Nothing’s Wrong [Short Story]

The fragrance of fresh bread woke Thomas up one morning. He leaped out of bed excitedly, knowing what the smell signified. It meant that Uncle had come for a visit.

Thomas was six years old, and he could tell, with the instinct that all young children share, that his father liked Uncle a lot, but that his mother didn’t, even though Uncle was her brother. Thomas didn’t know why his mother didn’t like Uncle, but he sensed that it had to do with Uncle being a baker. He thought that maybe bakers weren’t as good as bankers, which is what his mother was. Thomas thought that being a baker was much nicer; Uncle wore comfy clothes and always smelled good, whereas Thomas’s mother always complained about her pantyhose and put too much perfume on.

Uncle was tall and skinny, but this morning, when Thomas went downstairs, he thought that Uncle had become like Flat Stanley, the flat boy that they were reading about in school. The illusion passed, and Thomas realized that it was only that Uncle looked even thinner than usual. He looked gaunt, although Thomas didn’t know that word, and he looked worn out and weary, more words that Thomas didn’t really understand.

“Morning, Tom-Tom.”

“Hi! What’s wrong, Uncle?”

“Drink your milk. Eat. We don’t want you to be late for school.” Thomas’s mother pushed a plate of eggs and a glass of milk at him without looking at Uncle at all. Then she swept right out of the room again, and Thomas and Uncle looked at each other as they hear Thomas’s parents yelling at each other upstairs. Uncle got up and checked on the bread in the oven. Whenever he came to visit, he’d let himself in very early and would bake fresh bread that would be ready for the family’s breakfast when they awoke.

“Here you go,” Uncle said, pulling the bread-pan out of the oven. He cut a thick, still steaming slice, and put it on Thomas’s plate. “Eat up.”

Thomas wasn’t going to give up on his question, though. “What’s wrong, Uncle?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Uncle smiled.

In the car on the way to school, Thomas asked his mother the same question. “Nothing,” she said. “Why? Has Uncle said anything?”

That evening, Thomas tried again. He went into the bathroom where his father was drying off after a shower and began to swing from side to side while holding the doorknob.

“Stop that, you’ll break it,” his father said, without much conviction. Thomas kept swinging.

“Daddy, what’s wrong?”

“Well. What did Mommy tell you?”

“Nothing.”

“And Uncle?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh dear. That must mean that whatever’s wrong, it’s a big deal. Listen, bub, you and I – we shouldn’t get involved, okay?”

“Okay,” Thomas said. But when he went to bed that night, he couldn’t help feeling scared by what his father had said. It sounded like his father didn’t know what was wrong either. If nobody knew what was wrong, then what would happen now? For the first time in months, Thomas had nightmares and wet the bed.

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Lucy’s Diary, May 23d

May 23d, Afternoon, Grace Hospital, Room #304

Dear Diary,

I’m thoroughly exhausted. I cannot even explain to you the levels of exhaustion I have descended to in the last few days. My cousin, the one who sent me here, said before she sent me away that I was wild and lacked responsibility in my life [stupid cow, she didn’t know one thing about me nor my life, she just decided that, being sixteen, I MUST be wild]. Well, she would have been proud of the responsibilities I’ve taken on in the last week.

But I’m confusing you, I’m sure. Let me begin again, my dearest, and you shall have the story entire by the time I’m done writing.

The morning after I wrote in you last time, I got a phone call on my cell. It was during history class, and of course I couldn’t pick it up right then and there. It was buzzing in my pocket, and I was so shocked at the fact that it really WAS ringing for once [silently, though, obviously] that I immediately raised my hand and asked to be excused to the ladies room. As I’m a good girl and have never asked to be let out in the middle of a lesson since arriving at Pratt and Smith, the surprised teacher let me leave at once.

You can guess my utter astonishment upon seeing the name “Michael” on the screen of my cell phone when I escaped into the hallway and took it out of my pocket. It was Michael! The guy from the diner! I took the call, and all I could hear at first were some garbled noises. Then, I heard something like “help” and then “ouch” and then some monumental swearing. Then, just as I was starting to really panic, I heard him yell out “Oh god!” and then the line went dead.

Oh, Diary, I stood there in the hallway with the phone pressed to my ear even after the line went dead. I was in utter shock for a few moments and could only stand there, trying to figure out what I should do next. Eventually, my mind began to function a little and I dashed to the offices of P&S – a long run from where I had been, to be sure – and breathlessly had the kindly old secretary there call emergency services.

I had no idea where Michael was, of course, but I told them that I believed he was at or around a place called “Gaitec’s Reach.” The man from the rescue services made loud exclamations at that, and asked if I thought he’d been there during the night. When I said that I supposed he had been, the man got very nervous and then very business-like, and I gather that the area is quite traitorous to one who’s not familiar with the terrain.

You may wonder, Diary dearest, how I dealt with P&S on this whole matter – for of course, Michael was found, and I wanted to get to the hospital to see him as soon as I could. P&S are now laboring under the delusion of his being a distant relation of mine, one who was coming to visit me and who I was very worried about because he had been a dear childhood friend of mine, from the days when I still lived with my parents and not with my evil cousin [this lie was necessary to explain why my cousin has no idea who he is].

All in all, the school has been cooperative and my roommates have been life-savers – Sophie and Maria have been bringing me the homework every day, and Peggy even brought me some makeup [“because you look SO dreary, my dear”]. I’ve been spending most of every day here in the hospital, because poor Michael looks so frail, so very weak. I don’t know why, but I feel responsible for him. I can’t, just can’t leave him here to wake up all on his own! I heard his English accent last time we met, so I know he must be so very far from home, the poor thing.

The doctors say he had a bad concussion, and they think he should wake up in a day or two, but I’m worried. He’s been in and out, mumbling nonsense sometimes and groaning from the pain at others.

Diary, Michaels’s stirring, he may want some more water, so I shall have to resume my conversation with you later.

I am ever yours,

Exhaustedly,

Lucy

P.S. Oh, one other thing – I’m going to tell him my real name when he wakes up, if he tells me what he’s been doing here.