Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Four

Here we are again, Wil mouthed to her friend. The pale, dark-haired girl in the waiting room window spoke the same words, without sound. Wil shifted on the floor. Crinkling paper noises from her left fist warned her to be careful in her movements; she glanced at them and remembered.

Returning to her friend, she whispered, “I’m adopted.” Her friend frowned and furrowed her brow in confusion.

How is that possible? she replied.

They shrugged.

Wil extracted the birth certificate and read through its official type once more. A few, lingering last-hopes evaporated from her imagination as she found each line filled out with correct name, date, father, location, and features. “I was a small baby,” she said.

They nodded, seriously.

“Of course you were, Minnie Mouse,” Jakob called, from his slouched recline a few feet away. He moved deeper into his chair and adjusted his feet on the table.

Wil and her friend shared a look. What did he know?

“You were a preemie.”

They blinked. Wil turned away from the window wall. “A what?

“Preemie, dummy.” He rubbed his back inside his slouch. “Means you were early. Rob told me.” Closing his eyes, he tilted his head against the chair back. “Said you were lucky to be born and that he didn’t even know.”

She shared a stupefied look with her friend. Thinking over this new information, she asked, “How did he know?”

“‘Bout you?”

Wil nodded. “Yeah.”

Jakob groaned and tried to crouch into a side-lay within the small seat. From a yawn, he answered, “Not sure.”

A few more seconds told Wil her brother -her stepbrother- was unlikely to tell her more. The conversation had already run longer than any of his had in the last five years. She was about to resume the more satisfying exchange at the dark glass before her when Jakob stirred enough to add, “Ask Rob.”

Her friend tilted her head, considering. Not a bad idea, she told Wil.

They were all interrupted by a click, a creak, and a cheery, “Well, here we are!” Nurse Bea entered the waiting room, and then turned to hold the door for Rob. Just behind him came Cynthia.

Jakob stopped pretending to sleep and Wil waved goodbye to the window. Both rose and walked to their favorite mother.

“They’re releasing you?!” Wil asked. Jakob snickered and put his hands in his coat pockets.

Nurse Bea laughed outright. As expected, hers was the sort that came from deep in her stomach and affected her entire body upon its release. A moment of breathlessness later and she wiped her eyes. “That’s right, darlin’.” She smiled, though she already had been, and wagged a stern finger to Wil. “Now, you jus’ make sure you take care o’ your mom. She’s an angel.”

Wil’s pleasant return smile slipped off her face.

“Thanks, Nurse Bea,” Cynthia enthused; her smile radiating as usual. Supported by Rob and trailed by her anxious children, she walked out the waiting room doors.

If Wil had not been so preoccupied, she’d have caught the sparkling tear on the cheek of Nurse Bea.

 

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

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Nine

A few minutes later, the Winters sat together in Cynthia’s neutral-toned hospital room. This one had a different print hanging on the wall over the bed, a nice one of a girl with two braids standing among a garden of flowers. Its life and color stood out against the stark sage-beige theme that otherwise permeated the chilly room, and drew Wil’s interest at once.

Cynthia sat resting where she had for their last visit, and many before that for her entire life: propped up in the bed with IV and oxygen tubes dripping life into a body that seemed to repel it. Wil looked down from the picture of springtime to the face of her favorite person. Her mother’s misty blonde hair reminded Wil of a halo, even against the ugly bedspread of green sheets and paper pillows. Wil began to cry.

“Oh, Wil,” her mother began, opening clear blue eyes of concern. “It’s all right.” Wil cried harder, knowing otherwise. Rob and Jakob shifted uncomfortably; trying to find distraction in the tan walls, off-white window shade, or interlocking squares of cream and blue-green printed uniformly across the door curtain.

Cynthia offered her left arm to Wil, and Wil hurried to it. She tried to hug her mother gently, to not weep so deeply. Self-control seemed futile. They had talked about death, given it a name, and said it was coming. The moment she’d seen her mother laying there and thought of angels, Wil felt how very close Death actually walked. His form stood near enough that his cold shadow made her shiver; his voice whispered from the corners of their lives of imminent loss and despair.

“That’s enough, Wil,” Rob said sternly. He came around the bed and pulled Wil gently but firmly from Cynthia’s arm. Wil collapsed on him, instead. His rough face melted from surprise to a quiet pleasure. He shied from emotion, overwhelmed at his daughter’s level of expression; receiving it only when caught off-guard as Wil had done.

