“When The Children Cry” – Flash Fiction From The Daddy Dispatch

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2010 at 9:47 pm

At precisely eleven-eleven pm, Abel glanced up at the clock and listened carefully as the second hand swept noiselessly onward.  One of the periodic breaks in the crying had occurred, and the neonatal intensive care unit was silent.  As a medical resident, Abel had two major responsibilities: to do the jobs none of the other doctors wanted to, and to do them for thirty hours at a pop.  A copy of Stephen Hawking’s “The Theory of Everything” lay open on the desk, and the barely audible radio hummed the inoffensive tunes of adult contemporary.  His shift was nearly at an end, and Abel was finally alone with his thoughts.

“So, if the second law of thermodynamics holds, and Hawking is right about the nature of time and space…” he mused aloud.  “Then the Big Crunch would be the collapse of not only all space, but of all time…right?”

Skip had finally died in this same hospital two months earlier, and Abel preferred to think about the cosmos than about all of the suffering his brother had endured.  It was bad enough that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 31, but then to not die, for so long, and for so many times.  Abel no longer planned to be an oncologist, having seen firsthand how messy the end of life can be.  How utterly painful and embarrassing.  But now, as the cacophony of crying resumed, he had second thoughts.

The song about life being a highway ended, and the one about how only the good die young began.  Skip, always the comedian, had tried to use that line at their mother’s funeral, the one about how only the good die young.  Abel had been mortified until their Nana spoke up from behind him.

“It’s true you know, about only the good dying young.  Your mother was such a good baby.  She never cried.  Well, never for no apparent reason anyway, and she never got upset about things the way your aunts and uncle did.  And to pass like this, so suddenly and peacefully, well that was your mother for you.”

“She got hit by a damn bus!” Skip protested.  “How the hell is that peaceful?”  The tightness in Abel’s forehead ratcheted up another notch.

“You know what I mean,” said Nana.  “She didn’t suffer, and that’s what counts.”

Abel found that the babies in the ICU took turns crying for the most part, but on many shifts there would be an example of the extremes, an infant who screamed non-stop, or more unsettling, one who did not make a peep.  One such angel lay just four feet from him, wakeful and calm.  Abel fought back a sudden urge to pinch her toes just to make her cry.  He hadn’t cried yet himself.  Not since Skip finally left.

How many times had Skip died already?  Eight?  Nine?  Too many.  Too many goodbyes, too many jokes that were not funny, too many awkward silences about how Skip was supposed to die first, not Mom.  And now he was gone for real.  Gone for good.

People didn’t remember his real name was Cain until they saw it on the gravestone.  Just like in the bible, only Abel died first in that story.  Abel barely remembered the funeral.  Alone in a room full of people.  Nana had been there, strong as ever, and she noticed what the others had not.

“I’ll cry for you, dear boy,” she had whispered.  “I know how it was with you, how long it was.  It was so hard for you, and for him.  That part is done now.”

“Thank you, Nana.” He had mumbled politely.  Another well intentioned condolence in an incomprehensible series.  Now he wondered.

Abel flipped open his phone, then snapped it shut.  “It’s too late,” he thought, looking back up at the clock.  Eleven-thirty.  She would be up, likely watching television.

“Call Nana,” he over-enunciated.

“Connecting,” replied the disembodied voice.

“Nana, it’s me.  Are you up?”

“Wouldn’t answer the phone if I wasn’t, what’s up with you?”

“I need to know if Skip cried all the time when he was a baby,” Abel began.  “And if I did.”

“Oh, you cried all right, but only when you needed something.  Or when he punched you.  Other than that you were an angel.  Now your brother was another thing entirely.  ‘Course he wasn’t Skip then.  Skip was always funny even when you knew he was hurting bad inside.  I’m speaking of Cain.”

“I’m listening, Nana.”

“Your mother would feed him, burp him, rock him and just about sock him and he never would be quiet.  Lord, how he must have suffered!  Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, kept saying that some babies just cry and cry.  Colic, they called it.  I called it horsepucky then and still do.  Your mother should have had her head examined naming you boys like that, people naturally assumed all of the crying and the carrying on was due to the story.  Well that’s a bunch of bologna too.  Some people just suffer more than others, that’s all.”

“Thanks, Nana.”

“Guess that’s my cue!  See you soon, Abel my boy.  Don’t work too hard.”

The phone clicked shut and the babies resumed their chorus.  Abel watched the clock and waited.  The angelic infant nearest to him continued to observe the world into which she had recently arrived.

Walking to the newborn baby girl, he took in the slate blue eyes, the bald crown of her head, the delicate yet tenacious existence of new life.  He thought of his brother’s suffering, both at the beginning and at the end, and he thought of his own.

Smashed drinking glasses never reassemble themselves, cars never un-crash once they have collided, and the dead never awaken, but babies don’t know that yet. They are not yet aware of the arrow of time, which goes only in one direction, toward greater entropy, greater chaos, greater darkness.  But what else was there?  Something about how the perception of time is an illusion, that the beginning is the end, and in a finite yet expanding universe there is always room for hope.

“Maybe we’ll be on the same plane when it falls out of the sky,” he told the peaceful one.  “Try to have fun in the meantime.”

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