The mother had been awakened by a little child’s footsteps on the floor above her as she quickly ran to the bathroom. When she heard the sound of the little girl throwing up, she rose up in her bed. She was immediately alert, her mother’s protective instinct, fully engaged, brushing away the residual drowsiness that lingers on in the brain of a person who is abruptly awakened from a deep sleep. She leaped from her bed and ran upstairs two steps at a time.
At the top of the staircase, a night light in the hall provided enough illumination for her to see into the bathroom. In her haste to get there, the little girl hadn’t taken the time to switch on the lights. She was on her knees, head over the toilet, her body convulsing as her stomach violently rejected the food she had eaten that day. From her own experience, the mother knew that it was going to be a long night.
She quickly knelt down next to her daughter. “It’s okay Julia. Mommy’s here.” With her right hand she pulled the girl’s long blond hair away from her face holding it behind her neck. At the same time, she cradled the child’s head with her left hand on her forehead as she continued to retch.
When the child, for the moment, had stopped throwing up, the mother stood up. “Don’t go Mommy!”
“I’m only going to the closet. I’ll be right back. You can still see me. I won’t be out of your sight. I promise.’ She turned the light on as she walked to a closet in the hallway, and pulled from a pile two of the heaviest blankets she could find. She returned to the bathroom, folded one of the blankets several times, and placed it on the floor next to the toilet. The little girl lay on the blanket and tried to get comfortable on the tiles beneath her that pushed up hard against her thin body.
The mother knelt next to her daughter and gently pushed back several strands of blond hair that had stuck to the clammy skin on her face. With a towel she had pulled from a nearby rack, she wiped the cold sweat from the girl’s face which was drained of all color. After she blotted her tears, she covered her with the other blanket.
The child looked up at her mother in that way children have when they believe that their parents are masters of the universe and repositories of all knowledge. Her plaintive, blue eyes once more began to fill with tears, her lips trembled and her breathing stuttered as she said, “Mommy, am I going to die?”
The mother smiled reflexively in the face of such depthless innocence. Almost immediately, she felt guilty, as if somehow the smile diminished the real concern of her daughter. She took the child’s face in her two hands, looked her directly in the eyes, and said, with the gentle seriousness the question deserved, “No, sweetheart, you are not going to die.”
“But Lilly died.”
“Yes, I know, but this is not the same thing. Lily had been very sick for a long time. You have a stomach virus. You’ll be better tomorrow. Okay?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“I love you.” She leaned over and kissed the girl gently on the forehead.
“Love you, too,” the girl replied as she put her arms tightly around her mother’s neck and pulled her in close.
The mother lay down next to her daughter who had rolled over on to her side. She tried to fit her body to the child’s wrapping her arm around her, and they lay there like mismatched spoons for the rest of the night.
Roy Innocenti is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University with a B. A. degree in English. He attended graduate school at Rutgers University. His work has appeared in Ovunque Siamo, an online literary magazine which features the work of Italian-American writers.