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, One Hundred Two

Wil sat, silent, within the careening minivan. She felt detached, a deep well within her own body. Mrs. Crandall could have been driving under the speed limit for once and Wil would not have noticed.

Mrs. Crandall did not attempt conversation, though she did forego her usual phone-browsing and snack-eating. Some part of Wil saw her driver’s eyes flit to the rearview mirror now and then to ensure Wil still sat where she’d first settled. Some other part saw familiar landmarks flash past the moving car. They’d be to their destination soon.

They stopped at a light, screeching. Mrs. Crandall drummed at the steering wheel. With a lurch, she started again. Stop, drum, lurch. Stop, drum, sharp turn; slow, slow -Wil saw they were at the hospital. They stopped again, idling, at the curb before the Emergency Room doors.

Wil’s arms removed her seat belt. Her hands lifted and shifted her weight across the seats to the door. One hand tugged at the door handle and her body stiffened against the cold, cold air that rushed in.

“Wil,” Mrs. Crandall began. Wil turned back, her face impassive. Her wild hair blew in and around dark, hopeless eyes. “Wil, I -”

“Wil,” another voice said. Wil moved against the swirl of hair and wind to face this new voice. She saw Jakob, yet didn’t see him. What was Jakob doing here, calling her by name? He held out a hand and helped her from the minivan. Reaching forward, he closed the door.

“Let’s go, Wil,” he said. He put his arm around his stepsister and cousin. Together, they walked through the automatic doors.

If Wil had looked back, she would have seen her neighbor still idling. She would have found that unusual; might have wondered what gave their ever-racing neighbor reason to pause.

But Wil did not look back.

 

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

 

©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-Four

Wil, Rob, and Jakob entered the usual silent dark of #42 more grimly than they did most Friday evenings. The zombie *hush-hush* of Cynthia’s nebulizer hummed a discordant duet with that of the rattling heating system.

Wil tiptoed to the couch in the light from the open front door. The door also welcomed a blast of chill air; Rob closed it and Jakob switched on the dim bulb over the range. All this outlined a slumbering Cynthia, complete with peaceful smile and slow rise of breathing. Her equipment, still on, lay nearby. Wil switched it off.

Wil!” Rob whisper-yelled. She looked up, blinking. He gestured to himself and she stumbled up and over to where he stood. “You start on dinner,” he continued whispering. “I’m going to change, then take over. Do you have homework?

Wil made a face.

All right. Do it while dinner’s cooking.” He stepped aside and pointed to a grocery bag on the counter, the very bag she’d acquired from her exploits earlier that evening…

Her father thumped past her as silently as he could in his work boots and headed down the hall. “Ooomph!” Wil exlaimed as Jakob followed suit; his aim had not been to travel around her. Not able to do more for lack of size and ability to noise complaints, she glared at her stepbrother. He threw her a final look of teasing humor before disappearing.

Wil turned to the plastic sack. She glanced round the dim room tomb as sifting, silent sand filtered down the cracks of peeking sunbeams. All seemed quiet, but Indiana Winters knew too well the peril of those who assumed no danger. With light-gloved touch, she moved the noisy sack-sides to retrieve its hidden treasures: a boxed meal and cans that claimed to be tuna.

She angled the box beneath the wavering electric light; she could make out pictures of pots and timers and a steaming pan at the end. “Well, well, well,” Winters said, her breath inches from the vague pictograms. “Etruscan influence, I’d say, with a smidgeon of Greek. Hmmm.” She moved her right hand to scratch beneath her favorite, battered fedora. “Now… what do they say to do first?”

Her nose near-touching the surface of print, she thought she recognized a symbol. It looked very like an object she’d encountered whilst searching. Round, shining, potable; it must be the same. She stooped with care, steel-tipped boots slipping on the polished tomb floor. With tongue gripped between set lips, she creaked open a small alcove.

She paused.

Nothing.

She searched left, right, up, down, and behind her crouched position.

Still nothing.

Reaching her free hand to within the dark depths, Winters brushed against a solid object. A solid, shiny object. She pulled it free. Eureka! She rose to standing height once more, holding her glinting prize in the half-light’s flickers.

Her exultant feeling cut short as she again glanced at the pictograms. Despite acquiring this first relic, her mission to discover The Secrets of Din might forever end there. “Where,” she whispered, “Am I to fill this with water?

 

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

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens