All My Fault

The boy's mother can't go with him so I have to. The clinic is filled to the rafters with crying babies and red eyed children. We are the only white people. All the other patients are black-- all the clerical staff are Hispanic. Everyone looks straight through us. They send us to the back of the line twice. I don't know my charge that well, really. He is fourteen and shy. Same height as me. He has a kind, nervous smile, he is sorry to interrupt my day. He has soft brown hair cut into a mushroom shape.

I have no sons myself--only daughters--I am unsure how to talk to him and soon we will go in to see a new doctor together and discuss the odd dark itching growth on his palm, his acne and his continued sadness. His mother is alone now, a single woman, and it's all my fault. She tells me no-- get over yourself, it's not--but I know that if I had not laughed big and broad and been so accepting when she whispered about her infatuation with another man she wouldn't have had the nerve to meet him in private.

In stairwells. In closets. In hotel rooms. In empty apartments whose tenants were out of town and had no idea their cat sitter or plant waterer was down on all fours moaning out her loneliness, her years of coldness stemming from the effect of having a husband on the road, who when rarely home didn't bother to hide airplane ticket stubs for two and who talked so much so loudly of his own thoughts he had no idea she needed medications to get through the week. Just to get her two boys to school. Just to deal with their wild dashing head locking jaw-smashing rambunctiousness.

That husband saw her coming home one day from meeting her close close friend. He saw his wife, his own wife, glowing. Her skin shining. Her smile real. He had not seen her face do that in ten years. Twelve? He knew what it meant. He is gone now. He left the country completely that husband, that father. He sends no money.

Her close close friend found it less fun to meet her openly than secretly. She has no more time off from her job to tend to sick children. So here I am. We wait hours. I suggest playing hangman. He knows more books more movies more genuine films than my own children do. Somebody was doing something right.

Now here we go in and the doctor looks first at the hand and says we will be aggressive with our treatment. Madam do you think your son can handle having it burned off? He is not my son I explain, I don't know. The boy blushes. I tear up; the doctor looks the other way. I was not supposed to say that. I have no right to be here I am not his legal guardian. I am caught cheating. His mother can't be here, I stammer, I'm sorry.

I know says the doctor I know. Happens more than I let on. Half the children outside are not with their own mothers. Keep your mouth shut if they hear you at the desk you will both have to leave.

I don't want to be burned the boy says. No one talks for a hot moment. Maybe next time you can burn it off me if it doesn't want to go away on it's own the child mutters. Fine says the doctor who is really, to me, a near child himself. He is from India, no accent. Let's get to the acne he says. We get to it. Prescriptions are handed out. Directions are given. We all repeat them. Is there anything else the doctor asks. Any other problems? Yes, I start to say thinking about his sadness. No, says the boy. Nothing else.

About the author:

A.M. Matson has worked in film, theater and television in Europe and America. She currently studies writing at Brooklyn College. Her short story "Christmas Day in the Morning" has appeared on the literary Web site In Posse Review. A longer story, "Izzy," will be published in the upcoming issue of Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts.