Then Eoin had his first fit. Even if you had been filming him and then played the result back in ultra slow motion it would have been impossible to pinpoint the moment when the crying became fitting such is the infinite subtly of biological processes but it was easy to see the moment when Jack realised what was happening- the moment when the terror hit him.
The first thing that signified was Eoin’s skin. Its texture changed and his chubby pinkness became like a half-inflated rubber bicycle inner tube- a much paler, unnatural red. He was in Jack’s lap and it was as this change reached its apex that Jack felt the first hit of panic and Eoin became stiff and screamed. His tongue was peeled and scarlet. The child’s extremities rippled as if some parasite of energy was trying to escape through his fingers and toes.
Jack called for Sophie as he watched his son being pulled apart as he held him. Jack and Sophie instinctively knew what was happening and Sophie called an ambulance while Jack held Eoin and prayed to a God he did not believe in.
Jack held Eoin in helpless terror as Sophie called Patricia and she drove to them in a haze from which she too would never recover. Something had changed in an instant inside her and her body would swell with painful oedema for the rest of her life, her soft tissue radiating heat and inflammation in a constant physical panic.
By the time the ambulance came the fit was over. Jack couldn’t speak as he wiped sweat from Eoin’s body.
Patricia stayed with Aoife while the others went to hospital. In the hospital there was a lot of anxious waiting for nothing much to happen. The fit was over. A doctor simply had to confirm this and then it was a question of advising Jack and Sophie to take the child to their GP and arrange to have a series of tests done and to have the child examined by various specialists in order to begin the process of understanding what was causing the problem.
The next day Jack drove through a red light on the way to work. It was early and he was lucky traffic was light and no accident was caused but Jack could not accept the fact that he had simply been oblivious to the light’s existence until he had gone through it. He could not let it go.
He spent the day thinking of his son and of what could have happened if a car had been coming the other way. How he could have been hurt, how he could have hurt someone else, of how much Eoin would need him and how he could have killed himself or someone else just at the moment of his family’s greatest need.
By the time he reached his first appointment he already had a headache.
There was a strong after-image of that red light visible to him every time he closed his eyes. With his eyes closed he could still she a ghostly trace of it floating near the top right of his field of vision.
The events of the previous night played over and over in his mind. Between the red light thing in his vision and the image of Eoin being tortured by some unseen thing. He was trapped between two invisible barriers- when he tried to look outside he saw the traffic light, when he tried to look inside himself there was that horror movie playing on an endless loop.
He found that he was blinking and wincing. He hoped that his clients didn’t notice and believe he had developed a strange facial tic. He did his best to act as he normally did, to speak as he normally did but it was impossible for him to tell if he was succeeding or if he was presenting an obvious pantomime of his usual self.
There was no one to ask for a review of his performance but it was the first time since he had started working at O’Sullivan’s that he doubted his own effortless suitability for the job.
In the days that followed Eoin was subjected to a series of tests. There were visits to the hospital and to the GP, Dr. Brophy.
Dr. Brophy had been Jack’s family GP his whole life. He was a small, dark-complexioned man with sharp eyes and a matter of fact manner. He had grown smaller with age and lately his habitual neatness was slipping. Today his white shirt was protruding from his waistband and it seemed to Jack that there was a small dot of dried blood near the breast pocket. He still expressed his kindness bluntly.
“Mr. and Mrs. Murphy,” the doctor began from behind and, Jack thought, slightly below the desk that was clearly now too tall for him, “we have a very good idea of the reason for your son’s fit. The symptoms led to certain tests and the tests we performed show that Eoin has a condition called Neurofibronoilitis. This is a genetic condition which affects the nervous system. Eoin’s body is producing knots of a sort on his nervous tissue. This can result in various types of symptoms that can show with various degrees of severity. You can see that Eoin has some very small black spots on his skin. This is a sign of this condition. They are small now but they will grow and they will spread. How much they’ll grow is something we can’t predict. They could be no problem but they may become painful and some people will need to have some of these growths removed in time. ‘Noil’ refers to the affects on the nervous tissue and to the growths on the skin. It’s an old French word for a knot in wool or some other fibre, well that not important. Depending on how severe it is he could have developmental problems. It can affect the growth of tissue in the legs and the back. So he could have problems walking but you know, he may not. He may never have another seizure but we would have to believe that, having had one so young, that he probably will. He could have learning difficulties, problems with his eyesight, with the nerves at the back of his eyes, headaches, migraines..”
At some point Jack and Sophie had stopped holding hands. To Jack the doctor seemed to be moving slowly away from him down a tunnel. As he got harder to see his voice became louder and ironically less comprehensible.
“Can you say that again please?” said Sophie.