Threes ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It was late fall, getting close to Thanksgiving. I was eleven and in the sixth grade. I came down with a terrible cold that settled in my chest. I had a rattling cough and a fever. My chest hurt and my swallowing mechanism wasn’t right. My mother had taken a sliding fall on the street and was in the hospital with a brain concussion. She was out of commission until further notice. Daddy, who ordinarily didn’t like being bothered with kid problems, was in charge in my mother’s absence. He never understood me, even at the best of times. He thought I was faking it even when I wasn’t. I was too young to stay at home by myself all day long, the thinking went, so my cold was ignored (by him, anyway) and I was sent packing off to school.
Miss Smalls noticed right away there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t stop coughing. I could hardly hold my head up. She held her hand to my forehead and then walked me up to the nurse’s office.
Miss Millie Deal, the school nurse, looked in my eyes and ears and down my throat. She put a thermometer under my tongue and then unbuttoned my shirt and listened to my heart. “You’ve got a lot of congestion in the lungs,” she said. (No fooling.) “You should have stayed at home today and rested.”
“There’s nobody there,” I said around the little glass tube in my mouth.
“Are you afraid to stay by yourself?”
“No. It wasn’t my idea.”
She took the thermometer out of my mouth and turned toward the window to get a better look. “A hundred and two,” she said. “If left untreated, your condition could be dangerous.”
“I think you might have the start of pneumonia. You feel rotten, don’t you?”
“Any vomiting or cramps?”
“You’re not coughing up blood, are you?”
“No,” I said anxiously. “Will I?”
There was a small, metal hospital bed—more like a cot, really—against the wall. It looked like it might have been used in World War I or before. She pulled down the covers and told me to take off my shoes and get into the bed. After I had done so, she took my glasses from me and covered me up.
“Just stay there,” she said, “until I tell you to get up.”
The sheets smelled liked peppermint. The pillow was soft and fit my head perfectly. I turned my face to the wall and covered up my head. By the time Miss Deal came back from telling Miss Smalls she was keeping me in her office “for observation,” I was sound asleep.
I slept all morning and through lunch. When the lunch-is-over bell rang, I woke up briefly and then went back to sleep. When school was over for the day, Miss Deal woke me up and told me it was time to go home. Before I left she handed me a note she had written for me to give to daddy: Your son needs to see a doctor before he returns to school.
Daddy wasn’t happy about the note, but he didn’t do more than the usual amount of crabbing. After a dinner (that I didn’t want) of fish sticks and macaroni and cheese, he made me go straight to bed without any TV. A little shit as sick as I was, he said, needed to be in bed.
In the morning he took me to Dr. Vermilion’s office on his way to work. He sat there beside me silently, looking at a magazine, while I waited my turn to see the doctor. When my name was called, he didn’t go in with me, as my mother would have.
I had been going to Dr. Vermilion all my life and I wasn’t too scared of him. He was old but he knew how to laugh and joke around. The thing I hated most about going to the doctor was having to take off my clothes. This time he let me keep on my undershirt and my pants while he examined me, so already I felt better.
He used a tongue depressor to look as far down my throat as he could; listened to me front and back with the stethoscope. My temperature was still about a hundred and two.
“What girls have you been kissing?” he asked.
“None!” I said emphatically.
“I think you’ve picked up a germ somewhere.”
“It wasn’t from any girl.”
“How do you know that?”
I was trying to think of an answer but he laughed then, so I knew he was just playing with me.
He gave me a shot, a bottle of pills, and cherry cough syrup. He said I was to stay home from school for the rest of the week and stay in bed as much of the time as I could. Drink plenty of fluids, stay warm and dry, avoid chills. If I wasn’t better in four or five days, he would do an x-ray of my lungs. The part I liked best was staying home from school.
When I told daddy what the doctor had said, he grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me out to the car before I had a chance to put on my coat. I had already screwed up his entire morning, he said, but, by god, he had no intention of letting the entire day go to waste.
He drove me to grandma’s house and dropped me off and sped away in the car. I wasn’t sure if grandma was even at home, but when I rang the bell she opened the door with a smile. I told her what had happened, that I had been to see the doctor, but she already knew somehow.
She put me to bed in her big front bedroom that was only used for overnight company. She put her portable TV at the foot of the bed and turned it on for me. Then she went into another part of the house and told me to just give her a holler if I needed anything.
I wasn’t used to being able to watch anything I wanted on TV with no grownups around, especially during the day. I watched cartoons, game shows, and a soap opera that I thought was stupid. Then it was time for lunch. Grandma fixed me a hamburger and I went into the kitchen and sat at the table and ate it. After lunch I went back to bed and took a two-hour nap and then I watched TV some more. The life of the invalid suited me fine.
When it was just starting to get dark outside, grandma came into the bedroom and woke me up. I started to get up, figuring daddy had come to pick me up to take me home, but she told me to stay put. She would call me when it was time for dinner.
I learned later that daddy had had an accident at work. He was hurrying to get something done and fell off a ladder and broke his leg in two places. They had operated on him and were going to keep him in the hospital for a few days. I would be staying at grandma’s for the time being. I told her I was old enough to stay by myself, but she swatted me playfully with the newspaper and told me not to even think such a thing. If anything happened to me in that house alone, she would never be able to forgive herself.
Bad luck always comes in threes, she said. She had seen it happen too many times. After my mother’s brain concussion, daddy’s broken leg was bad luck number two. Number three was just waiting to happen and when it happened it would be sure to happen to me.
Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp