People Like That Are the Only People Here

by Marie Lorena Moore

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"People Like That Are the Only People Here" is a work of metafiction, fiction in which the author draws attention to the artificiality of the text by referencing the writing process or otherwise departing from conventions or traditions of the genre. The story's protagonist, "the Mother," is a writer—evidently quite a successful one—and it is she who, purportedly, writes this story herself in order to earn money to pay for her baby's kidney cancer treatment. The story begins when the Mother finds a blood clot in her child's diaper, and she takes him to the doctor immediately to get him checked out.

The baby endures a radiology scan, and he is diagnosed with a Wilms' tumor, a malignant growth that requires both surgery and chemotherapy. Throughout this process, the Mother is struck by the demeanor of the medical professionals with whom she speaks: they are all oddly casual and nonchalant, while it feels as though her world is crumbling around her. When she tells her husband the news, he asks her to "Take Notes," and he wants her to write this whole experience down as a text that she can sell; they will need the money, he says, to pay for their son's treatment. She is a little horrified by this idea because it is their life.

The Mother is struggling with her guilt—fearing that the baby's illness is somehow her fault—and feeling like she needs to fit in with the other mothers in the Pediatric Oncology (or "Peed Onk") ward. She moves quickly into trying to bargain with God for the life of her child. The baby makes it through the surgery, and the Mother cuddles him through the tubes and cords to which he is attached. She notices that a suction tube appears to be pulling blood from his stomach and learns that the doctor had it on "high" rather than "low" despite it nearly sucking the life from another boy not long before this. The Mother talks to the parents of other Peed Onk patients, simultaneously heartened and horrified by their children's stories.

Because of the type of tumor her son had, the Mother's family is offered an alternative to chemo that is newer—less is known about it—but it could save her baby from the negative effects of chemo that other parents have warned her about. The Mother is eager to take this alternative, and the family packs up the healing child and leaves the hospital. In the end, our attention is again directed to the artificiality of the story, its difference from what may or may not actually have happened, when the Mother says, "These are the notes. Now where is the money?"

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