Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Eight

Jakob went first, allowing their father to walk with Wil. Dr. White, with a, “Please call me with any questions,” offering of business card, and final wistful look, departed. The three remaining members of the Winters family walked down the hallway in silence.

Each time a doctor or nurse and patient came hurrying past, Wil was surprised. She saw her father, heard his solid steps. She saw her brother, heard his solid steps. Yet, she also saw herself, from a panoramic view apart from feeling. How curious, that dark-haired, serious-faced girl! Her eyes saw somewhere beyond the flurry of a busy hospital while her boot-clad feet carried her on and on.

Wil thought of her mother. Although they’d seen her body and said their goodbyes, Wil realized she still expected to find her mother alive. This was the hospital they’d visited countless times; surely they were all walking to whatever room Cynthia had been checked into. Surely they would knock, enter, and find her mother and her kind, apologetic smile. Cynthia always apologized for the trouble she’d caused, as if she and they didn’t know about her incurable and fatal condition.

Jakob reached the door to the lobby. Ah, Wil’s feelings told her, We’re leaving the hospital and heading to the apartment. She’d see Cynthia there, at home. Her mother would be resting on the couch; again, with that recognizable smile.

“How was school today, Wil?” She’d say, and sit up. “Tell me all about it.”

A tear slipped down Wil’s cheek. She heard her mother laugh, cough, recover.

“Oh, Wil. Only you could have a day like that…”

The echoes of her mother’s voice and expressions lingered in Wil’s mind as she, too, exited the hallway and entered the small waiting area beyond. She saw Jakob had stopped; to her side, her father stopped as well. All stared as a woman rose from one of the pastel couches and strode toward them.

She was not someone Wil had seen before, yet her appearance seemed familiar. Long, dark, thick hair framed a pale almond shape. As she walked toward them; locks swishing, scarf waving, arms swinging with confidence; Wil noticed the woman’s blue, stormy eyes. They locked onto Wil’s and held her gaze.

“Hello, Wilhelmina.” The woman stopped before Wil, smiling a smile very different from Cynthia’s. “I’m Guinevere Greene. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

 

THE END

 

Continued from One Hundred Seven.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Seven

Wil sat. In the absence of father, brother, counselor she stared at the empty space before her. Empty wall. Empty room. Empty.

The clock hand scraped around its face. Footsteps beyond the door and wall stampeded down the corridors. The heating system bellowed. A rushing roar of thought rose in Wil’s mind and her heart drummed faster and louder and faster and louder. She raised her hands to her head to stop them -to stop all the noise trying to fill the awful emptiness.

*Clonk* *clonk* “Mina?” Rob’s voice came through the door. “Wilhelmina? You okay?”

Wil uncurled from her fetal position atop the chair. She tried to speak. Tried again. “Ye- Yes.” She thought he might not have heard, so tried a louder assent. “Yes; I’m fine.”

She heard nothing, blessed nothing, then her father cleared his throat. “Okay. Let us -” He coughed. “I’m here if –we’re here if you need us.”

The emptiness following his assurance did not fill again. Wil stared at the floor, thinking on his words. We’re here, she thought. We’re still here if you need us. A small flutter of feeling stirred deep inside, near her heart. Wil found herself able to move; rising, walking, drawing near to the bed on which her mother’s body lay.

Wil stopped and studied the form there, analyzing the beautiful, peaceful, strange woman atop the clinical bed. She looked so like Cynthia, her mother; yet, so different. The differences were not in the skin marks and swells of equipment attached and removed; but, as Wil first felt upon entering the room, in the missing aura of warmth Wil had always felt around her mother.

She took the hand nearest her. It felt limp and colder than hers. She stared at the face that once exuded happiness, patience, and near-unconditional love. Wil frowned, trying to match this shell with the mother she’d known for all her life. Looking heavenward instead, Wil whispered, “Goodbye, Mom.”

