I don’t get paid enough, so going to the doctor is always an act filled with fear and apprehension. This morning, I took Matthew to the doctor.
“Come in, come in,” the doctor said. He’s a large man, and when he bent down, the cracking of his knees echoed down the empty hallway. The doctor plastered on a huge smile and spoke to Matthew. “What’s your name, kiddo?”
Matthew told him.
“Matthew, huh? Well that’s a pretty grown up name.” The doctor ruffled Matthew’s hair and stood up.
I just wanted to leave, to be done with the whole thing.
“Can we get this moving?” I asked. “Kinda in a hurry here.”
The doctor’s smile widened in that fake way you always see in the mall on embarrassed mother’s trying to convince their little brats to act like human beings.
“Take a deep breath and relax,” the doctor said. “Let me check him out first. Follow me.”
Matthew and I followed the doctor into one of the exam rooms. It looked like every exam room I’d ever seen before.
“Let’s get you up on this table,” the doctor said to Matthew, bending down to pick him up and sit him on the same stark white crinkly paper that covers every exam table. “There you are. You’re a heavy, growing boy, aren’t you? Now how old are you, Matthew? I’m gonna guess that you’re… thirty?”
Matthew giggled and shook his head no.
The doctor’s bushy eyebrows came together and he slipped on the look of a man thinking hard. “You wouldn’t happen to be forty, would you?”
“Nooooo,” Matthew giggled, having a blast. Even I found the corners of my lips curling up despite myself.
“Well, Matthew, I give up. Just how old are you?” The doctor asked.
Matthew held up all the fingers on his left hand and held up the peace sign with his right.
The doctor mouthed the word seven.
Matthew giggled and shook his head forward and back in only the way a seven year old could. Any older and the kid would be giving himself whiplash.
“Is seven too old to believe in magic?” The doctor asked.
“No,” Matthew almost shouted. “I wanna be Harry Potter when I grow up.”
The doctor chuckled. “Harry Potter, huh?”
The doctor looked left and then right like he was checking the exam room for any eavesdroppers. He dropped his voice to barely above a whisper. “Say, did I tell you that I know some magic?”
Matthew’s eyes turned into dinner plates and his jaw dropped.
“It’s true,” the doctor said. “I can even teach you to fly.”
“Really?” Matthew whispered.
“Really. If you behave I’ll let you use my magic hanky to fly.”
Matthew nodded and sat very still.
“Good,” the doctor said. “Now I’m going to use my magic ears to listen to your heartbeat. It’ll be cold, but won’t hurt. Sound good?”
“That’s great. Here we go,” the doctor said as he slipped the stethoscope beneath Matthew’s shirt with the ease that comes from doing something hundreds of times a year. “Now breathe in real deep and hold it for me.”
Matthew breathed deep.
“Good. Now let it out.”
Matthew blew all the air out, really trying hard to do exactly what the doctor wanted.
“Deep breath in,” the doctor said. “Let it out. In. Out. You’re doing a great job, kiddo.”
The doctor hung the stethoscope around his neck and walked over to a desk with glass jars containing cotton swabs, gauze, and tongue depressors. He lifted the lid on the tongue depressors and pulled one out. “Only two more tests, then I’ll make you fly.”
Matthew nodded, his brow furrowing in what I could only imagine to be supreme concentration on behaving.
“Open wide and say ahhhhh,” the doctor said.
Matthew did and the doctor held down his tongue with the depressor to get a good look.
“Perfect!” The doctor said. “After the extractions, everything will be tip top. Okay. Last test. I need you to turn around, drop your pants and underwear to your ankles, and bend over.”
Matthew frowned at this.
“I’m a doctor. You can trust me, can’t you? My mother always taught me to trust doctors, firemen, and police officers.”
Matthew looked over to me.
“It’s alright, sweetie,” I told him, my words the fingertips on Matthew’s back as he teetered on the edge.
Matthew frowned for a few more seconds and then his face relaxed. “Okay,” he said.
Matthew stood up on the table and turned. I looked away, because I knew what was coming next. And I didn’t want to see it.
I heard the rustle of pants dropping, and then the doctor said, “Now spread your cheeks.”
