by Lee Matalone
The morning of the abortion they talk about what it could have been like.
“He will grow up to be an environmental litigator,” he says. “He will go up against oil companies, preventing pipelines from being built through sacred tribal lands.”
“Yeah. Yes,” she says, “but what before that?” She bounces a large ball, blue and layered with a skin of sparkles against the shiny tile toy store floor, angling it at the could be father-to-be.
“Before that?” He catches. “He will graduate from a small but respected law school in the Midwest. His classmates, his professors, will adore him, but he won’t choose to have more than two or three actual friends.”
“But,” the question is, she says, “What will his favorite food be?” She takes a soft basketball from the wire container of balls, so many balls, bouncy, all of them, and one-hands it at a novelty-size hoop. The little ball misses the net made just for the little ones.
“From the moment he has teeth until the moment he leaves our house, he will only eat hot dogs—and peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.”
“Crunchy,” she says, “Or creamy?”
“Crunchy, of course.”
As a child, she saw angels. Rather, she imagined angels flanking the altar as Father Lavin consecrated the Eucharist. In a notebook that she held in her lap, she crayoned an image of these angels. What is this? her mother asked, pointing at the drawing of the two blue blurs, the wonder already contracting her eyes’ orbicularis oculi muscles, the new wrinkles crowing at her temples. Angels. Her mother cupped one hand at the back of her neck and pressed the fingers of the other into her temple, massaging in the way she did when she was overcome, exhaling deeply, nearly hyperventilating with joy. After all, this was a sign: her daughter was a chosen one, a special one.
Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is my body which will be given up for you.
Boredom, she was just drawing. Imagining, that’s all. But she has never admitted this to her mother, to her father, to her baby sister, a nun to be. To this day, she has privatized this truth, preserved her tinsel godliness to maintain the faith of those she loves.
I feel absurd, you know. The effort to be here in this toy store and imagine feels absurd.
“I want to smell babies,” I say. “I want to smell children.”
“This isn’t good enough?” he says. “Okay. This isn’t enough.”
“How much time do we have?”
“A few hours,” I say. “Three, maybe.”
We get in the car and drive fast, to another place designed for little ones. Where I volunteer as part of my optometry training. Where I work with children who have lost sight, who have never had the ability to see.
“Hi, Kathy. Hi, Sandra. Hi, Emmanuel. Good to see you all. I thought I’d drop in. I wanted to see the kids today. Just having one of those days, you know…”
Lying on his back in the little room made especially for him is Leo. “Leo Leo Leo how are you?” I can’t wait to play with Leo. He’s always smiling smiling smiling. He rubs his hand along the Astroturf wall of his manmade cave. Above him floats a motley chandelier, spoons, bells, plastic Easter eggs, a slinky, a metal coffee cup, a rubber banded bunch of straws, a wire whisk, a loofah, dangling from the ceiling. Against the singular plywood wall of the little room, he does a little tap dance, offering a syncopated beat. Ta. Ta-Ta, Ta-ta.Ta. Leo will dance one day. He will be a dancer. He is only three but the dance lives in his hips that writhe on the floor.
“Sam could use your playtime today,” nurse Ada says.
Sam is a sad boy. A six-year-old boy who does not do what six-year-old boys do. He does not run or jump or laugh. He crieeeesss.
Ada sets him down on the wooden board in front of the basket of balls. I sit down across from Sam, on the other side of the basket of balls. Inside this basket of balls: a tennis ball, golf ball, football, ping-pong ball, Wiffle ball, ball with rubber tentacles, small rubber ball, baseball. Balls for teaching touch.
In the old days, the director of the Center said on my first day of training, This is how blind children were taught. Close your eyes, he said, grabbing my hand, unfurling my fingers like legs and rubbing a golf ball into my palm, thrusting, grinding the ball against my skin. See how violent this is? How it’s almost as if I did this—pressing his chin against my mouth, so I can smell his lunch on his lips—to a person with sight. It’s too violent. Now, he said, We take a more considerate approach, taking hold of the basket of balls and offering me the option of touch.
“Sam, want to play?”
He has done this before. He knows the basket is there. I do not push him. I let him make choices. I pick up a ball with air that exhales a squeak when I squeeze it. “What fun, Sam.”
His hands palm the surface of all the balls, all the different sized bubbles of this strange bath of objects. He doesn’t smile though. Not today.
Back in the car, they talk about what it will be like.
“He will know how to laugh,” she says.
“He will know how to cry,” he says.
There is no time left.
They drive to McDonald’s and eat french fries beside the ball pit where children are laughing, the balls rolling over them, burying them to where they cannot be seen.
Lee Matalone writes a column on death, loss and mourning for The Rumpus. She lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana.