The Boy in the Ward

Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 84

Photo by Adhy Savala on UNSPLASH.

It’s the thick steel needle the boy finds most amazing about the whole thing. It runs right through his leg, holding it immobilized while the bone mends itself. His fingers continually find the needle and probe it gently despite several nurses telling him he shouldn’t.

He feels the pressure as the whole thing pulls his leg so the bone can heal naturally. The doctor with black and gray hair and thick eyeglasses called it ‘track-shun.’ This amuses the boy because his name is Shawn, which sounds like shun.

It should hurt, the boy thinks. But, mercifully, it does not; he observes as he again gently nudges the puckered skin around the needle.

His mother has visited him in the hospital. He tries to remember if she’s been every day. He cannot recall if she has. She doesn’t like to leave her home, so it wouldn’t surprise him if she had not.

Time is a funny thing. He’s in traction for nearly two weeks before they declare the femur healed and slap the seven-year-old boy into a body cast, but the two weeks feel like an eternity to the blond-headed boy.

The ward they assigned him to seems like the hugest room he’s ever visited. Filled with strangers, each injured or sick in their way. No one ever seems to talk to each other, the boy realizes; this realization makes him even lonelier.

There’s a TV to his right and mounted up high to not impede the business of medicine, the comings and goings of doctors and carts.

Some carts stacked high with tasteless, odorless plates of food. The food is hot, but that is about all the boy can say or will remember about the hospital’s cuisine.

They loaded other carts high with medical equipment, which he can not identify. He is careful not to gaze at those carts laden with the metal boxes, black rubber cords, and scary pads and probes. He’s always had vivid, frightful dreams. And since his accident, his dream life has only gotten stronger.

He sleeps a lot in the crowded ward; there’s little else to do during the days when constrained to a bed with a needle through your leg.

His mom, when she visits, is careful not to answer or encourage his questions about the accident. She wishes he would let it go.

Decades later, the boy will remember being on the street corner, standing on his mother’s right-hand side and holding her hand. He remembers how he used to like to ‘race’ the cars. Run out in front of them. So sure was he of his speed, he would brazenly dart out in front of the vehicle, sure he would make it across the street before the car got to him.

This time he had not beaten the car. The car and his right thigh had an up-close and personal meeting, one that would influence his life for decades.

“You pulled out of my hand and ran into the street before I could do anything,” his mother said to him months later. By that time, the body-cast had been removed. The electric saw had terrified him. But the doctor, trying to calm the boy’s fears, held the running saw against the boy’s palm. It had only tickled.

She would tell and retell that same story so many times that he eventually remembers it that way.

“The whole ambulance ride to St. Louis, you kept saying, ‘Wake me up out of this dream.’ It broke my heart,” his mother said.

Shock, the body’s self-defense mechanism for something so painful and objectionable, the body shuts down.

Later, once he had absorbed the narrative, he would recount it for others who hadn’t been there on the street corner in 1968.

“I used to like to see if I could outrun cars,” he would tell people who would listen.

“So I jerked my hand out of my mom’s and hauled ass across the street. But I didn’t beat that car; that car beat me!”

Eyebrows would be raised by that point, or the boy, by that time a man outwardly, would make some excuse to abort the tale.

Only occasionally does he add. “Yeah, I think maybe mom pushed me into the street.”


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