sat in an exam room for a long time, listening to the occasional muffled conversations behind the door. Shar’s mouth had gone dry, and she
wished she’d brought a water bottle. Even though this was supposed to
be the best hospital in the state, the room was tiny and windowless and
plain—all utility and nothing to soften the antiseptic smell, plain white
walls, and paper-covered exam table.
The doctor frowned as Shar tried to explain the situation, got out a
few vague sentences, and stopped with a shrug. Her throat had knotted
up, and she couldn’t seem to get it to loosen. She took a deep breath,
but it smelled of hospital, and she couldn’t stop seeing Lloyd lying there
barely conscious, his face yellow-white, his lips red and covered in
sores—her big, strong country boy dwindled to a measly hundred and
thirty pounds. She heard the rattle in his lungs and gripped the arms
of her chair and swallowed, staving off vomit. She looked at her daughter, and her vision shrank to pinholes. Moving her gaze to a crack in
the linoleum floor, she pinched the inside of her arm like she had when
she was watching Lloyd die and this feeling came on. It worked, and
her vision slowly came back. Her eyes focused on Jemma, who was now
holding her hand.
When she had sufficiently convinced the girl that she was fine, Jemma
answered the doctor’s questions while Shar sat there like a dried-out slug
and said nothing. Jemma outlined which symptoms had started when,
describing the way she felt most of the time and the tests she had done
up to now. She talked about symptoms Shar had no idea she’d developed—constipation, heavier menstruation, nightmares. She snapped
Shar completely out of her stupor by correcting the doctor when he
called her menstruation irregular and a common condition for someone
her age, and she said no, it was heavy, and it was not common for her.
She held a crinkled paper with notes in one hand, Shar noticed. When
had she made those?
Jemma finished the conversation by looking up at the doctor and saying that she suspected something was seriously wrong with her. Shar’s
stomach dropped. She wondered when the girl had started to think this
way and why she had never shared the feeling with Shar. Or worse, if she
had, and Shar just hadn’t been listening.
Shar walked Jemma to the basement for her MRI, sitting on a cold
metal chair in the hallway while the girl donned a gauzy top and pair of
shorts and disappeared into the room with the claustrophobic, space-age-looking machine. When Jemma finished, the tech walked her out,