“I..” Wil choked, “I’m trying.” She lifted her wet face from her father’s chest, sniffed loudly, and breathed raggedly. “I just … it’s so… I didn’t want to actually lose Mom!” Wil concluded in a slight wail, and dropped her face back onto Rob. He patted her back, a bit awkwardly, trying to ignore Jakob’s sigh.

Turning to give him a reprimanding look, Rob was surprised to see that his stepson was sighing because there were tears streaming down his cheeks as well. He hadn’t seen Jakob cry in public for a decade. Rob adopted Jakob after the baby years, and often thought the boy just didn’t cry. He looked over at Cynthia, and was not surprised to see her smiling his favorite, sweet smile through her own tears.

Despite the oxygen, Cynthia began another coughing fit. Three sad faces -two stained with tears- immediately lifted to look at her. She raised a hand of reassurance as she coughed, and they relaxed slightly.

Incessant beeping began from behind the bed. Wil realized that her mother was on monitoring equipment, and that the erratic oxygen levels induced by coughing had set it off.

Cynthia finished in a few seconds that lasted forever. The machine quieted. In the absence of noise, Wil heard thumping from a neighboring room or two receiving treatment, then picked out approaching footsteps. The door opened and Nurse Bea rushed in, clinking the door curtain to the side. She looked nearly as out of breath as Wil’s mother, though much more cheery.

“Ah,” Nurse Bea breathed in relief, “I see it’s stopped now.” She looked around at the somber assembly, and her expression became more bittersweet. “Don’t y’all worry for now.” She met Rob’s and Cynthia’s eyes. “The doctor will be in in a few minutes. She’s just finishin’ up on down the hall. I’ll leave you to it till then and you just holler if that ole machine acts up in the meantime.”

Leaving them with a parting smile and wave, she slid the separator back, left the room, and quietly pulled the door closed behind her.

 

Continued from Fifty-Eight.
Keep reading to Sixty.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Eight

Wil looked up, startled. Sure enough, there stood her beloved step-brother. His mouth was turned up in its characteristic jeer. From where her mind had just been, she immediately wondered if Jakob knew the content and meaning of the papers an inch beyond her reaching hands. Instinctively, she snatched them and brought them to her chest.

She sniffed, raised her head, and turned to look back at the windows. Jakob laughed a bit, though not as deeply as any of them had for years. Looking around the room once, he dropped into a chair near the table and put his feet up. His imitation down coat exhaled against the imitation leather backing as his worn boots clunked onto the imitation wood tabletop. If Wil hadn’t moved her things, his feet would have landed on them.

She carefully backed into a chair that was still upright. Lifting her required reading for English class in her left hand, she pretended to be absorbed in it. As Jakob snorted, tilted his head onto the back of the chair, and closed his eyes, Wil slid the sensitive papers to her side with her right hand. She winced as they crinkled audibly, and hurriedly shoved them under her thigh.

Jakob snorted again, and turned his angled head to look at Wil. “Is Mom in the back?”

Wil nodded. Aloud, she added, “She was coughing a lot and said we needed to come to the hospital.”

Regular sterile hospital sounds filled the quiet after she spoke: distant footsteps, muted beeping and paging, and the rush of the heated air warming the room from floor vents.

Jakob cleared his throat, then swallowed. Though he tried to hide it, his voice sounded huskier as he asked, “Is she okay?”

Wil looked over the top of the page and met his eyes. They were blue like Cynthia’s, but more serious than his stepmother’s ever were. As much as Jakob teased Wil, it was this seriousness that stopped Wil from teasing as much as he did.

“I don’t know,” she admitted, “but I don’t think she’s dying yet.” She attempted a weak smile, and Jakob’s mouth resisted the urge to complete one of his own. He rolled his eyes and breathed in deeply.

“Nice, Minnie,” he said sarcastically, and closed his eyes again.

Between his pretended napping and Wil’s pretended reading, they only jumped a bit at the door suddenly opening and admitting a plump nurse into the room just a few minutes later.

“Well, hello again!” her ever-cheery voice enthused. It was Nurse Bea, forever full of glee.

