Excerpt of A Better Angel by Chris Adrian
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white coat and a stethoscope and her hair done up in a smart bun,
I asked her why she hadnt warned me about the wasps. "Im not
that kind of angel," she said.
Though my father only ever knew a tenth of the trouble Ive been
in, I was still his least favorite child, and the last person he wanted
taking care of him when he got very ill. But every one of my sisters
was pregnant - one very much augmented and on purpose, and the
other two accidents of fate. How they celebrated the coincidence,
and then rued it when it forced them to bully me back to Florida
from San Francisco. I was in clinic when they called, and its a testament
to their power-of-three invincibility that they were able to
blow through the phone tree and the two different receptionists
who routinely deny my existence when patients try to find me.
"Papa is sick," said Charlotte.
"Hes been sick," I said, because this had been going on for a
year, and though nobody gets better from metastatic small-cell
lung cancer, hed been holding his own for months and months.
"Papa is sicker," said Christine, and Carmen added, "Much
sicker!" She is eldest and barely most pregnant.
"Hes in the hospital," said Christine. "Theres an infection."
"In his bladder," said Charlotte. There are two years between
each of them but theyve always seemed like triplets, all of them
looking the same age with their furrowed brows and disapproving
hatchet mouths, all as tall and light as I am short and dark, all
with the same blue eyes that seem just the right color to stare a
person down with. My eyes, like my fathers, are nearly black, and
Carmen says I can hide anything in them.
"A little cystitis," I said. "So what?"
"Dr. Klar says hes very ill," said Christine.
"She doesnt know if hell come out of the hospital," said
"She always says that," I said. "She never knows. Shes an
alarmist. Shes a worrier."
"You have to go!" they said all together.
"You have to go," I said. "You go if it matters so much."
"Were pregnant!" they said. And then the individual excuses:
mild preeclampsia for Charlotte and Christine and a clotty calf
for Carmen. They cant travel from New York, where they all live
within waddling distance of each other.
"People travel when theyre eight months pregnant," I said.
"People do it all the time!" Though I knew that they dont, and
now the angel was sitting on my desk and shaking her head at me.
"Youre a doctor," they said all together, as if that should settle
it, and I wanted to say Im impaired, and a pediatrician to boot. I
could have confessed it right then, to them and to the whole
world: I am an impaired physician, and then started down the yellow
brick road to rehab.
Instead I quietly hung up on them. The angel was still shaking
her head at me. She was dressed to shock, with a plastic shopping
bag on her head, in a filthy housedress, and with a dead cat
wrapped around either foot.
From A Better Angel by Chris Adrian, to be published in August by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2008 by Chris Adrian. All rights reserved.