“But the birds were his friends?” Rosie asked hopefully, sleepily. “He had long, deep, middle-of-the-night chats with the mice who were his bosom companions?”

“This is a fairy tale, Rosie. A real one, not a Disney one. The mice can’t talk. The birds seemed to mock him by being so much more free than he was. He had friends from school, sure—he was SGA president, of course, and met a lot of kids that way. Plus Mathletes—but no one who really understood him. Until he looked in the suit of armor.”

“What suit of armor?”

“The one in the hall outside his room.”

“Did you tell me about that before?”

“I did. Pay attention.”

“I was paying attention. I was falling asleep because you said it was a bedtime story. If I’d known it was a fairy tale with hidden information, I’d have tried harder to keep my eyes open.”

“It wasn’t hidden information. I told you: roofline like teeth, sticks with balls on the end, suit of armor in the hall, cleans his own bathroom. The whole story’s right there. That’s all you need to know.”

“What was in the suit of armor?” She had her hands pressed together underneath her cheek like a little girl going to sleep on a greeting card, smiling at him sleepily and trying, failing, to keep her eyes open.

Penn reached out and smoothed her hair, her forehead. “I’ll tell you the rest of the story in the morning.”

“Is this just a ploy to keep me here?”

“You live here.”

“Like Scheherazade?”

“Scheherazade lives here?”

“Don’t forget where you are in the story,” Rosie said just as she was falling finally asleep. “When we wake up, I want to pick up right where we left off.”

When they woke up, however, they picked up somewhere else.

“Last we discussed the matter,” Penn reminded her helpfully, “you said ‘we’ll see.’”

“Well, let’s see then,” she said.


It was one of the enduring ironies of their relationship how well the residency schedule worked for Penn. Even once she was wooed, Penn remained camped out in the waiting room, reading, writing, telling her stories in installments during her breaks between patients. He was happy to sleep when she did and to stay up when she had to. She’d have traded anything toward the ends of those thirty-hour shifts—her place in the program, her career prospects, her eyeballs, say, and even Penn—for eight hours of sleep, and she knew in her heart that had their roles been reversed, she’d have been comfortably in her bed at home while he worked inhumane stretches of days and nights and days on end.

It was good preparation for parenting, though of course that didn’t occur to her until years later. At some point midway through Roo’s sleepless, staccato first month, she thought what an effective screening process a waiting-room residency had been. Here was a husband she knew would get up every two hours with the baby through the dark middles of the nights. Here was a partner who would wake for predawn breakfast with the first and second children, never mind having been up with the third and fourth well past midnight the night before. It wasn’t why she chose him. But it wasn’t a terrible reason either.

Now, all these years later, she found herself in the hospital’s wee hours all alone with no one to tell her stories. It had been years since her residency—the hideous carpet and uncomfortable furniture had turned over and turned over again since then—but she still emerged from the swinging doors into the waiting area expecting for a beat to see Penn’s face. It was one of the strange things about having stayed where she’d trained. The folks who had been there for decades still thought of her as a resident no matter her title or accomplishments. What was the same always outweighed what rotated and rostered and changed. And Penn’s absence from a chair in the corner of the waiting room, never mind his sheer presence in her home, her family, her bed, her life, never failed to stop her for a moment.

Staying had been another thing she was wooed to do. An Arizona girl, she was not remotely prepared for Wisconsin in February. Her car freezing during her second semester had seemed a clear sign that as a human she should probably have stayed inside. She nearly failed endocrinology because she missed so many lectures, not because she wanted to cut class per se but because she could not bring herself to go out of doors. She was a visual learner who closed her eyes in order to picture nerve charts and skeletal layouts and muscle patterns. One morning, on her way from the parking lot to an exam, she kept her eyes closed too long and they froze shut. She vowed to get out of Wisconsin the moment she graduated.

But the program was too good. Her teachers wanting her to stay, wanting to work with her, had been too flattering to say no to. And Penn liked the waiting room. She’d been wooed to stay so she stayed. Just for a fellowship year, she told herself. Just a small stint as an attending. After that, she’d be unwooable. After that, she’d have to go elsewhere anyway for breadth of experience, a different part of the world where she’d develop expertise in more than frostbite and lost toes and idiots frozen to their fishing poles.

But Roo followed by Ben followed by Rigel and Orion had put a stop to that plan too, children being the enemies of plans and also the enemies of anything new besides themselves. UW knew her work ethic and track record, never mind her taking yet another maternity leave, never mind the final months when she couldn’t even fit bedside, or the months before that when she couldn’t lift patients or much of anything else, never mind the mornings she was too nauseated to work and the nights she called in sick because the only place more germ laden than a hospital is an elementary school. She was worth it. But no one outside UW Hospital knew it. And so she stayed.