Replacing the hand and glancing at the body for the last time, Wil nodded. She turned. In sure, soft footsteps, she crossed the floor, clinked the curtain aside, and clicked open the door.

As she entered the hall, she also entered the warm embrace of both father and brother. They pulled apart and looked at each other’s faces. Each felt relief in the comfort and resolve he saw in his neighbor.

“Right,” Rob managed. “Let’s go home.”

 

Continued from One Hundred Six.
Keep reading to One Hundred Eight.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Six

Question by question and sad, understanding smile by sad, understanding smile; Dr. White moved Wil and her family through the stillness of a world that had stopped as far as they were concerned. An occasional rushing sound of footsteps or the movement of wall clock hands hinted at an elsewhere; yet elsewhere, should it actually exist, was of little consequence to Wil anymore. In fact, had Wil been able to see beyond the mind mist, she would have found elsewhere to be more bland and colorless than the landscape within.

Hours and days and months and lifetimes passed behind the Emergency Room door. Dr. White finished. He pressed his clipboard of papers to an orderly pile. He rose. He spoke. “If you wish, each of you may say, ‘Goodbye.'”

They stared. Rob nodded first, then Jakob. Wil sat. Goodbye? she thought.

The grief counselor walked to the cloth curtain at the door, his white-soled shoes patting against the reflective floor. He paused before opening and looked back. “I will wait for you in the hall, and no one will disturb you.” Then, with a final, sad, understanding smile; he left.

Rob shifted. He stared at the floor and sighed. Turning to Jakob and Wil, he cleared his throat. “I… I spent some time with her this morning….” In a lower tone and glancing down, he added, “This morning.” Lifting his gaze once more to his children, he breathed deeply in and out. Resolved. Sad. “I’ll go first, then wait for you outside.”

Rising, clunking, scuffing, pausing; Rob reached the bed. He took a slender, pale hand in his. With his other, he stroked a few blonde hairs to the side. “I love you,” Wil heard him whisper. She saw the moment; framed it in her memories. Sniffing, sighing, looking heavenward; then clunking, scuffing, pausing; her father pushed the curtain aside. And left.

A rustle of polyester coat told Wil that Jakob moved. Had sighed. He rose, blocking the light as he stood there. Wil raised her head as still he stood there. Her brother sighed again and met her eyes. Both blinked, worlds away.

Jakob’s mouth became a firm line and his focus hardened. In much quieter tread than their father’s, he traversed the distance between chair and bed. Wil saw his dark form pause. He, too, reached out. “Goodbye,” he choked out, barely audible. “Goodbye, Mom.”

Before she knew it, Wil heard the *click* *clink* of metal hooks and the silence of an empty room. She was alone, alone with the woman who was once her mother.

 

Continued from One Hundred Five.
Keep reading to One Hundred Seven.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Five

Forever passed in the few minutes they all sat, all in stasis within their memories of loss. Had the shiny, hard, hospital floor been of a more comfortable material and temperature, Wil never would have moved.

Dr. White shifted to a new position. “This floor is harder than I thought,” he apologized; using his practiced, sympathetic smile. The Winters family turned to him, more alert than they’d been upon his entrance.

Rob sighed. “You probably want us to leave.”

The grief counselor’s expression became softer. “No, of course not.” He shifted again, smiled again. “I merely came in to see what I could do for you. To help. I also,” he repositioned a third time, “suggest, perhaps, we move to the chairs.”

Rob nodded; Wil saw the movement in her peripheral vision as her attention was focused somewhere on the base of the bed. She heard her father rise, followed by the rustling coat chorus of Jakob. “C’mon, Wil,” her stepbrother encouraged. She turned her head toward the sound and saw a hand extended; took it with her own. Somehow, not under her own power, she rose. She found herself walking, turning her body, sitting. She felt Jakob sit beside her.

A scraping noise to her left drew her attention. Dr. White dragged his own chair over and set it to the front and side of her father. 10 o’clock, Wil thought, As Mr. G. would say.

