Catastrophes of Children

by | Jun 11, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Nine

Since my wife grew a pea-sized tumor in her brain, she has premonitions of children in danger. As I leave her hospital bed: “Be careful going home,” she says to me. “There’s a girl at the corner of Price and 1st.”                                                           

This particular girl, I know, is deaf. She pauses in the street and watches me roll up. She signs something at me, doesn’t budge until her mother snatches her across. They sign furiously at each other. I roll down my window and wave, and the mother gives me a dirty look and a hand gesture I know well.

 I can’t sleep. On some bizarre early morning channel there are bald black children starving, flies circling their heads. I call the number on the screen, where operators are standing by, probably in air-conditioned whitewashed cinder block buildings, stuffing their faces with Little Debbie’s cakes. Until my money gets there the children must make do with bark and grasses and berries.They shuffle stiffly into grass huts, their swollen bellies nestled in the tickling straw beds.

I’m falling asleep on the sofa when she Skypes me. It’s four a.m. “Listen. There’s a fire, a boy trapped.”

I stumble out into the dark and drive toward where the sky glows orange. The fire trucks are not even there yet. Some people on the street tell me the boy’s still in there. He’s blind and autistic. I dash up the stairs and carry him out. His eyes rove frantically and he feels for my expression. I wonder how fear feels. He starts a rhythmic moaning until I place him into his mother’s arms. She kisses my cheek, a smoky cinder kiss, which shows black as the news puts me on, the savior.

***

They’re trying some radiation first. After she tells me she’s glowing like radium. Then…”Listen…the river…”

It’s a small river that runs through town. Today it’s raging brown. Where it enters the park I see the red shirt bobbing. I manage to find a branch to snag him, drag him onto the bank. He’s white like marble with purple lips. He smells like fish. I give him some breaths and he sputters up the dark water. He says his name and that he’s run away from home  because his father wouldn’t let him watch his shows. Damn basketball. Then the current had sucked him in. I call the authorities and it’s a big deal, there’s that news van again.

My wife says she saw me on TV, that my hair’s a mess.

***

The next girl is on the roof of the Barnes building, toes at the edge. She’s wearing a nice pink dress that flows in the wind. Her red hair twists around her mouth, and the words are slurred. “My father makes me wear this dress. He made me drink. He does things to me.” She cries. Down below is a crowd, urging her on. There’s a bruise on her arm. She’s pale. I tiptoe up to her and she gives me her hand.

***

They shave my wife’s head and get that pea out. Trouble maker but also trouble finder. Now who will save the children? She comes home and in a week I get a call from channel five. They’re giving a banquet in my honor. The kids and their families will be there. And the mayor, a fat little spinner. I feel embarrassed, and start drinking, crunching toes, bouncing off tables and falling on my face. It will be some long remembered video, The blind autistic kid finds the hair in my wife’s purse. Moaning he reads her head’s topography and then with spade like fingers weaves the thick black into a hat for her. She kisses his cheek and he goes fire engine red and takes off in a lumbering punch-bowl-crashing escape. My wife is weak so her feet cover mine as we slowly swing. I’m half expecting Ed Sheeran. There are these dancers I remember from high school, women now, working to raise tent poles in leery men who have wives and kids here.

The woman named Trish cuts in, pushing my wife with a claw dripping with diamonds. She slides her hand under my shirt, fingers walking up my spine slowly. When my wife isn’t looking Trish presses her tight body into me and steers me into the kitchen and from there to the deck where she suctions her tongue onto mine and emits a sound like a fucking dolphin. I deny my pole and go back to the party, painfully bent over.

Other women crouch to take selfies with me. I know faces but not the names. She’s the crossing guard, she’s the soccer coach, she draws up my Latte. My wife is looking perturbed, but pretty with her hair hat. The autistic boy drums the table. The jumping girl is not wearing pink. The river boy is watching something violent on his phone. The parents that are good are here, scrawling notes to me on napkins with happy faces. They are drunk too, and I rub shoulders. I do a little tap dance and the news crew surrounds me. I’m probably a joke by now. I stumble out on my celebrity, down the street. From houses come the cries of children. Something kicks in, and I climb stairs and drainpipes to untie them, to rub away tears. I make the calls, but the kids want to come with me. They know about me, how I have no children, how I drink too much. They follow me down the streets, back to where I started. The cameras flash, my goofy smile drools.

My wife drives the old Plymouth. The kids bounce around in the back, four of them. They’re sleeping peacefully by the time we’re home. We arrange them on the carpet, throw blankets over them. I’ve already forgotten their names. Me and the wife go upstairs and fuck like crazy to make one of our own.

Pin It on Pinterest