Mike Fiorito’s most recent book, Call Me Guido, was published in 2019 by Ovunque Siamo Press. Call Me Guido explores three generations of an Italian-American family through the lens of the Italian song tradition. Mike’s short story collections, Hallucinating Huxley and Freud's Haberdashery Habit, were published by Alien Buddha Press. He is currently an Associate Editor for Mad Swirl Magazine.
All of the Days
"I’m taking Miles to the hospital now," my wife Martha said, her voice shaky. “It is a stomach virus?” I asked. "The doctor said that it’s possibly appendicitis," she answered. Earlier that day, when he first woke up, our six-year-old, Miles, was holding his stomach in pain and then threw up violently. But in an hour or so, before I left the house for work, he was lying on the couch playing video games. He seemed OK. But later, he started pointing to a specific place where the pain hurt most. That’s when Martha took him to the doctor. "I'm going to leave the office in a bit," I replied, while writing a note on my computer. I wasn't completely sure what appendicitis was, but I didn't think it was serious anyway. "My son's doctor says he might have appendicitis," I said to a colleague at work, after I hung up with Martha. "Has it burst? The appendix?" he asked. "I don't know," I said. At first he didn’t say anything, but then suddenly blurted, “Appendicitis can be serious." Then he whispered, "If it isn't caught in time it could be fatal." I called Martha back immediately, trying to stay calm. "I'm leaving the office now," I said. I then left everything and ran for the door. By some miracle, I rushed into the emergency room just in time to find Martha walking in the midst of a team of doctors, pushing Miles on a gurney into a triage room. Due to the utter improbability of this happening, I expected to see angels flanking the gurney. The rest of the evening felt like it was speeding furiously down an icy slope. Moaning and holding his stomach, Miles asked for drink of water. The nurse said I couldn’t give him water. “Can I wet his lips with a sponge?” I asked. Miles’ lips were parched. His eyes were wet with fear. His wild, curly blonde hair splayed out on the bed, piling up behind his head like billowing clouds. His little palms were outstretched as he leaned back. The nurse handed me a sponge on a stick; it looked like a Popsicle. I rubbed it over Miles’ lips and tongue to moisten them. I had wetted my father’s lips like this when he was dying of cancer in the hospital twenty-five years prior. Various doctors streamed in and out of the triage room, introducing themselves and shaking our hands. I didn’t want to meet or talk to anyone. We were then told that Miles would have to be hurried into surgery in an hour or so. Now rushed to another room, we met Doctor Lawrence, the main physician overseeing Miles. While my head was spinning, Doctor Lawrence spoke clearly and slowly, his large, white teeth strong and bony like ivory tusks. "His appendix has burst. We're going to remove his appendix and clean out the area around it, you see, making sure it's not infected," the doctor said. His shirt was meticulously tucked in, his slacks perfectly ironed. Doctor Lawrence spoke from a place of absolute calm as my mind swirled. While the skies of my mind raged and thundered, he was unaffected and composed. Did he say the appendix burst? I asked him a few questions: Will this be laparoscopic surgery? How long will recovery take? My thoughts were scrambled. I spoke as if under water, like my words floated across the room, drowned and muted. Doctor Lawrence gave me clear and precise answers. I found myself absent-mindedly focused on the smoothness of his skin and the delicate wrinkles around his eyes. I marveled at how well he was aging. I estimated that he was in his late 50s, only a few years older than me. I was somewhere between trusting Doctor Lawrence and wanting to be like him. “What’s going to happen?” Miles asked. I explained that the doctor would have to take out his appendix. “Will it hurt?” he asked. “You’ll be asleep. You won’t feel a thing,” I reassured him. I held his hand and stroked his hair. Miles asked if he could wear a surgical cap, like the doctors and his assistants wore. I said that we would get him a cap. For the first time, he started to whimper. “I want a cap,” he demanded, now starting to cry. “I want a cap.” He’d been so brave and calm; he was getting panicked. The distress had crept up on him, like a spider. The word surgery was ominous, even to a six-year-old. One of the assistants handed me a cap and I wrapped it around Miles’ head, tucking the soft blond curls inside. He looked a saint with a golden halo. Then his