The counselor set his clipboard on his lap and folded his hands atop it. “When Beatrice passed last year, she did so here -very near to here.” He paused. “I knew who would come in to talk to me and what they would say, since I worked as the grief counselor then, too.”

He waited. Wil glanced his way, still adrift and apart. She saw her father raise his head to meet Dr. White’s eyes.

“This won’t be easy,” Dr. White said, “So we’ll take it one step at a time.”

Rob stiffened. He looked toward the bed, then back to the counselor.

“If you all would like to stay here, I will walk you through things.” He looked at Wil; she seemed to see through him, through his white-blue gaze to the wall behind.

“I’m staying,” Jakob gruffed.

Wil, again of some force she did not control, nodded.

“Very well,” Dr. White continued. “We’ll start with what is written here.” He lifted a page of notes from the clipboard, glanced over them, and flipped to another behind those. “Cynthia.” Pause. “Your mother.” Another pause. “She wished to have her body donated to the research hospital.” He paused again. “In her words, ‘To help others with cystic fibrosis to find a cure.'”

The counselor looked up at each of them, ending with Rob. “Is this still your wish?”

Rob turned his head to the bed again. As he stared at his wife, unmoving, Wil saw a single tear slide down his unshaven cheek. “Yes,” he answered.

 

Continued from One Hundred Four.
Keep reading to One Hundred Six.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Four

Mom, Wil thought. Mom mom mom mom mom mom! The whisper of thought grew in volume within her mind till it could not stay inside. “Mom!” she burst out; just once. Jakob sunk to the floor beside her. Wil grabbed at the air, then herself. She hugged her own, small, helpless self and rocked, rocked, rocked.

A coat rustled somewhere outside the reality of Wil’s thoughts; Jakob began rubbing her back. Words eluded him and only the impulse to comfort Wil came through.

Another sound, of boots, clunked beyond Wil’s awareness. Rob sat heavily to her other side. He, too, could not speak. Not yet. He sat beside his family and before the bed on which his life’s love reclined, yet his mind roved farther than even Wil’s. If she’d been able to pull back to watch his grief-worn face, Wil would not have recognized her father.

Despite this, all three turned at a careful knock and entry. A man in white coat and white-reflecting glasses with white-serious face pushed the cloth curtain to the side. Stopped. “I’m sorry if this is a bad time,” he said, blinking white-blue eyes. He cast around for a second then sat on the floor as well. He did so nearest to Rob, setting a clinical clipboard to the side.

Three drawn faces stared at this intruder, curious; in similar stages of shock and sadness. “I’m the hospital’s grief counselor,” the man said. “Dr. White.”

Wil’s large, dark eyes watched Dr. White’s face. His expression conveyed professional concern mixed with deep understanding. She could almost hear his low voice telling other stories, other lives, other rooms with only the shell of a loved one left behind. “Where is she?” Wil asked.

The question was an odd one. Had Wil not been part of the dramatic play in progress -had, instead, been safely watching from the audience- she might have furrowed her brow in confusion. Might have remarked, “What does the girl mean, Mom?”

But her mother was no longer there. Cynthia could not answer Wil.

Dr. White folded his hands. “I don’t know what you know -” his eyes flicked to the clipboard. “-Wilhelmina.”

“Wil,” she interrupted.

A slight smile glimpsed the counselor’s lips. “Wil,” he amended. “It turns out that your mother caught an influenza at some point.” He met Wil’s gaze, kindly. “She left us some time this morning.”

Tears began streaming down Wil’s face.

“We don’t know where our loved ones go for sure,” Dr. White continued. “What I do know, Wil, is that they never leave us for good.” He touched at his heart. His own pale-blue eyes grew moist. “I said, ‘Goodbye’ to my Beatrice just last year, but have also felt her each day since.”

The four sat in a companionable silence. Wil and her family, inexplicably, felt a flutter of comfort; and knew it came from the one they loved.

