Two doctors, married to each other. At first it was doctor and nurse skulking dark corridors in heat and finding empty gurneys, then doctor on doctor. While they make their way up his walk, he remembers the doctor writing her recommendations for med school. Good, he wrote, very good. She had a plain face, but every smile of his remade it. His big white teeth are flashing already, teeth from the wealthy suburbs that bred him solely for med school. They haven’t been in touch since the pre-times, pre-med, law, vet.
We would’ve come sooner but we took a wrong turn, the doctor says.
In our life, says the plain-faced doctor.
His hand is held out for a back-pat, a kiss, whatever shake or slobbering that can solidify such a sudden visit, and she leans in at him with a gift. Babies don’t get big right away, she says, while he unwraps some kind of doctor sample-toy for babies, while he expresses his happiness at seeing them, while his wife wrestles the infant to her chest and greets them with grace, considering.
The doctor is soon saying, Ethanol is where you could make money these days. They stand amid baby detritus in the living room, hands on drinks, the woman waving a rabbit’s foot or even feet, the item large and toy-like produced from her bag like a trick and now jabbing the same at the baby who sits up, rabbit still, watching.
The wife has things to do, things doing in other rooms. She’ll be right back and she gives him a glance that he concurs. How’s the doctor business? he says to the doctor.
The chain of words hangs there, between the worn couch and their cracked windowpane.
These days—says the doctor.
The woman says, Baby, baby, the way you do in a pop song and then she spills the contents of her purse completely, all nerves, looking for more toy-things.
The woman says, Baby, baby, the way you do in a pop song and then she spills the contents of her purse completely, all nerves, looking for more toy-things. Her lipstick rolls to the darkest meanest couch corner where you never want to look, and all the rest of the flotsam follows in tandem.
I’m the one with a job, she says, and everyone smiles, even the baby, while she collects and sorts the spilled objects.
Dem bones, dem bones, says the doctor, and winks. She picked up massage along the way. My way, he says, singing Sinatra.
The woman hands the baby a round-edged mirror, which he mouths until his father excuses him and his ways, so he can change him.
For they are going out, the only way to remove the visitors, these doctor friends of his, she hisses. Why aren’t they still doctors?
Instead of answering, he flaps the car seat into place. What do you think? he says. She pulls lint from the baby’s lip. Even now they don’t look so straight.
One drug or two, he used to ask everybody in the fraternity, and laugh.
Some patients thought he was a godsend.
Days of yore, the doctor with his fun-loving ways noses his car close to them, almost too close, the way he used to. They honk one honk and wave them off.
What’s at stake for them, ethanol?
Peas and poop release in the bathroom and the mother mops and scrubs and replaces and returns with the baby calm, seemingly eager to sit once again in the chair. . .
Food comes and a highchair, the service is that slow. The baby works itself into an agitation. The woman takes a bathroom break, which, after salad, extends into dessert. The wife battles the baby with peas, with single grains of rice the baby likes to pick up so prettily but he is now batting them over the edge and crying. What’s gotten into you? says the wife, waiting for the woman to return, to empty the bathroom for the baby.
When she makes it back, she is more made up, a burnt color across her cheeks.
Peas and poop release in the bathroom and the mother mops and scrubs and replaces and returns with the baby calm, seemingly eager to sit once again in the chair for a food finish. For about two minutes, for about the time it takes for the doctor to say, Why don’t we?
The baby loses it.
The baby yells like a triple-barreled anything, the volume a pop band’s equivalent riff at three a.m. The baby yells and then goes way quiet. Goes limp and green and shaky, with rolled back eyes.
Usually when you yourself want to scream what comes out is a whimper, a catch-in-the-throat kind of vocal.
The mother screams.
The doctor, for all his xxxs—they stand for stoned, not Rx—knows the protocol, and his wife, whether or not she ever graduated, can still take a pulse. It’s nothing, says the doctor, maybe he’s sensitive. A little stomach pump, he says a few minutes later, and his wife nods and smiles.
The mother says, No, it is not nothing. Let’s go, she says to her husband and her husband looks at the doctors—especially the woman now drooping the kind of droop that isn’t about drink—and he says I’ll bring the car around.
I saved your kid, says the doctor. The man hands the baby to his wife and decks him.
The doctors use their old IDs to help triage their way through emergency.
It must have rolled out of my purse, says the woman.
The baby wakes up. The baby stops with the green skin, the shakiness, and the rolled back eyes. The baby puts on a smile.
I saved your kid, says the doctor.
The man hands the baby to his wife and decks him.
The young man now older whose baby returns home with him and his wife—they don’t have to stay over—locks the door that night and vacuums. Then his wife vacuums. They vacuum for an hour and then they open the bowels of the sweeper and go through the leavings like soothsayers.
Terese Svoboda‘s fourth novel, Tin God, was published this spring by The University of Nebraska Press. She has stories in Web Conjunctions and Flights and is currently Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University.