I slowly woke to the smell of food cooking, and I had never smelled food such as this. The porridge we normally ate in the mornings didn’t have much of a food smell; it was more like paste. The smells that came through the door here, however, were fantastic. I had no idea what they were, but I was happy to lie in a soft bed with warm blankets and just imagine eating whatever it was. My stomach growled as images of me sitting at a big table with food surrounding me flew through my mind. I knew that someone like me would never be invited to join in the meal with whomever was eating it, though, so I contented myself with enjoying the smells. As I lay there, my thoughts went back to the previous evening. I remembered clearly my father's tirade, but there was a foggy patch of memory from the time he asked about the flower to waking up in this place. I still was not entirely sure where this place was, but I remembered the man who called himself Doctor Clark.
He was about the same age as my father; my guess would be about forty years old. His graying hair made him look distinguished, even though it had been disheveled when I saw it the night before. When he touched me earlier, his hands had been soft and gentle, almost like my mother's. I didn’t know that a man's hands could feel like that. My father's hands were rough and callused due to the physical nature of the work he did when he could find it. The most amazing thing about the doctor, though, was his voice. When he spoke to me, I felt as if an angel was in the room. The sounds that reached my ears were smooth, quiet, and deep, without any of the harsh, grating noises I was used to hearing from my father. I suddenly longed to hear the doctor's voice again, if only to reassure myself that I had not imagined it.
As this last thought ran through my head, the door opened, and the lady from the night before—Nurse Williams—came in with a tray balanced across her hands. From my position on the bed, I could see two glasses, one full of an orange liquid and the other, milk. There was also a towel covering what looked to be a plate. The same smells from before came from the tray, and I wondered why she was going to eat her breakfast in front of me. It seemed a little cruel. She placed the tray on the small table next to the bed and gently helped me sit up. As I did so, there was a sharp pain in my head and my ribs, but it was short-lived, and I settled in as the nurse propped me up with pillows. My eyes widened in surprise when she laid the tray on my lap and removed the towel covering the plate.
I had never seen this much food in one place before and certainly not in front of me. The plate held meat, which I had only tried once before, and eggs and toasted bread, and there was a small bowl full of jam set to the side. I had seen my father eat jam, but I had never tried it myself. The aroma of the food made my stomach growl again, and I had to reach up and wipe away a small line of drool that escaped my mouth. I kept my other hand in my lap as I turned to Nurse Williams.
“Is this all for me?” I asked her timidly. I immediately regretted speaking, and I cringed and closed my eyes as I braced myself for the blow I knew was coming.
After a few moments, when the expected strike didn’t come, I dared to peek out at the nurse. She had a look of confusion on her face, which gave me the courage to open my eyes fully.
“Of course it is for you,” she said, the confusion evident in her voice. “Why would you think otherwise?”
“Well,” I said, as I straightened again, suppressing another grimace, “I have never had this much food before, or this kind of food, for that matter.”
“What do you normally eat, then?”
“Porridge, usually. When my father has a good day at work, sometimes my mother is able to make soup, but that doesn’t happen very often.” I tried to be polite and focus on what I was saying, but the smells coming from the tray were very distracting.
“Oh.” The perplexed look on her face began to fade, but then returned as she continued, “Why did you flinch like that?”
My cheeks flushed. “My father does not like it when I talk to him. He says I have no right to ask for anything.”
Nurse Williams' expression swiftly changed to one of outrage. “What? That is ridiculous! Why would he say such a thing?”
“Because of the way I look, of course,” I said matter-of-factly. “He says that someone with a face as hideous as mine should be grateful for every scrap people give me. My mother tells me not to believe him, but I know she is simply blinded by a mother's love.” As I was talking, my gaze kept flicking back and forth between the nurse's face and the tray on my lap. I dared a solid look at her, the unspoken question evident in my eyes.
She looked as if she wanted to say more, but when she saw my look, she smiled and said, “Well, we will talk more about this later. Now, you should eat; I will leave you to it.” She turned and left the room, quietly shutting the door behind her.
