“Hey, you,” she yelled. “The doctor’s here.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Silent tears slid down my cheeks and onto my lips. I could hear him coming into the apartment. I peeked out the open door of my bedroom and watched as Teresa hushed the fat doctor in and pointed to her bedroom. I had never seen him before. He was new. I got confused because he looked like a priest. He had on one of those black dresses they always wore when they were walking around the rectory next to the church, near the school.
I could hear them talking and laughing in her room. Then, they came back out, and the priest-doctor had put on and was buttoning up the same dingy white coat with the brown stain that I had found on the floor of Teresa’s closet. She carried the doctor’s black bag for him. The doctor, a smile on his sweaty face, shook his head. He gave her a handful of paper money, which she put into the pocket of her robe. Then she handed him the black leather bag.
“He’s in there,” she said, pointing to my room with the fingers holding her cigarette. “Come on in. He’s all yours.”
I grabbed Michael’s flannel shirt, ran under the bed, and curled myself into a ball with the shirt wrapped around me. I shoved my head under the headboard up against the wall. Please, Archangel, no more. Please, I prayed. My mother’s black and gold slippers sloshed into the bedroom and stopped next to the bed. The doctor-priest’s black shoes stopped, too.
“Come out of there, you,” she yelled. “Don’t waste the doctor’s time. Or mine, either.”
I clutched Michael’s shirt, digging my fingernails into my arms until it hurt. If I just thought about the pain from my fingernails cutting into my skin, I wouldn’t have to think about the rest of it. Teresa’s bathrobed form knelt down on the dusty floor beside the bed. Her hands appeared, then her face, now turning red.
“Come on, now, you,” she said. “The doctor’s a busy man and doesn’t have time to argue with sissy little boys like you. Do you hear me?”
“No more, Ma, please, no more,” I begged.
She bent down lower, her face straining and redder. “Now, you listen to me, you filthy little thing,” she said. “It’s not my fault you were born with this evil in you. It’s God’s punishment. That’s why you need your treatments. They’ll help you. I told you that.”
The room was dark as night. Again, the thunder cracked, and I jumped and bumped my head up into the bottom of the bed. Then, my body froze.
Teresa screamed at me, “Come out here right now!”
Blood, from where my fingernails were digging deeper and deeper, ran down my arm and beaded up on top of the dust on the floor. Lightning sliced the room with a flash of light. “Archangel, is that you?” I whispered.
Black pants and the stained white jacket appeared. Two hairy hands touched the floorboards. “Come on, little Danny baby,” said the man. “I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m here to help you, just like your mama says.”
His breath smelled like Teresa’s—scotch and cigarettes. The sweat from the fat man’s face dripped onto the floor, making a ball of wetness on the dust.
“You little brat! You come out of there right now,” she screamed, “or I’ll tell your brother. Do you hear me? And if he leaves…. Well, don’t blame me, Mister. Now, get out here and get your treatment or that’s just what’s going to happen. I’m giving you one more chance. Or you can kiss your precious brother goodbye.”
“No!” I cried. “I’m coming out. I’m coming right now. I’ll get my treatment. I promise. I’ll be good. Please don’t tell Michael about me.”
“Then get out here, right now!” she yelled.
I didn’t want her to hit me. I let go of my arms full of bloody marks dug in with my fingernails. I slid slowly across the dusty wooden floor, one leg at a time, toward the edge of the bed frame. The doctor stood up. Teresa reached down and squeezed my arm right where it was bleeding. I yelled and she shook me, pulling me to my feet. When she let go of my arm, it stung like needles. I still gripped Michael’s shirt in one hand.
“Now you do whatever the doctor here tells you, you hear me. You’ve already wasted too much of his time. And mine, too!”
I nodded and watched her leave the room, slamming the door behind her so hard the wall shook. The man in the stained white jacket smiled. Sweat dotted his face.
“Now,” he said, “how are we feeling today?”
His strong smell turned my stomach. “Not too good,” I mumbled.
The rain pounded the fire escape outside the bedroom window, and thunder rumbled from far away.
“Sit here,” he said, pointing to the bed.
I sat down, crying and bleeding.
He opened the black bag and pulled out a small, brown bottle of pink and yellow capsules. He put one of the giant-sized pills into my hand.
“Take this. It’ll make you feel better.” Then, he poured some of Teresa’s scotch into a small glass and said, ”Here, drink this. It’ll make it go down easier.” After all the doctor visits, it had never gotten easier.
I put the pill on my tongue and drank the awful-tasting liquid, fire burning my throat, up to my head which got instantly fuzzy. My temples clamped up as if in a vice, and my stomach turned immediately.
“Okay,” said the priest in the stained white doctor coat. “Take off your clothes.”
I unbuttoned my good yellow shirt, remembering when I’d put it on that morning for my first day of kindergarten, before I met Alison. Somehow, having met her made the doctor treatments worse. I pulled off my pants and bent down to take off my shoes.
“Come on,” said the doctor. “Hurry up. Everything. Take off everything. Your underwear, too.”
