|This story is set in the Tales From the Blind Pig universe, in which an extraterrestrial disease called Martian
Flu has unusual effects on a significant number of its victims
-- Stein's Chronic Accelerated Biomorphic Syndrome, SCABS for
short. Of course, some of these effects are more obvious than
Go here for more information on the setting.
by Phil Geusz
©2001 Phil Geusz -- all rights reserved
I wasn't very happy about such a long car ride, not at all. "When am I going to get to see Mommy?" I asked, kicking at the seat in irritation.
"Soon," Bill answered me in a soothing voice. "Very soon."
I sighed and pouted my lower lip. "I'm missing my cartoons."
"I know," the driver replied patiently. "I know. But this is very, very important."
"Important how?" I asked, turning to Cecilia. But she just sighed and looked away, ignoring me as usual. Angrily I kicked at the seat once more, then turned to look out the window. It was still raining, of course, and then there was lightning and thunder. "God's bowling again, Bill," I said wondrously.
"Yes. He is." The words sounded funny when he said them, and even as I watched Bill reached up and wiped a tear from his eye. That was really scary, somehow. A lot scarier than lightning and thunder! I stayed very quiet for the rest of the trip.
The hospital was a really big building, full of nurses and beds on wheels and all kinds of funny stuff. I stayed real close to Bill and Cecilia, being afraid that somehow we might get separated in the crowds. Then they took me to a chair and I sat and played with my toy Corvette while Cecilia read her magazine. "Vroom!" I chortled, making the little red car twist and turn up and down the furniture's curves. "Vroom!"
Then Bill came back, walking quickly. "Now!" he said. "Right now! She's awake."
I wanted to play with my car some more, but with unusual gentleness Cecilia took my hand and led me down a little corridor. "Your mother is right down there," she whispered as Bill ran ahead. "She really wants to see you, Paulie."
"Mommy!" I cried out, pulling away from Cecelia's grip and dashing ahead to catch up with my brother. "Mommy!" He wasn't so very hard to catch, not nearly as hard as he used to be. When he opened to door to Mommy's room I was right there beside him. "Mommy!" I cried out again, dashing towards the bed. "I'm here! It's Paulie!"
"Oh!" she said in her wonderful voice. "Oh, my two big strong boys!" I bounced up and down beside the bed for a time, smiling real big for her, while Bill just stood quietly. Mommy had been terribly sick, I knew. But the hospital was going to make her all better again. That was what hospitals were for. We stood together for a long time, and then lightning flashed somewhere close by.
"God's bowling, Paulie," Mommy said. "With the angels. Isn't he?" I nodded and smiled, and even Bill grinned as well. "I remember when you two were little and scared, and that always calmed you right down."
"Sure! I remember, Mom," my brother replied, while I just sort of wriggled with glee. "It worked for my kids too."
"I tied my own shoes today!" I burst out.
"Really!" Mommy replied with enthusiasm. "I'm so very proud of you Paulie!" I stood straight and tall, but she didn't pat me on the head like she usually did. That was OK; I could see that her arm had all kinds of tubes in it. "That's my big boy!" Then she turned once more to Bill. "Son, I..."
"Hush!" he answered with a gentle smile. "Just you hush, now. It's all taken care of. Paulie will be staying with me."
Mommy sighed. "I know, Bill. We're family, and family takes care of one another. But you're getting on yourself. Your kids are all grown; you have grandchildren older than Paulie. And he'll never get any older!"
He just smiled wanly. "You've done all that flesh and blood could ever do, Mother. Don't worry anymore. It's my turn now."
"But... What about after you, son? This... This... It's just not natural! And not fair to any of us either! Not to any of us!" And then she was crying, and Bill was crying too, and even Cecilia when I turned to her. It sort of scared me, so I held up my toy car and showed it to my sister-in-law.
"I used to have a real car just like this!" I said proudly. "Vroom, vroom!"
"I know," Cecilia answered, placing a weary hand on my shoulder. "I know." And then she limped over to the bed, hung her cane on the rail and embraced her husband. "It's all right," she whispered in his ear. "No one ever receives a burden in excess of their strength, Honey. No one. Not even us." Then they all three cried together for what seemed like a very long time, while I sat down on the floor and played and played and played.