Except for the porch light shining above, the house is as dark inside as it is outside. An old woman opens the door to a young man and child. The old woman is wearing her night gown, standing in the front hallway, her bare feet on the carpet. Her hair is completely gray and slicked back. The child thinks of herself in her own nightgown and hair slicked back after bath time, but she can tell that the old woman hasn’t had a bath in a while. The child feels as if she is trespassing.
The old woman stands there, but only for a moment. She spoke to the young man on her black rotary dial telephone a short time ago, and asked him to knock on her door. So he does. She didn’t expect the child though, but he asks her if it’s okay and she says yes right away. He’s come and she is so grateful to him. Such a nice young man with a lovely young family.
They follow the old woman into her living room. The child sits on the couch, out of the way and remains quiet. The old woman picks up the book that is resting on the seat of the La-Z-Boy, the foam flattened where she had sat before answering the door. She places the book on the side table that is strewn with newspapers, a pair of reading glasses and a mug of something once hot. The doctor positions himself on the ottoman at the foot of the La-Z-Boy. A floor lamp stands beside the chair, casting only a small shaft of light unnoticeable from the street.
A large plastic mixing bowl sits on the floor. The old woman reaches for the bowl with the man’s help and begins to vomit into it, unable to stop. The child knows what it’s like to throw up, too. No one sees her when she’s sick except once when she threw up on her desk at school, before art class. But that time she didn’t know she was going to, it happened so quickly. She hung her head in shame as her classmates scattered away from her and yelled out “Gross”. After it happened, she sat there at her desk. Then the janitor came in carrying a bucket of sawdust to pour over her vomit. Eventually the teacher led her away to the nurse’s office so they could call her mother to come get her.
The doctor sits up close, unfazed and continues to help the old woman with the bowl, making sure nothing spills out and the child knows she could never do what he’s doing. The doctor’s genuine smile relaxes the old woman as she begins to tell her story.
She no longer notices the child as the doctor examines her. While he feels her neck for swollen glands he asks what her symptoms are and how long she has felt this way. As he looks down her throat with a tongue depressor, the child imagines a Popsicle stick without the Popsicle and knows it makes you feel as if you are choking, even though you’re not. But the old woman doesn’t mind that either.
The bowl full of vomit sits on the floor. The child’s mother would have cleaned that up right away, and the child wonders how long the bowl will sit there and if the old woman has to clean it herself, even when she doesn’t feel well.
The doctor opens his black bag, and unsnaps one of the side pockets. He takes out a vial of clear liquid and a needle. He tears the needle from the paper and plastic wrapping and inserts it into the rubber part of the vial and slowly pulls the syringe, letting the liquid wash in. The child watches as it’s administered in the old woman’s white and saggy behind. The old woman is grateful and tells the doctor so. She says a word to the child, and the child smiles appropriately.
Then the doctor and child get up and the old woman lets them out the front door, shutting herself in the darkness with only that small beam of light to keep her company. The child hopes that the old woman will be okay. Her Dad reassures her that she will be fine.