“Goddammit, Michael! You’re killing her!”
Mike looked over his shoulder. Saw the ire clearly in his wife’s eyes. “Not now!” he yelled back to her.
His daughter Lindsey looked up at him with her doe eyes. Mike brushed a few loose strands of hair away from her cheeks. Her tears had plastered them against her skin. Just leave us alone, Alice, he wished.
No good. Alice stormed into the workroom. She slapped him across the face before he could even stand. The band of her wedding ring had struck him hardest of all. No blood. Just painful stripes where her fingers had hit.
“Stop this thing right now,” Alice demanded. She held up the IV line that ended in Lindsey’s arm.
“I can’t! The procedure has already begun. Stopping it now could result in serious side effects.”
“Just doing the damned thing is resulting in serious side effects!”
Mike looked at Lindsey, sitting in the reclining chair. Her small legs were hardly long enough to stretch along its full length. The arm rests provided more than enough space for her arms. Only 6 cc’s left. The EKG showed a normal heart rate and she looked fine.
Sure, it looked scary—especially for a five year old—but Lindsey was a trooper. Mike admired that. He was already seeing the tumor decreasing. The targeted delivery drug he created was showing promise. And that was only after two administrations of the drug. But his darling better half couldn’t see past how torturous the process looked. She could only seem to see a has-been scientist working out of his beat up shed in the backyard of their house.
He just knew that he couldn’t wait around for years for the FDA to approve the drug — probably never would. All the while, little Lindsey-lai would suffer. He couldn’t stand to see her delicate skin to be so pale. Regular chemotherapy took away her hair but none of the cancerous cells. He knew he could do better by targeting just the cancer. And so far, the research seemed to be showing that to be true. I’m her father, for Christ’s sake, if I can do something to help her I should be allowed to.
He looked at the yellow and black striped serum vial. Its radioactive contents dripped into the IV line. Years of research. Wasted if Alice would have her way.
“Stop it now!” Alice repeated.
“I already told you, I can’t.”
“Then I will.” Alice reached for the hypodermic needle in Lindsey’s arm. Mike grabbed her wrist before she could get it. She struggled against his tight grip, which he only released once she stopped. He glared at her with hatred in his eyes, while Lindsey looked at her, pleading.
“Dammit Mike, will you cut with this bullshit? You never asked for my permission.”
“That decision wasn’t yours to make.”
“Despite the fact that I’m her own mother? If you’re so sure about this stupid thing, why have you been doing it behind my back?”
4 cc’s. Mike regarded her with his icy stare. “Because I was afraid you’d act like this.”
Alice’s face flushed, the way it had when she caught him using her kitchen utensils to conduct an experiment. Of course, there was a lot more at stake than the mixing blender her mother gave as a wedding present years ago. Mike knew the risks. Even Lindsey knew the risks. But in both of their minds, they were acceptable risks. Yet no matter how hard he presented his case to Alice, she wouldn’t hear it. Mike knew she could never get past the experimental part about it. If the FDA wouldn’t approve it, then why should she?
“Can we just talk about this later?” Mike asked.
“Oh, so you can continue going behind my back?”
Mike turned away to look at the vial. 2 cc’s. Suddenly the infusion pump between the vial and Lindsey had died. When he spun back around he saw Alice standing smugly next to the power switch. The key to start the machine was missing from its hole. “What are you doing?” he yelled. He bolted out of his chair to grab the key from her.
She slid to the side and avoided him, but the game of catch-me-if-you-can could only last so long in the cramped shed. Mike dodged empty vials and test tubes thrown at him. Alice had backed into a corner, where she glared at him.
“Give me the key.”
“Leave her alone.”
Back in the day, Mike and Alice used to wrestle for fun. Mostly it led to other things. Those were the days before Lindsey. Before the cancer. But the current wrestling was something far more serious. Mike made the first move, which toppled both of them to the floor. Alice followed with a bite to his arm. Mike yelled, but stayed focused on retrieving the key. With one hand he kept her face planted to the shed’s creaky wooden floorboards, while the other hand reached for hers. The moment he grabbed the key he stood. Alice spat at his feet.
“I want a divorce!” she screamed.
He walked away from Alice’s corner. Lindsey sat up in the chair to see what had happened. Her eyes lit with the same inquisitive look that he recognized in his own eyes. It was a look that said, “Maybe if I stare long enough and hard enough, I’ll figure this thing out.” And while that look had served him well, it had also led to trouble. Seeing it on his daughter felt unsettling. He smiled at her as he inserted the key back in the machine. The familiar humming sound resumed and Lindsey leaned back in the chair.
Mike saw Alice approaching him with his peripheral version. “Do you know what damage you could have done?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Daddy?” Lindsey asked. The machine and the plastic mask around her mouth muffled her words.
