Lemony Snicket may only be a young child, but he is certain of several things in his life. One of these things is that he dislikes crowds. To be more specific, he hates crowds. Everything about crowded spaces terrifies him, from the loud noises that make his ears feel like they are going to rupture, to the swarms of people who crowd around him, to the smells and neon signs… basically, he hates everything about crowds.
So it realistic to say there is a reason why he avoids going into crowded spaces, and why his family avoid taking him to them unless completely necessary. But sometimes, there is little choice.
One day, his parents leave him and his older siblings home alone when they go off on one their mysterious outings that the children never hear much about. And things go normally, with Jacques doing homework and Kit doing DIY and Lemony reading books far above his reading age. At least, until they don’t.
Lemony is reading a particularly interesting part of his book when a scream echoes through the house. Flinching, he hurtles out of the living room in the direction of the scream, running out of the house to the shed in the yard. Jacques catches up with him and they enter the shed together, knowing exactly who screamed.
Jacques opens the door and they see Kit kneeling on the floor, blood oozing from a cut on her thumb. A coping saw lies on the ground beside her, the rusty blade stained bright red. Kit’s face is contorted, her breaths coming in shallow gasps, and she seems to be using all of her strength to keep from crying.
“Kit!” Jacques says, crouching beside his sister and reaching for her hand. “Let me see. Are you okay? Do you need to go to the Emergency Room?”
As the twins converse, Lemony hovers in the doorway, chewing his lip and wringing his hands, two things that help him stay calm. Despite being the one who is injured, Kit seems reasonably calm, and Jacques is the one panicking. He studies the cut on his sister’s thumb, and Lemony sees him trembling.
“It’s very deep, Kit,” Jacques says.
“I can see that,” Kit says, pulling the thick ribbon from her hair and wrapping it around her thumb, wincing as she presses down on the gash.
“Tetanus?” Lemony says.
He isn’t very good at speaking when he is stressed, but he can usually manage a few words at a time. Right now, he is trying to use his surprisingly extensive book knowledge to tell them about the tetanus risk from getting cut by something rusty like that saw.
Thankfully, his siblings understand. They are always rather good at decoding his speech, much better than their parents. It must be a sibling thing.
“Good point,” Kit says. and he knows how being strong is important to his sister, so it must be hard for her to say, “I think I better get a tetanus shot.”
Jacques hugs her. “To the hospital, then. Lem, can you get some cash from the jar? We need to take the bus.”
Lemony nods and runs to take some notes from the jar of emergency cash their parents always keep in the larder. Soon, he is handing the money to Jacques and the siblings are leaving the house and walking to the bus stop, Kit now sporting an ugly yet practical bandage around her hand.
He clings to her good hand, always having been a bit scared of buses. Kit looks wobbly and pale, which explains why Jacques has a tight grip on her arm, holding her in case she faints. As he looks at him, Lemony wonders what their parents will think when they come home.
Thankfully, the bus journey is simple and quiet, but the same can’t be said for the hospital. Because the Emergency Room is crowded. Very, very crowded. Lemony groans and Kit stumbles, the blood loss starting to affect her.
Their time in the waiting room is horrible, Lemony sitting on the floor at Kit’s feet as his sister sits in the only vacant chair in the entire room (she tried to offer the seat to Lemony, but he and Jacques insisted she, the one with a serious case of blood loss and potential tetanus, take the seat). The floor is cold and hard, and he grimaces at the noise level. Lemony shoves his fingers into his ears, trying to block out the sounds of people arguing with the nurses and receptionist about the waiting times and other patients swearing and crying with pain and the awful music playing over tinny speakers, hating it all. People keep walking past him, nearly treading on him, and Lemony just wants to go outside. But he knows his Kit can’t leave and Jacques won’t leave her alone, and neither of them will let him go alone. So he is stuck here. And he hates it.
He tucks his knees up to his chin, hugging his legs. His ears hurt, his head hurts… everything hurts. He wants to cry, but he can’t seem to find the tears. He is so worried about Kit. He wants to go home. He wants it to be quiet.
“It won’t be much longer, Lem,” Kit says, but he knows she is lying to try and make him feel better. It doesn’t work, but he appreciates the effort.
Lemony rocks back and forth, screwing his eyes shut, and hopes he won’t break down crying and screaming like he sometimes does when stressed like this. Amazingly, he manages not to.
And then, only two hours after they arrived, a nurse calls for Kit. Jacques and Lemony don’t want to leave her, so they come too, Lemony dragging his legs and trying not to scream at the slightest noise. The nurse takes them to a doctor, and Lemony wishes he wasn’t feeling so awful, because this all looks quite interesting. But he can’t do much more than rock right now, so he misses the interesting things that happen: Kit getting her finger cleaned and stitched with five stitches, Kit getting a tetanus injection, and Kit getting a lecture from the doctor about being safer with tools.
All he really notices is when it is time to leave. Exiting the hospital helps lessen his pent up pain and stress, and Lemony finally starts to return to normal. He looks at the gauze wrapped around Kit’s thumb, and smiles weakly.
“Better?” he says, forcing the word out in; his voice sounds much flatter than usual, probably from the stress.
Kit nods, smiling. “Better.”
He feels better himself the next day, and is there for the rather hilarious return of their parents, which involves Kit getting yelled at for injuring herself and lots of laughter. But he can’t stop thinking about how Kit wasn’t the only one in excruciating pain yesterday.
Decades later, Lemony Snicket is a very different person. He is a grown adult, a VFD agent, a man in mourning for the many people he has lost in his life, and a person who has an autism diagnosis. But some things never change – and that includes his hatred of crowds.
And he may be older and find it easier to cope with the sensory issues that come with crowds, but it is very unpleasant to remember how he has lost (either through loss of contact or loss of life) the people who used to comfort him. Because he can cope now, but he has to do it alone.
He has to do everything alone.