Off the Shelf
Leave a comment


Closing his eyes, he reaches out his hand and feels. He feels the texture, the rise and fall of the terrain, lines crisscrossing at various angles and various thickness. It is like bark, he thinks, of a small tree.

The surface has no discernible pattern. It is not smooth yet the undulations are certainly not bumps; they are more like ridges. He wonders at its softness, its warmth, and he passes his fingers over it until his palm comes into contact as well, his whole hand now feeling, touching. He rests it there for a moment and reaches out with his mind, his eyes closed, trying to take in all the sensations present in the contact.

It is not what he expected.

The sharp distinction between the normal smooth surface and the scarred surface was clearly evident even with the eyes closed; it is nearly impossible to pretend like it is not there.

He opens his eyes. The color is different too. Blanched in places, rosy in others, an odd brown color in still other corners. A weird mosaic of pieces accentuated even more by the changes in terrain. He moves his hand to take in the whole area, pressing a little more firmly at different points while passing lightly over others. This does not change the appearance or coloring, though, as would be expected. It gives him a better appreciation of the changes in thickness. No smell, taste, or sound to take in. But the sight and the feeling…

Suddenly he raises his head, distracted by a noise from the back of the house, from the small enclosed space in the courtyard: the therapy room. It was a single high-pitched scream, followed by more. There is a sound, he thinks to himself. The sound of stretching, breaking scars, returning flexibility. The burned leg hops off his lap and runs up the stairs, freeing him to follow the sound. The beauty of the sight and touch had captured him, and now the sound was pulling him into a deeper experience. But I don’t need any tasting or smelling, he says to himself, able to keep a sense of humor about him even as his mind drifts to horrifying thoughts of fire and boiling water and pain.

He slides open the heavy glass door and enters the physical therapy room. The 8 by 8 feet whirlpool is empty on his left; the parallel bars which help people learn to walk is vacant behind it. The whole building, a single room about 20 by 40 feet, only contains two people at the moment: the physical therapist and the child.

He walks up the small incline towards the massage table against the far wall and peeks around the corner. The alcove to the right has multi-colored gymnastic mats that completely cover the floor. It is on these that he finally finds the source of the sound. A small girl is face down on the mat, burns covering her entire back, right arm, up the neck, and probably the right side of her face too, though that is buried in the multi-colored floor, only partially muting her screams. The physical therapist is on his knees, finding leverage to stretch the scar tissue as hard a he can, attempting to restore functionality to a body that wants to build a network of ropes that collapses everything in on itself into one, giant, matted, ball.

Slowly he retreats back behind the corner and puts his back flat against the wall behind him. He closes his eyes, again imagining the feel of the burn scars, picturing in his head again the pigmented and non-pigmented areas with sharp delineation between normal and abnormal, continuing to hear again and again the little girl’s exhausted pleas for mami intensify when the therapist resumes his work. He stands there silent another minute, then turns and walks down the ramp, out the heavy glass sliding door, and back to his own volunteer obligations.

Gregg Kennedy Gregg Kennedy (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

Tulane University School of Medicine

I am an aspiring pediatrician. I grew up in St. Louis, attended undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, and completed medical school at Tulane University. I speak Spanish (but am an unmistakable gringo) and have traveled to several Latin American countries. My only venture across the Atlantic was to Malawi for work with a peanut butter research project. A little OCD at heart as many medical professionals are, New Orleans has mellowed me out, and the kid in me loves the creativity, fun, self-expression, and challenge in Capoeira (a Brazilian martial arts) that I do whenever I can. I love writing stories about people, places, and experiences that have struck me in order to help process complex emotions and to share with others that which makes me me.