BEDTIME BOOKCLUB

Only Child By Rhiannon Navin

I wouldn’t recommend reading the opening chapters in public – I could barely keep it together and this was before last month's harrowing events in Florida. Only Child begins with a heart-in-your-mouth bird’s-eye view of a gunman on the rampage at an American primary school, as witnessed by six-year-old Zach, hiding in a cupboard with his teacher and classmates. The claustrophobia and tension is palpable – his teacher’s off-putting coffee breath, the stench of vomit from the child next to him – interspersed with the terrifying POP-POP-POP of gunfire. Tragedy is inevitable and we experience the aftermath of the hours, days and then weeks that follow and the impact they have on Zach and his family. Like Emma Donoghue’s Room, the brutal subject matter is doubly harrowing fused with the innocence of childhood and Navin skilfully portrays the turmoil of grieving adults as seen through the eyes of a child. It’s an emotional, heart-wrenching read for fans of We Need To Talk About Kevin. ER

Added on

ONLY CHILD

Rhiannon Navin

£12.99, Mantle

BUY NOW

I wouldn’t recommend reading the opening chapters in public – I could barely keep it together and this was before last month's harrowing events in Florida. Only Child begins with a heart-in-your-mouth bird’s-eye view of a gunman on the rampage at an American primary school, as witnessed by six-year-old Zach, hiding in a cupboard with his teacher and classmates. The claustrophobia and tension is palpable – his teacher’s off-putting coffee breath, the stench of vomit from the child next to him – interspersed with the terrifying POP-POP-POP of gunfire. Tragedy is inevitable and we experience the aftermath of the hours, days and then weeks that follow and the impact they have on Zach and his family. Like Emma Donoghue’s Room, the brutal subject matter is doubly harrowing fused with the innocence of childhood and Navin skilfully portrays the turmoil of grieving adults as seen through the eyes of a child. It’s an emotional, heart-wrenching read for fans of We Need To Talk About Kevin. ER

Chapter:

One

The Day the Gunman Came

The thing I later remembered the most about the day the gunman came was my teacher Miss Russell’s breath. It was hot and smelled like coffee. The closet was dark except for a little light that was coming in through the crack of the door that Miss Russell was holding shut from inside. There was no door handle on the inside, only a loose metal piece, and she pulled in with her thumb and pointer finger.

“Be completely still, Zach,” she whispered. “Don’t move.”

I didn’t. Even though I was sitting on my left foot and it was giving me pins and needles and it hurt a lot.

Miss Russell’s coffee breath touched my cheek when she talked, and it bothered me a little. Her fingers were shaking on the metal piece. She had to talk to Evangeline and David and Emma a lot behind me in the closet, because they were crying and were not being completely still.

“I’m here with you guys,” Miss Russell said. “I’m protecting you. Shhhhhhh, please be quiet.” We kept hearing the POP sounds outside. And screaming.

POP POP POP

It sounded a lot like the sounds from the Star Wars game I sometimes play on the Xbox.

POP POP POP

Always three pops and then quiet again. Quiet or screaming. Miss Russell did little jumps when the POP sounds came and her whispering got faster. “Don’t make a sound!” Evangeline made hiccupping sounds.

POP Hick POP Hick POP Hick

I think someone peed in their underwear, because it smelled like that in the closet. Like Miss Russell’s breath and pee, and like the jackets that were still wet from when it rained at recess. “Not too much to play outside,” Mrs. Colaris said. “What, are we made of sugar?” The rain didn’t bother us. We played soccer and cops and bad guys, and our hair and jackets got wet. I tried to turn and put my hand up and touch the jackets to see if they were still very wet.

“Don’t move,” Miss Russell whispered to me. She switched hands to hold the door closed, and her bracelets made jingling sounds. Miss Russell always wears a lot of bracelets on her right arm. Some have little things called charms hanging off them that remind her of special things, and when she goes on vacation she always gets a new charm to remember it. When we started first grade, she showed us all her charms and told us where she got them from. Her new one that she got on the summer break was a boat. It’s like a tiny version of the boat she went on to go really close to a huge waterfall called Niagara Falls, and that’s in Canada.

My left foot really started to hurt a lot, and I tried to pull it out only a little so Miss Russell wouldn’t notice.

We just came in from recess and put our jackets in the closet, then math books out, when the POP sounds started. At first we didn’t hear them loud—they were like all the way down the hallway in the front where Charlie’s desk is. When parents come to pick you up before dismissal or at the nurse’s office, they always stop at Charlie’s desk and write down their name and show their driver’s license and get a tag that says VISITOR on a red string, and they have to wear it around their neck.

Charlie is the security guy at McKinley, and he’s been here for thirty years. When I was in kindergarten, last year, we had a big party in the auditorium to celebrate his thirty years. Even a lot of parents came because he was the security guy already when they were kids and went to McKinley, like Mommy. Charlie said he didn’t need a party. “I already know everyone loves me,” he said and laughed his funny laugh. But he got a party anyway, and I thought he looked happy about it. He put up all the artwork we made for him for the party around his desk and took the rest home to hang it up. My picture for him was right in the middle at the front of his desk because I’m a really good artist.

Pop pop pop

Quiet pop sounds at first. Miss Russell was right in the middle of telling us about what pages in the math book were for classwork and what pages were for homework. The pop sounds made her stop talking, and she made wrinkles on her forehead. She walked over to the classroom door and looked out of the glass window. “What the . . . ,” she said.

Pop pop pop

Then she took a big step back away from the door and said, “Fuck.” She really did. The F-word, we all heard it and started laughing. “Fuck.” Right after she said it, we heard sounds coming from the intercom on the wall, and then a voice said, “Lockdown, lockdown, lockdown!” It wasn’t Mrs. Colaris’s voice. When we practiced lockdown drill before, Mrs. Colaris said, “Lockdown!” through the intercom, once, but this voice said it a lot of times, fast.

Miss Russell’s face got whitish and we stopped laughing because she looked so different and wasn’t smiling at all. The way her face looked all of a sudden made me scared, and my breath got stuck in my throat.

Miss Russell did a couple circles by the door like she didn’t know where she should walk. Then she stopped doing circles and locked the door and switched the lights off. No sun was coming in from the windows because of the rain, but Miss Russell went to the windows and pulled the shades down anyway. She started talking very fast and her voice sounded shaky and like squeaky. “Remember what we practiced for the lockdown drill,” she said. I remembered that lockdown meant don’t go outside like for the fire alarm, but stay inside and out of sight.

POP POP POP

Someone outside in the hallway screamed very loud. My legs started shaking around the knees.

“Boys and girls, everyone in the closet,” Miss Russell said.

When we practiced lockdown drill before, it was fun. We pretended that we were the bad guys and only sat in the closet for like a minute until we heard how Charlie opened the classroom door from the outside with his special key that can open all the doors in the school, and we heard him say: “It’s me, Charlie!” and that was the sign that the drill was over. Now I didn’t want to go in the closet because almost everyone else was already in there, and it looked too smushed. But Miss Russell put her hand on my head and pushed me in.

“Hurry, guys, hurry,” Miss Russell said. Evangeline especially and David and some other kids started to cry and said they wanted to go home. I felt tears coming in my eyes, too, but I didn’t want to let them come out and all my friends were going to see. I did the squeeze-away trick I learned from Grandma: you have to squeeze your nose on the outside with your fingers, the part where it goes from hard to soft, and then your tears don’t come out. Grandma taught me the squeeze-away trick at the playground one day when I was about to cry because someone pushed me off the swing and Grandma said, “Don’t let them see you cry.”

Miss Russell got everyone in the closet and pulled the door shut. The whole time we could hear the POP sounds. I tried to count them in my head.

POP—1 POP—2 POP—3

My throat felt very dry and scratchy. I really wanted a drink of water.

POP—4 POP—5 POP—6

“Please, please, please,” Miss Russell whispered. And then she talked to God and she called him “Dear Lord” and I couldn’t understand the rest she said because she was whispering so quiet and fast and I think she wanted only God to hear.

POP—7 POP—8 POP—9

Always three POPs and then a break.

Miss Russell all of a sudden looked up and said, “Fuck,” again. “My phone!” She opened the door a little and when there weren’t any POP sounds for a while she opened it all the way and ran across the classroom to her desk with her head ducked down. Then she ran back to the closet. She pulled the door closed again and told me to hold the metal piece this time. I did, even though it hurt my fingers and the door was heavy to keep closed. I had to use both hands.

Miss Russell’s hands were shaking so much they made the phone shake when she swiped and put her password in. She kept doing it wrong, and when you put the wrong password in all the numbers on the screen shake and you have to start over. “Come on, come on, come on,” Miss Russell said, and finally she got the password right. I saw it: 1989.

POP—10 POP—11 POP—12

I watched how Miss Russell dialed 9-1-1. When I heard a voice in the phone, she said, “Yes, hi, I’m calling from McKinley Elementary. In Wake Gardens. Rogers Lane.” She talked very fast, and in the light that came from her phone I could see that she spit on my leg a little bit. I had to leave the spit there because my hands were holding the door closed. I couldn’t wipe it off, but I stared at the spit and it was there on my pants, a spit bubble, and it was gross. “There ’s a gunman at the school and he ’s . . . OK, I’ll stay on the phone with you then.” To us she whispered, “Someone already called.” Gunman. That’s what she said. And then all I could think about in my head was gunman.

POP—13 Gunman POP—14 Gunman POP— 15 Gunman

I felt like it was hard to breathe now in the closet and very hot, like we used up all the air. I wanted to open the door a little to let some new air in, but I was too scared. I could feel my heart beating at super speed inside my chest and all the way up in my throat. Nicholas next to me had his eyes squeezed shut tight and was making fast breathing sounds. He was using up too much air.

Miss Russell had her eyes closed too, but her breathing was slow. I could smell the coffee smell when she went “Huuuuuu” to let some long breaths out. Then she opened her eyes and whispered to us again. She said everyone’s name: “Nicholas. Jack. Evangeline . . .” It felt good when she said, “Zach, it will be all right.” To all of us she said, “The police are outside. They are coming to help. And I am right here.” I was glad she was right there, and her talking helped me feel not so scared. The coffee breath didn’t bother me so much anymore. I pretended it was Daddy’s breath in the morning when he was home for breakfast on the weekends. I tried coffee before and didn’t like it. It tastes too hot and old or something. Daddy laughed and said, “Good, stunts your growth anyway.” I don’t know what that means, but I really wished Daddy could be here right now. But he wasn’t, only Miss Russell and my class and the POP sounds—

POP—16 POP—17 POP—18

—sounding really loud now and screams in the hallway and more crying in the closet. Miss Russell stopped talking to us and instead she talked into the phone: “Oh God, he’s getting closer. Are you coming? Are you coming?” Twice. Nicholas opened his eyes and said, “Oh!” and then he threw up. All over his shirt, and some throw-up got in Emma’s hair and on my shoes in the back. Emma did a loud shrieking sound and Miss Russell put her hands over Emma’s mouth. She dropped the phone and it fell in the throw-up on the floor. Through the door I could hear sirens. I’m really good at telling different sirens apart, the ones from fire trucks, police cars, ambulances . . . but now I heard so many outside that I couldn’t tell—they were all mixed together.

POP—19 POP—20 POP—21

Everything was hot and wet and smelled bad and I started to feel dizzy from it all and my stomach didn’t feel good. Then all of a sudden it was quiet. I couldn’t hear any more POPs. Just the crying and hiccupping in the closet.

And THEN there were a TON of POPs that sounded like they were right by us, a lot of them in a row, and loud sounds like stuff crashing and breaking. Miss Russell screamed and covered her ears, and we screamed and covered our ears. The closet door opened because I let go of the metal piece and light came into the closet and it hurt my eyes. I tried to keep counting the POPs, but there were too many. Then they stopped.

Everything was completely still, even us, and no one moved a muscle; it was like we weren’t even breathing. We stayed like that for a very long time—still and quiet.

Then someone was at our classroom door. We could hear the door handle, and Miss Russell let out her breath in little puffs, like “huh, huh, huh.” There was a knock on the door and a loud man voice said, “Hello, anyone in there?”

Two

Battle Scars

It’s all right. Police are here, it’s over,” the loud man voice said.

Miss Russell stood up and held on to the closet door for a minute, and then she walked a few steps to the classroom door, very slow like she forgot how to walk and maybe she was having pins and needles like me from sitting on her legs. I stood up, too, and behind me everyone came out of the closet very slow, like we all had to learn how to use our legs again.

Miss Russell unlocked the door, and lots of police came in. I saw more out in the hallway. One policewoman was hugging Miss Russell, who was making loud sounds like choking. I wanted to stay close to Miss Russell and I started to feel cold because now we were all spread out and not close and warm anymore. All the police were making me feel shy and scared, so I held on to Miss Russell’s shirt.

“All right, guys, please come to the front of the room,” one policeman said. “Can you line up over here?”

Outside our window, I could hear even more sirens now. I couldn’t see anything because our windows are high up and we can’t look outside except when we climb on a chair or table and we’re not supposed to do that. Plus, Miss Russell pulled the shades down when the pop sounds started.

One policeman put his hand on my shoulder and pushed me into the line. He and the other police had on uniforms with vests, the kind where bullets can’t go through and some had helmets on like in a movie, and they had big guns, not the regular ones from their belts. They looked a little bit scary with the guns and the helmets, but they talked to us in a friendly way: “Hey there, champ, don’t worry, it’s all over now! You’re safe now.” And stuff like that.

I didn’t know what they meant. I didn’t know what was “over now,” but I didn’t want to leave our classroom and Miss Russell was not at the front of the line with the line leader; she was still off to the side with the policewoman making choking sounds.

Usually when we have to line up to leave the classroom, everyone pushes and shoves and we get in trouble because we’re not making a nice line. This time we all stood really still. Evangeline and Emma and some other kids were still crying and shivering and we all stared at Miss Russell and waited to see if she would stop choking.

There were a lot of sounds coming from outside our classroom and shouting from down the hallway. I thought it sounded like Charlie’s voice shouting, “NO, NO, NO!” over and over again. I wondered why Charlie was shouting like that. Maybe he got hurt from the gunman? To be the security guy in a school when a gunman comes in is a very dangerous job.

There were other crying and calling sounds, all different kinds— “Ooh, ooooh, ooooh,” “Head wound DRT!” “Femoral bleed. Get me a pressure dressing and a tourniquet!” The walkie-talkies on the police ’s belts were beeping and beeping, and a lot of talking was coming out of them that was fast, and it was hard to understand it.

The walkie-talkie from the policeman at the front of the line beeped and said, “Get ready to move!” and the policeman turned around and said, “Moving out!” The other police started to push the line from the back, and we all started walking, but very slow. No one wanted to go out in the hallway where all the crying and calling sounds were still happening. The policeman in the front was high-fiving the kids that walked past him, and it was like he was making a joke. I didn’t give him a high five, and he kind of did a pat on my head instead.

We had to walk down the hallway to the back door where the cafeteria is. We saw the other first-grade classes and the second- and third-grade classes walking in lines like us, with police as the line leaders. Everyone looked cold and scared. “Don’t turn around,” the police were saying. “Don’t look behind you.” But I wanted to see if I was right and if it was Charlie shouting “NO, NO, NO!” earlier and if he was OK. I wanted to see who was screaming.

I couldn’t see much because Ryder was right behind me, he’s really tall, and more kids were walking behind Ryder. But in between the kids and the police walking I saw some things: people lying on the floor in the hallway with ambulance people and police around them and bending over them. And blood. At least I thought it was blood. It was very dark red or black puddles, like paint that spilled, all around on the floor of the hallway and some on the walls. And I saw the older kids from fourth and fifth grade walking behind Ryder, with very white faces like ghosts and some of them were crying and had blood on them. On their faces and clothes.

“Turn around!” a policeman said behind me, and this time it was not friendly. I turned around fast and my heart was beating hard because of all the blood. I saw real blood before, but just a little bit like when I fall down and my knee bleeds or something, never a lot like now.

More kids were turning around, and police all around us started shouting, “Look ahead. No turning around.” But the more they said it, the more everyone turned around, because other kids were doing it. People started screaming and walking faster and bumping into each other and shoving. When we got to the back door, someone bumped into me from the side and I bumped my shoulder into the door, which is metal, and it hurt a lot.

It was still raining outside, pretty hard now, and we didn’t have our jackets. Everything was still in the school—our jackets and backpacks and book baggies and stuff—but we kept walking without anything over to the playground and through the back gate that’s always closed when we have recess, so no one can run outside and strangers can’t come in.

I was starting to feel better when I walked outside. My heart didn’t beat so hard anymore, and the rain felt good on my face. It was cold, but I liked it. Everyone slowed down, and there wasn’t so much screaming and crying and shoving anymore. It was like the rain calmed everyone down, like me.

We walked across the intersection that was full of ambulances and fire trucks and police cars. All their lights were flashing. I tried to step on the flashing lights in the puddles, making blue and red and white circles in the water, and some of the water went into my sneakers in the part that has little holes on the top and my socks got wet. Mommy was going to be mad that my sneakers were wet, but I kept splashing and making more circles anyway. The blue, red, and white lights together in the puddles looked like the American flag colors.

The roads were blocked by trucks and cars. Other cars were driving up behind them and I saw parents jumping out. I looked for Mommy, but I didn’t see her. The police made a line on both sides of the intersection so that we could keep walking, and the parents had to stay behind the lines. They were calling out names like questions: “Eva? Jonas? Jimmy?” Some kids yelled back: “Mom! Mommy? Dad!”

I pretended like I was in a movie with all the lights and the police with their big guns and helmets. It gave me an excited feeling. I pretended like I was a soldier who was coming back from a battle and I was a hero now and people were here to see me. My shoulder hurt, but that’s what happens when you fight in a battle. Battle scars. That’s what Daddy always says when I get hurt at lacrosse or soccer or playing outside: “Battle scars. Every man has to have some. Shows you’re not a wimp.”

***

Jesus and Real-Life Dead People

Our police line leaders walked us into the little church on the road behind the school. When we went inside, I started to not feel like a tough hero anymore. All the exciting feelings stayed outside with the fire trucks and police cars. Inside the church it was dark and quiet and cold, especially because we were really wet now from the rain.

We don’t go to churches a lot, only to a wedding one time, and last year we went to one for Uncle Chip’s funeral. It wasn’t this church, but a bigger one in New Jersey where Uncle Chip lived. That was really sad when Uncle Chip died because he wasn’t even that old. He was Daddy’s brother, and only a little bit older than him, but he still died because he had cancer. That’s a sickness a lot of people get, and you can have it in different parts of your body. Sometimes it gets everywhere in your body, and that’s what happened to Uncle Chip and the doctor couldn’t make him feel better anymore, so he went to a special hospital where people go who don’t get better anymore, and then they die there.

We went to visit him there. I thought he must be so scared because he probably knew he was going to die and he wouldn’t be together with his family anymore. But when we saw him he didn’t look scared, he was just sleeping the whole time. He didn’t wake up anymore after we saw him. He went straight from sleeping to dead, so I didn’t think he even noticed that he died. Sometimes at bedtime I think about that and I get scared to go to sleep, because what if I die when I’m sleeping and don’t even notice?

I cried a lot at Uncle Chip’s funeral, mostly because Uncle Chip was going to be gone forever and I wouldn’t see him anymore. Also all the other people cried, especially Mommy and Grandma and Aunt Mary, Uncle Chip’s wife. Well, not really his wife because they weren’t married, but we still call her Aunt Mary because they were boyfriend and girlfriend for a really long time, since before I was born. And I cried because Uncle Chip was in the box called a casket in the front of the church. He must have been really tight in there and I never wanted to be in a box like that, ever. Only Daddy didn’t cry.

When the police told us to sit down on the benches in the church, I thought about Uncle Chip and how sad it was at his funeral. We all had to sit on the benches, and the police shouted: “Slide all the way in. Make room for everyone. Keep sliding in,” and we kept sliding in until we were all smushed together again like in the closet. There was a walkway in the middle in between the benches on the left and the benches on the right, and some police were lining up next to the benches.