terror somewhat subsided. I could see tomorrow through his windowed eyes. I saw skies and oceans. Something miraculous was happening, like he had one foot in infinity. Then the doctors rolled his gurney away to the operating room, leaving us behind, our hands extended, as if he dropped him away on a slalom course, disappearing down the mountain. He was out of our control. Martha and I turned toward each other without speaking. We held each other, took turns sighing. Neither of us cried. I felt like running out onto the highway smack into a truck. My mind was trapped in a tumbler, as thoughts, emotions, and objects smashed into each other, like clothes in a dryer, rolling and tossing, rolling and tossing. We took a walk outside to get some air and settle our minds. The sky was large and indifferent above us, curled around the gray clouds like a black beast. My mind was folding in on itself, collapsing into a murky hole that grew smaller and smaller. Martha and I held hands and hugged. Our job was to keep it together. When we returned, the nurse at the desk directed us to an empty waiting room. “This is it?” I asked. It was the size of large closet. “He’s claustrophobic,” explained Martha. The nurse shrugged her shoulders. “The doctor will come get you when the operation is over,” she said. I squirreled into my seat and put my feet up on another chair. While Martha ate Reese’s Pieces and donuts, I had a few stale Budweiser’s, since that’s all they had at the bodega we stopped in on our walk. After what seemed like many long hours, Doctor Lawrence appeared in the waiting room. He was still wearing his surgery cap. “Everything went well,” he said, smiling. I couldn’t help noticing his perfect white elephant tusk teeth again. His voice was very reassuring. As he spoke, his eyes settled on the can of Budweiser. I felt reckless and savage. After talking for a few minutes, shaking hands, not really understanding all of the details, I got the general notion that the surgery went well and that Miles was OK. Miles would be sore, but he was expected to recover in a few days. Doctor Lawrence reached out and handed me his card. “I want you to call me, after he’s out of the hospital. I’d like to share some new therapies, new ideas with you.” The days that followed were a mixture of joy that Miles was all right and the worry that we had caught it just in time. We had all become closer as a result of the trauma. He was then released from the hospital after five days. He started sleeping in our bed as soon as we brought him home. We all needed to be together. Miles seemed to age a year or two in those few days. Weeks later, I called Doctor Lawrence to make an appointment, as he had requested. The receptionist said that Martha and I should come alone, without Miles. “So good to see you,” said Doctor Lawrence when we arrived, his white teeth baring their recognizable shine. We all exchanged handshakes. “And how is Miles?” “He’s doing well,” replied Martha, “thanks to you.” He pointed to the chairs for us to sit. “I’m so glad you’re both here,” he said, pulling out two folders with materials in them. He placed the folders on his desk. “Now, I’m going to need you to sign these confidential papers. They’re concerning some profound new research that will be of interest regarding your son. But I can’t talk about it until you sign first.” He pushed the folders toward us. We both sat back in our chairs. “Is this concerning Miles’s health?” a asked Martha. “Yes, it is,” Doctor Lawrence answered. We then both reached across the desk and signed the documents. We had no idea of what was to come next. “You see, I’ve been doing studies on children, and especially on aging,” he continued, his voice suddenly sounding deeper, more serious. “I’ve made some very interesting progress in my research, frankly. Discoveries that will radically change the world forever.” This didn’t sound like the humble doctor we’d met at the hospital. What could he be talking about? And why invite us here to tell us? He went on, “You see, with our work in genetics, coupled with new findings in cellular regeneration, we’ve made some significant advances in what makes the body grow and, more importantly, age.” I remained silent. I felt deferential to the man, even though I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. After all, he did just effectively save our son’s life. But Martha, I could tell, was annoyed, shifting around in her seat. She winced and shook her head. “Excuse me, doctor, but why are you telling us this?” she suddenly blurted out. “I mean, especially after all we’ve been through.” He stopped speaking and looked at us over the rim of his glasses. “Please excuse me,” continued