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.

Happy Mother’s Day

The sun isn’t very bright yet when she wakes to the sound of loud whispering, to the sight of a homemade paper card a few millimeters from her face. The smell is that of unsorted laundry, bedsheets a tad late for their cleaning, with an infusion of overdue diaper. She doesn’t seem able to lift her legs, or one arm. Even her lower extremities are pinned; the sleepy man to her side wakes enough to stretch and embrace what he can affectionately reach.

Using her free hand, she grasps at the card and pulls it to the range at which she can make out its contents. It’s too early, her brain complains, to decipher Cyrillic. She blinks and refocuses. Ah, she realizes, those were flowers -and probably people. Maybe letters.

Taking a guess, she attempts speech. “How nice, Sweetheart!” The artist frowns at the unusually croaky sounds. She clears her throat some, and tries again. “I see you drew me and you and flowers…” She relaxes as his scowl turns to smiles. Satisfied, he turns and falls off the bed, relieving one pinned leg.

The next boy thrusts his offering at equal facial distance to the first, then turns and frowns disinterestedly at the wall. This one is definitely English; it’s even partially typed. She sees he is clearly the most talkative child on paper, too, with so many one-word responses to this standard form his class was given. Age: 33, Hair: brown, Favorite food: food. She smiles, then looks more strained at the next two answers he’d supplied: She likes to … do dishes, She’s really good at … doing dishes. She tries to look grateful as he’s pretending not to watch but really is.

“Thanks, Honey,” she smiles and is not surprised as he shrugs and dodges her attempts to hug him. He, too, leaves the bed and another leg free.

She looks to her last child, on her other arm, and to her other half. Both smile up at her with similar expressions. Genetics will do that. “I love you, Mommy,” the wet diaper owner says sweetly. He cringes adorably as she awkwardly kisses his plump cheek.

Dad sighs and sits up. “Let’s go make Mommy breakfast,” he tells his youngest. He scoops her remaining impediment into the air playfully. He looks down at the bedheaded beauty who birthed them all.

“Happy Mother’s Day,” he says, kisses her around their squirming child, and leaves.

Finally alone, she looks over her offspring’s offerings, and cries.