“You hate me because I have a penis?” Claude whispered the last word.

“I hate you”—Aggie was being too loud; their parents were sleeping—“because you didn’t tell me.”

“I was afraid you wouldn’t like me anymore if I told you.” Claude was whispering all his words now because it felt like any force behind his voice might come out as howling.

“That’s even worse,” said Aggie.

Claude raised his gaze from the ground finally. “Why?”

“Because you don’t trust me. I’d have loved you no matter what except you don’t trust me and you lied to me. You think I care what’s under your underpants? I don’t. You could tell me anything. But you didn’t.”

“Your mom told my mom not to.”

“We ignore practically everything my mom says.” Aggie just looked at him. “Why’d you listen this time?”

“I don’t know,” Claude admitted.

Aggie’s head went back into her room and then slipped out again. “I couldn’t hold it at night until like a year ago. I got up after we got in sleeping bags and put on a diaper every time we had a sleepover. Does that change how you feel about me?”

“No,” Claude said.

“See? I told you. I had faith in you. You should have had faith in me.”

She pulled her head back in and shut her window before Claude could consider that she’d never told Poppy until now.

Vagina Shopping

There was no real reason for it since Poppy—Claude—was self-sequestered, but Rosie stayed home those three days too. Rain thrummed the windows as if the whole house were weeping. Quilted clouds the color of dead mice sunk low enough to cap the hill. Claude cried and cried in his bedroom. How could Rosie go to work and treat other people’s children when her own was shut up in his room, refusing food or any other kind of comfort? She knew the suicide statistics, and she knew what unhappy almost-teenagers did to their bodies, and she knew that she could not protect her child if she was not there. Poppy and Claude had both chosen isolation from the world. How could their mother rejoin it?

On the morning of the third day, James called. “You have to come in tomorrow.”

“Things are still shaky here,” Rosie hedged.

“Trust me,” said James. “You have to come in tomorrow.”


“Howie. What the hell is going on over there anyway?”

“James, I have something to…” Now everyone at Poppy’s school knew, was there any reason she couldn’t tell this close friend, fellow physician, colleague, and confidant? “Never mind. I’ll be in tomorrow. Tell Yvonne she can offer my cancellations Saturday hours this weekend.”

“Good start. You okay, Ro? What’s going on?”

“Nothing. I’ll … nothing. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

On the morning of the fourth day then, she trudged up the hill. Howie met her at the door. “Let’s take a walk.”

“Oh God. Do we have to?”

“This is not a conversation we can have in reception.”

“Let me catch my breath.”

“You’re not going to be talking anyway,” said Howie. “Listen Rosie, I know you’ve got some shit going on at home. I don’t want to bust your balls. But you’re just not pulling your weight around here.”

“Howie, how am I not pulling my weight around here? I keep thirty-five appointment hours every week, same as you. I maintain emergency appointment slots and on-call hours, same as you. My patient load is full, same as yours.”

“How can you say you’re keeping thirty-five patient hours every week? You’ve cancelled all your appointments since Monday.”

“Once. One week. This week I’ve had to cancel appointments—all of which have been rescheduled, and for each of which will I carve out time. In the four years I’ve been working here, this is the first time I’ve had to reschedule more than a day’s worth of appointments. People get sick, Howie, people’s families get sick, even doctors’. That’s why we have sick leave and personal leave and family leave.”

“Is that what’s happened this week? Sick kid?”

Rosie nodded but failed to elaborate.

“Penn can’t take care of this? He doesn’t even work.”

“Howie, how my husband and I manage our family and household responsibilities is none of your business.”

“No, my business is running this practice, which I cannot do if its members don’t honor their commitments.”

“Three days in four years is hardly failing to honor my commitments.”

“Except that meeting patients is only part of your job requirements.”

“I’m a doctor, Howie. Seeing patients is my job.”

“In a hospital setting, in a large organization, maybe that’s all there is to it. But as was made clear to you when you were hired, more is expected, more is required of you in a small practice. The rest of us are meeting our patient load and taking on extra responsibilities. You’re showing up for your patients and then going home. This means the rest of us are picking up your slack. You need to contribute to the whole of this enterprise. The rest of us have families and personal lives and patients we care about too. We need team players who can share our burden.”