The American Matryoshka Doll (N.D. Brown)

Across the room, a mother runs her hand over the top of her daughter’s braided hair. The daughter’s eyes are closed. She’s whimpering into her mother’s coat-padded lap while smooth jazz plays and sanitizers hang as a reassurance for the non-sick people sitting in the peach-colored Illinois emergency waiting room.

Beside me, an old man hacks snot bubbles into his hand. Then he rubs the wet against the opposite arm of his black jogging suit with purple triangles on the shoulders that match the purple pouch pocket and racing stripes down his pantlegs. The old man pulls up the other sleeve hidden in his lap, exposing an arm that ends where the wrist should be. The nub’s smooth and rounded. My mother should be okay. The nurse said I’ll get to see her soon.

“Excuse me. Can I ask you a question?” the old man says. “Do you know what happened to my hand?”

“Uh, no,” I say.

“Don’t I know you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Thank, God. I thought I had simply forgotten. I’ve been pretty forgetful here lately.”

“What happened to your hand?”

“I have no idea. That’s why I was asking you.”

On the other side of the old man is a middle-age woman built like a Matryoshka doll and wearing a Chicago Bears hoody. A dirty dish rag is wrapped around her right hand. Her toes are tapping before she jumps up and storms over to the sequestered secretary.

“I’ve been here waiting for forty-five minutes. This is an emergency. Can’t you see my hand? Look.” She delicately presents her hand like a wrapped-up newborn.

The smooth jazz continues as the secretary’s extended index finger moves down the Matryoshka Doll’s chart, “It looks like you were burnt by a curling iron. Is that right?”


“Fortunately, this injury isn’t life threatening and-”

“Oh, don’t you start-,”

“Now, I was born without my index finger on that hand. I never had it, but I don’t know what happened to the rest of it. My hand I mean. What if one day I look down and my other hand’s not there. Then my legs aren’t there. Then I’ll just be a chest and a head. And if I turn around and those are gone, well, I don’t know what happens then. Are you sure I don’t know you?”

“I’m sure.”

“Why are you here then?”

“My mother’s sick.”

“Is it serious?”

“She’ll live.”

The little girl on the opposite side of the room cries so loudly that there’s a kind of gasping for the little chest to take in enough air, causing The Doll to turn backwards towards the mother who’s trying to hush her child who’s bent over the chair’s armrest as if pain could be kinked.

“Why are you here?” I ask the old man.

“Most assuredly for me, though I think I feel fine.”

Up front the Doll turns back towards the secretary, the red in her face less saturated.

“We’re just a little backed up at the moment,” the secretary says.

“Fine,” she says. “Dad, stop showing that poor man your nub.”

“Do I know you?”

“I’m your daughter.”

“Are we here for me?”

“No. I burnt my hand”

“Okay, well do you know what happened to my hand?”

“You have the diabetes.”

The old man opens his mouth to speak as he swings the nub, so it points casually at my chest. “Well, he—“

“Damn it, Dad, stop waving that thing around.”

“Sorry. I mean, I’ve never had my index finger, but–”

“I know, Dad,” The Doll says. “It’s okay.”

The little girl’s pained cry fades back down to a whimper and the collective acquiesces the space to the little hands gripping fistfuls of her mother’s synthetic wool sweater, stretching out the Christmas trees, separating the collective picture into individual brown, red, and green threads of fake yarn. Her body’s squirming left and right. Trying to get back into the warm, safe stomach of her gestation. Before the pain.

“Oh! Of course. How could I have forgotten you, Anna.”

“I’m not Anna, you demented ass.”

“My daughter’s name is Anna.”

“One of your daughters’ names is Anna.”

A different nurse emerges from further inside, causing everyone to perk up. The nurse casually looks at the top of the manilla folder and straightens her glasses. Bored. Her audience desperately waiting for some sort of something to happen.

“Ms. Cynthia Miller?” she says.

“Yeah that’s me,” The Matryoshka Doll says.

“The doctor will see you now.”

“When do they get to see the doctor?” Cynthia says, pointing towards the little girl who’s lifted up her head. Her cheeks are crimson and she’s crying. Then she buries her head back in her mother’s stomach.

“I don’t know,” the nurse says.

“Well, you two go on first,” Cynthia says to the little girl’s mother.

“Anna, why did I lose my arm?’

“Damn it, Dad. I’m Cindy,” she says. “Now you go and see the doctor. I’ll wait.”

The nurse pulls down her glasses, exposing two, sharp green eyes, which clash against the boredom of the rest of her being.

“Anna, I know I didn’t have a finger on that hand. I never did, but I don’t know how I lost the rest of it.”

The mother of the little girl mouths thank you, but the little girl refuses to take her face out of her mother’s sweater. Even after she’s propped up to stand, her face stays hidden. The little girl can’t see what’s going on as she walks blindly out of the waiting room. Then the door closes. Cynthia’s left behind.

“Anna, why don’t you come and visit me more? I know I wasn’t the best father, but…”

“Joseph Arnold,” the nurse says. I raise my hand, put down the two-year-old Sports Illustrated I had forgotten I was holding, and pass through the door leading inside the hospital towards my mother who was waiting.


N.D. Brown is a writer living in Tampa, Florida. He also works as the Outreach Coordinator for Sweet: A Literary Confection. My work can be found in Heavy Feather Review, Speculative Nonfiction, and Sweet Lit