“Okay,” she says. We pretend to eat the dirt we rolled into balls and decorated with acorns and bits of stick. We’re playing castle in the tarp-fort that Daddy made.
“Nate!” I call to my little brother, who is eating the dirt cake for real. “Stop eating the dirt. Just pretend.” I show him how. He pretends for a second, then runs out of the castle over to Daddy. Daddy is chopping wood by the fire.
“Don’t eat my cake!” Anna screams at me. I wasn’t, but I don’t bother telling her. She never listens to me.
“Nate, no!” Mommy yells, so loud that I jump. I run out of the castle. Daddy is holding Nate and screaming. Mommy and Daddy are yelling for us to get into the car.
“Let’s go! We have to go to the hospital!” Mommy tells me. “Nate burned his hand!”
I’m scared. Then I look at Nate. Skin is falling off of his hand. He’s screaming and crying. I start to cry, too.
“Come on, Gabe. We have to get into the car. Go get into your seat,” Daddy says. I hear him, but I can’t move. I’m too scared. Mommy pulls my hand and we go towards the car.
Nate is already buckled in by the time I get into my seat. He’s holding his hand out and crying. “My and urts,” he cries. “Mommy, my and urts!”
“I know it does,” Mommy says, holding his arm tightly. “I’m sorry, Natey-boo,” she says. She sounds sad.
I sneak a look at Nate’s hand. The skin is gray and falling off. He’s screaming.
“I don’t want to look at his hand!” Anna says. “It’s terrible!” She’s almost crying too.
I’m so scared.
We drive super slow by the lake, past our ice cream shop. I had a cotton-candy ice cream cone, but I couldn’t finish it all. Daddy is angry. He’s yelling and saying words that I don’t understand. He goes fast around a car and then honks the horn.
“My and urts!” Nate cries. “It urts!” he says.
“I know, baby boy,” Mommy says. “We are going to the doctor to make it all better.”
I’m not so sure. It looks like it won’t ever be better. I’m so scared. “Mommy,” I ask, “is Nate going to die?”
“No, he’s not, sweetie,” Mommy says. But I’m not sure. Maybe he will. The skin is falling off his hand. Underneath there is red stuff.
“My and urts!” Nate screams. Why won’t he be quiet?
Anna covers her ears. “I don’t want to hear him!” she yells.
Everyone is talking and yelling. I am so scared, so I cover my ears too. I don’t yell. I just stay inside. If Nate dies, I will miss him. Maybe he will go to heaven to be with Mom-Mom. Mom-Mom will take care of him there, and maybe his hand will be all better in heaven. But I will miss him. I don’t want him to die. If he stays alive, I will teach him to be careful by the fire. When we go camping, I will follow him around and keep him safe. I promise. Mom-Mom, please don’t let Nate die. I love him and I like having him for a little brother.
“It urts!” Nate cries. I can still hear him through my hands.
“I know, sweet boy,” Mommy says. “It will be okay.” She turns all the way around and looks at me. She looks worried. “Gabe, we’re almost there. I promise.”
That makes me feel better.