Mankowski — the girl at the fence

By Mike Mankowski

Neither her parents nor her grandparents said her measles vaccination would feel like a pinch and be over with. She figured it out for herself. When she saw the needle in the nurse’s hand, she bolted for the door, but the office receptionist blocked her way until her grandfather caught up with her.

He carried her back to the observation room and told her it would hurt like hell so she could scream if she wanted to, which she did, and in ways and with words he had not expected, and which left him amused and wondering from whom she had acquired them.

When they left, the staff gave them both the stink eye and the parents in the waiting room looked at them with much loathing and whispered to their gloomy children that their own upcoming session with the nurse wouldn’t hurt, so there would be no need to yell or to use “those kinds of words.”

Back home her mother asked how her visit to the doctor had gone. Her grandfather said it was routine, a quick in-and-out. “Neither of us merited a sticker,” he said, “so we went for a chocolate chip cookie and a healthy smoothie at The Wild Green What-cha-ma-call-it eatery down the street to reward ourselves.”

The girl’s job, if asked, was to roll up her sleeve and show her mother the needle mark. Her grandfather would do all the talking. He promised not to say anything about her botched attempt to escape from the doctor’s office nor the language she had used while being vaccinated. That was their agreement.

Three days earlier, she had been standing against the chain link fence surrounding her school’s playground. As she watched, a beefy workman was lifting a manhole cover in the middle of the street when a speeding motorist almost hit him. He cursed the driver so loudly and with such intensity that the girl instinctively curled her fingers around the links of the fence and stared at him. Then she repeated as loudly as she could what she had heard him shout and waved to him. He turned to look at her, shook his head, and muttered, “I’m just trying to stay alive out here, Sweet Pea,” and tried again to lift the manhole cover.

Later that same day, an older boy in the school yard kicked a soccer ball, narrowly missing her head. She shouted at him what she remembered the man saying to the speeding motorist, yelling just as forcefully as the workman had yelled, so that the boy stopped running after the ball, turned and ran to a teacher’s assistant standing out of earshot in the schoolyard. The assistant listened to what the boy told her. She stared for several seconds at the young girl standing near the fence, then entered the school, turning to look at the girl one more time.

During supper that evening her father asked what she had done that day and she answered she had gone to the doctor with her grandfather to get a “vaccinatia” and afterwards had a chocolate chip cookie, which she was unable to finish and still had in her pocket. He asked her if the vaccination had hurt and she said, “Yes, it hurt a helluva lot,” and showed him the needle mark on her arm.

“Wow, that’s a big one,” he said. “I can see why it hurt so much.”

After she had gone to bed and was confident the house was quiet, she climbed out of bed and arranged all of her stuffed animals side by side on her bed. Then she pulled out her doctor’s kit from under her bed and assembled the plastic syringe.

“This will keep the measles away while you are sleeping,” she said. “It will help you grow strong and tall and help you run faster. But if it hurts, yell this at the needle as loud as you can,” and she whispered something in the ear of each animal before pressing the syringe against each one’s shoulder.

Afterwards she gave each animal a piece of the chocolate chip cookie she was unable to finish, put away her doctor’s kit and crawled back into bed. Within minutes she was asleep with all her animals, except for the elephant, whose sore shoulder kept it awake until midnight.

Mike Mankowski is a Glebe granddad.

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