 

Continued from One Hundred Three.
Keep reading to One Hundred Five.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, One Hundred Three

Wil and Jakob entered the emergency waiting area. No moody lighting, windows, or friendly Nurse Bea awaited them. Jakob walked to the reception desk, Wil attached to his side.

“Jakob and Wil Winters, here to see -” He choked. Wil turned to him, some feeling stalking past her dark eyes.

“Winters? Winters…” The nurse read over the computer monitor before her. Bits of display reflected from her thick lenses. “Oh! That’s -” She, too, swallowed the end of her sentence. She looked up at the somber faces before her, the overhead lights dancing from her glasses. “You two go right in,” she said, her tone an attempt at gentle. “Exam Room 5.”

Jakob shifted left. As they reached the door, a somber *click* granted them entry. Past a closed Room 1, open and empty Room 2, and closed Room 3; Jakob tread in even, heavy paces. Wil stumbled along. They nearly collided with a man in a white coat exiting Room 4 -“Sorry.” “Sorry.”- before reaching Room 5.

Jakob paused; Wil realized she could hear someone talking. Not just talking -Rob, her father, seemed engaged in a heated conversation. She’d heard his voice at that volume and tone only a few times in her life. She and her brother exchanged a nonverbal agreement and both leaned toward the closed door.

“I said, ‘This is a bad time!'” After a slight pause, he tried to continue, “I know you have every right to- But that’s not- I know, but- Couldn’t you wait till next month or next week even, if you had any sort of heart…” Rob’s last words came out in a sob.

Wil’s wide eyes flicked up to Jakob’s but his were intent on the wood door before them.

“Fine,” Rob said. He sounded flat, weary. “Fine. Just fine. We’re at The County Hospital. In the emergency room.” They heard their father’s heavy boots stomping, stopping; then a *scree* of chair on polished floor.

Jakob met Wil’s eyes; he nodded to her, knocked, turned the handle, and pushed open the door. Before them hung the odious blue-and-beige curtain. Jakob held Wil. “It’s us, Dad,” he said, standing; not shifting the temporary barrier.

Another chair screech sounded, followed by solid footsteps. The curtain to their left clinked to the side to reveal a haggard, unshaven ghost of the man Wil knew as her father. She thought he looked barely alive; gasped as a thought struck her.

“Mom?”

Rob jumped at the question and blinked down at his daughter. “Wil, I need to tell you something-” he began.

Wil came to life so suddenly that neither brother nor father anticipated her actions. She pulled away from Jakob’s arm and wrenched the curtain aside. There, before her, lay her mother. No -Wil instantly felt the difference. This was not-her-mother. This beautiful, sleeping form that resembled the beautiful, sleeping Cynthia was empty. The room was empty.

Wil’s legs collapsed beneath her, and no chair nor person caught her this time.

 

Continued from One Hundred Two.
Keep reading to One Hundred Four.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Six

Wil left the table after a requisite number of tuna casserole bites, hungry and self-pitying. The dark, narrow hallway seemed even more constricting; the dim bathroom bulb even dimmer; the tasteless toothpaste more tasteful for the lingering tuna remains. “Ugh!” she spat, swirled, spat again. She scowled a deeper expression at the girl in the glass, but her reflection matched and even exceeded her gloom.

A distinct *Ku-huh* *Kuh-huh* from the kitchen paused the glaring session. Wil and her shadow listened, a bridge of concern across their united brow, as Cynthia had her coughing session. “They’re happening much more,” Wil and Mirror-Wil whispered. They frowned and their deep, dark eyes spoke helplessness.

Wil exited the bathroom. Parent shadows crossed the hall on their way to the couch and sounds of scrambling soon led to the ever-present breathing machine. Wil stood, caught by fear, till her mother’s deep-throat coughs were tamed by the nebulizer’s magic.

She heard another sound: a chair scraped from the table and careless steps to the sink. Knowing that meant the immediate appearance of Jakob, she squeaked and scampered to the safety of her room and shut the door. After locking the knob, she threw herself atop the messy bed. Clothes, blankets, homework, and an open book or two caught her flying form and held her in their comforting familiarity. “There, there,” her favorite pullover soothed. “We understand,” the nearest novel assured her.

