The realest TV

A true story recollected.

I used to live beside the Sanagawa River in Aichi Prefecture. I remember getting home one day and feeling the urge to watch TV.

On one show a crew was embedded with a family whose little boy of 5 or so was afflicted with a rare disease of the heart. He was an enthusiastic little monster with a raucous voice that belied his size, and came across in edited intervals a reveller in bombastic noise.

A doctor gave grim details I couldn’t follow and my girlfriend explained that it was his heart. They didn’t fully understand the problem but knew it was getting worse. The boy was in for many tests and learned patience in the company of large hospital apparatus.

Le loup


And then: the family was relaxing at home when the boy clicked. This was not reality TV but a documentary, and he’d turned off.

Others appeared on camera. I think they knew this could happen because a doctor and a nurse appeared and began working on him, checking his responses and trying to revive him as his mother reacted with a voice like a need rubbed raw.

I must have been frozen with a spoon or a drink midair; I don’t remember how long they tried to get him back. When it was clear he was dead there was a long draw like the pull of a bellows out of which the mother darted bearing silver scissors with that timing that fits between moments.

A fear of something rash drove everyone who could move in the shock to hold her fast, but grief’s abandon twisted her free of the man with the boom mic and past the doctor to the boy’s side where she cut a lock of his hair, and clutching it she gave way to a sound that animals know, a retching wailing breath of loss of love.

The scene dissolved and cut to a full year after. The boy’s younger sister, I think it was, and his mother and father were walking in a kind of procession with people from their town. They smiled, and it was meant to show levity and the fruit of time’s dressing. But for me it fell on a numb heart, and we turned the TV off and sat quietly.

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