My feet felt freezing cold. And I had to pee. I tried to ask the policeman next to the bench I was on if I could please go to the bathroom, but he said, “Everyone stays seated for now, champ,” so I tried to hold it and not think about how badly I had to go. But when you try to not think about something, it turns into the only thing you think about the whole time.

None of my friends was sitting close to me except Nicholas, who was sitting close to me on my right side and still smelled like throw-up. I saw Miss Russell was sitting with some other teachers on a bench in the back, and I wished that I could sit with her. The older kids with the blood on them were in the back, too, and a lot of them were still crying. I wondered why, because even the younger kids weren’t crying anymore. Some teachers and police and the man from the church—I could tell he was from the church from the black shirt and white collar he was wearing—were talking to them and hugging them and wiping the blood off their faces with tissues.

In the front of the church was a big table and it’s a special table, called an altar. Over it was a big cross with Jesus hanging on it, like in the church where Uncle Chip’s funeral was. I tried not to look at Jesus, who had his eyes closed. I knew he was dead with nails in his hands and feet, because people actually did that to him a long time ago to kill him, even though he was a good guy and God’s son. Mommy told me that story, but I don’t remember why they did that to Jesus, and I wished he wasn’t right there in the front. It made me think of the people in the hallway and all the blood and I was starting to think maybe they were dead, too, so that means I saw dead people in real life!

Mostly everyone was quiet, and in all that quietness the POP sounds were back in my ears, like an echo coming back around from the walls of the church. I shook my head to make them go away, but they kept coming back.

POP POP POP

I waited to see what was going to happen next. Nicholas’s nose looked red and had a snot drop hanging off it, which was gross. He kept pulling up the snot with a sniff sound, and then it came back down. Nicholas was rubbing his hands on his legs, up and down, like he was trying to dry them off, but his pants were really wet. He didn’t talk, and that was different because in school we sit across each other at the blue table and talk all the time about stuff like Skylanders, and the FIFA soccer World Cup, and which sticker cards we want to trade at recess and on the bus later.

We started collecting the sticker cards even before the FIFA soccer World Cup started in the summer. The sticker book has all the players from all the teams that play in the World Cup, so we knew all about the teams by the time the games started, and it was more fun to watch like that. Nicholas only needed twenty-four more sticker cards for his book, and I needed thirty-two and we both have a super high stack of doubles.

I whispered to Nicholas, “Did you see all the blood in the hallway? It looked real, didn’t it look like a lot?” Nicholas shook his head yes, but still he didn’t say anything. It was like he forgot his voice at school with his jacket and his backpack. He’s weird sometimes. Just pulling up the snot drop and wiping his hands on the wet pants, so I stopped trying to talk to him and I tried not to look at the snot drop. But when I looked away, my eyes went straight to Jesus, dead on the cross and those were the only two things my eyes kept looking at, the snot drop and Jesus. Snot drop, Jesus, snot drop, Jesus. My sticker cards and FIFA book were in my backpack still at the school, and I started to worry someone would take them.

The big door in the back kept opening and closing with loud swish- squeak, swish-squeak sounds, and people kept walking in and out, mostly police and some teachers. I didn’t see Mrs. Colaris anywhere or Charlie, so they probably stayed at the school. Then parents started to come in the church, and it got busy and loud. The parents weren’t quiet like us, they were calling out names like questions again. They cried and yelled when they found their kids and tried to get to them on the benches, which was hard to do because everyone was sitting so close together. Some kids tried to climb out and started crying again when they saw their mom or dad.

Every time I heard a swish-squeak sound, I turned my head to see if it was Mommy or Daddy. I was really hoping they would come to pick me up and take me home so I could put new clothes and socks on and feel warm again.

Nicholas’s dad came. Nicholas climbed over me, and his dad lifted him over the other kids on our bench. Then he hugged him for a long time, even though that probably made the throw-up get on his shirt, too.

Finally, the door opened again with another swish-squeak and Mommy walked in. I stood up so she could see me, and then I got embarrassed because Mommy came running over and called me “my baby” in front of all the kids. I climbed over the other kids to get to her, and she grabbed me and rocked me and she was cold and wet from the rain outside.

Then Mommy started to look around and said, “Zach, where’s your brother?”

Three

Where’s Your Brother?

Zach, where’s Andy? Where did he sit down?” Mommy stood up and looked all around. I wanted her to keep hugging me, and I wanted to tell her about the POP sounds and all the blood and the people lying in the hallway like maybe real-life dead people. I wanted to ask her why a gunman came and what happened to the people back at the school. I wanted us to leave this cold church with Jesus and the nails in his hands and feet.

I didn’t see Andy today. I almost never see Andy at school after we get off the bus until we get back on the bus when school is done because we don’t have lunch or recess at the same time, the older kids always go out before us. When we see each other at school by accident, like in the hallway when my class goes this way and his class goes that way, he ignores me and pretends like he doesn’t know me and I’m not even his brother.

When I started kindergarten, I was worried because a lot of my friends from preschool were going to Jefferson and I didn’t know many kids at McKinley. I was happy Andy was already there, in fourth grade. He could show me where everything was, and I wouldn’t feel scared with him there. Mommy said to Andy, “Make sure you keep an eye on your little brother. Help him!” But he didn’t.

“Stay away from me, little creep!” he yelled when I tried to talk to him, and his friends laughed, so then I did that, stay away.

“Zach, where’s your brother?” Mommy asked again, and she started walking up and down the middle walkway. I tried to walk with her and hold on to her hand, but there were people everywhere in the walkway now, calling names and getting in between us. I had to let go of Mommy’s hand because it hurt my shoulder to keep holding on.

I didn’t think about Andy all day since the bus, only when Mommy asked me about him. I didn’t think about Andy when the POP sounds started, or when we were hiding in the closet, or when we walked through the hallway and out the back door. I tried to remember when I looked back and saw the older kids walking behind me if maybe Andy was one of the faces I saw, but I didn’t know.

Mommy was turning all around now, faster, and her head was going left, right, left, right. I caught up with her in the front of the church by the altar table and tried to take her hand again, but at the same time she moved her arm up and put her hand on a policeman’s arm. So I put my hands in my pockets to make them warmer and stood close to Mommy. “I can’t find my son. Are all the kids in here?” she asked the policeman. Her voice sounded different, squeaky, and I looked up at her face to see why she sounded like that. Her face had red dots around her eyes, and her lips and chin were shaking, probably because she got all wet and cold from the rain, too.

“There will be an official announcement in a few minutes, ma’am,” the policeman said to Mommy. “Please have a seat if you have a missing child, and wait for the announcement.”

“A missing—?” Mommy said, and she touched the top of her head with her hand hard, like she hit herself. “Oh my God. Jesus!”

I looked up to where Jesus was on the cross after Mommy said his name. Right then Mommy’s phone started to ring in her bag. She jumped and dropped the bag, and some things fell out on the floor. Mommy went down on her knees and looked in her bag for her phone. I started to pick up her things, some papers and the car keys and a lot of coins that went rolling in between people ’s feet. I tried to get them all before someone else could take them.

Mommy’s hands were shaking like Miss Russell’s earlier in the closet when she found her phone and answered it. “Hello?” Mommy said into the phone. “At the church on Lyncroft. It’s where they took the kids. Andy’s not here! Oh my God, Jim, he’s not in the church! Yes, I have Zach.” Mommy started to cry. She was on her knees right in front of the altar table, and it looked like she was praying, because that’s what people do when they pray, kneel down like that. I stood in front of Mommy and touched her shoulder and rubbed it up and down to make her stop crying. My throat started to feel really tight.

Mommy said, “I know, OK, all right. I know, OK,” into the phone and, “OK, see you in a few,” and then she put the phone in her coat pocket and pulled me close to her and hugged me, too tight, and cried in my neck. Her breathing felt hot on my neck and it tickled, but it also felt good because it was warm, and I was feeling colder and colder.

I wanted to hold still when Mommy was hugging me and stay close to her, but I had to move side to side because I still had to pee badly. “I have to go to the bathroom, Mommy,” I said. Mommy pushed away from me and stood up. “Baby, not now,” she said. “Let’s go sit down somewhere until Daddy gets here and until they make the announcement.” But there was nowhere to sit down with all the kids on the benches, so we walked to the side of the church and Mommy leaned with her back up against the wall and squeezed my hand tight. I kept moving side to side and tried to balance on my tippy-toes because my dinky hurt so bad from having to pee. I was scared I was going to go pee in my pants. That would be really embarrassing in front of everyone.

Mommy’s phone started ringing again in her pocket. Mommy took it out and she said to me, “It’s Mimi,” and then she answered the phone. “Hi Mom!” Right when she said that she started crying again. “I’m here now, with Zach. . . . He’s fine, he’s OK. But Andy’s not here, Mom. No, he’s not here, I can’t find him. . . . They’re not telling us anything yet. . . . They said they’re making an announcement soon.” Mommy was pressing the phone to her ear hard. I could see the knuckles on her fingers were all white from squeezing the phone so hard. She listened to Mimi talking on the phone and she shook her head yes, and tears were running down her face. “OK, Mom, I’m freaking out. I don’t know what to do. . . . He’s coming, he’s on his way. No, don’t come yet. I think they’re only letting parents in right now. OK, I will. I’ll call you then. OK, love you, too.”

I looked at all the benches and let my eyes do some searching left and right, like when you do a word-search puzzle and look for the first letter of a word, like when you look for the word PINEAPPLE, for example. You try to find all the Ps, and then when you find one, you look if there’s an I next to the P all around it, and that’s how you find the whole word. So my eyes went left and right like that to see if Andy wasn’t on one of the benches after all. Maybe we just didn’t see him earlier and then we could go get him and leave and go home. My eyes were searching, searching, back and forth, but Andy really wasn’t anywhere.

I started to feel tired, and I didn’t want to stand up anymore. After a long while, the big door opened, swish-squeak, and Daddy came in. His hair was wet and sticking to his forehead, and rain was dripping from his clothes. It took him a while to squeeze past all the people and get to us. When he did, he gave us wet hugs and Mommy started to cry again.

“It will be OK, babe,” Daddy said. “I’m sure they couldn’t t all the kids in here. Let’s wait and see. They said they were getting ready to make an announcement when I walked in.” Right when he said that, the policeman Mommy talked to earlier walked in front of the altar table and said, “Hey, listen up, folks! Everyone, quiet down please!” Then he had to shout, “Quiet down please!” a few more times because of all the crying and calling and shouting, and no one was noticing he was talking.

Finally, everyone got quiet and he started to do a speech: “Parents, all children who were unharmed were brought to this church. If you have found your child, please leave the church quickly, so we can restore some order in here and incoming parents will have an easier time finding their children. If you are unable to locate your child here in the church, please be advised that wounded children are being taken to West-Medical Hospital for treatment. I regret to inform you that there have been an unknown number of fatalities in this incident, and these casualties will remain at the crime scene while the investigation is under way.”

When he said fatalities—I didn’t know what that meant—a loud sound went through the whole church, like all the people said “Ohhhh” at the same time. The policeman kept talking: “We don’t have a list of the wounded and fatalities yet, so if you cannot locate your child, please make your way over to West-Medical to check in with the staff there. They are currently in the process of compiling a list of patients who have been admitted. The shooter was killed in a confrontation with the Wake Gardens police force, and we believe he acted alone. There is no further threat to the Wake Gardens community. That is all for now. We are setting up a support hotline, and the information will be posted on the McKinley Elementary and Wake Gardens websites shortly.”

It stayed quiet for a second after he was done talking, and then it was like a noise explosion with everyone calling out and asking questions. I wasn’t sure what the policeman said, except that he said the shooter was killed, and I thought that was a good thing, so he couldn’t shoot other people anymore. But when I looked at Mommy and Daddy, it didn’t seem like a good thing, because their faces looked all wrinkled up, and Mommy was crying a lot. Daddy said, “All right, he must be at West-Medical then.”

I went to West-Medical before when I was four and I got allergic to peanuts. I don’t remember it, but Mommy said it was scary. I almost stopped breathing because my face and mouth and throat got swollen. At the hospital they had to give me medicine so I could breathe again. Now I can’t eat anything with peanuts ever again, and I have to sit at the no-nuts table for lunch.

Mommy also had to take Andy to West-Medical, last summer, because he was riding his bike with no helmet—that’s a big no-no— and he fell down on his head. His forehead was bleeding and he had to get stitches.

“Melissa, babe, we need to keep it together,” Daddy said to Mommy. “Take Zach and go find Andy at the hospital. Call me when you’re there. I’ll call my mom and yours to let them know, and I’ll stay here . . . in case . . .”

I waited to see in case what, but Mommy grabbed my hand tight and pulled me with her, and we walked out of the church. When we walked through the big door there were people everywhere, on the sidewalk and on the street, and I saw vans that had big standing-up bowls on the roofs. Lights were flashing and blinking in my face.

“Let’s get out of here,” Mommy said, and we got out of there.

Four

No-Rules Day

We’re going to be all right, Zach, do you hear me? Everything will be OK. We’ll get to the hospital, and we will find Andy, and this whole nightmare will be over, OK, baby?”

