Breath & Shadow
Fall 2022 - Vol. 19, Issue 4
"Wishes of Sugar or Insulin"
Hazel J. Hall
She's sitting by the fire, drawing with a pencil and crayons. Her phone (though she wishes it was a dog) whines at her side, begging for notice.
My service dog is hungry, she tells herself, flipping over to maintain the strange creature, growling and groaning. Her stomach flips as she does it, turning on the device and taking in the number at the top of the screen. It's the first time she's been aware of it for hours and yet it crashes down on her all at once. Sometimes she forgets that she's diabetic. How is she supposed to remember? She's seven.
"What's wrong, hun?" Her father asks, looking up from the brick fireplace as he sees his daughter stand, waddling, crawling, really, to the kitchen.
"Nothing," she lies, not wanting another problem on Christmas Eve. "I'm just hungry."
"Okay, dear," her father replies, turning back to the fireplace so that he can keep watching the logs as they are taken up by the hands of the flames, eaten and then spit back out, fuel until the inevitable, the last drawn out breath of ember fading away into ash.
She feels it too. She's seven, and yet there is this horrible wonder, not so much a fascination but a question burning, imprinting itself on the back of her mind, asking: how often can she go through this? How many times can she fall until she never gets back up? It's not like a skinned knee. She's at 47. To most people that means nothing. But to her, the number is a deathly morning fog before the battle, sipping on a juice box like the child she is, hoping that she is saved for tomorrow morning. It's Christmas Eve.
That's why it happened, why 47 happened. Because tomorrow is Christmas and she is excited. The adrenaline spiked her blood sugar for a while but then it came right back down. Up and down, up and down, always. Saved by the sugar that nearly killed her when she was diagnosed and then killed by the needles and shots that pulled her from that coma.
She has a juice box in her fingers now. She sips it, sitting down at the kitchen counter. There's a tall mirror that sits across from her. In it, a girl is staring at her. She looks at the glass, blinking. Now that mirror can't be a reflection; she can't look like that. That girl in the glass looks dead.
She pulls away, shaking herself from the thought as she finishes her first juice box. It's empty. So why doesn't she feel better yet?
The girl stands and nearly falls. Her center of body, off, her brain out of it as she drags herself to the fridge, looking for more, craving it inside of her. She is going to survive, she wants to. Because tomorrow is Christmas, and Santa is finally going to grant her wish.
She smiles to herself, two juice boxes in hand now.
Two juices, 30 carbs, she thinks to herself, this information nothing if not commonplace in her head, ingrained into her because it is who she is: a survivor with a storm inside of her, fighting, alone. Because as much as her father will try and bear it, it is all of the moments she spends alone in the kitchen that remind her that she is seven. That she is left alone because he isn't like her. Can never truly understand.
Because, to him, this pain is expected. It's easy; he doesn't feel it, doesn't know that she can barely walk, has bruises on her stomach, arms, and thighs. Her phone rings every night, a dog screaming her name. Her sleep is disrupted. There is always a symptom, persisting no matter what she tries. And yet, to the world, she is only seven, just a girl with dark eye bags that can't be covered.
"Time for bed!"
She looks up as her father enters the kitchen, walking in with an air of authority that makes her obey, throwing the graveyard of juice boxes into the trash. She lets out a sigh of relief as she realizes she's over 90 now. So she gets to live another day.
Christmas, she tells herself. Tomorrow is Christmas.
She lets out an excited giggle, running upstairs to her room, grabbing for a pen and paper. She writes frantically, like her life depends on it. Her script is normally slanted but today she steadies her hand, knowing that if she wants to ask Santa for a wish he needs to be able to see it, read it, to keep it.
Because this is finally it; tomorrow will be the day that her problems come to a close. Because she is asking Santa for another set of organs.
The girl leaves the paper note on her nightstand, crawling into bed as she eagerly waits for sleep to come.
It's 11 P.M. when rest finally graces her tired eyes. She falls into a deep sleep, dreaming of growing wings and flying away. A seven-year-old fairy. She rules the world.
At 12 P.M., the girl's bedroom door opens. A man walks in, making sure the girl is completely asleep before he looks at her nightstand, reading her note once, twice, and then again.
Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is a new pancreas.
He sits down on the bed, something inside of him breaking as he watches her face, with each muscle relaxed now. He brushes back her hair, leaving a gentle kiss on her forehead before turning to the paper, adding an appendage to the bottom. He leaves the room by gracing her with an entire stack of her favorite apple juice boxes.
When morning finally comes, the girl wakes to sunlight streaming through her bedroom windows. She's disappointed; she had been hoping to see an operating room and doctors! So, frantically, she reaches for the note on her dresser, reading it once, twice, and then again.
But you are perfect now.
Hazel J. Hall (she/they) is an eighteen-year-old disabled-queer writer based in rural New Hampshire. Right now, she is pursuing an English degree while working on her first novel. More of Hazel's work can be found in Wishbone Words, Overtly Lit, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly, with other pieces forthcoming or visible at their site, hazeljhall.com.