“For the love of God, Brian, why can’t you just get out of the flaming car?” Doreen put her hands on her hips and glared at Brian. She didn’t understand. No one did. Not really.
“It burns.” The words sounded stronger than he anticipated, growing wings and roaring into life as they left his mouth, like wet-winged bats escaping a cave.
Doreen sighed and looked at the sky. Perhaps she felt the fear too. Her brave face, a necessity in a mother’s armory. “God, give me strength.”
She said it quietly, but God seemed to hear, and she smiled, glistening peggy teeth, the bats held captive in the darkness.
“Why can’t you get out, Brian?” She edged closer. Brian slunk into the shadows.
His coat unconscious on the seat beside him, unaware of its terminal affliction. The unperceivable but lethal pinhole through the left breast, resulting in its demise. Brian smiled at the irony. A support group name badge, the ultimate foe.
“The name badge.” The bats flocked to freedom and then exploded in the sunlight.
Doreen didn’t seem to notice the bats exploding beside her, or pretended not to at least. She was looking at his coat.
“You’re worried about the holes from the name badge?”
Brian stiffened in his seat. Understanding was a volatile gift. Bats wriggled behind her teeth.
“Here, put on your coat and you can use my umbrella while we walk in. That’ll stop any sunlight.” Doreen fished in her handbag.
Brian eyed the kindness warily. Understanding and kindness, the quinella of anguish.
Doreen dangled the black umbrella.
“The doctor’s waiting, we don’t want to be late.” Doreen smiled, pieces of flapping bat wing wedged in her teeth.
The lure of the doctor prodded Brian into action. He shuffled into his lifeless coat, writhing and squirming with the cold dead fabric in an elaborate dance, avoiding the slice of sunlight blistering through the side window.
Doreen popped the umbrella, spraying a shower of bats into the awaiting sunlight.
“Will this doctor hold the cure?” Brian tried to ask, but the words were drowned by a torrent of bats erupting from his mouth. He snapped his lips closed.
He checked his coat for any signs of life and shuffled into the flimsy protection of the umbrella.
Together they traversed the carpark, Doreen walking easily in the sunlight, her dress licking her calves as she walked. Brian labored under the weight of the sun, the roar of his skin as it blistered and wafted into floating tendrils, forcing him to stagger.
“It’s a lady doctor this time,” Doreen said.
Brian puffed out a bat.
“I think she’ll change your meds.” She chatted so easily in the sunlight.
“For the sun allergy?” He yelled, so she could hear him over the roaring.
Doreen stopped. Perhaps she was talking with God again. Brian staggered forward.
“Well, it should help with that, yes.” God seemed to have an answer.
Inside they climbed the stairs, the roaring subsiding and leaving a trail of bats in their wake. Brian swatted the smoke drifting off his arms, shooing it away, patting down the hot embers lest a fire commence. The people of the waiting room looked on in amazement. A sun allergy was indeed something to behold. He roared a cloud of bats and grinned. Beside him, Doreen sighed.
As the door opened, Brian felt the hope rise. Yet this doctor’s office held the same obligatory box of tissues, soothing prints, and casually placed chairs around an indestructible coffee table. A pile of bats splattered to the floor, landing next to his abandoned hope.
And then he saw her.
She sat with sunlight streaming through her hair, weaving and dancing through the golden strands, creating an exquisite halo.
“Nice to meet you, Brian,” she said, butterflies meandering from her mouth, fluttering out the window.
“Hi,” Brian said. He watched the bat flap towards her, she watched it too. It entered her circle of sunlight. Brian braced himself for the explosion. It carried on towards the window, each flap shifting its blackness to color, losing its batness and finding radiance.
“Tell me about what you see there, Brian,” she said, a shimmer of butterflies dancing about her head.
Brian looked at Doreen. She smiled and nodded.
“Bats,” Brian said carefully. The doctor nodded.
“And butterflies.” She nodded again. Brian loved being right. He grinned a wide mouth toothy grin, letting a cloud of bats escape.
They flapped into her light and shifted into butterflies.
They talked some more, Brian watching the bats change into butterflies and go to their freedom out the window. Bat after bat, cured, enhanced even, if a butterfly was greater than a bat.
He stood. “I see the cure now.” He laid his coat on his chair.
“Tell me more about the cure,” the doctor said, ready to take notes. Brian smiled. She wouldn’t need notes, he could show her.
Doreen also stood. Sometimes the mother’s armory includes intuition. The doctor leaned back in her chair and put her hands behind her head.
Doreen edged closer. Brian closed his eyes. He drew a deep breath, then charged, roaring every bat of his existence. Doreen grabbed but came up short, her hands clutching fistfuls of bats.
Brian surged forward, the bats flapping and wet, sucked along in his wake. Behind him, he heard the doctor knock something off her desk.
He burst into the sunlight streaming through the window, bats popped and squelched around him but he pressed on. Two strides. One stride. Then crash.
The window exploded, and he shot out into the sunlight, flying as his bats became butterflies. The sun blistered his bare skin, ash and smoke leaching off his skin.
He burned. He roared. A baptism of fire. Bats and butterflies his saviors. Transformation was painful. Sometimes it was worth it.
He heard screaming.
He opened his eyes.
He saw the ground.
The beeping roused Brian, and he opened his eyes.
“Hi there.” The nurse smiled at him. “Welcome back.”
Brian pushed himself up on the bed, but a searing pain that seemed to emanate from his entire body forced him to lie back down.
“Bloody hell, what happened?”
“You jumped out a window. Lie still, I’ll call the doctor in now you’re awake.” The nurse fiddled with a button and the machine stopped beeping. “There’s a fair bit of damage, but you’re really pretty lucky.”
“I don’t feel lucky.” He swallowed, his mouth dry and thick.
The nurse held his gaze. “We’ve upped your meds. We did bloods, it was clear you’d been off them for a while.”
“I don’t like the side effects,” he said, blinking back tears.
“You went off your meds and jumped out a window. How do the side effects compare with that?”
“It says on the box to avoid too much sunlight.” Brian closed his eyes and let the sunshine streaming through the window warm his face. She made a fair point.
The curtain peeled back and his mother bustled into the room.
“Oh Brian, you’re awake.” Doreen rested her hand on his arm, her gaze searching his, asking the ultimate question. Had they found the cure?
He lay in the sun, enjoying its warmth, watching the butterflies flit between the flowers in the garden. Bats hung in the branches of the trees, sleeping with their wings snuggled around their bodies. Yes, cured indeed.