Uppermost House: Reaching for butterflies

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

He was trying to catch butterflies, the man thought as he knelt by the couch. But the thought made no sense. None of this made sense. He’d sped home from an evening meeting interrupted by a strange and urgent phone call, the secretary at first annoyed by the blaring phone and scowling as she picked it up, then the fear falling across her face and the jarring the admonition: “Go home. Something terrible is happening.”

He looked up at his wife, she standing stone-still beside him, fingers intertwined so tightly they were empty of blood, uncertainty filling her eyes and spilling down her cheeks. The man stared down at the twisted figure on the couch, a boy in red flannel pajamas, his small son who appeared frozen in time, eyes gazing far off and rarely blinking, pupils just two black bottomless pits, arms extended crookedly toward the ceiling, reaching fingers fixed and curled around nothing, grasping at something seen and gone, empty air.

The man spoke his son’s name, then shouted it, then screamed it. He clapped his hands in front of the boy’s eyes so hard his palms felt bitten, scorched, bee-stung. The boy just stared. The man reached and swept the boy’s forehead with his fingertips, felt the clammy hot dampness, then he scooped the boy up in his arms and turned toward the door and shouted after his wife, “Run!”

The man drove fast. Very fast. Prayed even faster. His wife cried. Praying also. And their little boy just reached for butterflies from the back seat.

Skid-stopped his car at the hospital entrance, flung the car doors open, grabbed his frozen boiling boy, raced toward the emergency room, spun like a hockey defenseman and checked the doors open with his slamming shoulders, running partially backwards now, then pirouetting forward again, and all the time screaming, “Help us!”

People everywhere. Suddenly. Lightning bolts in white coats. His boy taken into other arms. Voices. Shouts. Reassurance strained with urgency. A name over the intercom. A floor-to-ceiling curtain violently swept aside on screeching bearings. A bed with a tight white cover and the boy appearing on it as if a rabbit from a hat, hands still clutching at molecules. Flashing things. Whirring things. Stainless steel gleaming and the sound of many feet. The man looked at his watch, wondered what time it was, but wasn’t even sure of the day.

In the waiting room now. Elbows on his knees the man held his own head in his shaking palms and stared past his shoes. No one had told them anything. They couldn’t. Nothing yet to know. He couldn’t stand it so he hurried down the hall toward his son. Saw only the backs of the white coats jammed into the boy’s room like a clot. Heard someone say “seizure.” Then another man’s voice speaking his son’s name, shouting it, screaming for the boy to wake up. Heard hands clapping and knew their fruitless sting, began to cry and so utterly helpless turned and ran and burst through the ER doors again and out past his idling car, doors still gaping on their hinges, and stood in the parking lot looking up at billions of living stars and made two rock-hard fists and opened his mouth but nothing came out.

The parking lot was empty, but the man wasn’t alone and something changed. He quietly parking his car and walked back into the hospital with the calmness and assurance of one who had spoken silently with his dearest friend, the friend whose very purpose was wringing peace from chaos, light from darkness, healing from pain, the one who Himself had made the stars.

Long after midnight. “Go home,” the kind doctor said to the man and his wife, his hand resting on the man’s shoulder. “Sleep if you can. Your son’s stable now. We’ll call.”

The man and his wife went home and slept. Still scared, but comforted by the One who held the stars aloft.

At five-thirty came a violent jolting ring. Still dark outside. The man sat bolt upright and threw his legs over the side of the bed. Instantly sweating. Felt his heart pounding. The back of his wet T-shirt suddenly taut in his wife’s small, knotted fists.

The nurse identified herself, verified his identity. Coldly. Robotic. Said, “Hold, please.” The man vigorously disliked her, but breathed anyway. Heard the phone rattle, then muffled whispering, then a voice.

“Daddy, I want to come home.”

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