The neighbors are at it again. Not the Wrights who we sometimes see at the school board meetings, but their kids, Jane and Joey. Joey is the younger one, five or so. He’s on his back close to the wall of safety netting, palms down, getting bounced by his sister. Jane, a few years into gymnastics lessons, launches straight up and tucks into a neat flip, her blond ponytail falling limp toward the black fabric then snapping upward as she brings herself around. Her shoulders are already broadening, her thighs growing thick. They’re having a terrific time, per usual. I can hear the metallic squeaks of the trampoline through the kitchen windows and Joey is laughing his beautiful high full-body laugh. It’s driving me nuts.
Sebastian doesn’t mind, from what I can tell. He’s on the carpet hunched over a book about insects. He’s touching the pictures, whispering the words as he reads. His leg braces catch the early evening light, and I remind him not to put too much stress on his knees, sitting that way.
When Paul walks through the door and hears the familiar metronomic noise he rolls his eyes. “The Leaping Loonies, again?” he says, dropping his briefcase and planting one on me. I nod over a strainer full of wet noodles. Then he calls to Sebastian, “Hey, Sea Bass, what you looking at?” Sebastian is totally engrossed, but he mumbles something about centipedes and millipedes, and how there’s a difference. He says he’ll explain later. “Our kid’s a freaking genius,” Paul says.
Even after I put the corkscrew pasta and ciabatta on the table and we get Sebastian situated in his chair—he doesn’t like to wear the braces at dinner, so we don’t make him—and I say a quick grace and dish out the sauce it’s still going on. Like a slow mechanical heartbeat, or a bad hinge. And the laughter. “Don’t they eat?” I say, trying not to sound too wound up. “Or go to the bathroom? It’s been hours. It’s getting dark.” I mean it for Paul but Sebastian responds.
“Jane has to practice,” he says. “She’s on a squad.” The fork looks too big, awkward in his hand. I should have made grilled cheese, I think.
He kills me every day with something. Every few hours, really. After school today it was a drawing he showed me—a mess of blue scribbles with some orange here and there.
“Another sarcophagus?” I said. They’ve been learning about the Pharaohs.
“It’s me, Mom. In my hydraulic suit. The only way to travel.” I cracked up at that, and he laughed too, and then I kept laughing when I felt my throat wanting to seize up. Where does he get this stuff? A freaking genius, like Paul says.
We reenact the exchange at the table for Paul, and he laughs even harder than I did. Then we tell him about the PT session, how Sebastian did some new exercises and got the usual massage, to work the mucus out of his chest. How he felt better afterward, but tired. I don’t tell Paul about the surgery the therapist is recommending, where they open each leg from ankle to thigh and stretch the muscles that are tensing like too-short wires as he grows. That will be later.
Paul steals a noodle from Sebastian and bounces it back onto his plate, and looking at the two of them I can’t help but think back further: how Paul and I kept trying, wearing out the mattress in the process, and what an easy pregnancy it was, and the delivery not too bad either until the doctors told us what they’d missed, the cord coiled around Sebastian’s neck, cutting off air. When they pulled him out he was blue. No amount of magic equipment, or school funding, or group therapy sessions for Parents of Children with CP could begin to make up for anything after that.
For a second I almost tune out the sounds from next door, which are still going, relentless. I remember Donna Wright apologizing to me one day, her smooth gold hair and tan face peeking over the fence: “Sorry for all the racket on this side. They just have so much energy.” She was friendly, at least. Not the way some of our friends, and even some family have recoiled from us over the past seven years. Kids are good at being cruel, but adults are worse.
After dinner, Paul and Sebastian put on a special about Stonehenge. Standing at the sink with my hair curling in the steam, I see Jane out there alone now, rising and falling with the floodlights on, twisting her body however she likes and ending up on her feet. All I can think is that it’s April, not too long before school lets out. After that, the two of them will jump all day on that thing.
Looking at her, I imagine throwing the window open and yelling at Jane to go watch TV in the house, like a normal kid. That’s what I would do if I were her mother, I think. But really I can’t say.
Dorian Fox grew up mostly in Pittsburgh, but now lives in the Boston area where he is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Emerson College. His work has appeared online in Barrelhouse, Prick of the Spindle and Bright Lights Film Journal.