A Frightening Moment

One cold, grey afternoon not too long ago, I was sitting in class as usual. We were discussing On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, and my teacher wanted us to read a passage out loud. I raised my hand.

As I read the poem, I began to focus less on the actual story and more on the strangeness of reading.

Have you ever said a word out loud, and the word suddenly seems odd? And you wonder how those sounds came to mean what you were referencing? Then you wonder how any sound can be understood to mean something. “And how does language even work at all?” you might think.

Well I began to have similar thoughts, but with reading rather than speaking. As I read, I started to think, “Isn’t it strange that these scribbles translate to sound, and everyone around me knows what this sound means? This is very strange. How do I know what these markings on the paper mean? How am I even doing this?”

Suddenly, I stopped speaking.

I no longer knew what the scribbles meant. Panic rose. I did not know what to do.

I forgot how to read

in the middle of reading.

I desperately stared at the page, hoping the magical meaning would somehow pop back into my head, but nothing came.

I pictured the confused faces of my teacher and classmates but was too scared to look up.

I stuttered.

Before I could fully comprehend what had just happened, I suddenly knew how to read again, and I carried on like nothing had happened.

“Sorry, just lost my place.”

Lullabies for Maggie

Mama stooped down and gave the young boy a kiss before climbing into the truck with Daddy. “You be good, Coulter, and watch out for your sister. We’ll be back before you know it.”

“Mama, I’m six years old! I can do it.”

Coulter put his hands in his overalls pockets, stood up tall, and tried to flex his skinny little arms as he watched the beat-up truck disappear around the corner. When he couldn’t see it anymore, he ran up the driveway back to the house, stopping to fill his pockets with the best pebbles as he went.

“Maggie! Mags, wake up! Mama and Daddy are gone; let’s play!” Coulter’s boots stomped through the house. He barged into the bedroom to find his little sister sitting on the floor, meticulously trying to buckle her shoes. Daddy had just taught Coulter about right and left, and Coulter was glad to put this knowledge to use. “They’re on the wrong feet silly goose. You’ll never get them on like that.” Coulter plopped down, set Maggie in his lap, and put her shoes on correctly. “You want breakfast?” His sister smiled.

Coulter held Maggie’s hand and, in the kitchen, helped her into a chair. Grabbing the pitcher Mama had left out, he asked, “Want some orange juice?” and poured two glasses without waiting for an answer. Next, Coulter got a loaf of bread and a jar of strawberry preserves. He needed a knife to spread the preserves, but where were the knives? He opened a cabinet. Not there. Now a drawer. He stood on his tiptoes to look inside. Still no. He tried the next drawer, and wiggled his hand far into the back where he couldn’t see. His fingers touched cold metal, but not a knife.

“Oh!” Coulter pulled out Daddy’s gun. He held it for a moment. Daddy said Coulter was never allowed to hold it until he was older, but he knew not to pull the trigger. He set it out on the counter. That gun would be much better to play with than his wooden one.

In the next drawer, he finally found a knife to spread the strawberry preserves. Before long, he had eaten breakfast, and he watched as Maggie finished her orange juice, the last bit of each sip dribbling down her chin.

“Ready to play?” Coulter jumped out of his chair and helped his sister down. Before running outside, he grabbed the gun.

Coulter ran down the hill behind the house, Maggie waddling after him. They stopped in a clump of bushes, looking out at the field and, behind that, the woods.

“Ok Maggie. Here’s how big kids play games. Me and you are cowboys, and you see those trees back there?” His toddler sister nodded eagerly. “Those are the Indians. Here’s my gun,” He held up Daddy’s.”Here’s your’s.” He picked up a stick from the ground and handed it to her. “We have to shoot the Indians before they attack our fort. Oh, and our fort’s in these bushes.” The two crouched down in their fort. “All right, ladies first.”

Maggie held up her stick. Coulter helped her aim, and he made the sound effects for her when she shot. “Nice one! I think you got an Indian! Now my turn.” He aimed, careful not to actually fire, and made a convincing gun-fire sound effect.

“Did you see that? I just got four in one shot!” he said proudly.

“I want that one!” Maggie said, reaching her chubby fingers toward the gun in her brother’s hand.

“Mags, no!” Coulter jerked his hand back, making a fist.

A bang echoed, a thousand times louder than any sound effect Coulter could make. He dropped the gun in terror and fell down, ears ringing. After the initial shock receded, he heard crying. Was he crying? No. Maggie.

She was laying in the fort next to him, and her leg was bleeding. “Oh no. Maggie!” He tried to think of what Mama would do. He picked up his sister and started to carry her back to the house. “Sshhh, don’t wiggle. I’ll get you a band-aid.”

In the house, he laid her on her bed. That’s what Mama did when he got hurt. Next, she would get a band-aid. Coulter grabbed the biggest band-aid he could find and rushed back to his sister’s side. “Here ya go. This always makes it feel better.” He lifted Maggie’s skirt. That was a lot more blood than any of his scrapes. Would this band-aid help much? He put the bandage where the bleeding was most- right above her knee. Maggie whimpered softly, her eyes drooping. “Oh, good, Mags. A nap always helps me feel better too.” He pulled up the covers and tucked them under her chin. Coulter remembered what Mama always did next when he scraped his knee.

He ran back into the kitchen. Using a chair to climb up on the counter, Coulter opened the cookie jar and grabbed the last two oatmeal raisin cookies. Those were Maggie’s favorite. Next, he poured a glass of milk, not stopping to clean up the drips he’d spilled. Last, he found his sister’s soft toy bear and returned to her room with his hands full.

“Here Maggie! These will definitely help you feel better!” Her eyes fluttered open. “Do you want some cookies? They’re your favorite.” Her eyes closed. “Wow, you must be tired! You can eat these when you wake up.” Coulter set the milk and cookies down on the floor, and placed Maggie’s bear on her pillow gingerly, not wanting to wake her. Not knowing what to do next, he carefully climbed onto the bed and snuggled with his sister. He sang the lullabies that Mama always sang, and played with his sister’s hair until he fell asleep, too.

Coulter woke up to the sound of tires on gravel. Maggie was still asleep, so he quietly tiptoed outside.

Daddy shut the truck door. He stared at Coulter’s hands, noticing the red stains on the tips of his fingers. Every muscle in his body tensed. “Coulter,” he said warily, “where’s your sister?”

Before he could answer, Mama added frantically, “Where is Maggie?”

“Don’t worry, she’s taking a nap.”


My dad once told me a story very similar to this about an ER patient of his. It stuck with me because of the tender love that this young child has for his younger sibling. He did all he could to make her comfortable and happy, just like his mother would do for him. I found it equal parts sweet and heart-breaking.