Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ventilation, Part 10 (fictionalized history)

(In 1952, polio reached its peak in the United States with 21,000 cases of paralytic polio. The first polio vaccine was introduced in 1955. By 1965, the total paralytic cases had fallen to 61. In this fictionalized history series, we will be experiencing the aftermath of polio, before the dramatic triumph of a vaccine. If you're just joining us, go back to Part 1.)

Three Years and Eight Months After Hospital Admission
February 1956 (11 Years Old)

Julia clenched the pencil in her mouth and scratched on the paper. Pretty neat handwriting, considering. Better than the boys, probably.

A magnet held the pencil when she finished.

"How's that?" Julia said. "Two hydrogen molecules plus one oxygen molecule equals two water molecules."

"Very good!" the tutor said. "You're picking up on this really fast."

"It's easy."

"No. It's not," the tutor said. "Most kids don't study balanced equations until high school."

"Can we keep going?"

"Sure. Tell me why two hydrogen atoms bond with one oxygen atom to form water."

Julia referred to the Periodic Table of Elements on the work boards near her head. They hovered so close to her face that they blocked out most of the room and most reminders of the hospital. Once in a while, they tricked her into forgetting about the iron lung.

Until she tried to point.

"Oxygen atoms have two empty spaces in their outer orbit," Julia said. "The single electrons of two hydrogen atoms are needed to complete it."

"Excellent!" the tutor said.

"I love chemistry. I wish I could do it all day."

The tutor flipped through her materials for the next set of problems. "You might want to be a chemist someday. Keep at it."

Magnets clicked the new paper into place.

Julia didn't wait for the tutor to explain it. Her mouth reached for the pencil, but lost the grip. The pencil clinked onto the floor.

"Hold on a second," the tutor said.

Julia's mind churned through the atomic structures. They shifted and turned and fell into place.

"The point's broken," the tutor said. "Let me go sharpen it."

Julia heard sound of rising and quick footsteps across the room.

She stared at the page.

The sharpener whined.

She couldn't wait to write.

On to Part 11.
Go back to Part 9.


paisley said...

oh this is so good.. i can't belive how well you are getting into this character...

Sarah Hina said...

Her determination and new sense of strength are wonderful to see here. Probably because they come from within. And are the more valuable and lasting for it.

I don't feel sorry for Julia here. I feel excited. She's no longer a ghost. Amazing chemistry, indeed.

Aine said...

The point's broken.

The sharpener whined.

Balancing equations-- what a great metaphor for the reality. Yes, she can accomplish something meaningful despite her disability, but her choices are narrowed.

My inner therapist thanks you for this.

SzélsőFa said...

I remembered about the sharpener in the story. Painful and promising at the same time.
I wonder where/how her parents stand...

jason evans said...

Paisley, thanks so much. :) I do feel a closeness to this character and topic that I didn't feel for the other historical series I've done.

Sarah, a vibrant life budding. We can almost forget or minimize her limitations. Almost.

Aine, you were right to single out those phrases. I poured a lot of meaning into them. I have mixed feelings about this piece, but I certainly didn't want to disturb Julia's happiness. She deserves some relief.

Szelsofa, I think everyone is moving forward in a way. In the end, that's the only direction that matters.

Vesper said...

The details and your words build a very powerful character, Jason.

The photo is very interesting.

JaneyV said...

Body so confined - mind being set free by education. I love that point you made above - that in the end , moving forward is the only direction that matters. So true. Thank you for giving her something hopeful!

Selma said...

Her body is imprisoned while her mind in contrast is incredibly active. The simplest of things highlights her helplessness, such as dropping the pencil. She is such a vivid character I feel she is a real person and I wonder how she bears it.

jason evans said...

Vesper, thanks, my friend. I'm pleased with how it's going. As for the picture, it was done using my daughter's first school day photo from this week.

Janey, I felt her excitement too. There is growth and advancement before her, not just loss.

Selma, thanks! I did intend to show that despite her passion and skill, the smallest things remain a challenge for her. It's hard not to dwell on the limitations.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

The point may be broken, but it can be sharpened. Great turning point, pardon the pun.