Authors: Robert J. Wiersema
Copyright © 2010 Robert J Wiersema
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Published in 2010 by Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited.
Random House Canada and colophon are registered trademarks.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Wiersema, Robert J
Bedtime story / Robert J Wiersema.
Issued also in electronic format.
PS8645.I33B42 2010 C813′.6 C2010-902043-X
For Xander, as promised
And for Cori, the heart of magic
The Child is father of the Man
ULY 4, 1976
HE COULD HEAR
Brent Corvin looked out the apartment window, craning his neck to see down the block.
Lights flashing, the ambulance manoeuvred up the narrow street, hedging its way past the parked cars, through several groups of kids headed toward the beach, carrying coolers, waving flags.
“They’re coming,” he called to Matt’s bedroom. “They’re almost here.”
“Brent.” Carol’s voice was faint.
He ran through the living room, knocking a stack of books and papers off the coffee table, not even pausing to glance at them.
The apartment was stifling, the fans just pushing the hot air around. Matt’s room was the worst. With his door always closed, the blinds always pulled, it was unbearable. Stepping inside was like walking into an oven.
“They’re coming,” he repeated. “How’s he doing?”
He could barely see his wife in the gloom. Matt’s reading lamp was smashed against the wall. It seemed more evening than afternoon.
It didn’t occur to Brent that he could reach over and flick a switch.
Carol was slumped on the floor, pressed into the corner between the bed and the wall, her arms wrapped tight around Matt. “It’s okay, honey,” she whispered, her face close to his. “The doctors are coming. You’re gonna be okay.”
She looked up at Brent, her lips split and bleeding.
“Is he …?” Brent began.
Cautiously, Carol loosened her grip on Matt. She didn’t completely relax her arms, in case he started again. Without his mother’s restraint, Matt slid back toward the bed, his eyes wide.
“Matt? Matt?” Squinting in the dimness, Brent remembered the light.
Carol flinched and closed her eyes against the sudden brightness. Matt didn’t react at all. He didn’t even blink.
Brent kneeled beside him. His son’s face was slack, expressionless. A thin string of drool escaped from his lips, trailed across his cheek.
If the boy heard his father, he gave no sign. Clad only in under-shorts, Matt was covered in goosebumps. His chest rose and fell, but he looked … Brent couldn’t bring himself to even think the word.
Only Matt’s eyes moved, flicking ceaselessly from side to side. Brent watched his green eyes for several long seconds, waiting for his son to blink.
The buzz of the intercom shattered the still of the apartment.
“The ambulance,” he said.
It had started less than fifteen minutes before.
Their Fourth of July had been quiet so far, everyone busy with their own projects as the temperature inside the apartment rose. Brent had stripped down to his cut-offs and angled the fan so it blew near him without sending his papers across the room. He had spent the morning at his desk, pressing through yet another proofread of his thesis. If not for the clattering of his calculator, his wife and son might have forgotten he was home.
He looked up from the pages and glanced at the clock when he heard Carol’s steps behind him. 12:30. Where had the morning gone?
“I brought you some lemonade,” she said, careful not to startle him.
Brent turned in his chair. “That’d be—”
She smiled at his reaction.
She was wearing cut-offs that rode high on her slim thighs, and a top that was tied off well above the belt-line. She’d pulled her hair back in a ponytail and her eyes were dancing.
Carol touched his shoulder as she passed him the glass. “You’re sticky,” she said.
She looked cool and soft and she smelled of baby powder.
He sipped his lemonade. “This is nice,” he said, unable to take his eyes off her.
“A special treat,” she said, her smile widening. “It’s not every day I’ve got both my boys home. Between teaching and your thesis, you haven’t had a day off in weeks.” She looked meaningfully at the desk, with its chaos of yellow pads and calculations. “If you call this a day off.”
“I know,” she said. “The sooner you finish, the better it is for all of us. I can’t wait to be the math professor’s wife.”
She tousled his hair, and he wondered if they could get away with sneaking into their bedroom and locking the door for a while. Probably. Matt wouldn’t even notice. Even talk of the Blue Angels doing an air show over Lake Union for the Bicentennial hadn’t been enough to tear him away from his reading.
a holiday,” Carol continued. “And I’m not going to let my boys miss out on all the fun.”
Brent laid his pencil across his thesis. It was clear from her tone that he wasn’t going to get any more work done.
“So what did you have in mind?” he asked, slipping his fingertips into one of the back pockets of her cut-offs.
