by Rachel Yecco
Johnny Murdock stares eagerly at the front door, walking around at times, checking the clock all the time, turning on the television, and then off, but always back on. It hums footsteps and gunshots of old movies. He repeats this new ritual with precision, all the while holding a new Doll he had picked up on his way back from the hospital along with his wife’s words, “ They’re going to do one more test. Go home. It shouldn’t take too long” and he did.
He regretted this now, three hours later and feared the worst. Maybe they found something new or something else, maybe the tests were too much for his daughter Emma’s five year old and weak body to handle. Maybe-
“ Daddy, look at my picture!” Emma says as excited as her tired body could. His wife lets Emma down from her arms, “ Go show Daddy what you made.” Emma staggers towards Johnny, “It’s a frog! I named him Sparkle”. “You made that!” Johnny exclaims. “”That is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen.” Johnny sits down in his Lazy-boy and lifts Emma onto his lab where she nestles in and adjusts her pink and purple floral wrap on her head, making sure that the lone baby hairs around her forehead are covered.
“All the doctors and all the nurses and all the students and all of everyone wanted it, but I said, NO, I made this for Daddy!”
“Well I have something for you too.”
Johnny hands Emma the brand new doll, with blond hair and a blue dress. Her thin, tiny fingers take it and she holds it like a real baby, exclaiming, “I’m gonna name her Timothy!” Johnny chuckles and says, “ If anyone looked more like a Timothy, it’s your doll.”
“Johnny can you come here?” his wife Sara asks from the kitchen. “Yep.” He gets up, giving Emma a small kiss on her forehead, “Be right back, Sweetie” and heads to his wife. She is standing in front of the kitchen table, covered in a tablecloth of medical bills. She states are it, her eyes big, but empty. “What are we going to do?” she says.
“I don’t know.”
“ I can’t take more money for my parents, I just. I can’t.”
“I know, I know. I’ll figure something out.”
“Figure something out? Johnny, you have bee saying that for the last 2 years!”
“Well, what else am I supposed to say?”
“Say you’re going to get another job? Say you’ll ask your parents for money? Say anything, except that you’ll figure it out because you haven’t!”
“Sara, I’m working two jobs! Eighty hours a week! I’m never home, I never see her!”
“And me, Johnny.”
Johnny takes in her words, and me. Selfish, he thinks, leaning against the top of the wooden kitchen chairs. She is selfish
“This cancer is tearing us apart.” He finally says after several agonizing seconds of silence.
“Don’t blame the cancer, don’t blame your daughter. Do you think she wanted this?”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“What I’d give to have her playing outside like normal kids.”
“She’s not normal.”
“ You better figure something out. Sell something, I don’t care, just don’t let my baby die.”
Johnny melts down into nothing as he slumps into a kitchen chair. Her baby, he thought. He thought about ‘her’ baby and the day he found out he was going to be a father. He thought about clearing out his office in the old apartment and painting it pink. He thought about every single 6 lb and 2 ounces he held the day Emma was born. He thought about the life he and Sara planned. She would stay home in Brooklyn, while he went to work at his furniture store on the lower east side, nine to five. He thought about saving up for trips to Disney and a new house outside of the Brooklyn, a real house. But the more he thought about it, the more he was reminded that the trip to Disney has turned into gas money taking Emma to Chemo. The new, real house became medical expenses for treatment and hospital stays. And the second job, the one he took so he could pay rent, electric bills, heating bills, and all sorts of bills he didn’t know were for, but paid anyway, were all medical bills.
He got up from that kitchen chair and moved back to his Lazy boy with his daughter. He flipped through the channels and stopped at an old movie about Bonnie and Clyde. They had just stolen thousands of dollars from a bank and were on their getaway, when Johnny had tuned in. “Have you ever robbed a bank Daddy?” Emma asked, but focused on fixing Timothy’s blue dress that she had taken off and is now attempting to put back on. “No, and I never will. That’s a bad thing to do.”
“But they’re happy.”
“The people on the TV. They got into their car together and they were smiling and happy.”
Logically, bank robbing is a terrible thing, Johnny knows this, but logic doesn’t apply to him anymore. He wanted to be happy and to make his wife happy. He wanted to have a healthy daughter who could go to school in the fall and who he could teach to ride a bike. He wanted to pay back Sara’s parent for the thousands of dollars they have leant to him over the last two years so he could pay all sorts of bills, related to Emma’s cancer or not, that had managed to find their way into his mailbox.
