How the Light Gets In
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
It wasn't a wall.
It was a mountain, an upheaval, a blockade, a pity. And Humphry Dunford wasn't even the one who fell, but he was the one who cracked, so his was the story everyone remembered.
The one that showed up in the papers.
The one his children learned about before he ever had a chance to tell them himself.
He understood. He was, after all, in the business of assessing and delivering information. He knew how fear and pain could distort truths and turn molehills into mountains and missteps into blunders.
He wasn't used to making mistakes. As supervising radiologist in a teaching hospital, he was used to catching oversights, pointing them out, predicting them, fixing them. He was the expert, the second opinion, the clear-headed mentor with too many certificates covering every wall in his office. He was the voice that reassured his young students and colleagues when they slipped. It's okay. Everyone makes mistakes. We can piece this back together. That's why I'm here.
He hadn't expected to miss all the signs. Any signs. His wife's uneaten meals, misplaced keys, erratic sleep, accumulated dust, lost pills, empty tanks, glazed eyes. He hadn't realized the danger of always being the doctors' doctor, the last resort, the best, and, at the same time, the only resource for his own family. Hadn't computed the risk of being too busy. Too focused. Too dedicated. Distracted. Blind.
Yes, he who always expounded on the importance of attention to detail was blindsided.
There was nobody there to catch him when he toppled from his knowledge perch, just as there had been nobody there to hold his wife when she broke. Deflected. Disguised. Denied. Succumbed. Died.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
His daughter wouldn't talk to him anymore, but her last words to him echoed in the silent set of her jaw. You weren't here. You are never here.
His son wouldn't stop talking. He wanted details. Answers. Why was mom sick? Why didn't you tell us? Why didn't you see it? Why didn't she tell you? Why couldn't you fix it? Why weren't you home? Why weren't you home? Why weren't you home?
All the king's horses
His colleagues talked about everything but his wife. They made excuses for him. They encouraged him to take some time off. Then, when he started staring into the distance, they mandated therapy. They were kind about it. Discrete. Take your time. The job will be waiting for you when you are yourself again.
And all the king's men
Humphry had thought he was made of sterner stuff. And yet, he sat in the fluorescent glow of the therapist's waiting room, palms sweating, willing his heart rate to slow down. He couldn't go back to work unless he was cleared. He needed to go back to work.
The therapist's door opened.
Humphry stood. He donned the smile he used to charm wary patients and held out his hand for the kind of firm handshake that told others he was in full control.
He now knew it was all just a shell.
Couldn't put Humpty together again
"And how do you feel about all this, Mr. Dunford?" The therapist's questions rarely wavered from that starting point: how do you feel? Three sessions down, five to go. Five more hours. Five more tests to prove he could still do his job. Just five more.
"There's nothing to feel," Humphry said, modulating his voice as he did when interviewing patients, their families, his students. Authoritative. Factual. "Nothing I could have done would have changed things. I did nothing."
Humphry could handle questions. It was the silences that unnerved him.
Not when he was in control. He wielded pauses the same as he wielded his words: devastatingly. He knew a charged silence could make people spill secrets they never knew they had. But he hadn't realized how easily he might succumb to the same urge.
His old masks slipped. They no longer fit properly.
He felt things. Too many things. Real things.
"I did nothing," he repeated. And, this time, he understood.
He had so much to do.
He would start by going home.
grew up between languages and cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned three children's books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction and visual poetry. Her work was nominated for Best of the Net 2023 by Streetcake Magazine and published in journals including Star82 Review, Jellyfish Review, Red Ogre Review
and Sky Island Journal
. You can find her at @amybookwhisper1
and read more of her words at amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com