 

Continued from Fifty-Seven.
Keep reading to Fifty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters: Twenty-Two

The soft repetitions of aseptic care-giving were not the only sounds Wil remembered from visiting her mother whenever Cynthia was admitted. During daytime hours; these halls also echoed with a strange, dull drum that penetrated through doors, walls, and room furnishings.

They had not been attendants to this odd percussion performance for a few months, since Wil’s parents had decided to have an in-home aide perform the physiotherapy. Only now, walking behind their cheerful escort, did Wil realize how accustomed she was to the sound by its absence.

It was therefore a very silent approach they made to their mother’s door, next to a beige-sage plaque with her room number etched in Arabic numerals and Braille dots. Wil shifted coats and backpack to her right arm and she ran her left fingertips over both versions of Room 241.

Nurse Perpetually Happy knocked gently at the door, then opened after Rob gruffed, “Come in.”

The door swung into a hanging curtain, made of pale green and tan squares, that shifted into the room from the movement. The metal rings holding it to the ceiling rail clinked gently, then more audibly together as the nurse pushed the curtain to the side.

Jakob entered just behind her, with Wil anxiously at his heels.

Rob sat in a plastic and metal guest chair. He held Cynthia’s right hand, nearest to his position. He read his children’s faces -especially Wil’s- to prevent any sudden outbursts that might alarm Cynthia.

Wil’s eyes sought her mother first, and she was relieved to see her mother sitting in the propped-up hospital bed. Cynthia smiled at her children from under the oxygen tube in her nose. Her blanket was a blue-green color, and the print of a painting above the bed depicted neutral tans waving among sea swirls.

Wil returned the smile, and carefully followed her step-brother around the bed to sit on the green guest couch.

Wil’s father cleared his throat. “Mom was just asking where you were when the nurse here said there’d been a misunderstanding.”

The nurse laughed, and corrected, “I right startled you, I think! Popping my head in here and saying I was sorry and I’d get your kids pronto!” She had spoken through smiles, but still seemed to grin more broadly at the memory.

“I’ll just leave y’all to it now. Holler for Nurse Bea (that’s me!) from the call button if you need anything!” She tucked Cynthia’s blankets around her, straightened a few table items, then gave them a cheery wave as she pulled the curtain back across and exited. They all heard the door click closed.

The Winters family, left alone, looked around at one another. They didn’t know what to say first, or who should say it.

 

Continued from Twenty-One.
Keep reading to Twenty-Three.

Wilhelmina Winters: Twenty-One

Rob went first, of course, to talk to Cynthia. He’d teasingly dropped his coat on the groggily-stretching Jakob and followed the nurse through her door, right after she’d said they could come through now.

“I guess we’re taking turns?” Jakob questioned Wil. She shrugged, matching his expression in terms of confusion, though not in bleariness.

They both knew Rob was always one to move first and speak long after spoken to. Wil wondered sometimes if she were adopted, like Jakob, until the infrequent moments her father met her eyes. It was then she saw her own elliptical hazels, shrouded by bushy blond brows instead of her finer dark ones.

Jakob yawned, then stopped in surprise when the nurse opened the door again.

“You may all come back,” She smiled. “The assistant heard ‘children,’ and automatically assumed you were younger.”

The Winters young adults gathered up coats and backpack (and decoded note) and stood. They came forward past the couches and chairs.

“I’m sorry,” Nurse continued pleasantly. She talked as they walked down the hall together. “She’s new here, and a bit uptight. Y’all know how important it is to keep things clean, so we’re not letting children 12 and under back here.” Wil wondered if this woman ever changed expression. Perhaps at night.

She also wondered how Nurse could talk and grin at the same time; a perplexing enough study that Wil walked into the sink of the washing area. Jakob snickered, then shrugged out of his imitation-down coat and pushed his sleeves back.

Wil tried to pull her scarf and coat off with an air of casual elegance, ignoring him and her subsequent blushing.

Nurse, of course, beamed at them both.

They cleaned hands meticulously, then went farther down the hall to Cynthia’s room. The smell of sterility and oxygen permeated the air. The sounds of soft-walking and whispering combined with an occasional chart-paper flutter and muted machine beep.

No matter how often she attended, Wil would always hate the hospital symphony.

 

Continued from Twenty.
Keep reading to Twenty-Two.