Read All We Know of Heaven Online

Authors: Jacquelyn Mitchard

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Death & Dying, #General, #Emotions & Feelings

All We Know of Heaven (7 page)

BOOK: All We Know of Heaven
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“We’re running out of money,” Mrs. Flannery had told Danny as she got into the car. Danny couldn’t imagine that the Flannerys—the Flannerys, who had
shrimp
every Sunday—could ever run out of money. “I mean, we have to accept these dates. Winter is slow anyhow, and all this . . .”

Kitt had begun having terror dreams about the piles of un opened medical bills that lay on the computer table. They might have to sell the house. Mike should never have bought a BMW, even used. Their insurance had eighty percent of this covered and seventy-five percent of that. But just the PICU costs were already more than a hundred thousand dollars, a third of their yearly income.

It didn’t matter; but it had to be faced. And so did this.

Kitt tried to be cheerful and nonchalant, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jeans and tugging on her red sweater; but Danny saw the horror on her face as they made their way toward Bridget’s room.

A teenaged boy with tiny, swizzled-in legs who was strapped into a wheelchair with leather supports on either side of his shaved head tried to grab Mrs. Flannery’s hand as they passed him in the hall.

A big, pretty, red-haired nurse pushing the wheelchair said, “Rob, quit flirting!” The kid made a goofy face Danny supposed was a smile. Mrs. Flannery swallowed hard.

There were more kids with a teacher in what looked like a schoolroom. Some of them had shaved heads with stitches still visible on them. Only small portions of Bridget’s head had been shaved. When she’d called last night, Britney told Danny they would just tell Bridget she had a faux-hawk when patches of her hair started to grow and stick straight up. Before the accident, Bridget’s hair had only been trimmed at the ends—never cut. Not since she was seven

and had demanded a short haircut like the one she’d seen on a German figure skater.

Were those kids in the schoolroom boys or girls? Danny wondered. It had to be a school. There were books and a blackboard. One kid’s head was swiveling around and his arm was working up and down. How could anyone think they could pay attention to the teacher? How could the teacher stay sane?

The gray-looking mothers in baggy denim jumpers sat knitting in rockers beside the kids’ beds or wheelchairs or pushed the kids around so they could look up at the TV. There was a nice, big-screen TV in every room, and Neely said the kids also had a theater where groups came to sing and football players and race car drivers came to visit them. The mothers were completely into staring at the kids. Ev ery few seconds they reached out and wiped away the spit. The kids’ faces were all raw from the spit and shiny with Vaseline. Some of them were babies, in cribs with gigantic high sides.
Are they really babies?
Danny thought.
Or some thing worse?

Neely led them to a nursing station, and a rehab nurse, who introduced herself as Lorelei, handed Kitt some forms to sign.

She has to face this work every day
, Danny thought. “What can we do to make Bridget get better faster?”

asked Kitt, as she bent to the forms.

“There really isn’t any way. It happens on nature’s clock,” said Lorelei. “The best thing you can do is keep

her stimulated. Music. Books on tape. Get the home mov ies put on DVD and bring ’em in.”

“Won’t that just make her sad?” Kitt asked, thinking of the scads of discs they had of Bridget’s competitions, made at her request so that she could study where she went wrong and correct it.

The nurse shrugged.

“Kids sometimes do better at accepting things than we do,” she said.

“But is there ever any real . . . Does anyone get better?” “Of course!” said Lorelei. “We’ve had kids so much worse off than your girl walk back in here a year later to show us their navel rings! I mean it! I have the best job in

the world.”

“What happened to them?” asked Kitt. “The ones here.

I mean, to make them that way?”

“Some motor vehicle accidents, like your daughter. Somedrownings. Acoupleofinterrupted SIDScases. Some diving accidents. You name it. The boy we just passed? He fell off a stool in his kitchen onto a tile floor. That’s all. He was horsing around with his younger brother when he was six. . . .”

“But he’s big now. . . .”

“Well, he’s sixteen, Mrs. Flannery. And he’s an outpa tient. He has to come every week to keep those muscles worked and stretched out, or they’re going to wither up.”

