Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Two

Dr. Sullivan didn’t even wait for a response, a welcome. The door closed smartly behind her starched coat and the curtain rings made no more sound than was necessary. Wil even saw the swirling waves of heat from the wall registers keep to their proper paths. Dr. Sullivan strode past them all and stood near the foot of Cynthia’s bed.

Pulling out a tablet and barely glancing at its activated screen, she said, “And how are we feeling today, Mrs. Winters?”

Cynthia sat up a bit against her pillows. Rob’s hand and her IV followed along. “I..” she looked at Rob, Jakob, and lingered on Wil. “I had a little trouble breathing.”

“She had two coughing spells.” Rob said. “Couldn’t seem to stop.” He lifted his chin to meet Dr. Sullivan’s gaze, avoiding his wife’s.

Wil studied the doctor as well. She saw Jakob’s head move upward, from the corner of her eye. The respiratory physician smiled slightly, checked her records a second time, and addressed Cynthia. “Is that true about the coughing, Mrs. Winters?”

The angelic blonde hair on the bleach-white pillow shifted as Cynthia repositioned again. “Yes,” she whispered.

“Would you say these spells are increasing in intensity and/or frequency?”

Cynthia’s blue eyes met Wil’s dark ones, then each looked down at her hands. “Yes.”

Dr. Sullivan cleared her throat. “I’d like to discuss a few more issues with you, Mrs. Winters, Mr. Winters. But, perhaps you’d rather do so more …privately?”

False-down coat rustling told Wil that Jakob moved when she did, though she was the only one to stand. From a dark tunnel of recovering betrayal, a small part inside her found an anchoring emotion: indignation. “No!” she almost shouted.

Even Dr. Sullivan looked at Wil in surprise, though the stern-faced woman kept her peace. Instead, Cynthia spoke. “We just determined to not keep any more secrets,” she explained to the doctor.

If she wondered at how many secrets they could possibly have entertained recently, Dr. Sullivan chose to move past that revelation. “I see,” she said. “Are you certain? Many patients feel the information to be…” she searched the suspended ceiling tiles for the right word.

Deadly, thought Wil.

“-emotionally stressful for family members,” Dr. Sullivan finished.

Rob’s hand found a stronger hold on Cynthia’s fingers. “We’re sure.”

Wil’s focus shifted to her father. She thought back to the letter she’d just read, from a woman who claimed to have birthed her. Dependable, Guinevere Greene had called Rob, after crossing out boring. His deep-voiced response to the impersonal doctor echoed in Wil’s mind and his strong, determined profile sat before her. “You’re wrong,” she whispered to the phantom letter-writer, “He’s even more than ‘dependable.'”

Rob gave his daughter a confused expression, then turned back to Dr. Sullivan.

“In that case,” Dr. Sullivan said, “I’d better take a seat.” Her eyes roved the room till they caught sight of another plastic and metal chair resting by the cream-patterned curtain. She pulled the chair over and perched on its edge. “We will need a few minutes, and I want everyone to be clear about what I discuss with you.”

 

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

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.