I crunched my eyes shut and pulled off my underwear. Archangel, where are you? I thought. The rain outside kept pounding. The thunder kept rumbling. The doctor, smiling through his sweat, pushed me up onto the bed, and tore back the covers.
“Lay on your stomach,” he said, “so I can give you your treatment.” He laughed and reached over and turned on Michael’s radio on the nightstand. Sam Cooke was singing about what a wonderful world this would be…. It was one of Michael’s favorites, because, he said, he also didn’t know much about history or geography, like the song said.
I crawled onto the bed. The room had gotten hot and stifling, and I could barely catch my breath. I watched the doctor pull one of his cold, hard instruments out of the black bag. I felt his big, hot hand on me and then the icy steel of his instrument. I groped around for Michael’s shirt and smothered my face into it, swallowing my screams and gripping his shirt as I inhaled Michael’s smell.
“Here, Goofy,” my brother said, laughing, “let me show you how to rig a pole.”
The orange sun shone down into the gently moving dark water at Hamilton Beach. The sunlight twinkled on the ripples in the water as the weight from Michael’s line plopped down where he’d hurled it.
“Get me one of those weights,” Michael said, pointing to his tackle box. “A small one.” I picked the smallest weight in the box. He was sitting on the sand. I placed the fishing weight into his hand. He grabbed it.
“Hey, good job, Shorty. That’s perfect,” he said, smiling and squinting up at me with the sun in his eyes. “There might be hope for you yet, little brother.” He laughed. “Hey, you wanna learn how to cast a line?” He smiled at me and stood up. “Here, let me show you.”
My face tingled from the hot sun, as I watched Michael cast his line over and over, smiling and squinting at me all the while.
“Go wash yourself!” Teresa’s voice stabbed in, and Hamilton Beach disappeared. I didn’t know how much time had passed.
“Your brother will be home any minute,” she was yelling. She kept pushing my leg hard, over and over. “It stopped raining,” she said. “Go hang the laundry out, before it starts again.” Then she left the room.
The bedsheet was sticky, and there was a reddish-brown stain on it like the one on the doctor’s jacket. My blood. When I moved my head, the pain moved with it, heavy, pounding. I tried to sit up. The dresser, the windows, the Archangel picture on the wall, all moved to one side, then back again. The priest-doctor was gone. I fell back on the bed.
“Get up! You hear me?” Teresa yelled in from the living room. “Don’t make me come in there!”
I sat up again, slowly. I held onto the blanket. My body shook in cold shivers. I threw up on the floor in front of the bed.
“What are you doing in there?” she yelled again. “Get moving now, and go hang out that laundry.”
“Okay,” I mumbled but doubted she had heard me over the music on the television, and a man’s voice saying, “This has been As the World Turns, brought to you by Friskies cat food….”
I stepped over the mess I’d made on the floor and, holding on to the nightstand, and then the dresser, moved toward the door. As I passed the mirror, my face looked back at me, pale with dirty tears that had dried on my cheeks. I slid past the dresser and out the door, into the living room.
“Would you hurry up, you dummy. What’s the matter with you?” She was sitting on the couch, remote control in one hand, glass in the other.
“I threw up,” I said, holding onto the wall and looking down at the big faded flowers on the living room rug.
“You’re so pathetic,” she said. “Well, get it cleaned up. Don’t think I’m going around cleaning up after you.”
“I’ll clean it,” I said.
“Well, do it now, before you make me sick. And take that sheet off the bed, and put on a clean one.”
I knew if I tried to walk to the bathroom, I’d fall. So I got down on my hands and knees and crawled across the dusty pink and red rug. I heard the sound of ice rattling as Teresa poured more whiskey into her glass.
“Now what are you doing?”
“I’m dizzy,” I said, still looking at the rug.
“Well, don’t block the television,” she said. “Hurry up.”
I made it into the bathroom and locked the door. Then I crawled into the bathtub, turned on the hot water, and stuck the rubber plug in the drain, relieved to be alone. With the soap and washcloth, I washed the stickiness and dried blood, and scrubbed my face, then lay back in the tub. As I tried to feel better, the little white tiles on the wall began to move in and out, then out and in.
When I closed my eyes, I could still see the tiles, except now they were black instead of white. I lay there for a while, letting the hot water soak into me. I leaned my head back into the water. It drifted into my ears so that I couldn’t hear anything, not the voices on the TV, not the ice clinking in Teresa’s glass, only the water in and out of my ears. It was cool now at Hamilton Beach. Michael was rigging my fishing rod.
I didn’t know how long I stayed there. After I got out of the tub and dried myself, I brushed my teeth a hundred times with tons of toothpaste. I thought of how much Michael liked it when I brushed my teeth.
Then, I remembered the throw-up I still had to clean up and the stained sheet I had to change. My body felt weak, as if I could slump to the floor and sleep there forever. The tiles were still moving and blurring in and out like little blank white stop-signs. I didn’t know how I would get the mess cleaned up, change the sheets, and get the wet clothes from the basement hung outside. I wondered if, when I reached out to the clothesline attached outside Teresa’s bedroom window, I’d fall out.
END OF EXCERPT 7, CHAPTER 2