Toby (illustration)


They wondered why Toby was always so cold
He was only, they calculated, five years old
Yet his skin was the colour of moonlight on ice
And crystals of water had formed in his eyes
“I don’t feel cold,” he said, looking up
As they gathered around him and gave him a cup
Of cocoa as hot as they could possibly make it
And told him to drink it as fast as he could take it
“The problem,” one said, “is not the coldness of the skin,
“But the coldness of the child, as it were, within.”
They nodded, and asked, “Do you think cold thoughts?”
“I don’t know,” said Toby. “Do you think that I ought?”
They murmured, considered, and angled their heads
Then told him to lie on an unyielding bed
“Bend your knee” — “Cough hard” — “Open wide” — “Wag your ears”
They ordered, all at once, till he was in tears
But the tears didn’t fall, they just iced up his eyes
And a nurse had to come with a dropper and pliers
Then they gave him more cocoa, and conferred in a corner
On the best proven method to make Toby warmer
An operation, of course, was out of the question
A scalpel wouldn’t make the slightest incision
A pill might have worked, if they could be sure
That a pill could be found not to burn but to thaw
“And what of his brain?” one learned man asked
And ventured that he to this end might be tasked
For the psychotherapeutic, transcendental
Cure was his thing (though still experimental)
A second said that physiotherapy might
Given time make his joints less frozenly tight
A third disagreed. “A month of rest at least!”
While a fourth proposed a diet of malt extract and yeast
And Toby, in the corner, sipped his cocoa and wondered
Against which of the Commandments he had so blundered
To be stuck on a bed in a room with these men
And when he might be let out again
After hours of conferring, an elected man came
And smiled at young Toby, and addressed him by name
“We’ve decided at length,” this studious man said,
“That you cannot be helped, and must be declared dead.”
The man raised his eyebrows in question and waited
While Toby, mouth open, eyes wide, contemplated
Then asked, “Will I be allowed outside to play?”
“You’ll be expected to stay out all night and all day.”
“And will I be sent to some special school?”
“No school.” “Or a prison?” “That would simply be cruel.”
Then Toby, with a shrug, agreed to be dead
So they signed off his case, and then sawed off his head
Copyright © 2015 Murray Ewing.