Alan Shapiro is the author of Reel to Reel (University Of Chicago Press, 2014).
What was it like before the doctor got there? Till then, we were in the back seat of the warm dark bubble of the old Buick. We were where we'd never not been, no matter where we were. And when the doctor got there? Everything outside was in a rage of wind and sleet, we were children, brothers, safe in the back seat, for once not fighting, just listening, watching the storm. Weren't you afraid that something bad might happen? Our father held the wheel with just two fingers even though the car skidded and fishtailed and the chains clanged raggedly over ice and asphalt. Weren't you afraid at all? Dad sang for someone to fly him to the moon, to let him play among the stars, while Mom held up the lighter to another Marlboro. But when the doctor started speaking. . . The tip of the Marlboro was a bright red star. Her lips pursed and she released a ring of Saturn, which dissolved as we caught at it, as my dad sang Mars. When you realized what the doctor was saying. . . They were closer to the storm in the front seat. The high beams, weak as steam against the walled swirling, only illuminated what we couldn't see. When he described it, the tumor in the brain and what it meant. . . See, we were children. Then we weren't. Or my brother wasn't. He was driving now, he gripped the steering wheel with both hands and stared hard at the panicked wipers. What did you feel? Just sleet, the slick road, the car going way too fast, no brother beside me in the back seat, no singing father, no mother, no ring of Saturn to catch at as it floats.
Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 2002 by Alan Shapiro. All rights reserved.