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4. JULIETTE: The Alligator in the Bathtub

uliette stood frozen in a corner of the disgusting room, staring wide-eyed at the chaos swirling around her. Her grandfather sprawled moaning on the floor. Her mother shouting and running around, talking on the phone, grabbing a blanket, but not really accomplishing anything.

And then the doctor, who her mother called George instead of doctor, hurrying in with his pajama shirt hanging down from his sweater, his gray-threaded hair standing up in spikes on his head, his eyeglasses held together with some sort of flesh-colored tape — tape! — at the bridge of his nose. How anyone could trust such a man to sell them a newspaper, never mind save their life, was thoroughly beyond Juliette.

Dragging after the doctor, sucking her thumb, eyes bleary behind glasses as thick as the ancient windowpanes of the apartment, was a tiny little girl wearing a ruffled pink nightgown and clutching a threadbare pink bunny. Even as the doctor was bending over Juliette’s grandfather, listening to his heart, peering down his throat, the little girl tried to hang onto the shirttail of her father’s pajama top.

“For God’s sake,” Juliette’s mother said, turning to Juliette and switching into French. “Can’t you amuse this pathetic child for us, Juliette?”

“She’s not pathetic,” the doctor answered, without looking up and in French that was much better than Juliette would have expected from anyone in Arkansas. “She’s just scared, is all, and unhappy about being dragged from her bed in the middle of the night by someone too bull-headed to call a regular doctor.”

He even used the slang tĂȘtu for bull-headed. Impressive.

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