I'd be lying if I said there was an enormous crack akin to a shotgun blast. In fact I got up and carried on playing. All I noticed was an increased difficulty in breathing and by the end of the game it was obvious that this was more than a general lack of physical fitness on my part.
And so I found myself in an emergency room hearing a young doctor suggest that I get a chest X-ray and realizing that for the first time since swallowing that fateful spoon, I would be the recipient of a test that would surely unmask my embarrassing silverware secret.
"You know, Dad, I think I'm feeling better. It's probably nothing,"
I said to my father, convinced that after all these years the spoon was somehow still sitting in my stomach or casually leaning into the side of my esophagus, minding its own business.
When the doctor emerged with the images, I braced for the ramifications of their peculiar and unequivocal revelation. "Well, guess what I found hidden in his chest?" I knew it. The X-ray machine was just another type of camera and I knew how a camera never lies.
"See this dark line, here. That's a crack, a fracture. Your son has broken his sternum."
I looked at the black-and-white film for myself, not at the break, but all over the image, looking for something metallic, white, and vaguely spoon shaped. But there was nothing.
It wasn't until I studied biology in school and ultimately medicine at college that I realized the stupidity of worrying over a chest X-ray. They would have had to take an X-ray of my lower abdomen.
I'm sure this is where that pesky spoon is still lurking to this day.
But let's get back to Cleo, to the two of us in our backyard, my green universe, playing endless rounds of fetch with her favorite ball.
For a while the game proceeded as expected - slimy ball, painfully short throws from an uncoordinated little pitching arm, patient soft-mouthed dog politely performing retrieval exercises. Then I noticed something long and thin and obviously amiss dangling from the base of Cleo's tail and trailing behind her. She took a time-out, intermittently squatting, straining, and dancing around as if she had a length of unshakable toilet paper stuck to her foot. She was visibly upset and unable to continue our game. If I had to put an emotional label on her behavior I would say she appeared to be embarrassed.
Concerned and curious, I ran to the house to fetch my father, insisting he come and check out Cleo.
"Look," I said, all business as I pointed toward the aberration. "There's something up her bum!"
Dad greeted Cleo with a pat to her head before shuffling around behind her, nodding his agreement.
"It's okay, son. It's one of Gran's old nylon stockings."
I was puzzled and a little upset.
"Why would Gran stick a stocking up Cleo's bum?" I asked.
"She didn't," said my father.
"Then who did?" I said.
My father hesitated, deliberated, and ultimately opted for a time-honored adult approach to my line of questioning, that is, he ignored it.
"Let's just give Cleo a few minutes in private. See if she sorts herself out."
Dad took me by the hand and we backed off, retreating several yards before he squatted down by my side and whispered, "We'll watch her from here."
"But why is it coming out of her bum?" I whispered back.
He considered me with what I would later recognize as a mixture of pride and frustration for being such a relentless little bugger when it came to my wanting to figure out the ways of the world.
"Because she swallowed it," he said, trying his best to tamp down the curt edge creeping into his voice. "Because Cleo likes to eat things she shouldn't. Things that aren't good for her. Things other than dog food. Things like Gran's underwear. But don't you worry, no matter what your Cleo eats it always comes out the other end."
Excerpted from Ever By My Side by Dr. Nick Trout. Copyright © 2011 by Dr. Nick Trout. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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