Friday, November 16, 2007


They came to the surface in bright red blotches, some the size of a fist, and in all the worst places--groin, armpits, nape of the neck, scalp. They erupted on the inside of the bottom lip, pushing the flesh forward into a collagen pout, Hollywood style.

Waiting in the emergency room lounge, she wondered if other people could see her hives ballooning under her clothes, like she could see the raw wound on the ankle of the man next to her. Yet most patients avoided eye contact, staring straight ahead into the middle distance or up at the wall-mounted television. They weren't looking at anything really, just waiting in silence for their turn with a doctor.

A few days later, the antihistamines and steroids had cleared up the hives, and the first round of allergy tests had revealed nothing. So, equipped with a bag full of EpiPens, she headed to the airport for the business trip to Texas, balancing her fears of another outbreak against the perky optimism of her sister.

"It's a one-off thing," her sister had said. "It'll never happen again. You're fine."

On the flight, half empty, the passengers sat quietly, many of them still groggy from the early morning departure. She greeted the travelers on either side, falling into conversation with the man in the window seat to her left. His accent marked him as a Southerner, Texan she assumed, although he quickly set her straight.

"Morgan City, Louisiana," he said. "But I'm going to Trinidad." In the oil business, he clarified, building platforms. Six weeks on, two weeks off.

He had left his wife up north with their son at the big university hospital there. "A blood disorder," he said. "We've been tracking him for six years now. It was finally time for the bone marrow transplant this summer. But I don't know. His white count keeps going down...." His voice trailed off as he looked down at the seat cushion separating them, a sort of no-man's land where answers might lie.

She offered a few words of sympathy, wondering if he could see in her, and in her words, the knowledge of sorrow she carried too. He turned toward the window and she to her book thinking that, maybe like the patients in the emergency room, we most of us carry our wounds outside of plain view, and only through chance, or magical X-ray vision, do they come into view. Or maybe they're always there, bulging at the surface like red, angry hives. It's just that we're staring so hard into the middle distance that we safely avoid them.

"I wish the best for your son," she said to the man as they walked off the plane. He nodded. " 'Preciate that," he said, as they headed their separate ways, she to the shuttle that would take her to her downtown hotel, he to the far end of the airport for the long flight to an oil platform in the middle of the sea.