I have not been in the mood lately to work on Puddleby Lane...it needs something in a big way, but I haven't felt clever enough to dig up the something and force it to name itself. So I have dabbled in the luxury of writing short pieces of Nothing. Here is one of those short pieces. I intend to finish this short story if you like it enough for me to go through that effort....I got rather attached to poor Rose Macintyre. Anyway, enjoy the read. :)
“A Fool’s Hope”
By Rachel Heffington
“When I get bigger I’ll walk all the way to Clippership Pass and have a picnic.” The wan hand waved at a rivet in the side of the bracken-covered mountain, and the trustful blue eyes smiled into my own. There was no fear caught in their intricate depths; only a kind of hope that hurt me worse than taking stitches out of a baby’s lip.
I had seen it time and again there—that glimmering trust, that fathomless serenity. How could I dash this fairy-like creature to the ground and tell her that she would probably not even live till that much anticipated sixth birthday?
I put my stethoscope in my ears. Maybe I’d been wrong. “Come now, little bird,” I coaxed.
The pretty creature turned in her bed from the contemplation of those delicious heights to the cool interior of the room scented with clinical smells that had no business there.
“Am I much better, Dr. Colley?” Her fluffy blond hair, looking more than ever like duckling down with being tousled, fell about her pale cheeks. It was not a question as much as a statement.
“Not much, much better yet, Rose, but I hope to have you right as rain by September.” I hoped, but it was a fool’s hope. I knew the rapid downward spiral such illnesses took.
“Oh, by my birthday you mean. Will you come and eat my pink cake with me?” It was a solemn oath she was asking me to swear. I knew that in her childish way she demanded a sympathetic assurance that there was to be a birthday. She never doubted, but she wanted confirmation.
I smiled and put my earpiece to her poor thin chest. A whooshing sound, distinctly painful to the ears of a trained doctor, told me again what I already knew. Little bird would not have her pink cake in September. My hand shook but I masked my finding from Rose in a jovial chuckle. It grated with harsh insensitivity on my ear, but Rose knew no difference.
“Well Rose-bud, if you want to be strong and healthy we must let you get your sleep.” I plumped my tiny patient’s pillows and smoothed the coverlet.
“And won’t you kiss me goodnight?” She presented her cheek—so pitiful and thin for a six year old child’s—and gave me an arch smile.
I gave the kiss with a right good will and a prayer on my lips, then tip-toed out of the room. My patient, worn out with even the effort of saying a few words, was fast asleep.
* * * *
My steps sounded in the empty hall like the sharp report of a rifle. Every doctor grows somewhat attached to his patients, but Rose and I had a special link. We were kindred spirits—if a six year-old girl and a sixty year-old man could be called such. If—and I did not doubt the truth of this verdict—Rose Macintyre died, a part of me would die with her.
I slowed my pace as I neared the parlor where Rose’s parents waited. The poor child had been sick so long they no longer attended me to the room, but waited until they were wanted or needed in the pleasant suite of rooms at the other end of the wing.
Mirrors interspersed between the windows showed a more miserable man with each subsequent reflection. How could I tell Mr. and Mrs. Macintyre that their prize and treasure, their little Rose-bud would wilt before the first frosts?
I shoved my hands into my pocket and felt for my watch-fob. I had no need of the time, but it was a habit, a comforting custom that I gained a queer pleasure from performing in my intensity. I would break it to the parents carefully. They might ask how she was, and I might reply, as I had to Rose, not much better—only putting the inflection on the last word, adding none of the hopeful lilt my voice had sprinkled unbidden into my words to the little girl.
But I needn’t have troubled myself, for as soon as I stepped over the threshold onto the parquet floor, my face told the story. Mrs. Macintyre hid her face in her hands and her shoulders shook. Her bright hair, so like her daughters, was fastened back with a jet comb as if her fingers had known the sentence that morning before she herself had.
The father stood, stricken. “Good God!” he said, not cursing but praying.
I bowed my head and clasped and unclasped my hands. It was not the first time— Lord forgive me—that I had to tell a family there was no hope. No, I had been a doctor for forty years if I had one, and had seen more than my fair share, perhaps, of deathbeds. But this…this creature belonged to the realm of the living. I could no more imagine her held in the chill embrace of death than I could one of the morning glories peeping through the latticed windows, or the yellow canary singing ironically in the little silver cage by the piano.
Of course I knew sweet Rose would be happier in Heaven, yet to our mortal minds the passage from this world to the next seems only befitting for the old—those of us like myself who had lived a full life. If my own life would have done anything to save this poor child dying of tuberculosis upstairs, I would have sacrificed myself on the spot. Yet such is the nature of God that we cannot go until we are called.
Mrs. Macintyre raised her head, and a firm resolve was in her face. “Are you quite certain, Dr. Colley?”
“Yes ma’am. Would that my diagnosis was erroneous, but the point of vagueness is past. I am certain.”
She stood with a rustling of her plum-colored dress and walked silently across the room. Then she took my hands in both of her own and kissed them. “Dr. Colley,” she said, her voice full of pathos and emotions even my own distress could not rival, “You have become one of the family with your daily, some times even hourly visits. Our Rose looks upon you as her good fairy. Her friend and companion in her long illness. Won’t you stay at Wheatleigh till she…until she is Better?”
Brave woman! Convincing herself as well as me that life with her Savior would, to Rose, be preferable to her sweet life here. Death is said to strengthen faith where it is weak, and I suddenly felt that my trips to church of a Sunday were not the sort of Life the Macintyres enjoyed.
“I thank you, Mrs. Macyntire for your kind hospitality, but I must decline. I will be here tomorrow morning at seven to check on our patient.”
Mr. Macintyre advanced, holding my hat and coat in his hand. “Dr. Colley, no matter what the outcome, you will always be welcomed here. You know that.”
My eyes met his and I managed a grave smile. “I do. Call me if there is any change.”
Rose’s father nodded and bowed as I left the parlor. I defied all the general rules of decorum and practically ran out the front door and leapt into my carriage. I could not stay at that house where so many fond memories bedecked the very parlor-carpet with images of Rose when she had been a little better.
The grey London sleet resumed its sloppy habit of falling sideways and washed out the image of Wheatleigh with a tearful slush.
It would not be long now, I decided, till we would know.