New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample story from Kafka Goes To Havana

PERHAPS HER SON’S RASH on his left hand was stress related, Judita had seen a flurry of rashes this past year, year and a half. Lots of skin issues were aggravated by stress.
She’d seen it over and over again in her practice. But lately more than a few children had something going on with their skin – or so it seemed. And adults weren’t that far behind their children. Skin had always announced our worries. Rashes thrived in bad times – the death of someone close, kids failing at academics, adults losing a job, etcetera, etcetera. Anything, really. Watching the TV news could do it, daily reports on endless, far away wars, children killing teachers and other children, many, many children, an economy close to world bankruptcy, the climate shifting to extremes.
Judita was surprised people weren’t hurling themselves off buildings.
“When did you notice this?” she said, examining her son’s fingers. They were at the green Formica kitchen table. The overhead florescent light flickered. Once in awhile it buzzed and hummed. “—Franz, sweetheart? Are you listening?”
“Uh-huh, I don’t know,” the boy said. “A couple of days, I think.”
Judita Hoffmann was a GP who worked at the university medical school, a ten minute drive from their home. The doctor had practiced medicine for close to sixteen years. She’d a sweet face, the sort that caught the smiles of strangers. Her black hair was bobbed and done in a perm, her arms and calves a bit more fleshy than she would have liked. Judita looked up at her son. “What can I tell you, my darling? We’ll monitor and see where it goes, yes?”
“What does that mean?” Franz was twelve.
“Pay attention to it,” his mother said. The sides of her son’s fingers were enflamed and weepy – some type of rogue atopic dermatitis. What threw off her diagnosis were tiny web-like growths in the valleys between the boy’s fingers. She said, “If you see it’s getting worse, you tell me.”
“Am I going to die?”
“You?” his mother gave a little snort, something to shoo away his fear. “Oh Please. Boys like you outlive everybody.”
“Is that true?”
Judita kissed his forehead. “Mostly, yes, my love,” she said and quickly put a fingertip to his lips to quiet any protest. Nowadays the rules were changing too fast. A rash wasn’t simply a rash, anymore. No reported deaths, thank God, not yet. But there were complications, nothing her boy needed to know. “People don’t die from what you’ve got,” she said. “There’s medicine, ointments, pills, a little something for everyone. Just don’t scratch.”
“You promise, right?”
Judita hesitated. Knew she’d hesitated; knew he’d get anxious because she hesitated. It was that terrible word – promise. She never knew what to do with it. Parents and doctors ought not to say what they didn’t know. Surely a simple rash wasn’t a crisis. It wasn’t a cancer or the black death. What could a person tell a patient, one’s child? More than once she’d imagined her son on his death bed saying, “– But you promised.”
Franz was watching her now with a look that wanted a guarantee. “Mama? You promise I’ll be okay?”
“As much as any person can, honey.”