Was this what was in store for her daughter? What would the children, Sarah and Eliza, think? They’d barely seen

their sister since the accident. They’d never seen her in the PICU. Mike forbade it. The doctors advised against it, in case it was to be their last memory of Bridget—and even if it was not, a traumatic picture that would last for the rest of their lives. Sarah was only thirteen. Eliza was eleven. How would they adjust . . . to the worst? Come to think of it, what would Kitt . . . how would Kitt learn . . . what these mothers knew? They were all mothers. It seemed that fathers were banned from the rehab floor. How many careers had been relinquished, friendships lost, social lives erased? Kitt had expected to be getting ready to take Bridget on her first round of college tours now. Bridget in her microskirt over her leggings. Bridget casually doing a back walkover and landing just inches short of the bench at the kitchen table, supple as Catwoman. Bridget, her face shining with sweat, proudly on top of the pyramid at the homecoming game. Bridget in her first strapless dress—a creation that seemed to be made of sugar glaze that fell down her sweet, beauti ful little body like icing . . .
Oh please, dear God,
Kitt prayed
. She would never want to live this way. I would never want to see her. . . . I couldn’t
. . . And then she mentally slapped herself across the face again.

How could she be such a fool?

How could she forget that first terrible revelation about Maureen? How?
Kitt Kelliher
, she said, using her maiden name as she did when she was angry,
Get over yourself
.

As they entered Bridget’s bright pink room, with its bor der of daisies stenciled around the top, Kitt said, “Danny,

you don’t have to stay. I’ll be here all day anyhow.” “I can stay,” Danny answered.

What a darling boy
, Kitt thought. She fought against Bridget and Danny being so serious so young—she knew they were sleeping together already—but now she thought,
If Bridget comes out of this at all and looks anything like herself, Danny will probably be one who would stick by her.
Kitt hoped that would happen. Danny was as steady as the stars.

“You go home now. Your own mother hasn’t seen you in weeks.”

“She does say that,” Danny admitted. “I’m sorry. It probably sounds rude.”

“Go ahead. I’ll call you if she wakes up anymore.”

And after he left, somehow Kitt fell asleep in one of the chairs that were so much more comfortable than the ones in the PICU, probably because people were here for the long haul.

Dr. Park, the compact Asian woman who headed the de partment, popped in to check on Bridget; and though she clattered around a bit, Kitt didn’t wake. The little girl did, though, her eyes blazing. She shook her head violently.
No! No!

“What’s up, peanut?” Dr. Park asked.

“No-oot!” Bridget said, obviously furious that it took so long. “No-oooot!”

“New?” asked Dr. Park.

“NO!” Bridget snapped, obviously meaning what she said.

“We’ll get it out in time, honey. Don’t worry. Let me take a look at your eyes, please. Can you blink for me, Bridget?” Bridget shut her eyes tightly. Dr. Park was pleased at the show of spirit.

She glanced at the girl’s mom, crumpled in the chair like a fashion doll thrown down by a child. She thought it best to let her sleep while she could.

a slow storm turning

Slap. Slap. Bump. Bump.

She was conscious, but what did that mean?

She didn’t want to look at this woman. This woman didn’t smell Mom-smell.

Nothing seemed to have a name; and then, up would pop a name, like a message appearing in the window of the little 8-Ball they had when they were little. My sources say yes.

She knew that the sounds and smells meant people like the people before: people-there all-the-time with soft shoes and people-who came-and-went with hard shoes. These were the sounds-from-before, from the lights-and

darks. But this was a different place that didn’t stink. It smelled a little like a house.

“My baby,” the not-Mom-voice said softly. “Oh, I thank God. And Saint Anne. And Saint Catherine. I prayed more than I ever prayed in my life.”

“Mor-un . . . ,” she said again, helplessly.

The mom-but-not-Mom-voice coughed and a bell rang. A little-radio-voice said, “I’ll be right there!”

“She’s asking over and over . . .”

“She’s very confused now, and you have to expect that.” It was a nice voice, a pancake- voice, she thought. Like summer pancakes.

“I . . . I . . . mu . . . Mor . . . un . . . ,” she said again, louder. Her tongue was moist.

“Ahhhh,” said the sweet-voice.

Impatient, she wiggled her hands and made a fist.

“Well!” the same voice said. “We’ve got a feisty one on our hands.” She clapped and the clapping clanged in her head. She could see the nurse wavering, as if underwater, her hair like a cloud of flame. Why did the nurse applaud? It bangedherheadlikeabrokenbanjo. She cringed away into sleep.

“What do you think she was saying?” Lorelei asked.

