There is a Thomas the Tank engine train track table in the corner of the waiting room. Alice has pulled her hands from her ears, and some color has come back to her. Teddy pushes the train cars around the track and smiles, even laughs once or twice. He no longer screams. Apart from the massive bandage in the bend of his right arm, he didn’t seem to be in pain. You have a sense of hope that the burn isn’t so deep after all. You are suddenly relieved that you won’t miss another day of work.
You call for the kids and Sarah, your wife, picks Teddy up in her arms and carries him toward the curtained hospital bed. You steal a look at your wife. She hasn’t said much since you left home an hour ago. Her eyes are hollow and she sucks deeply on the inside of her lips and draws them in. You aren’t feeling as hopeful as you were moments ago. Alice reaches for your hand.
Before the doctor comes in they ask you and Sarah some questions. How did it happen? Where were you when it happened? What were you doing? You were running when Teddy woke up from his nap and pulled the cylinder out of the dehumidifier and hot water dripped onto the inside of his arm. Why was the dehumidifier in the hall on a chair? You stop listening to the questions and ask your own questions: why were you exercising? Why weren’t you instead working on your presentation? You could have been an extra set of eyes and ears.
The doctor takes the bandage off of Teddy’s arm. She is grave. She says he needs surgery. She says that since the burn is on the joint of his arm that he may lose some mobility. You are unprepared for this. Not your son. You imagine your future son debilitated by his arm, not doing the activities other kids would do, needful of special attention. And you did this to him. You don’t think about insurance, but maybe you should.
They question you again. They want to make sure you and Sarah tell the same story as you told before. They are not trying to tell you are bad parents, but their line of questioning lets you see for yourself all the mistakes you made. You and Sarah glance at each other. You are both listening carefully and answering clearly. You do not blame your wife; she does not blame you. She might blame you later when you’re forced to tell her what’s going on at work.
Sarah stays with Teddy at the hospital. You take Alice home.
At home, right before you put Alice to bed you tell her you’re proud of her. She is the uninjured one, but her fear is real, and she bore her terror as well as a three-year old can. Her smile is a perfect U. She feels better, and this is something.
The dehumidifier is still on the floor in the hall, and the cylinder on the floor next to it. You unplug the machine and take both objects outside. On your way out you pick up a sledge hammer from the mud room. You place the appliance on the hard ground. You pick up the sledge hammer with the intent of vaporizing this plastic object. It shatters into small chunks, and you feel pretty good. The feeling doesn’t last.
The next morning you call Sarah. She says that they questioned her yet again. Same questions. Then you call your boss. You tell her that you’re not coming into work because you need to go to your son who will soon be undergoing an emergency surgery. You hope she’ll understand. She’s disappointed that you can’t get to work. It might not be the final straw, but you’re getting close. Your boss will defend you as far as she can, but she can’t carry you. She urges you to get to work. She’s not unsympathetic, you understand, but you have dug a hole for yourself. She asks what happened, and you find that you can’t talk about it. She does not judge you, but this does not absolve you. You remain unable to speak, and you cry for a good, long time.