Mommy kept saying the same things over and over again in the car, but I didn’t think she was talking to me, because when I said, “I really have to go to the bathroom when we get there, Mommy,” she didn’t say anything back. She was leaning forward and staring out the front window because it was still raining hard. The wipers were on the highest speed, the one where you get dizzy when you try to follow them with your eyes, and it can make you carsick, so you have to try to look out the front but try to ignore the wipers. Even with the wipers going at dizzy speed, it was hard to see anything. When we got to the road where the hospital is, there was traffic everywhere.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Mommy said.

Today was a bad word day. Fuck, stupid, shit, Jesus. Jesus is not actually a bad word, it’s a name, but sometimes people use it as a bad word. There was loud honking. People had their windows down even though it was raining, and the inside of their car was probably getting wet. They were yelling at each other to get the hell out of the way.

Last time we came to the hospital, when Andy fell off his bike, there was a valet, and that means you can get out of your car with it still on and you leave the keys in it, and the valet man parks it for you. And when you come back, you have to give him the ticket, and he goes and gets your car from where he parked it. This time there was no valet and like a thousand cars in front of us. Mommy started crying again and did drums with her fingers on the steering wheel, and she said, “What do we do now? What do we do now?”

Mommy’s phone started ringing, loud in the car. I knew it was Daddy because in Mommy’s new GMC Acadia in the front where the radio is you can see who is calling and press on the Accept button and hear the voice in the whole car and that’s cool. We didn’t have that in our old car.

“Are you there?” Daddy’s voice said into the car.

“I can’t even get close to the hospital,” Mommy said. “I don’t know what do to. There’s cars everywhere. It’s going to take me forever to get to the garage, if there are even any spots left. Crap, Jim, I can’t take this, I need to get in there!”

“OK, babe, forget finding a spot in the garage. I’m sure its madness over there. Dammit, I should have come with you. I just thought . . . ,” and then it was quiet in the car, and Mommy and Daddy didn’t say anything. “Dump the car somewhere, Melissa,” Daddy’s voice said in the car. “It doesn’t matter. Dump the car and walk.”

I think a lot of people were doing that, dumping their cars, because when I looked out the window, I saw cars parked everywhere, even on the bike paths and sidewalks. That’s against the law and your car will be towed with a tow truck.

Mommy drove up on the sidewalk and stopped the car. “Let’s go,” she said and opened my door. I saw that the back of our car was kind of sticking out into the street and the cars behind us started honking, even though I thought they could definitely still get past. “Oh, shut up,” Mommy yelled. Bad word list getting longer.

“Mommy, won’t a tow truck take our car?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter. Let’s please walk quickly.”

I was walking very fast because Mommy was pulling so hard on my hand. The walking made some pee come out. I couldn’t help it, it just came out. Only a little at first and then all of it. It felt good, and it made my legs feel warm. I thought it probably didn’t matter that the pee got in my pants if it didn’t matter that a tow truck was going to take our car. Today was a day with different rules or no rules. We were getting soaking wet from the rain again, so most of the pee was probably coming off anyway.

We walked on the actual road, in between the stopped cars. All the honking hurt my ears. Then we walked through the slidey glass doors that said ER on them. Now we could find Andy and see what happened to him and if he needed stitches again like last time or what.

Inside was like outside except with people instead of cars. People were everywhere inside the waiting room, in front of a desk that had a sign that said CHECK IN. Everyone was talking at the same time to the two women behind the desk. A policeman was talking to a group of people across the room, and Mommy moved closer to him to hear what he was saying: “We can’t let anyone back there yet. We are working on a list of patients. There are a lot of wounded people, and taking care of them has to be the top priority now.” Some people tried to say something to the policeman, and he lifted up his hands like he was blocking their words.

“As soon as things calm down a bit, we will start informing the relatives of the wounded we could identify. And we will go from there. I urge you to be patient. Look, I know it’s hard, but let’s try and let the doctors and staff do their jobs here.”

All around the waiting room, people started to sit down. When there were no more empty seats left, people sat down on the floor by the walls. We walked over to the wall that had a big TV. I saw Ricky’s mom sitting on the floor under the TV. Ricky is in fifth grade, like Andy, and they live close to our house, so Ricky is on the same bus as us. Andy and Ricky used to be friends and play outside a lot, but then they had a fight in the summer and didn’t use their words but their fists and later Daddy took Andy to Ricky’s house to say sorry.

Ricky’s mom looked up and saw us and looked back down in her lap really fast. Maybe she was still mad about the fight. Mommy sat down next to Ricky’s mom and said, “Hi, Nancy.”

Ricky’s mom looked at Mommy and said, “Oh, hi, Melissa,” like she didn’t see us before Mommy sat down. I knew she did though. Then she looked down in her lap again, and then no one said anything.

I sat down next to Mommy and tried to see the TV, but it was right over our heads, so I had too turn my head too far around, and I still only saw some of the picture. The sound from the TV was off, but I could see it had the news on, and the picture showed McKinley with all the re trucks and police cars and ambulances in front. There were words running in a line underneath the news pictures, but I couldn’t read them from where I was sitting with my head turned too far and the words were running across the TV too fast. My neck started to hurt, so I stopped looking at the TV.

We sat there on the floor for a long time, so long that my clothes weren’t even wet anymore from the rain, they were starting to dry off. My stomach did a growl. Lunch was a long time ago and I didn’t even eat my sandwich, only the apple. Mommy gave me two dollars so I could get something from the vending machine over by the bathrooms. I could pick whatever I wanted, she said, so I put in the dollars and pressed the button for Cheetos. That’s junk food, and most of the time it’s a no to junk food, but today was a no-rules day, remember?

The door at the back of the waiting room that said no entry on it opened and two nurses with green shirts and pants on came out. Everyone in the waiting room got up at the same time. The nurses were holding papers and started calling names: “Family of Ella O’Neill, family of Julia Smith, family of Danny Romero . . .” Some people in the waiting room got up and walked over to the nurses and went in the no entry door with them.

The nurses didn’t call “Family of Andy Taylor,” and Mommy plopped back down on the floor and put her arms on her knees and her head on her arms like she was trying to hide her face. I sat down next to her again and rubbed her arm up and down, up and down. Mommy’s arms felt like they were shaking, and her hands were making fists. She opened and closed them, opened and closed them.

“If they haven’t called us by now, it must be bad,” Ricky’s mom said. “Otherwise we would have heard something by now.”

Mommy didn’t say anything, she just kept opening and closing her fists.

More waiting and more nurses coming out, calling names, and more people getting up and going behind the NO ENTRY door. Every time a nurse came out, Mommy put her head up and looked at them with her eyes really big, making lines on her forehead. When they called a name, but not Andy’s, she let out her breath really fast and put her head back down on her arms, and I rubbed her arm some more.

Sometimes the slidey doors in the front opened and people walked in and out. I could see outside and it was getting dark, so we were at the hospital for a long time and it was probably dinnertime by now. Looked like I going to get to stay up late on no-rules day.

