You wake in the morning with something new and heavy in your chest––like a tight ball you can't breathe through. Then the bad thing hits you like the pan hits the face of the man in the cartoon and his face looks like the pan until he shakes it out, but you can't shake it out. Snow White is dead.
Your Mom comes to the doorway, knocks on the already open door, because she can't see that your eyes are open, and tells you it is time to get up. For reasons she does not understand, for many, many days now you have been already putting on your uniform that she lays out every night, when she comes in to wake you, but today you are still in bed and you do not want to get up, do not want to feel the cold air that will cover you when the blankets do not. There is no reason to get up, no reason to go to the hospital. Snow White is dead.
"Joey, why aren't you up? Please don't try to tell me you don't feel good again."
"Nuh, I dunt," you tell her and hope she will understand your words better than she did yesterday when you tried to tell her, "Sno Why is deh."
She slides her cool hand across your forehead and says, "You are not a bit warm. I can't keep calling you in sick like this."
"My tummy." She looks at you in that way that is a question, but for many, many days you did not say your tummy hurt when it didn't. For many, many days you got up before she called you. For many, many days she told you to slow down––to not eat so fast or you would choke––so you did slow down because you didn't want to choke and not see Snow White anymore, but now you won't see her anymore anyway because she is dead.
"I just called you in sick a few days ago. You can't keep doing this. You will lose this job, do you know that? And then what will you do? Stay home and watch TV all day? I know you would like that but what about me and my job?"
She is wrong. It has been many, many days since you said your tummy hurt. When your tummy hurt you watched TV the whole day. You used to like to watch TV the whole day, but you have not said your tummy hurt for many, many days, not since you saw Snow White when they carried her out of the truck with the light on top that brings people to the hospital fast. Then you did not want to watch TV anymore. You wanted to go to your work at the hospital and watch Snow White. Today you want to stay home, but you do not want to watch TV.
Your Mom goes out of the room, but you know she will come back. She always comes back when you say your tummy hurts and says if you are so sick maybe she should take you to the doctor, and you always say "nuh, nuh dotter, plea," and she sits on your bed and pulls her fingers through her hair and sometimes she bangs her fist on her leg, until she says, "I give up. I give up. Just do what you want," and she lets you stay home with Grammum and watch TV. But today you do not want to watch TV. You do not want to get out of bed, because Snow White is dead.
It was many, many days ago and once upon a time when you waited for your Mom outside the hospital after Bruce told you it was time to go home, and when you got in your Mom's blue car you said you saw Snow White because her hair was like your black licorice candy and her face looked like the snow and you saw the blood on the sheet like the blood Snow White's Mom threw on the snow to make her lips, but her lips didn't look like blood that day; they looked like the color of Grammum's legs and the Wicked Stepmother who walked behind Snow White said, "What are you staring at? Get away." And you said, "Sno Why." And Sean who drives the truck with the light on top and always says hello to you unless he has to carry somebody fast said, "Why don't you wait over there, Joey?" And you said "Hi Shun, is 'at Sno Why?" And he said, "I don't have time to talk now, Joey. You go wait over there, and we'll talk tomorrow, okay?" But you never talked to Sean about Snow White and now she is dead.
Many, many days ago your Mom woke you up and you said your tummy hurt and you wanted to stay home and watch TV and then you thought about Snow White who was somewhere in the hospital and you jumped out of bed and put on your uniform and brushed your teeth and your Mom came in and said, "What's gotten into you?" And you said, "Sno Why." And she said, "What?" And you said "Sno Why." And she said, "Joey, you couldn't have seen––Why am I arguing? At least you're going to work." She looked at the clock on her arm. "Now I'm going to be late. Hurry up and brush your teeth. You will have to eat a toaster treat in the car. I don't know why you couldn't have just gotten up when I told you. One of these days you will make me lose my job, Joey. Then what will we do?" You said, "Sno Why." And your Mom sighed.
Many, many days ago you squeezed your face between the racks of trays with paper trash that went in the big can, and dishes and forks and spoons and knives that went in the big bin, and slops and garbage that went in the bucket. You squeezed your face between the racks and looked hard at all the people who would not look at you, but you did not see Snow White. Then you saw the lady with tight hair, the color of dirty dishwater, stuck to her head––Snow White's Evil Stepmother––and you said "Sno Why" and she put her hand on her mouth and sucked in air and then she said, "You stop this, do you hear?" And you said, "Wuh Sno Why?" And she said, "I will tell someone about this. You leave us alone." And Bruce who looks like chocolate turned around and he said. "Is there a problem, Miss?" And the Stepmother said, "This man is stalking me." And Bruce said, "He won't hurt you, miss. He's just a little retarded." And she said, "You make him leave us alone," and you watched her leave to see where she went so you could go find Snow White and you dropped a fork and a spoon in the trashcan and Bruce said, "Joey, you gotta watch what you doing I can't be going in the trash all the time making sure you didn't throw the wrong stuff in there" and he leaned his big body over the can so you thought it would tip over and you didn't see where the Evil Stepmother went and so you couldn't find Snow White.
The next night you saw Snow White while you slept. She came into your room and then into your bed and she lay down next to you and her face looked like snow but it felt warm like the hospital plates when they came out of the dishwasher. Snow White said, "Please help me. I have swallowed the poison apple my Wicked Stepmother gave me and if you do not kiss me the spell will make me die" and her lips that did look like blood that night touched yours and it made the warm stuff spurt out in your pajamas, the warm stuff that made your Mom's lips go tight when she saw it. And when you opened your eyes and Snow White wasn't there, you knew she went back to the hospital because you didn't kiss her back and you knew you had to find her or Snow White would be dead, so you jumped up and put on your uniform even though your room was still dark and you rolled your pajamas into a big ball and pushed them under your bed.
That day a fairy godmother called Bruce and said you had to go up and pick up the trays because somebody who always did it got sick. Bruce said, "Now you listen, Joey, I'm going to put you in the elevator and press the button and you get off at floor four. You don't know where you at, you just ask at the nurse's station. You say, "four?" Can you say that? Let me hear you." And you said "foah," and Bruce nodded and said, "Then you get that rack of trays sitting in the hallway and you push it right to the elevator. You don't stare at nobody. You don't look right. You don't look left. You look straight ahead. You got that?" And you said, "Yuh."
You never went up alone before and when you did go up with Carmen you didn't like it because it smelled like going to the doctor, but you went today and you stood at the nurse's place while they talked like you weren't there and one said, "I'd slit my wrists too if I had a mother like that." And then she looked at you with a funny face and said, "Did you need something?" And you said, "fouh?" And she said, "What?" And the other lady who smiled at you sometimes between the racks of trays said, "Oh, this is the young man from the cafeteria. Did you come for the trays? They are way down there." And so you went way down there and you got the big rack of trays and you started pushing it down the hall and making that big rattling noise and you did what Bruce said. You looked straight ahead and when you looked straight ahead you saw the lady with the tight hair the color of dirty dishwater––the Wicked Stepmother––come out of a door. You kept looking ahead because Bruce said to, and even the Stepmother's butt-butt looked tight and mean and you kept looking ahead while she went through another door so you couldn't see her anymore.
You wanted to keep your eyes ahead like Bruce said, when you came to the door where the Wicked Stepmother came out, but Bruce didn't know about Snow White and he didn't know what she told you the night before about the poison apple the Stepmother gave her and you knew that Snow White lived in that room and that if you didn't kiss her Snow White would be dead.
Snow White lay in a big bed on a soft pillow with her licorice hair all around her snow-white face in a circle. Her licorice lashes on her closed lids were like her hair, long and straight, and her lips did look like blood that day, the way they did when you saw her the night before. She wore white bracelets on her wrists that almost matched her skin and her long fingers were curled up toward the ceiling so you saw her nails, blood red like her lips, and she had one of those hospital things stuck in her arm that attached to a bag that hung on a bar and that you should never touch.
You were scared. Scared that the Stepmother would come back. Scared that one of the ladies would find you and tell Bruce before you could do what you had to do, but still you moved in very close and then you stood there because you knew Snow White said to kiss her but you didn't know how, only that your lips should touch. And so you bent down over her face until you could feel the air from her nose whistle across your cheek and see nothing in front of you except her blood red lips that you touched with your lips and that felt warm and soft like a pillow. But then you heard the scream that made you jump back and made Snow White's eyes spring open.
They were the color of Bruce––no darker––and they looked into your eyes and she said, so soft you almost didn't hear, "Are you my knight in shining armor? It figures," as you bent down again to try to kiss her and save her. But the Evil Stepmother yelled, "Get away from her you ugly toad. Somebody do something."
And the lady who smiled at you between the racks of trays ran in and pressed her hands into your shoulders and said, "He doesn't mean any harm. He is mentally disabled. " And she pushed you from the room and put you in front of the trays and she said, "Take these down right now. I will press the button in the elevator for you." And while you stood in front of the closed doors, the lady said, "I don't want to get you fired. I really don't, but that woman is just the type to make big trouble, and if I don't say something first, they will hold me responsible. Do you understand?" And then the doors opened and she said, "You didn't touch her, did you." And the doors closed and you couldn't tell her, no, you did touch Snow White but only a little with your lips. You couldn't tell her about the poison apple and that the Evil Stepmother stopped you before you kissed her and that if you couldn't kiss her, the poison apple would stay in her mouth and you couldn't end the spell and Snow White would be dead.
Downstairs behind the trays, Bruce sat you down and he moved his finger up and down in front of your face and he said things you didn't hear because you kept thinking about how to get back to Snow White. But then he said you had to go home. He said he called your Mom.You didn't want to go home. You wanted to find Snow White, but this time he walked with you to the door to make sure you went out and did not go up to see Snow White ever again, and in the car you tried to tell your Mom, "Sno Why is deh," but she told you to be quiet because all you did was cause her trouble and make her head ache.
Your Mom comes into the room and says, "Well, I hope you are happy, Joey. You lost your job. I called to tell them you were sick again and they said things weren’t working out and maybe it was better you didn’t come in anymore. They said you were going places in the hospital you weren’t supposed to. Did you do that, Joey? Did you?”
And you say, "Sno Why," and your Mom throws her hands in the air and says, "That's it. What more can I do? I wanted to give you a normal life, but you won't have it. I'm going to work before I lose my job too, and you can just stay in bed all day if that's what makes you happy." And you do stay in bed, all day. You do not watch TV with Grammum and you do not eat the toaster treat she brings you on a dish that she leaves by your bed, but your Mom is wrong because it does not make you happy to stay in bed. You stay there because you don't know how to be happy anymore because you didn't kiss Snow White the way she asked when she came to your room and you did not stop the spell from the poison apple her Evil Stepmother gave her and because you did not do that, now Snow White Is Dead.