Wil hiccuped a few times but managed not to soil her bedthings with tears. She kicked a shoe free and pulled the second from a bent-leg position. Taking careful aim, tongue in teeth, eyes squinted tight; she threw the sneaker at her push-button wall switch. With a *clunk* the light went off. The shoe dropped.

Woolykind Wil, most respected member of the flying squirrel chapter of The Treetop Dwellers, sniffed and snuffled round her nest. She felt each treasured material with pride, moving things this way and that to arrange them just-so.

It had been a busy day in the forest and Wooly felt tired. She’d gathered food for her group. They’d been a tad ungrateful, to be sure, but she’d done her best. After all, flying was more her forte than food collection ever was.

Burrowing into the most comfortable heap of warm leaves, twigs, and discarded scraps around her; she sighed. Tomorrow would be better. Maybe there’d even be acorns. She fell asleep dreaming of better things.

 

Continued from Ninety-Five.
Keep reading to Ninety-Seven.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-Five

Dinner at the Winters passed with less conversation than usual. Wil stirred her food in a small circle on her plate and tried not to look at the charred remains in the middle of their table. She had a more difficult time ignoring the smell.

Jakob had yet to comment. He didn’t need to; his loud crunch-chewing and various dramatic expressions of distaste sent a clear message.

“Thank you for making dinner, Wil,” Cynthia said into the silence. She smiled a hopeful, loving smile at her squirming daughter. Wil pictured her mother trying to think of what to say for the last five minutes. Or, she thought, Cynthia might have needed that time to be able to speak after consuming the more edible parts of the casserole.

Wil groaned and lay on her arms to the side of her plate. “I’m sorry; okay!” she said in a muffled voice.

She heard her father clear his throat. Cynthia must have nudged him. “It’s my fault, Mina.” *Cuh-hem* “I said I would come back to make dinner but didn’t.”

No, he didn’t. He’d attended to the car, a much more important task. Anyway, Indiana Winters hadn’t required assistance. She’d required a clean source of water. She’d required a stable campfire. She’d required tools for opening the tins of fish. Where she’d missed the offered assistance of the older, coughing man had been in operating the questionable baking device she’d uncovered. Winters should have heeded her past experience with relics of its sort. Instead, to her and her party’s tastebuds’ chagrin, she’d overestimated both time and temperature.

“You gotta eat it too, Mins,” Jakob offered after a hard swallow. He eyed her as he took a long drink of milk. He wasn’t the only one; both of their parents’ attentions also moved to their daughter.

Sighing with the effort, Wil extracted an arm from beneath her head and scrabbled for her fork. From the level of her plate, she bent her arm and wrist at an awkward angle to sample a small bite. She shuddered. Swallowed. She saw Jakob smirk, her father rub at his face, and her mother half-smile.

A tear wandered down Wil’s face, unnoticed and uncared for by her family. It was a tear of embarassment and of regret; but, most of all, it was a tear for the double injustice of eating not only burned food but eating seafood.

 

Continued from Ninety-Four.
Keep reading to Ninety-Six.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

Wilhelmina Winters, Ninety-One

“And then,” Wil said, grinning at the memory, “Reagan asked if we were going to be like the Girl Scouts. I thought Derek would correct her -Stephen definitely would- but Derek said that yes, it was like the Girl Scouts.”

Wil looked at her single audience member, propped up on the couch. Her mother smiled a tired smile in reply.

“So, then he said we need to make a list of things we want to help with.” Wil paused long enough to drink from her mother’s glass of water nearby. She didn’t seem to realize she did so, and its owner’s smile only grew more fond. “But then the bell rang and I had to go to Mr. G.’s class. With Art.”

Cynthia’s brow furrowed. “You have art with Mr. G.?”

