Taking a deep breath, I pushed Robert down the wide black floor mat and through the silent sliding glass doors. Taking a deep breath because I had not been to the emergency room at Georgetown for a long time. The morning was still early and the waiting room was empty. Beyond the waiting room, machines beeped softly and the tread of rubber-soled shoes on the linoleum floor was soft as well and the slide of the curtains on the bays.
I was apologetic because this was urgent, but not a dire emergency. We had been sleeping, en famille, on our family room floor for two nights--the family room because at the corner forms a bank of windows, which can be opened to let in cool air. We were lucky because the evenings did indeed cool down so the house could breathe in the night air and exhale some of the heat.
Our power had been out for two days.
The storm had rolled in, wind stripping trees like a hand pulled up the stem of a plant, releasing leaves and small branches and blowing them sideways. Wind like a nearly visible force, wind like a vehicle hurtling down the middle of the street.
By the time I went downstairs, where Roger and Robert sat watching TV, the wind had become manic. We sat in the family room where the shades draw down from the top, the bottom panes covered and watched the debris flying six feet off the ground.
The tree collapsed without a sound, but we saw nothing until the upper halves of the windows filled suddenly and thickly with green leaves. Oh, look, I said, it's the Saltzman's tree coming into our yard. The top ten feet of branches stroked the side of our house almost the way a paint brush does.
In the few minutes before the power flickered, which seemed an inevitability, David called to ask if we were alright. We were fine. The windows were fine. What we could see of the car looked fine. But the tree was there, as though the world had tilted sideways. The downed tree still alive, though uprooted, all 40 or 50 feet of it, live and would remain so until we sawed it apart later.
In the emergency room, not then, but two days later, it was as quiet as I've ever seen it. The medical staff was shooting the breeze. I told Robert that when he was little, his dad and I used to joke about which bays we had not visited. Robert thought that was funny.
The fact of the downed tree was at first startling, then providential as it missed the cantilevered supports that uphold the kids' bedroom on the second floor. Our new deck supported its length and it lay there the way undisputed facts lay down in front of people arguing. People continue to argue, hurling their points up over the angled branches.
We were the talk of the neighborhood. The must-see stop as our neighbors walked through, assessing the damage after the storm. It helps to have a corner lot.
In the emergency room, I told Robert how brave he was. And he was indeed brave, and startlingly mature. As though he were indeed 13 and no longer 3 or 4 or 5. On the promise of feeling better, he allowed needles and catheters to pierce his body without tears and only a handful of stoic faces.
The cat liked it when we put the screens in the windows of the family room because the screens are held in place by little prongs and she found she could dislodge one screen at its corner and walk on the edge of the brick facing that rises just to the lower edge of the windows. In this manner, she could walk through the downed tree and out the other side, then back through the safety of the window. Then perch on the windowsill, sniffing the air and listening to the people, the street sounds, and the bugs. That our walls were permeate fascinated her.
We ate in the open air, on our picnic table on the deck next to the downed tree, while on the other side, our neighbors walked by admiring the precision of its fall, its general length, and its size. At night, a fluorescent camping lantern cast a big circle of light. Outdoors became indoors and indoors out. And we sat with our neighbors on their patio in the fading light, too, until dark and even after.
For two nights, we slept on the family room floor on mattresses, the couch made up with sheets. Otherwise it was too hot. The upstairs sat unused, collecting the heat. Robert's summer programs were cancelled because the buildings in which they were held did not have power. And he had been sick, besides, with a fever the day before the storm. Edith's camp was 45 minutes away, outside the radius of the storm, and Roger went to work. And Robert and I sat at home, while I tried to nurse him in the shadowy daylight of our home.
The heat, the fever, eventually overran my ability to hydrate him. And he began the coughing and the rattling stomach gas and the feeding intolerance. And the second humid morning, after waking with him several times in the night, I did call the pediatric practice so they could tell me what I knew they would which was that I should drive him to Georgetown. Or call an ambulance. But it wasn't that dire. Yet.
The electric company was appearing to tell people that it would be Thursday or Friday before the power was all restored. Or that's what I could figure out by opening abbreviated web pages on my phone, my fingers spreading the words bigger and wider, while the article retreated to the corners of the screen. Just a few words at a time, scrolling by length and height. The phone I kept charging in the car.
One more day for Robert and he would need an ambulance. So I took him myself. I know how this goes, even if I haven't done it for a while. The IV line eventually goes in the foot because the fat pads on the backs of his hands, which is what happens if you don't use your hands, are too thick. And the veins in the crook of his elbow are out because his arms are spastic and he can't lay them flat. So the foot. And the saline solution runs in--a bolus for your foot, I joked. And he smiled.
And he did feel better. And I felt better because this particular time, I knew what the doctors would say and I knew why they ordered the chest and belly x-rays and I knew they would find nothing but they had to check because this is their job. And I didn't mind the two trips down to radiology because we forgot the belly x-ray the first time. So the ER was our one bit of routine business in the midst of a storm and bedding on the floor and the tree down with its leaves splayed up against our siding and blocking the back entrance and the general silence of the house without lights and devices.
Later that afternoon, the power flickered once.
Edith came home and worked on her homework until the light faded and dusk infiltrated the family room. She powered up her laptop, which still had a charge, and the screen was a splotch on the greying air, colors fading. iTunes and she clicked on Build Me Up, Buttercup and turned up the sound. And I told her this was the song I danced to with my first real boyfriend and I showed her how we would dance, twirling her around and making a bridge and then flip of our joined hands and arms. Roger joined us and we linked hands with Robert lying on the couch.
We danced and this was the best thing ever--I need you more than anyone darling, you know that I have from the start--
And then the lights came on. So bright we were blinking and the night faded to black behind the windows. And we shut them. But not right away.