Gene collected stamps with his son Teddy. Stamps from Poland and the Soviet Union, from Nazi Germany and the Philippines. They sat over boxes of loose stamps, acquired at hobby stores and at stamp shows in dust-filled church basements across the county. They sat over sheets of stamps issued by the post office and commemorative sets that Gene bought at the drug store and brought home to Teddy.
He sometimes found his son sleeping in the afternoon, briefly soothed and away from the pain that racked him. Bruises spidered around his body. Black splotches on his bony knees and on his wrists. Gene would stroke his son's blond hair so lightly, sensitive to the fact that any touch could inadvertently harm him.
At night, Gene sat at his basement workbench, smoking and putting stamps carefully into albums. He mounted them on plastic backings and pasted them into place. It was calming to him, an escape in the cool damp of the cellar (probably not good for the stamps themselves, but he needed the escape). There was no cure for his insomnia, his constant dread, his blank stares into the darkness of the bedroom ceiling. But in the cellar, with the stamps, he found a kind of waking slumber.
The worry was constant. There was no cure. There wouldn't be a cure even decades from when he imagined it. In a box with stamps, he placed a note from the doctor, addressed to Teddy but really meant for Gene and his wife Molly:
Dear Teddy – I want to thank you for your very generous gift to me and for the card with the enclosure of your picture. The handkerchiefs are lovely and I really can use them. If things go along satisfactorily for you till you are six or seven, by that time it won’t be so difficult for you to get the medicine necessary to keep you well. Tell your mommy and daddy that we are working hard to find out what it is in plasma that works in your blood. I am hopeful there will be a time when the material will be available everywhere. When that time comes I will certainly let you know. Again my thanks, and let me hear how you are doing. My best to you – Benjamin Alexander.
The doctor was in Boston. They had packed the car with books and blankets, a few snacks and a night's worth of clothes. They drove hours up north through New England, the summer air clearing out a little and becoming breezier and calmer.
Dr. Alexander. What must he have thought of them as the three of them sat there, terrified? What would he think of the hobby that Gene had developed with his son? The easiest, calmest, gentlest thing they could possibly do together. Teddy would record their values in a blue notebook and Gene would find it almost impossible not to choke with grief and love as his boy counted their fortune in pieces of tiny paper.