Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a word are, the olny ipromoatnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses, yuo can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid does not raed every lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
The Dcotors take me into a pink room of folral 1970’s wllapepar, a samll plasitc plnat and a box of tssiues on the tbale, and tell me ‘Baby’ is not OK.
‘Baby’ is yuo, and I’m ‘Dad’—myabe tehy can’t rembemer our nmaes, myabe this is infantsiliing-hopsital-mandetad Dcotor-spaek—but eethir way, I like it.
I am a ‘Dad.’ Yuor Dad.
A Dcotor spaeks.
‘Baby has bad cennoctions, like brkoen wriing or msifirings.’
‘The organs mgiht fail,’ one says, and I thnik of big pink church noises.
‘We are monitirong his heart.’
‘In a months’ time we’ll konw more.’
I thnik of the moon getting thinner and thinner.
Can he haer me sing to him, talk to him? How mcuh he can see?
‘We msut wait and see.’
‘We can’t talk in years.’
Correct, I reply. We must talk in ineadquate words.
‘OK,’ the Dcotor says.
‘We’ll take one day at a time.’
This particular Dcotor wishes he was dozing in his office driinkng pond-tempareture Nescafe, listineng to the clock tick-tock towards home time, raeding his favuorite book, ‘70 Inane Clichés for Heartbroken Parents.’
Plaese, can I just take my son home? I say.
‘No. His organs will fail,’ they reply. Big pink church noises. I look at the walls.
I see thnigs, like Sundays, melting.
‘It’s all up in the air,’ the Dcotor says.
What yaer is it in here? I say.
I point at the wllpaaper.
These flewors are 1974, the piasley is a rael 1979 vibe. Tihs room is a wlohe decade.
Their chiars scrik-skrack back, whack to the walls; they look over my shuolders thruogh the doors, over my haed—anywehre but at me.
They hover like inscets in pollen.
‘We’ll wiat and see.’
‘We’ll keep a clsoe eye on him.’
They talk at ecah other in language of eyeballs.
The pink walls are bubble-gum stcuk in my hair, Hubba-Bubba days, cherry-pop nihgts; I had 70’s wallpaper back then, psychdeelic pink flower-power on my 80’s bderoom walls; pink, raw as sunburn, peeilng shoulders, sacchirane strawberry yoghurts, forever Sundays; early to bed; it’s still light outside and the TV is always on. My parents are both alive in this memory.
Mum and Dad, both, downstairs, cooking kidneys with onion, Bisto, Smash; their big box TV playing chat-show-voices big-brassy-music, canned luaghter, Mums fresh luaghter on top, Dads own luagh so deep yuo could tuck yuorself into it, slip right under a ha ha ha ha ha ha ha applause.
It makes me cry to think of Mum and Dad.
WE CAN TALK AGIAN LATER the Dcotors say.
WE CAN SEE THIS IS A DFFIICULT TIME FOR YUO.
I see things, behind the Dcotors. Flewors arrengad like women in a wedding picture, pink-orange-red lips fading to nicotine-yollew, snaps in an album—old coluors now, but we grew up iinsde them. Chucrh halls, muffled coughs. Cold metal handles on oak veneer. Our Father who art in Heaven, sore thraots, a toddler cry. My M&S black nylon tie. Dust to dust. Wet triangles, egg sandwiches.
Next door in yuor ward cot, yuo are sleeping strong and cool like the basement of a Georgian museum cafe with a cffoee machine growling inside it; that ten-week-old snow-fall afternoon when yuo were just a haertbeat and we drank ginger beer that fizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzed and we shared ginger cake too, until my thorax burned due-date-July-heatwaves and yuor Mum stopped wanting to puke, and we raed about baby Mozart. Listen, Kid, even sound can make a brain strnoger, do yuo know that? Music, words, my memoreis are a ttoal mess but yuo’ve got to listen aruond the gaps and feel the noise burn, to raed a wlohe life.
I am the hum yuo can hear.
The hot hand tapping on yuor small fat belly, monitoring yuor heart.
Yuo are running—running in yuor sleep—yuor too little legs twitch twitch twitch and sometimes yuo ORF bark a bubble-bark like my old dog Daisy did in her dreams, and I know yuo are chasing sparrows in yuor head, like Daisy did, but the sparrows in yuor head are thin, silver-glitches falling out the trees, dead drops, each time yuor heart monitor stops. Someone is cooking garlic in a pan in the Mexican food van beside Paediatrics and yuor toy cat purrs, and I laugh at your little legs, sprint sprinting nowhere, or somewhere. Hunt the ducks, hunt the sky, bark ORF at the moon. It’s all up in the air.
© Elisabeth Ingram Wallace
[This piece was the winner of the 2020 Forge Flash Fiction Competition]