After she was gone, my attention turned once again to the feast before me. I truly had no idea where to start. My throat was dry, so I picked up the orange drink and took a tiny sip. The sensations that hit my mouth were overwhelming. I didn’t think that anything could taste so good. I closed my eyes and savored the flavor on my tongue, and when it finally trickled down my throat, I opened my eyes and took another sip. I put the glass back on the tray and picked up the fork lying by the plate. I turned it over in my hands, and awkwardly held it as I had seen my father do. I had never used a fork or spoon myself, but I mimicked what I had seen and carefully picked up a piece of the egg on the fork. I slowly transferred it to my mouth and took my first bite. We used to have eggs on a regular basis, but it had been years since our last chicken died, and I didn’t remember what they tasted like. My mind reeled as it tried to process the experience.
I spent the next half hour enjoying the meal that was before me. At first, I was tempted to eat it all quickly, for I was starving, and it smelled and tasted so good, but then I decided to make it last as long as possible since I had no idea when I would eat like this again. As the last drop of milk traveled from the glass into my mouth, the door of the room opened. I set the glass back on the tray as Doctor Clark entered.
“So,” he said with a smile as he gestured toward the empty tray, “I see you enjoyed your breakfast.”
“Oh, yes, sir. It was wonderful.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it, my boy,” he replied as he approached the bed. He took the tray off of my lap and set it on the table. “You looked like you could use a decent meal.”
The doctor pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and began to examine me. First he checked my eyes, and then he gently removed the bandages covering my temple and cheek. He seemed satisfied with what he saw, because he replaced them and then looked at me.
“How are you feeling today, Erik?”
“Much better, sir. My head still hurts a little, but it will be all right.” My ribs were aching, also, but that was not unusual, so I didn’t see any reason to mention it.
“Yes, I'm sure it will,” he said with a smile. Then his expression became serious. “Erik,” he said, after a slight hesitation, “do you remember what happened last night?”
Immediately, my stomach clenched, and I thought for a moment that the delicious food I had just eaten would be coming right back up. I swallowed hard, though, and the food stayed where it belonged. I wracked my brain trying to think of what to tell the doctor. I knew that if I told him the truth, my father would be furious, but I also knew that to lie would make my mother very disappointed in me. She said that only weak men lie and to always be strong and tell the truth. As the doctor looked at me expectantly, I suddenly knew what to say that would not enrage my father nor cause me to lie.
“Well,” I began, “I remember that my father was asking me questions about a flower I had gotten for the table. He was asking me where I got it, and then I remember lying on the floor, wondering why my hair was wet and why the water was red. After that, I remember waking up here.” I simply left out the fact that my father had been holding the jar.
“Hmm,” the doctor rubbed his chin as he looked at me. “For the table, you said?”
“That is very interesting,” he replied, as he stood up. He seemed to be debating whether to say something else. He must have decided not to, for he began to walk to the door as he said, “Well, I have some things to attend to. Nurse Williams will get you anything you need; there is a bell here on the table that you can ring if you need her. I don’t want you getting out of that bed alone, do you understand?”
I nodded quickly, which was a big mistake, for as I did so, pain exploded in my head and I pitched forward. Doctor Clark rushed back over to me and held my head in his hands until the pain subsided.
“And try not to move your head too much,” he continued, a worried look in his eyes. “Remember that you have a concussion. It will take some time before you can move without pain.”
“Yes, sir,” I managed. With a deep breath that brought about another sharp pain in my ribs, I dared to ask, “Before you go, could you help me lie down again? I think I would like to sleep right now.”
“Of course, my child,” and he slid me down on the bed until I was lying flat. He pulled the covers up to my shoulders and gently brushed a strand of hair off of my forehead. “Sleep well, Erik,” he said softly, with a look of deep sorrow in his eyes. “Sleep well.”As I drifted off, I heard him move the chair back to the table, cross the room, and quietly shut the door.