The Count
    Don Papoknowles

After the flash, I used to count until I heard the thunder, like my father taught me. That was back when he and I sat on the dock after a day of fishing and watched streaks of light fall into the river. They looked like the veins of God, filled with something more powerful and horrifying than our blood. We counted: one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. And so on. Each count meant lightening was one quarter of a mile away. If you couldn't make it to one, then you were probably hit.

My father, dead five years now, would probably say my wife had been counting too long. She began two years ago when our boy missed a few benchmarks laid out in one of those child-raising books. But the thunder never came. "This is ridiculous, Margaret, all this worry about a boy because he's a little different," I said, raising my palm to stop her talk. "I'm going to get it straight. Alone. Just me and him." I set up the meetings, ordered the tests, and arranged a day off to drive him to New York.

The room had one long rectangular table, six plastic chairs and walls the color of Swiss cheese. Dr. Lessor sat at the far end of the table. Two women, one older and round, the other young and angled, sat on either side. The round one's name was Dr. something something -stein, the other, Dr. something something -isher. One of them told me to let go of my boy. I did.

I started to count. On one thousand. Two one thousand.

He insisted upon bringing those cars--thirty matchbook cars in a large plastic bag. He dumped them on the table, the way four-year-olds do. They clanged into each other then settled into a metallic melange in front of him. "Just let him continue," said the skinny woman.

He separated all the cars into colors. Three one thousand, four one thousand.

"Could you simply direct your attention towards us? We have some basic questions we need answered first," said Dr Lessor. I looked at his sad eyes shaded by bushy eyebrows.

I bent over to pick up a car off the floor. Five one thousand, six one thousand.

"Let him do that," said the old woman. He lined up the cars in a progressive order, from the brightest color to the darkest. He pushed the older woman's hand away so his line of cars could extend beyond her seat.

"It's OK. Let him continue," said the skinny woman.

They all stared at the cars. Seven one thousand, eight one thousand.

The line looked like a traffic jam in LA. The distance between the miniature toy cars looked the same from beginning to end. Like colors were clustered together in perfect symmetry. The small traffic jam was the same distance from the edge of the table all the way down its length.

The old woman wrote something on her pad. The skinny one looked at Dr. Lessor.

The line fell short of the end of the table, by what looked like two car lengths. "Caw. Nudder caw," he said. He grabbed the plastic bag, turned it upside down, shook it a few times, then stuck his hand inside. He screamed, "Caw. Nudder caw!" I stood up.
Nine one thousand ten one thousand.

"It's OK. Let us see this," said Dr. Lessor. My boy's face was now blood red, his hands tight balls. He started beating the table. I grabbed his hand.

"Please go back to your seat. It's OK. Is this his usual behavior?" said the skinny manic-looking bitch.

"Just let go of him. We have not even begun questions yet. Perhaps we should take him to the playroom," said the fat old woman. My boy's screams filled the room, "Caw, caw, caw!" He jumped up and down, slapping his head with both hands. They all took notes.
Eleven one thousand, twelve one thousand.

"I think I've seen enough. Let's you and I go into my office and chat," said the sad doctor. He looked over at one of the women, I don't recall which one. "Why don't you take him to the playroom. He can bring his cars."

When the thunder started, its rumble shook something loose inside me, something that made me realize all my counting, all my wife's counting, represented time wasted, not distance from danger. God's horrifying veins had not fallen out there, but right here in the middle of all of us.

Don Papoknowles writes at night and works with disabled children and troubled families during the day. This is his first internet publication.

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