Not very many people were left in the waiting room, only me and Mommy and Ricky’s mom, and a few people on the chairs and by the vending machines. A couple of policemen were left, and they were talking together with their heads down. There were a lot of empty chairs now, but we didn’t get up to sit on them, even though my butt hurt from the floor.

Then the slidey doors opened again and Daddy walked in. I was excited to see him. I started to get up to go to him, but then I sat right back down because I saw his face and it didn’t look like Daddy’s face at all. My stomach did a big flip like when I’m excited, but I wasn’t excited, just really scared.

***

Werewolf Howling

Daddy’s face was like a grayish color, and his mouth looked all funny, with his lower lip pulled down so I could see his teeth. He shook his head no when he saw how I started to get up. He stood there by the slidey doors and stared at us, me sitting next to Mommy and Mommy next to Ricky’s mom. I didn’t move. I was staring back at him because I didn’t know why his face looked like that and why he wasn’t coming over to us.

It was a long time before he started to walk, and then he walked very slow like he didn’t want to get to us. He turned around a few times—maybe he wanted to check how far he walked from the doors. All of a sudden I had a feeling that I didn’t want him to get to us, because everything was going to get worse then.

Ricky’s mom saw Daddy next and made a sound like she was pulling in a lot of air through her mouth. That made Mommy pick up her head from her arms. She looked up and for a minute she just looked at Daddy’s weird face, and he stopped walking. Then everything did get worse, I was right.

First Mommy’s eyes got really big, and then her whole self started shaking and she started acting crazy. She yelled, “Jim? Oh my God, no no no no no no no no no!”

Each “no” got louder and I didn’t know why she was yelling so loud all of a sudden. Maybe she was mad that Daddy left the church, because he was supposed to wait there, just in case. Everyone in the waiting room was looking at us.

Mommy tried to get up, but then she fell back down on her knees. She started to make a loud “Aaaauuuuuuuuuuu” sound and it wasn’t a sound like it was coming from a person, but maybe an animal, like a werewolf when he sees the moon.

Daddy walked the last bit to us and got down on his knees, too, and tried to put his arms around Mommy. But she started to hit him and yelled “No no no no no no no no” again, so she really was mad at him.

I could tell Daddy felt bad because he kept saying, “I’m sorry, babe, I’m so so sorry!” But Mommy kept hitting him, and he let her even though everyone had their eyes on them. I wanted Mommy to stop being mad at Daddy and stop hitting him. But instead she got even more crazy and started screaming. She screamed Andy’s name over and over again and it was so loud, I put my hands over my ears. There were so many too-loud sounds for my ears today.

Mommy cried and screamed and made more “Aaaauuuuuuuuuuu” sounds. After a long while she let Daddy hug her and didn’t hit him anymore, so maybe she wasn’t mad at him anymore. All of a sudden she turned around to the wall and started throwing up. Right where all the people could see her. A lot of throw-up came out, and she was making really gross sounds. Daddy was on his knees next to her, rubbing her back, and he looked like he was scared and like he was going to throw up too, probably from watching Mommy.

But Daddy didn’t throw up. He put his hand out to me, and I took it and then we sat there, holding hands, and I tried not to look at Mommy. She stopped throwing up and she wasn’t screaming anymore. She just lay down on the floor with her eyes closed and made a ball with her whole body, her arms holding her knees, and she cried and cried.

A nurse came, and I had to move over to the side so she could take care of Mommy. I sat back down by the wall under the TV. Daddy scooched over and sat next to me and leaned his back against the wall. He put his arm around me, and we watched the nurse taking care of Mommy.

Another nurse came out from the no entry door and brought a bag of stuff. She put a needle in Mommy’s arm, and that probably hurt, but Mommy didn’t even move. The needle was on a plastic string attached to a bag with water in it that the one nurse was holding up over her head. Then a man brought a bed on wheels, and he put the bed all the way down to the floor. The two nurses put Mommy on the bed, made the bed go back up, and then they started pushing it to the NO ENTRY door. I got up to go with Mommy on the bed, but one of the nurses put up her hand and said, “You have to hang back for now, sweetie.”

The door closed and Mommy disappeared. Daddy put his hand on my shoulder and said, “They have to take Mommy back there to help her. Make her feel better. She’s very upset right now and needs help. OK?”

“Why did Mommy get so mad at you, Daddy?” I asked.

“Oh, bud, she ’s not mad at me. I . . . I need to tell you something, Zach. Let’s go outside for a bit and get some fresh air. I have to tell you some news, and it’s really bad. OK? Come with me.”

Five

Sky Tears

Andy was dead. That was the news Daddy told me when we stood in front of the hospital. It was raining still. So much rain all day long. The raindrops reminded me of all the tears, and it was like the sky was crying together with Mommy inside the hospital, and all the other people I saw crying today.

“Your brother was killed in the shooting, Zach,” Daddy said, and his voice sounded very scratchy. We were standing together under the crying sky, and in my head the same words went round and round in a circle: Andy is dead. Killed in the shooting. Andy is dead. Killed in the shooting.

Now I knew why Mommy acted crazy when Daddy came in— because she knew Andy was dead, only I didn’t know. Now I knew, too, but I didn’t start acting crazy, and I didn’t cry and scream like Mommy. I just stood and waited, with the same words doing circles in my head, and it was like my whole body didn’t feel normal, it felt really heavy.

Then Daddy said we should go back to check on Mommy. We went back inside slow, and my heavy legs made it hard to walk. The people in the waiting room stared at us, and their faces looked like they were feeling very sorry for us, so they knew Andy was dead, too.

We went to the CHECK IN desk. “I would like to get an update on Melissa Taylor,” Daddy told one of the women behind the desk.

“Let me check for you,” the woman said and went in the no entry door. All of a sudden Ricky’s mom was standing next to us.

“Jim?” she said to Daddy. She put her hand on Daddy’s arm, and Daddy took a really quick step back like her hands were hot on his arm or something. Ricky’s mom dropped her hand and stared at Daddy. “Jim, please. What about Ricky? Did you ask about Ricky?”

I remembered Ricky doesn’t have a dad, or he had a dad, but he moved away when Ricky was a baby. So his dad couldn’t wait at the church, just in case, and now Ricky’s mom didn’t know if Ricky was alive or dead or what..

“I’m sorry. I . . . I don’t know,” Daddy said, and he walked a couple more steps back and kept looking at the no entry door. Then the door opened and the woman from behind the desk held the door open and waved to us to come in. Daddy said to Ricky’s mom, “I’ll try to check when I’m inside, OK?” and we walked in.

We walked behind the woman down a long hallway and came to the big room that I remembered from when we came here with Andy, it has little rooms all around the side with no walls, only curtains in between. One little room had the curtain opened and I saw a girl I knew from McKinley—she’s in fourth grade, I don’t know her name. She was sitting on a bed with wheels and her arm had a big white wrapper around it.

