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84 15 ~ Sam “Goodnight, Poose.” Sam leaned down to kiss her forehead. “Sit with me, Papa?” “Just a few minutes.” Anna wouldn’t approve. Sam pulled the guest room door mostly closed, letting in just a sliver of light from the hallway. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he rubbed Zoe’s back in a figure of eight pattern, the way she liked it. This was Zoe’s bedroom, her special place in his apartment, but he had learned not to name it out loud because Anna hated that. Even though Zoe was hardly a guest, and she was the only one who ever slept there. Even though whenever Anna asked if Zoe could stay over he always agreed, like tonight when Anna and Emily wanted to get on the road to Maine before daylight. Even though she slept in this bed, in this room, every other weekend and every other holiday, and sometimes more if she was sick and Anna had to work. Even though he kept the top drawer in the dresser stocked with her neatly folded t-shirts and overalls and catheterization supplies and extra Velcro for her braces. But Anna made it absolutely clear that she was the only parent whose home was allowed to have Zoe’s room. Sam couldn’t really blame her. When Zoe was born, he took one look at that shiny red bag of insides sticking out through the skin of her back, and thought he’d puke. Then he felt rotten; how could he react that way to his own kid? The whole first year he was confused, and Anna always seemed to be so damn okay. If only she’d cried just once, if only they could have cried together, maybe things would have turned out differently. Zoe’s breathing slowed and deepened. Sam smoothed the sleep-damp curls away from her forehead, trying to visualize the plastic tubing inside, shunting the extra fluid away from her brain and safely down to her belly. Emily liked to joke about him beingabumblingfather,buthepaidcloseattentiontohiskid.Especiallytohershunt. Ellen Meeropol ~ 85 When Anna brought Zoe upstairs that evening with enough paraphernalia for two weeks instead of four days, she didn’t mention anything about how Zoe was talking, but Sam noticed it right away. Zoe was quieter than usual and her speech was slower. But the big thing was the spoonerisms. When Sam started towards the guest bedroom with her duffle, Zoe followed with her backpack, steadying herself with one hand along the wall. “Sting your bricks,” he said. Anna hated that too. They’re crutches, not sticks, she insisted. Zoe didn’t even smile, didn’t turn back for the crutches. He dropped her purple duffle on the bed and tried again. “Stump your duff.” Zoe tilted her head slightly to the right, looking perplexed. “Stump your duff?” he repeated. No response. His heart forgot to beat. “Dump your stuff on the bed.” he said. She did. Her shunt. That was the thing that scared him most about spina bifida. After the ultrasound when they first found out about Zoe’s spine, Sam couldn’t talk about it. He had escaped to his mother’s apartment, to fix her broken ceiling fan. His mom talked nonstop about spina bifida. “Cousin Millie had a baby like that. Skinny, limp legs. His head was huge, and his shunt kept clogging up and getting infected and Millie would rush him to the hospital for more medicines and surgery. After each operation, he got stupider.” Mom was not one to mince words. Zoe’s shunt had failed once, when she was three. Sam had been taking care of her that night too. She had seemed okay before she went to bed. Maybe a little sad and tearful. Looking back, she had been unusually quiet that evening too, but he didn’t realize it then. In the middle of the night she started throwing up and she didn’t seem to recognize Sam at all. That was the scariest part. Luckily Anna and Emily were downstairs and came right up when he called and they all went to the hospital and sat together in the family lounge while she had the CT scan and then surgery. And she wasn’t any stupider afterwards. Still, Sam paid a lot of attention to Zoe’s shunt. Zoe mumbled something in her sleep. Sam leaned down to listen, then pulled the blankets to cover her shoulders and stood up. He...


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