Doctor Cross

The girl is eight years old. Her arm and shoulder are tightly wrapped in antiseptic bandages, and one of her eyes is similarly covered. She looks up and sees a small man with a black hair and bushy beard. His skin is dark, but not black. He grins, showing her very white teeth. “Lily?” he asks. His voice is warm, and rich, like hot cocoa on a winter morning.

Lily nods. The bearded man smiles, and glances up at the woman sitting by her. “Lily, my name is Dr. Cross. I work here. Listen, your mother has some paperwork to fill out. She’s trying to apply for financial aid, so we can afford to make you better.”

Lily nods again. The words are familiar. She doesn’t really grasp it all, but in the miniature cosmos that spins inside her head, there’s an internal consistency. I can’t get better until mom and the hospital are done exchanging papers with each other, and then mom’s gonna go back to telling me we can’t afford stuff. And she says it’s not my fault, but I’m the one who’s sick. He has a weird accent, thinks Lily.

The bearded man, Dr. Cross, just smiles. Her mother gets up, crosses the room to the counter. “Lily, I’m a real doctor. But nobody’s paying me to treat you, so I’m not. I’m just talking to you.” He runs a hand across the bandages on her arm. “Do you want to be well?”

Lily nods rapidly. The doctor watches her head bob. “And you want your mom to be happy, don’t you.” And Lily nods again. Tears start to well up in her eyes, because it feels like this man knows just what she’s thinking.

“Then have faith.” He takes her hand, the bandaged one, and pats it gently. And as he does, Lily feels something changing. It’s less painful. “It’ll be sore for awhile,” the doctor murmurs. “Give it some rest and exercise it every day. And eat healthy. Fresh vegetables, no McDonald’s, okay?”

He gets up and walks away. Carefully Lily unwraps the bandages. She was told never, ever to do this. But she has faith. And underneath, where the red and the black used to be, where the bacteria were eating her alive, is healthy pinkish skin.