August 22, 2019


It crawled around inside me like a spider, sometimes skittering through the raftboards of my consciousness, sometimes lurking in the darkness - sometimes so still it could go unnoticed for weeks, barely detectable as a slight queasiness in my stomach, like a rock sitting in mud. It's true nature was barely discernible; sometimes I saw it, caught a glimpse of something so piercing, so painful and so bright that I turned away before I was even aware of having done so.

But it was not brightness I was concerned with now. It was sedation.

"You need to find a Pediatric Dentist with sedation," she had said, empasizing the final word.

"Oh," I must have mumbled, dumbstruck, still struglling to picture that, to understand what it meant. Sedation? Elaine was three. What could sedation possibly mean for her? Like, actually going under as in unconscious? That couldn't be what she meant.

"Yea, uh huh," she nodded in response to my apparent assent. "If we don't get those filled, she might have pain and she can't sleep at night. Because she can't sit still, that's why she needs sedation."

That was it. I sat up from the reclined dentist's chair where Elaine lay on my stomach, lifted her off of me and set her on the ground. She had a surprising weight to her; I could feel the exertion it took to lift her. We left the whiteness of the examination room, turned right down the narrow hallway towards the reception area and Elaine's face started to tremble, her eyes to squish shut and her lips to pucker - I could tell she wanted to ask about getting a present. At this dentist's office they had a little bin of cheap plastic toys across from the front desk, like the green frog Elaine kept in her bath. We had gotten that here, at the last appointment.

"And, — we can get a present," I said to Elaine.

"Oh, do you want a baggy? A toothbrush?" the lady said from behind us.

I looked at Elaine, nodding.

"Yes, we want one," I said to the lady.

As we walked up the street to the N Judah stop, I could feel a tension in my lower calf. The muscles were poised, slowly tightening in anticipation of danger, but they were on the verge of spinning out of control and causing a spasm — that used to happen to me with some regularity; I would be swimming for instance, and my right calf would suddenly collapse, sending a sharp ripple of pain along my leg. I was grateful that that didn't happen so much anymore. Nowadays if I did get a muscle spasm it would be in my right foot, smack dab in the middle, the palm, Elaine would call it, the bottom, where your foot touched the ground. That pain, I could see how that pain could start, but it would somehow also spasm right up on through at the exact opposite spot on the top of my foot — like a rusty nail, or a spike.

It reminded me of the time I stepped on a nail sticking out of a board of wood in the backyard of who I can only vaguely see as Matt's paternal grandmother. We were all there, me, my mom, and Matt —

My train of thought was interrupted by the rush of traffic at the approaching intersection. I looked at Elaine. She had asked me to carry her up the block, she was a little rattled by the experience, I could tell, but also getting more and more excited about her toy, a plasitc slinky.

We crossed the street in a hurry to catch the N that was now strolling down 9th street, boarded it, sat down on a row of the red seats next to the door, and rode home.

My foot bothered me later on that evening. I had stepped next to the window to draw the heavy curtains we put in before Elaine was born when I felt a jolt of pain. I winced, and sat down on the bed to rub my foot, first gingerly on the bottom, then gently around in circles with my thumb on the top. I could feel something almost physical protruding there, a small knob in the fabric of my foot.

I thought again about that time stepping on a nail with Matt and his brother. The sun had streamed through the leaves in the oak trees back there, bathing the yard in a pale yellow glow.

We made water go uphill then, I thought.

Or no, that wasn't quite right. We had a hose. When I asked my dad, sometime later, why the water from the beach wasn't flowing up the ditch I made in the sand, he had said that water never went uphill on its own, it had to have something pushing it.

So, the hose was pushing it up that time, I had thought.

In the morning I took Elaine to daycare, first waking her up, which was always a process. I had settled into a rhythm of first giving her some warning, walking in her room to turn on the light on and rub her back, giving her time to wake up while I got her clothes ready from the dresser. If we were early enough to get to out of the door around eight, I might rush her, in order to get to daycare in time for breakfast. I checked my phone. 7:49. We could make it.

I lifter her up, carried her downstairs to the basement where we kept our bike, strapped her into her seat on the back, grabbed her helmet, lifted it over her head, said, as I aways did, "chin up," and clipped the strap near her neck. We had to do it that way because she had been pinched once, she was terrified of it now. I rode down Market Street to drop her off and headed to work after that. Something had been off about my bike, maybe the chain was catching; I kept feeling the petal jerk up against my foot. But it wasn't the normal clanking of the chain around the gears in the back, something was different about the way it was applying pressure, something felt sharper, more pointed.

That night, I awoke from a dream with a start. There had been waterfalls, and trees. I was running from something, something like a bear, but I couldn't really get a look at it, I was so frantic, scanning my field of vision looking for a path through the forest, the trees a blur — there. I ran. I stumbled on something, fell to the ground, terrified.

I looked down to see what had tripped me. It was a nail. A nail through the top of my foot. I had stepped on it through a piece of wood in the ground.

I woke up, blinking in the darkness, and walked to the bathroom, my foot still vaguely tingling from the encounter.

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