I’m imagining the taste of chocolate. All different kinds. Dark chocolate. Milk chocolate. Mint chocolate. Chocolate-covered cherries. Peanut brittle with a chocolate glaze. I’m angry. Davey doesn’t share his chocolates, only gives me the ones he doesn’t like, only gives me the orange-cream-filled chocolates. But nobody likes those.
We’re in Davey’s hospital room. Before I could go in Mommy told me not to make a big deal of this, told me not to mention the smell of his skin grafts, which kind of smell like the nursing home where Grandma Jo lives except they also kind of smell like metal, like the way my hands smell after riding the merry-go-round on the playground at recess.
Through the cotton wedged in his mouth Davey brags in that older-brother way about all his new toys — Legos, Beanie Babies, a Gameboy Color — about getting to miss Mrs. Johnson’s fifth grade class for maybe the rest of the school year, about having so much chocolate, which he can’t even eat (won’t be able to for weeks). All of his meals come through a tube, which he brags about, too. Says it is “so rad,” and the way he talks about it makes me wish I had a feeding tube.
Yesterday was my sixth birthday but Davey has more presents than I do. It’s supposed to be all about me. But it’s not. Sitting in the hard wooden chair next to Davey, I am at once angry-jealous and angry-sad. I wish I had been the one whose face was bitten by that lab. The one whose face had to be sewn back together by a plastic surgeon — Mommy explained to me that a plastic surgeon is somebody who fixes people’s problems with how they look (I thought it was somebody who fixes toys). I wish I was the one whose face has more stitches than can be counted with fingers and toes, the one whose side Mommy and Daddy haven’t left other than to eat, pee, and poop.
That evening after visiting Davey I go home with Grandma Renie and Grandpa John and we have chocolate ice-cream-filled birthday cake and it’s just us three and they sing Happy Birthday to me and pretend that this is a normal happy birthday even though my birthday was yesterday, and my piece of cake is melting because I’m too busy staring at it, wishing Mommy and Daddy and Davey were here.
But Davey is still in the hospital and will be “for quite some time” and thinking about that makes me feel sorry because I feel happy that I’m not the one who can’t go home, the one who has to sit in a hospital room looking at boxes of chocolate he can’t eat and toys he’s not allowed to leave his bed to play with.
I wish he didn’t have to be there. I wish he were here eating a piece of my ice-cream-filled birthday cake. Then it would feel like a normal happy birthday. Looking at the chocolate puddle on my plate makes me wonder if it could be fed through a tube.
John Matthew Steinhafel is a fiction writer born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is an instructor of record and graduate student studying Creative Writing in the MFA program at Western Kentucky University. He is currently working on a novel and a collection of short stories. He resides in Bowling Green, Kentucky.