Wil saw the confusion. “No, Mom. Art is a boy in the lunch group.” She remembered something. “We’re going to work on a project together for class. With another boy named Calvin.”

“Ah.” Her mother settled into the cushions and lay her head back. She closed her eyes. “That sounds fun.” Wil watched the beautiful woman she loved breathe in and out. She listened as well, frowning at how the sound had a continual bass tone to it. Wil suddenly hated everyone who breathed without rattling; without obstruction.

She looked around the room for distraction. A ray of late sunset reached from their small window and fractured through the glass of water. “Oh!” Cynthia opened her eyes at the startled noise. “Mom! I ..I drank your… I’m sorry!”

Her mother snorted a quiet laugh, but the action still brought on a coughing fit. In panic, Wil jumped up, ran the glass to the sink, dumped its contents and rinsed it, then refilled. Sloshing a path on her way, she returned and handed the water to her mother.

“Thanks,” Cynthia managed. She sipped; swallowed; kept coughing.

Wil knew what to do. She rushed to the breathing machine they kept behind the couch. After setting it up, she watched her mother inhale its life-giving breath and exhale in stifled coughs.

They’d just about gotten things under control when the door opened and in walked Rob and Jakob. Rob took in the room, his daughter, his wife, and the nebulizer. He set his keys on their hook and went directly to the couch.

Pulling the mask from her mouth, Cynthia said, “Hello, Rob. And how was your day today?”

 

Continued from Ninety.
Keep reading to Ninety-Two.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Nine

Wil didn’t notice her interesting ensemble, and her mother was too kind to draw attention to it. Wil might have requested the information, had she known that a certain occupant of Building Five was spying more discreetly than even W could manage.

She and her mother suspected nothing. They walked their familiar, echoing path past the winter-dead trees and morning-shadowed playground. They spoke less than usual; they thought a lot more. Her mother had two coughing fits but insisted she felt fine enough to continue. Wil sighed deeply more than twice but insisted she felt fine enough to continue as well.

They walked the cold and empty route in a quiet unease; each with thoughts far from the areas she walked through or the person she walked with.

“All right, Wil…” her mother said once they were back at home. Her intended speech, however, was interrupted by yet more coughing. Wil closed the door, then walked her gasping mother to the couch. She held up the medicine bottle, the water cup, and then the nebulizer in turn. Cynthia shook her head at each but the last. Wil found and measured out the correct medication, attached the air hose, and offered its mouthpiece. She anxiously watched her mother inhale the vapor at a gasp in the coughing; cough; inhale; breathe out. Wil sighed, as she always did, in relief.

Her mother cleared her throat in the careful manner she’d used all weekend. “Now, Wil,” she said in a quieter voice, “Are you going to tell me more about your secret clues, or about Reagan, or…” She fixed Wil with a knowing look. “About why the playground outside makes you sigh?”

Wil looked up, shock plainly written all over her face.

“Or,” her mother said kindly, “Maybe you want to talk more about the letter from Gwen?”

Wil opened her mouth, changed her mind, and closed it. Her face changed expression to one of scrunched thoughtfulness as she considered what to say. She opened her mouth to try again.

“Mina!” her father said in surprise. He stood in the doorway to the hall, coat in hand and socks on feet. “We need to go!”

Wil hurried a glance to the microwave clock. They were late! “Oh! Sorry, Dad! Umm..” She searched around herself for what she might need to grab, as her thoughts searched around her head for what she might need to remember. Her mind grasped an idea before her hands did. “My bag! I’ll got get my bag from my room! Then we can go!”

She rose in a rush and made to dart around her father; who, for some reason, blocked her path. Wil looked up at him in confusion. A smile played at the edges of his mouth.

“Min- Wil,” he said. “Maybe pick some different pants first?”

Her gaze traveled back to her own person. “Gah!” she exclaimed, and again made to rush to her bedroom. This time her father did not stop her. In fact, she heard what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle just before entering her room.

 

Continued from Seventy-Eight.
Keep reading to Eighty.