“Her best friend, the girl who . . .” “Oh. Of course. That was Maureen.” “Yes. Maureen O’Malley.”

“She was asking about Maureen?”

“Yes. I can’t tell her Maureen is . . . you know. Not now.” Kitt crawled back into the chair. Lorelei thought Kitt looked as whipped as a wet dog.

“She’s going to sleep for a while now. And I think you should, too, Mrs. Flannery,” Lorelei said. “I promise I’ll watch over her like she was my little sister. Scout’s honor.”

“I can’t.”

“Go ahead. Go home and get a good night’s sleep. She’ll be here in the morning. Call us ten times if you want to. That’s what we’re here for.”

And so Kitt let Mike pick her up on his way home from Bright Wing. He looked in on Bridget and kissed Kitt’s hair. “It’s a miracle.”

Mike had not seen the open doors that morning—the lolling, twisted children. Now the ward looked like a twi light nursery, like the girls’ bedrooms when they were tiny.

“It is,” Kitt sighed and agreed. “I don’t want to leave her.”

“Just for a few hours.”

The next day, at six
AM
, the dental surgeon showed up on his rounds.

Chris Styles was tall, dark, and oh-so-handsome. He

had played basketball at Stanford, and half of the nurses on the floor had a crush on him. Lorelei wasn’t immune. She didn’t know how Dr. Styles stayed single with all those hor mones coming at him all day. He must go home exhausted. She usually worked Saturday nights; and Dr. Styles, who was Jewish, made a point of working Sundays. It was al ways a little pleasure in her morning to see him when their paths crossed.

Gently, after asking her permission, he examined Bridget’s mouth.

Then he sat down in the rocker and studied the open file of Bridget’s dental chart.

Lorelei had one of her odd feelings. Those weird hunches were the thing that made her decide she would become a nurse when her parents both thought she would make a wonderful teacher. And they had served her well. She could tell when a kid was going to go south, the way dogs can sense hurricanes. She flipped through the girl’s chart, one eye on Dr. Styles, as the tech did the routine blood draw, on the prowl for infections—the danger to any body, however young, when there was injury and prolonged inactivity.

Dr. Styles looked up at her. “I’ve seen teeth that were chipped after accidents, but I never saw a chipped tooth get better,” he said.

“What?”

“The kid in the chart has a big chip in her left lower bicus pid. This kid doesn’t. This kid has had four canines removed for alignment. The kid in the chart has her canines.”

“Maybe you got the wrong records.” “You know I didn’t.”

Dr. Styles and Lorelei exchanged a level look. “You already thought this,” he said.

“Yeah, I did.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“She just got here a few days ago. I thought I was nuts at first. But I had these funny impressions.”

“Well, I’ll do impressions when she’s a little further along. But the doo-doo is going to hit the fan,” said Dr. Styles. “Call me if you need me.”

I need you
, Lorelei thought, and laughed at herself.

She called her sister. They had plans to go shop the sales at the Mall of America. “Let’s just say I won’t be able to come today and watch the news tonight,” she teased Eudora.

“Tell me!” said her sister.

“Can’t!” Lorelei said, and turned off the phone before she did say something. Eudora could convince sea turtles to give up their eggs.

She helped the day nurse, a nice guy named Ben Kip- ness, hold the girl in a standing position for a moment.

“Look,” Ben said. “She’s reaching for the floor with her toes. Both sides.”

“She’s trying to balance. Well, she was a cheerleader.

Glad she wasn’t a little couch potato.” “Why are you still here?” Ben asked.

“Waiting for some orders. I’ll go soon,” Lorelei said ca sually. In fact, she would not go home until late that after noon. They lowered the girl into a chair. Her eyes opened

and she felt for the armrests.

When Ben left, Lorelei spoke sharply into the girl’s ear. “Talk to me, honey! Tell me what the deal is!”

There was time. She was uncomfortable. She back her. Her toys, tins, tops tingled.

Light. She said, “Hey!”

They heard her! She lifted her arm and waved it.

A boomy voice shouted, “Look! Her finger moved! Call Dr. Park!”

Her finger? It was her whole left side that moved!

Time. Time. Light.

Thenasingsongbutveryteacher-yvoicesaid, “That’s definitely intentional.”

“Here,” she said clearly.

“Hearwhat, sweetie?” askedthegirl-voice, as gentle as a violin. “Dr. Park, you heard that.”

BOOK: All We Know of Heaven
12.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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