by Emma Rennison
He glides into the room, a cruise ship with nurses in tow. Last time I saw him he donned a blue hairnet. Jaunty, like Fred Astaire. Today he’s suited. Teeth grooves lining his silver wave.
He dips his chin and purses his lips into a bright coffee-fuelled ‘Morning’ which I return with a croak and stuttered cough. I tug at my top, conscious of my bobbly pyjamas patterned with grinning suns peering out behind clouds. He pivots left towards my son, swallowed by layers of thick hospital sheets and swollen pillows. A crisp white backdrop to the pink fibreglass of his tiny bandaged legs. Solidified from thigh to ankle and fixed in place to force his misshapen hips into their sockets.
‘How are we?’ the surgeon asks with a smile. My four-year-old’s big brown eyes turn to me. I step forward, ready to be his voice.
‘Good. He slept well.’ My mouth curves, lifting my cheeks as I squeeze his little hand.
‘You can go home tomorrow. Get some slings and springs for when the casts come off.’ He swivels and leaves. Click-clacking across the shiny tiles.
Slings and springs. The one thing you can’t buy at Kmart.
My eyes scan the scaffolding frame that held my son’s legs in traction for the past week. Forty years ago, this bed belonged to me.
The door bursts open again, thumping the wall with a crack. My inflamed arthritic bones jar and I wince. A young woman enters. One arm clutching a clipboard, the other swinging wild against her metre-long strides. She introduces herself, a blank expression across her face. Shouts slow words at my son, expecting he won’t understand.
She hands me a trifold leaflet. The front page a wavy-cut image of two women drinking tea, faces full of gladness. A toddler sits between them, a tube inserted in his nose. Her low speech mingles with the typed words. Families in crisis. Carer assistance. Government funding.
I rub the scar stretching down my thigh. A habit from years of hurt as I waited for doctors to remove my mangled bone and replace it with something man-made.
I flip the brochure and the corners of my mouth rise. A contact number. The call centre that could save my crumbling skeleton from the weight of a child who cannot walk.
‘You do not qualify,’ she reports, holding my gaze with a doll-like stare.
I blink hard. When I open my eyes, they are lined with salt. The smile I’d fixed in place drops and all the tears stored begin their descent. They plummet down my cheeks for my son and our mirrored hospitalised childhoods. Nestle in the rivets of my nose for my daughter, diagnosed with an S-shaped spine hours before my son was rolled to theatre. Wet my lips as my life of pain becomes theirs. And they drip from my chin, blurring the happy trifold faces into a hazy mirage.
Her brows furrow and she orders me out of the hospital room. My feet stumble to keep up as she marches ahead, past the nurses’ station into a windowless office.
I collapse into a hard plastic chair, my bones no longer able to support me. My head falls into my palms. I tried. I tried. I tried.
Her knees push into mine as she sits opposite, stretched tall and silent. Framed by orderly box files and binders on the desk behind.
‘I know your life isn’t what you wanted it to be.’ She thrusts tissues at me, her lips poised and open. ‘But you shouldn’t cry in front of him.’
My hand flutters to my throat. Rubbed raw with the howl aching to be released. Words rumble from my gut. Scratching and clawing their way up my throat. My mouth falls open, ready to demand what she knows of my life. Desperate to erupt and spew boiling hot venom at her, at everyone, at anyone.
I swallow hard, forcing it all back down, and nod.
Her green eyes blink once, hollow and empty. My gaze drops to my lap and the damp tissue screwed up in my hand. I stand, scraping the chair with a loud screech against the tiles, and let myself out of the office with a wobbly ‘Thank you’. My chin tucked in as I head back to my baby boy’s room.
My palm lies flat on the door and I suck in a breath. Head risen, I push. His whole face lifts as we lock eyes.
The door swings closed behind me, shutting us back into our own private world. Our breakfast trays sit side-by-side on his overbed table. I perch on the blankets and tickle his tiny pink toes peeping from the ends of the thick plaster cast. Press my lips to his peachy cheek as he bashes the top of his boiled egg, and smile.
Emma Rennison is a British-Australian writer and mother of two children diagnosed with multiple epiphyseal dysplasia and scoliosis. She is a Writeability Fellow, has one bionic hip and writes about her family’s experiences of disability, as well as works of fiction. You can find her writing at www.emmarennison.com.