Is He Dead Yet by Erma Todd
It's the middle of August. Itís very hot and dry. The darkness of night brings no relief from the heat. I'm sitting alone on a stump just outside the light thatís coming from the bedroom window. I didnít want to be in there. I donít want to be out here either. The mosquitoes are biting me and the sounds they make as they buzz past me are especially loud. Fear runs up my back bone and causes me to shiver as if I were cold.
The kerosene lamps are making flickering shadows on the walls inside. I can hear my Grandma humming a gospel song, and the squeak of the cane rocking chair as she rocks back and forth. Grandma is rocking my baby brother. He is very near death. His breathing is labored and shallow. Thereís no more crying coming from the small blanket she holds. He's much too weak to cry. My Mother is lying across the bed sick with grief and pregnant again.
Thereís nothing that can be done. His lungs are filled with pneumonia. This is the middle 1940ís and there is no penicillin. If you get sick with pneumonia and are very young, or very old it's almost a given that you will die struggling for air. This is not the first time my parents have lost a baby to pneumonia. Itís the first time Iíve had to witness it though. Iím five years old and full of questions that have no answers.
No one has time to tell me anything except that he will be dead soon. I pray so hard that he will live. There is a knot of fear in my stomach that wonít let me stand up straight. Iím so afraid that this will happen to me and I will die. I want to run away but thereís no place to run to. I walk slowly toward the open window and call up softly,Ē Ma, is he dead yet?Ē ďNo child he's still with us.Ē she says. ďOkay thenĒ I say, and make my way back to the stump that sits just outside the light, thatís coming from the bedroom window.