The Sentence

“Why won’t it die?”

The thought fluttered by like a memory of something once said by a missing character in a remote drama. Although she was almost falling asleep from exhaustion, she shivered. And never did her heart rest again.

She remembered how she once looked with pleasure and pride at the rosy cheeks of her youngest one, sleeping the deep slumber of babies who had been wanted. She could also recall the gurgling laugh, the busy hands and the curious eyes of the little boy, so beloved until...

He wouldn’t sit at the age other babies sit. He choked. He couldn’t breathe, nor hold a rattle.

Life at home turned upside down. Doctors contradicted themselves, exams came in late, calendars were filled with physiotherapy, appointments with specialists, and hospital stays.

She didn’t understand the name of the progressive chronic disease. All she knew was that her son would get worse, that there was no cure and that it wasn’t contagious to his siblings, but that it would require constant care.

Submerged in her pain, she failed to notice that weeks turned into months, then turned into years. Now a full-time nurse, she left her job, gave up the benefits of working and dropped out of graduate school. She avoided her friends and told her relatives to not come visit, as someone from the outside might bring in a lethal virus to her little sick man.

The older children got hurried kisses and distracted glances. From the early days of the disease, the father took the other kids to school, picked them up and, on the weekends, whisked them away for soccer games. And one afternoon, when the youngest was in the hospital, she came back to an empty house. The husband had filed for divorce and custody of the older children, with full support from the in-laws.

From the cold bed to the silent hallways, she wasted away among diapers, feedings, medications and inhalers.

And then, the neighbor boy, who had Down syndrome, died on the way to the hospital. His mother had missed doses of his meds, busy with deliveries of homemade yogurt and laundry. In a year, she had seen a pediatrician only once and had refused to hear that her son was not only different, but might also have heart problems, even though she had noticed his bloated face and difficulty in breathing.

That night she learned, from talking to pediatrician friends, that some doctors believe most accidental deaths of children with disabilities are unconsciously desired homicides.

Forgetting the bathtub faucet on, the handle of the boiling water pan sticking out from the stove, leaving out prescription medication in easily accessible places… accidents like these free the parents from a heavy burden. According to those doctors, the death of the boy with Down syndrome had been murder, unconsciously desired by his neglectful mother.

She had listened, terrified, but disagreeing. After all, a mother’s heart will never stop suffering for her children! Isn’t that always how it goes?

That night, bent over the sleeping little face of her own son, the thought barely sneaked by:

“Why won’t it die?”

Oh, how did she want her life back—her work, her dissertation, her fun, her time for herself, her friends, her husband.

When she was a girl, her catechism teacher once read in class these cruel and definitive words from the Bible:

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

She listened to the priest’s explanation, angry at how hard it was to be good. She ranted:

“So, Father, when we think about lying but tell the truth and when a person thinks about stealing but doesn’t: even if we end up doing the right thing, is that worth nothing?”

And the priest confirmed:

“Little one, a person who has sinned in thought has already sinned in their heart.”

She made a fuss at class. So much sacrifice for nothing! Jesus was such a demanding god!

From that day forward, she ran her finger over the frosting of birthday cakes and took cookies from the jar hidden in the cupboard. Since she had already sinned anyway, why not?

Her catechism teacher used to say some weird things, stuff she’d never understood even though they were in the Bible, that book of mystery.

The anguish of the night when she thought, “why won’t it die?” did not melt into tears, but took away her sleep, her appetite, and even the joy of caring for her sick little one.

She hired two nurses to make sure that each move of hers was being monitored, such was her fear of falling asleep at a bad time, mixing up medication bottles or forgetting to put a sweater on the boy on a cold night.

Never had her little one been so well bathed, combed, perfumed and dressed. How immaculately did she keep his room! How carefully did she choose the freshest veggies and the tastiest fruit!

She wasted away every day without anyone suspecting that behind the dark under eye circles and pale face, she now understood better than anyone another of the strange sayings of her catechism teacher:

“God doesn’t punish anyone. Sin is its own punishment.”

SONIA REGINA was born in Santos, a city squeezed between the sea and the mountains, away from the continent. “Being born in an island, although isolating in a way, also opens us to the ocean, with all its possibilities of travel, discoveries, conquests and dreams.”

She was a doctor by choice and is a writer by vocation. She claims to feed on books: “My restless mind is fascinated by the world of words. My restless feet explore exotic trails and places.”

She published her first short story book, Dias de Verão [Summer Days] ]in 1997. Her second short story book É suave a noite [Sweet is the Night] came out in 2014.

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