Martha. “I don’t mean to be rude, but,” she paused and looked at me now, still speaking to Doctor Lawrence. “Are you trying to sell us something? Do you have special vitamins, or shots? What’s this about, really?” “Now, now, I do understand,” apologized Doctor Lawrence. His eyes looked sorrowful as he scratched his head. “This is all a lot to talk about, I agree. Maybe we should just do this another time.” “There’ll be no other time,” said Martha curtly. “I’m paying a babysitter, I’ve worked all day, and if you don’t mind, I’d rather that we not waste each other’s time.” A deafening silence followed, like a blanketed quiet after a loud car crash. She began to get up, so I stood up, too. “It’s just that, well, I wanted to offer something to you, your husband, and Miles,” he said. “OK,” said Martha. “Say it now, or I’m walking out the door.” Doctor Lawrence folded his arms across his chest and sat back. “You see, we’ve developed methods that can allow a child to, well, remain a child forever.” He handed us pictures of other children. Martha and I looked at the photos, passing them back and forth. He said, “I know, it sounds absurd. These children are twenty-six years old. They’ve been in our program for twenty years.” They each looked to be about six years old. “Look at this,” he said, and then flashed up a video from his computer onto the wall. The video showed a twenty-year stretch of a child and his parents. The voice over narration explained that the parents in the film had their child later in life. The film condensed the passage of twenty-years in a few minutes. In one scene, the child was stroking the thin, gray hair of his now old father lying sick in a hospital bed. Martha held her hand to her throat like she was losing breath. I put my arm on her shoulder, thinking that she’d lunge at Doctor Lawrence. “My research has shown that we can suspend the growth process and consequently slow aging to a crawl,” he said serenely. Finally gathering up the courage to speak, I asked, “But what does this all mean and why us?” “That’s a very good question,” said Doctor Lawrence. “The truth is, first of all, I really like you both and I really like Miles. There was something in your patience and calm that was inspiring to me.” He paused. “No doubt,” he added, “Miles reminds me of my son, who’s now in his late twenties. His manner, his quiet wisdom. Even his curly blonde hair. His innocence.” He looked down at this desk. “Even doctors are people, after all,” he added. “Why didn’t you put your own son in the program?” I asked. “Researchers aren’t allowed to recommend family members,” said Doctor Lawrence. “Are you’re saying he’d permanently stay six years old?” I continued. “Yes, he wouldn’t grow old, he wouldn’t get sick. He’d remain a six-year-old for a few hundred years.” A few hundred years. “We’d be robbing him of his life,” said Martha. “You’d be giving him more life. You’d be expanding his life.” the doctor replied. “But he wouldn’t go to his high school prom, or go to college, or go on a date?” Martha asked. “No, he would stay the same perfect little boy that he is now. Don’t you think you’ll miss holding his little hand in yours, taking care of him, putting him to sleep?” “This is ridiculous,” I huffed. “We thank you for your time …” I started to say. “But we’d have our sweet little boy to hold in our arms until we’re old people,” said Martha, her voice softening now. “We could read stories every night to put him to sleep, even when we’re old. He would wear the same little shoes, ride his little bike forever.” She looked at the wall when she spoke, like she was talking to an invisible person. “He would never lose that sweet little voice,” she said, tears now streaming down her face. Doctor Lawrence nodded his head in agreement. “Wait, wait, wait,” I said. “While this is all very fascinating, I have to say that I’m very uncomfortable with all of this.” “Of course, of course,” said Doctor Lawrence. “This is an unbelievable and difficult thing for anyone. We’ve been working with a very select group of parents. The first reaction is shock.” Now I was the one trying to leave. I reached out for Martha’s hand and pulled her up out of her chair. She wiped the wetness from her face. “Let us go home and talk about this. Let us think for a few days, maybe a few weeks, maybe more,” I said. “I just don’t know.” Shaking our hands, Doctor Lawrence agreed wholeheartedly, walking us to the door. “Take your time, think it over,” he said. Opening the door for us he added, “Please remember that this is confidential.” As we walked out into the night air, I wanted to break away, running as fast as I could. Martha and I were silent the entire drive home.