Minutes later, he looked down at Emma, who has fallen asleep holding Timothy by the arm, half falling off the lazy boy. He gets up, adjusting Emma’s position and placing Timothy next to her, covering both with a blanket.
Johnny hasn’t been happy in years. He can’t remember what it feels like, or sounds like or how it pertains to any of the senses for that matter. But he wants to remember. The only thing he knows makes him feel something is Emma and he wants to do everything to keep that feeling of something because the thought of how close he is to feeling nothing terrifies him.
He makes his way to his room and removes one of the floorboards that Sara knows nothing about, and from it takes out a beat up wooden box. As he rubs his hands over the rough wood, he isn’t sure if he wants what he knows is inside of it to still be there. Half hoping it is, so he can find the kind of happy that Emma deserves, and half hoping it isn’t. Because if it is, the severity of the situation will become all to real, and no longer something he can place in the bottom drawer or underneath a few rickety old floorboards. But it’s still there.
In the cool silver metal of the gun, he sees his daughter, he sees Disney.
Johnny leaves the room and treads his way back into the kitchen where Sara is still staring at their accumulated medical bills.
“Hey, Bill from work needs me to cover part of his shift today.”
“But, it’s Sunday. You never work Sundays.”
“ Something is wrong with his car and he is waiting for his daughter to pick him up and drop him off at the shop. It’s fine, I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
“This is what I’m talking about!”
“I don’t have time to argue.”
“Well while you’re out, think about how we’re going to find the money.”
“ Okay. I think I already have.”
As he leaves he kisses Sara on the forehead, a gesture that hasn’t been made for some time now. He shuts the door behind him and gets into his car, driving off the nearest bank.
Walking into the bank, Johnny stroked the gun in his pocket, still unsure what to do. He could either get in line behind the various customers or exit the same way he came in.
He looks around at those standing in line. He spots a young mother as she gives her two boys the bank’s cherry red lollypops. Then, an elderly couple taking money out to give to their granddaughter, whose high school graduation is later in the evening. And lastly, a baby-faced teenage boy, who is depositing his first paycheck, ever. The line ahead him gets smaller and smaller until he hears a very unassuring and impatient, “Next” coming from the Frizzy red headed bank teller facing him. “Sir” she says, “ Are you ready?”
He takes a few steps forward, stumbling over his feet, his thoughts, the teller’s words, and his wife’s words because at the moment, he is left with none.
There are no more words to describe what he would do for his daughters because he is doing the most extreme act. There are no more words to describe how the gun feels in his pocket or how it feels in his hand. And there are certainly no words to verbally express the things racing circles in his mind.
“Umm” He says, “Yes I, Umm.”
“Do you need to make a withdrawal?” she asks.
“Something like that.”
He pulls out a piece of paper form his pocket, it reads:
I have 20,000 dollars of unpaid medical bills from my daughter’s illness at home and a gun in my pocket. Please give me the money to cover the expenses.
He places it face down on top of the desk.
“Yeah I need, to. I just need to check my current balance,”
“Yeah sure, can I get your account number?”
“Yeah, no problem.
After he told the woman his number, He thought about his daughter Emma and her fifth birthday that was last week, a birthday he never thought would happen. He thought about his wife who would be so disappointed knowing this was what he meant when he said, “ I’ll figure it out” after hours fighting over medical bills. He thought about the help Sara’s parents have given them over the two years, graciously giving them thousands of dollars without hesitation. Their retirement money spent on Emma’s medical bills.
“ Alright, your current balance is $857.82.”
“No problem, have a great day.”
“Thanks, you too.”
Leaving the bank he saw the young mother putting her sons in her car, he overheard the elderly couple on the phone with their granddaughter, and he watched as the baby-faced boy got into his mom’s mini-van, where he proudly showed her his deposit slip.
“I’ll figure something out,” he said to himself happy, “I’ll just figure something out.”
Great story Rachel. I thought it really captured the emotions of the situation. Made me realize how lucky we are to not be in that situation, but also sympathizing with those that are.
Powerful stuff baby girl!