forgot why I was walking hospital halls.
The doctors have said that my son has failed to thrive. But these girls and their parents have come to bring solidarity. They’ve come to offer love, to lift my spirits.
Sometimes the dawn breaks backwards and black, melts up from the horizon like tar. The stars flicker out, snuff silently under a rising tide. Sometimes the dawn breaks gray, hovers like a cloud of doubt. But even still there are lightbearers that see through the most opaque. They know when gooey fruit snacks and a hand squeeze are more than meager graces. They know the innocence of mercy.