The woman brought us to a little room where Mommy was. She was lying on a bed with a white blanket over her, and her face was also white like the blanket. The bag with the water was hanging on a metal stand, and the plastic string was stuck on Mommy’s arm with a big Band-Aid. Mommy’s eyes were closed, and her head was turned away from us. She looked like she was a fake doll, not a real person, and I got a scared feeling. Daddy went over to Mommy’s bed and touched her face. Mommy didn’t move at all. She didn’t move her head, and she didn’t open her eyes.

There were two chairs next to the bed, and we sat down on them. The woman said the doctor was going to be with us soon, so we waited. I watched the water drops dripping from the bag into the string and then down into Mommy’s arm. They looked like raindrops or teardrops dripping down, and it was like the bag was giving Mommy all the teardrops back she cried out earlier. Now only the bag was crying.

Daddy’s phone started to ring in his pocket, but he didn’t take it out to answer it. Usually Daddy always answers his phone because it could be work. He let it ring until it stopped, and after a little while the ringing started again. Daddy stared at his hands and they were the only things moving on him. First his left hand pulled all the fingers on his right hand, and then the right hand pulled all the fingers on his left hand, and they kept taking turns. I started copying Daddy and pulled my fingers at the same time as him. I had to pay attention to do it at the same time, and that made me stop thinking about Mommy lying in the bed like a fake doll. Daddy was making a pattern, so I knew what came next, and that helped. I wanted to sit here with Daddy and pull fingers for a long time.

But then the curtain got pushed to the side and a doctor came in and started talking to Daddy, and we stopped our finger patterns. “My sincere condolences,” the doctor said to Daddy. Daddy only blinked with his eyes a few times but didn’t say anything back, so the doctor kept talking. “Your wife is in shock. We had to sedate her and will keep her overnight. As soon as things settle down in here, we will find her a room for the night. She’s heavily sedated, and I doubt she will wake up at all tonight. I think the best thing would be to regroup in the morning and assess her situation. Why don’t you go home and . . . try to get some rest?”

Daddy still didn’t talk, he just looked at the doctor. Maybe he didn’t understand what he said. Then he looked back down at his hands like he was surprised they were holding still now.

“Sir? Do you have someone who can take you home?” the doctor said and that woke Daddy up and he said, “No. We . . . we will go. I don’t need anyone to take us.”

The curtain got pushed open again and Mimi was standing there like frozen, holding onto the curtain. She stared at Daddy for a long time with really big eyes, and then she moved her stare to me and then to Mommy lying on the bed like a fake doll. Mimi’s face started to crumple up like a piece of paper. She opened her mouth like she was going to say something, but only a quiet “oh” sound came out. She took a step toward Daddy, and Daddy got up like in slow motion. Maybe his body felt too heavy, too.

Mimi and Daddy hugged each other tight, and Mimi was making loud crying sounds into Daddy’s jacket. The doctor and the nurse were standing next to them, and both of them were staring at their shoes. They had on the hospital kind, like green Crocs.

After a while Mimi and Daddy got done hugging. Mimi was still crying, and she came over to me and put her arms around me. She pulled me close to her belly. It felt smushy and nice and warm, and my throat got a tight feeling inside. Mimi kissed the top of my head and whispered into my hair: “My sweet, sweet Zach. My poor, sweet little boy.” Then she let go of me. I didn’t want her to, I wanted to stay there hugging her and feel warm and smell her sweater that smelled like fresh laundry.

But Mimi turned away from me and toward Mommy. She pushed some hair from Mommy’s face with her hand. “I will stay with her tonight, Jim,” Mimi said in a quiet voice, and tears were just running, running down her face.

Daddy made a sound in his throat and then he said, “OK. Thank you, Roberta.” He took my hand and said, “Let’s get you home, Zach.” But I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go home without Mommy. So I grabbed the side of Mommy’s bed.

“No!” I said. My voice came out loud and it surprised me. “No, I want Mommy. I want to stay here with Mommy!” My voice sounded like a baby voice, but I didn’t care.

“Please don’t do this, Zach, please,” Daddy said, sounding very tired. “Please, let’s just go home. Mommy is OK, she just needs to sleep. Mimi will stay here and take care of her.”

“I will, honey, I promise. I’ll be here with Mommy,” Mimi said.

“I want to stay here, too,” I said with the loud voice again.

“We will come see her tomorrow. I promise. Please stop shouting,” Daddy said.

“But she has to say good night to me! We have to sing our song!”

Every night at bedtime me and Mommy sing a song, and it’s always the same. It’s our tradition and it’s the song that Mimi made up when Mommy was a baby, and then Mommy started singing it to me and Andy when we were babies. The song sounds like the “Brother John” song, but with our own words made up. You change the name in it for who you are singing it to. For me, Mommy sings it like this:

Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor
I love you
I love you
You’re my handsome buddy
And I’ll love you always
Yes, I do

Yes, I do

Sometimes Mommy changes up the words and sings it like this: “You’re my smelly buddy, but I love you anyway . . . ,” and it’s really funny, but in the end, she always has to sing it the regular way so I can go to sleep.

Now, she was going to stay here in the hospital and not be at home with me for bedtime.

“Just . . . OK, do you want to sing it now then?” Daddy asked, and the way he said it sounded like that was going to be a stupid thing to do. I shook my head yes, but then I didn’t want to sing with Daddy and Mimi and the doctor and the nurse all looking at me, so I only kept holding onto Mommy’s bed until Daddy came over and forced me to let go.

Daddy picked me up and carried me back through the big room and the hallway, out the door to the waiting room, and back out through the slidey doors into the rain. He carried me all the way to his car that was a long way from the hospital, but parked in a real spot, so it didn’t get towed. I wondered if Mommy’s car got towed and how she was going to get home without her car.

Daddy opened the car door and at the same time we both saw Andy’s sweater on the backseat. It was the sweater he had on at lacrosse practice last night, and he took it off after we got in the car. Daddy picked it up and sat down in the driver’s seat. Then he put his face in Andy’s sweater and for a long time he sat there like that. It looked like his whole body was shaking and crying and he made little rocking moves forward and backward, but no sounds.

I sat very still in my seat in the back and watched the raindrops on the sunroof, the sky crying on top of the car. After a while, Daddy put the sweater down on his lap and wiped his face with his hand. Then he turned around to me. “We need to be strong now, Zach, you and me. We need to be strong for Mommy. OK?”

“OK,” I said and then we drove home through the sky tears, just me and Daddy.

Tagged in:
BEDTIME BOOKCLUB
Books
Rhiannon Navin
America
Gun crime
Grief

Tap below to add
the-pool.com to your homescreen

Close
Love The Pool? Support us and sign up to get your favourite stories straight to your inbox