Then I heard what I heard every other time I’d come to this place: the sound of a deep breath taken in through the nose.
The sound of a wine taster sniffing a delicate bouquet.
The sound of a scotch lover breathing in a rich aroma.
“Marvelous,” the doctor whispered. “Simply marvelous. Pull your pants up, Matthew. All done.”
I heard the clothing rustle and looked up to see the same glazed look in the doctor’s eyes that always came after the scenting.
“Are you going to teach me to fly now?” Matthew asked.
“Oh… yes…” the doctor said, drawing each word out to its fullest. He reached into his front pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, then he pulled a bottle from his other pocket. He held the bottle to his ear and shook it for effect. “Just enough flying potion left over. Are you ready?”
Eyes wide, Matthew bit his lower lip and nodded.
The doctor uncapped the bottle and a sickly sweet smell filled the room. He held the handkerchief to the bottle and shook with that same practiced ease.
“Okay. My magic handkerchief is ready to go. All you have-”
“Can you take a picture for my mom?” Matthew interrupted.
“Of course we will. Don’t you worry. Now I need you to listen. If you do this wrong, it won’t work.”
“Okay,” Matthew said.
“Good. You remember when you were breathing deep for my magic ears earlier?”
“Wonderful. You’re going to do the same thing except you’re going to breathe all of your air out, then you’re going to hold my magic handkerchief tight to your mouth and nose like a doctor’s mask. Once it’s there, you’ll breathe in as deep as you can, okay? The deeper breath you take, the longer you’ll fly. Got it?”
Matthew nodded in that seven year old way again. That made me sad.
“Okay. Now breathe all of your breath out. Blow it all out in a huge gust like a dragon breathing fire.”
Matthew blew out all of his air, even roaring a little as he did so. That made me feel worse.
“Good,” the doctor said. “Now take the magic handkerchief and press it to your mouth and nose as hard as you can. Breathe deep. Gogogogo!”
Matthew snatched the handkerchief from the doctor’s hand and pressed it hard to his face as he breathed in as deep as he could. His eyes started rolling into the back of his head almost as soon as he started breathing in.
“Catch him,” the doctor said. “He’s falling to the right.”
I sprang up and caught Matthew before he tipped off the edge of the table. “Isn’t there an easier way?”
“Sure,” the doctor said with a shrug. “There are much easier ways, but I like it better when they do it to themselves. Besides, this way there are no screams.”
I laid Matthew down on the exam table, brushing back a few stray hairs from his tiny face. He looked so relaxed lying there. Peaceful.
“What are you going to do with him?” I asked.
“What the fuck do you care?” The doctor asked. “It’s two grand in your pocket. Now get the fuck outta here.”
I did just that and got on the bus that would drop me off near the lot where I parked my car. After a few moments of crushing guilt in that bus seat, I did what I always do and scrawled my confession in the corner of the foggy window I was sitting next to.
Two words, neither bigger than a grain of rice, written with the corner of my fingernail.
I stared at the two words for a long time. In my heart, the two words were what I knew Matthew would become.
The bus stopped and I looked up. A familiar face boarded.
Would he recognize me? I hoped he wouldn’t, because I couldn’t remember his name. I never could, but they always want you to.
He smiled when he saw my face.
I looked back to the two words, the answer to the question I’d asked the doctor. My confession. I stared at it, letting the weight lift from my shoulders, letting the scab tear away from my soul.
I wiped the two words—HUMAN FLESHLIGHT—away with my sleeve as the young man stood beside my seat.
“Mrs. Williams?” The man asked.
I smiled back. Your ex-students always want you to recognize them. “Yes?”
“It’s me,” the man said. “James William Brandt. You were my teacher in kindergarten, remember?”
I nodded and smiled. “Of course I do, James. Take a seat.”
He did and droned on about his dull life as I let my mind wander.
Teachers don’t get paid enough, but we make ends meet any way we know how. I wondered what James would do if he ever found out that I sold his best friend to the doctor back when they were both in first grade.
James’ best friend was one of my first sales.
It’s funny, every parent teaches their children to say no to rides from strangers, but if I taught you in kindergarten, I’m not a stranger when you’re in first grade.
Just ask Matthew.