She spun playfully away. “Not that. Not now, anyway. Right now we’re going to have a bite of lunch—the three of us—and then we’re going to take the cooler I’ve packed out to the lake and have a real holiday. You know, the kind with real people and real jet planes and real sunburns.” She kept a tantalizing distance, and swayed a little as she spoke. “And if you’re lucky, you might even discover that there’s a very cold six-pack tucked under the ice and the potato salad, just for you.” She danced back into arm’s reach and trailed a finger down his chest. “And if you’re really lucky—” The finger stopped tantalizingly close to the top of Brent’s cut-offs. “You might finish off the day with some fireworks.”
She moved away again, turning to say, “Wish me luck. I’m going to bring Matty some lemonade and break the bad news to him.”
“Luck,” he said, watching her walk away, the gentle, hypnotic sway of her back pockets.
He had only just turned back to straighten his desk when he heard the sound of smashing glass, and Carol’s scream.
The paramedics each carried battered red medical kits that looked like toolboxes.
“Where’s the patient?” asked the one with the shaggy blond hair and moustache.
“Through here.” Brent led them to Matthew’s bedroom. “Be careful, there’s—”
But the paramedic, who looked like a surfer just past his prime, was already kicking broken glass out of their way. Brent followed the second paramedic, whose close-cropped hair made him look older, like something off a military recruiting poster.
By the time they reached the bedroom, the surfer was lifting Matt away from Carol. The boy’s body drooped in the man’s arms, limp and somehow empty.
He laid Matt on the bed and opened his kit.
“Can you tell me what happened?” the older medic asked, pressing his fingers against the artery in Matt’s neck.
“I came into the bedroom,” Carol said, standing up uneasily. “I was bringing him some lemonade.”
The older medic was listening to Matt’s chest with a stethoscope while the younger wrote on a clipboard.
Carol’s face was flushed, wet with sweat and tears. Her hair had come out of its ponytail and was messy and sticking to her skin. Wherever Brent could see bare flesh, there were red marks where Matt had hit her.
“Was he in distress when you came into the room?” the older medic asked.
Carol took a moment to answer. “Yes. Yes, he was lying on his bed, and he was … he was kicking and his arms were …” She struggled for the words. “His whole body was jerking.”
Brent had raced to the bedroom after hearing Carol scream. At first he assumed something was wrong with her—with the broken glass and
the puddle of spilled lemonade on the floor, she might have cut herself or slipped.
But she was kneeling against the bed, leaning over Matt, trying to hold him. His body was jerking and flailing, snapping like a fish on a line, his head tossing uncontrollably, his arms sweeping in every direction. As Brent watched, one fist slammed across his bedside table, shattering the lamp against the wall. A sound, halfway between a grunt and a scream, was coming from deep in his throat.
Carol was clutching him desperately, her face white. “Call an ambulance,” she screamed, as their son rolled off the bed and pulled them both to the floor.
“Has he ever had a seizure before?” the older medic asked.
Carol shook her head. “No.”
Brent tried to look around the clean-cut medic’s back, to see what he was doing.
“Is there a family history of epilepsy or other seizure disorders?”
“Not that I know of,” she said.
Carol stepped toward Brent and he wrapped his arms around her shoulders.
The younger medic wrote on his clipboard. “Might be the heat. Was he exerting himself today? Any sports?”
Brent shook his head. “No, he’s been in here all morning.”
The medic looked up at him as if to ask what sort of thirteen-year-old boy spends the Bicentennial inside with his parents rather than out with his friends. Brent had been asking himself similar questions since school ended a week ago.
“He was reading.” Brent felt compelled to explain, even if he didn’t understand it himself. He gestured at the book splayed open in the fragments of the shattered lamp.
“His pupils are non-reactive,” the older medic said. “But they are moving.”
“Tracking?” asked the other.
He passed an extended finger slowly in front of Matt’s eyes. “No. No tracking.”
The medic made a note.
“Is that …?” Carol struggled again to find the words. “Is that strange?”
“No reaction to noxious stimulate,” the medic said, as if he hadn’t heard her.
“What does that mean?” Carol asked.
“Weird,” the younger medic said, jotting a note.
“What does that mean?” Carol asked again, stepping toward the bed.
The medic looked up at her, his expression fixed and stern at first. Then, taking in the fear on her face, he seemed to relax.
“We don’t know, Mrs.…”
“Mrs. Corvin. It’s not clear what’s going on, what’s happened to your son.” He glanced over at the younger medic, who then slipped out of the room. “He’ll grab the stretcher. We’re going to take Matthew to University Hospital to run some tests and get him hydrated.”