The EKG machine blared as her heartbeat dropped. Panic gripped Mike. She’s flat lining. He rushed to the workbench, where a syringe full of adrenaline waited. He had never wanted to use it but realized it would be necessary in an emergency. Alice had already rushed to her side, tried holding her hand, but Lindsey pushed it aside. By the time Mike returned to her the EKG resumed its normal pattern.
“You okay, sweetie?” he asked.
“I can’t take this anymore,” Alice said. Bring her back to the house when you’re done. But I don’t want you in the house at all.”
“Can we talk about this later?”
Alice slammed the shed’s door. Mike sighed and faced Lindsey. “That didn’t go over so well.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy.”
“Don’t be, Lindsey-lai. It’s not your fault.”
No cc’s left. He shut down the pump and removed the IV from her arm, placing a bandage over the wound. Finding the vein was easy enough since he only had to find the site from the last session. She sat up in the chair once more and hugged him tight.
“Thank you,” she said. “I feel better already.”
Mike brightened at this. “Really?” he asked. Her cute little nod was the cherry on top.
He performed the normal routine of tests — blood, cognition, survey — and all turned out fine. Any definitive results would occur after twenty-four hours, which meant he was done for the night. Of course, he could always go for more testing, but better to work in small steps, even despite how anxious he was to cure her. He kissed her on the forehead and told her to head back into the house.
“You’re not coming too?”
“I think it’s best if I give Mommy a little room.”
“I really do feel better. The pain doesn’t feel so bad.”
He kissed her again and escorted her out of the shed. Watching her walk across the yard in the darkness, he couldn’t help but feel that he might never see her again. Alice would take him to the cleaners in divorce court. She had plenty of evidence to use against him regarding his negligence. Savings wiped out, unethical practices, that little fling he had with the grad student before he was fired. And what did he have to show for it? A hunch that he was on the right track. Empirical proof, hopefully, that the tumor had gone into remission. He would have to hit Ernie up for one more favor to get an X-ray at the hospital. Of course, that would also mean sneaking Lindsey away from Alice.
He looked at the caution stripes on the vial. The alternating yellow and black colors reminded him of light and dark, light and dark. In the end, wasn’t that what he was? Good deeds punctuated by dark ones? I’m not a bad person, am I? Maybe so.
The shed would have to do for his lodging. If the past served as an indicator, Alice would likely have already dumped his clothes out their second story window. By morning he would find a pile sitting in the dewy grass. It broke his heart to think about the grief he’s caused for his already grieving family. He just wished Alice would see things from his point of view.
As he stretched out on the uneven floorboards, he thought about all the good times he had with Alice. A twisting, sickly feeling plagued his gut when he realized he had thrown all those moments away by breaking her trust. Of all the people, he expected Lindsey’s own mother would understand. Guess I was wrong.
A sudden terrifying scream broke out from the house. Mike bolted upright and rushed to the shed door all in one motion. More screaming and then silence. His heart raced. Was that Lindsey or Alice? Lindsey or Alice? The question kept pounding his brain as he darted across the wet grass.
Someone appeared behind the sliding glass door before he could open it. Lindsey. But something was wrong. Mike first noticed it in the dimmed look in her eyes. Next he saw the blood on her hands. He pulled on the door, but it was locked. Lindsey opened it as if she was getting ready to play outside.
“What happened?” Mike asked as he knelt next to Lindsey.
“She tried to stop you. But I stopped her.”
Mike’s heart felt like it both dropped to his feet and soared into his head at the same moment. The screaming. The blood. He looked his daughter in the eye. “Lindsey, what did you do?”
She looked away, her eyes wet.
“Answer me!” He shook her by her shoulders. When she wouldn’t reply, he pushed her aside and ran up the stairs. The whole time he kept pleading for everything to be okay. Please let this be some kind of misunderstanding. Please, God.
He only saw Alice’s legs from behind the bed, but the pool of blood soaking into the carpet told him what he needed. She was dead. Despite performing countless surgeries, he couldn’t bring himself to look at her body. He caught sight of something else on the floor. It was a kitchen knife, specifically, one of the knives from a set he bought for her last Christmas. Though the blade was covered in blood, he recognized the handle.
He descended the stairs much slower than he came up them. When he arrived at the sliding glass door downstairs, he noticed that Lindsey wasn’t where he had left her. He saw movement in the shed, so he checked in there.
Lindsey had perched atop the chair and looked at him with her curious eyes. “I think I’m ready for another treatment. Mommy messed up that last one.”
Mike stepped toward the chair, but his instinct told him to get out of the shed altogether. If Lindsey killed Alice for interrupting, what would she do if I refuse? Goddamned if she wouldn’t kill me too.
Goddamned if she wasn’t killing him just by looking at him.