This is my first horror novel and will be out next month. This scene isn’t scary, but it is momentous…
The storm raged through the night, the wind and driving rain a thunderous white noise drowning the bitter thoughts in my head like a bag of kittens thrown from a bridge; it was the first good night’s sleep I’d had in months. While most people hated or feared the powerful storms that lumbered across the Gulf Coast, I’ve always found them comforting. Storms in Southeast Texas—what we lovingly refer to as “the Golden Triangle”—are usually brief torrential rains that roll overhead like a runaway freight train. Some, like last night’s, drift across the sky’s arch in a lugubrious crawl, dumping an ocean of water, scouring the landscape; clearing it like a house painter preparing for a fresh coat.
When I wake, there’s a little girl beside my bed, staring at the tube in my throat. For the briefest of moment’s, she looks like an angel, a faint shimmer of silver surrounding her. I rub my eyes as I raise the head of the bed, and the light disappears. She’s cute in that Norman Rockwell Americana sort of way. The dark skin peeking through her Disney Princess footie pajamas is smooth and unblemished, but a pink beanie covers her bald head, telling me everything I need to know. She clutches a similarly covered Teddy bear to her chest and regards me with piercing, intelligent dark brown eyes.
“You can’t talk, can you?” One hand drifts toward my trach tube but she pulls it back as if it were too hot to touch, then scratches the side of her nose.
I shake my head in answer, and she frowns. She’s not supposed to be in this part of the building, and I wonder at the incompetence that allowed her to wander from the children’s ward. I search for the remote beneath my thin blanket, close my hand around it, and press the call button for my nurse.
“It’s okay if you can’t talk, you can just listen” she says, chin dipping. “No one ever listens to me.”
I want to ask her what she has to talk about. Danny always had a lot to say when he was her age, most of it meandering and nonsensical, but Barb listened as if it were a breaking news report. But news from a girl in the cancer ward? So many horrible answers crowd my mind I push them away before I dwell on them too long.
“I’m Naomi, and I’m this many.” She holds up five fingers, beaming at me, and I wonder if she’s counting correctly. You never know with little kids. Almost at once, her whole face becomes a frown again as she studies the tubes and wires running from me to my machines. “Are you gonna die?”
I’d like to say no—to say anything—but all I can do is shrug.
“My mom says I get to go to Heaven when I die since I’ve been so good.” She brightens somewhat. “Maybe I’ll see you there!”
Holy shit, I do not want to have this conversation—not now, and not with this sweet, innocent child. I smile back at her, which I hope she interprets as it could happen. Kids this young should never have to face death, let alone the concept of their own mortality. They need to believe in an afterlife, but with that comes the idea that they may not be worthy. Why worry a child over something that isn’t real?
Mark Twain once said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” For the longest time, I subscribed to the same philosophy—death is an endless sleep without dreams. No one fears sleep when they know they’ll wake in the morning. Lying in this bed has shaken that belief. Another monumental understatement.
Even if I could, I would never shake Naomi’s belief that there is a Heaven, and she will indeed go there. I think she sees most of this cross my face, because when she speaks again, it is with sympathy.
“Don’t worry, Mr. You’ll be there, too.” She tilts her head, pouting, eyebrows, or the places where her eyebrows should be, knotting. “You seem very nice. Even if your glow is weird.”
I have no chance to consider the comment before Lydia breezes in.
“Sorry I took so long, I…” She stops dead in her tracks, shoes squeaking. “Well, who do we have here?”
“I’m Naomi.” The girl holds out the hand without the bear. “Pleased to meet you.”
“My, what a polite child.” Lydia winks at me and shakes Naomi’s hand. “But aren’t you a bit far from your bed?”
“It’s okay.” She hugs the bear, now sounding unsure. “Mrs. Tuggles is with me.” She squints up at Lydia, then grins. “I like your glow.”
“Well… I like yours, too.” Lydia holds out her hand. “Why don’t we take you back to your room and let Mr. McCoul rest?”
Naomi grasps her fingers without reservation and allows Lydia to lead her away, calling back a quick, “See ya later, alligator!”
Once out in the hallway, Lydia says, “Perhaps next time you ask permission, okay?”
I can’t hear any more of their conversation as they drift toward the big doors at the end of the hall, but I know it continues. Lydia can talk the ears off an elephant when she’s wound up, and I suspect Naomi’s cut from the same bolt of cloth.
The room is quiet again, and I realize Naomi is the first visitor I’ve had in three days. Usually, Barb would have been by at least twice, but with her new job she has less and less time to spend with me. I hate that she has to work; we’re supposed to be retired, goddammit.
In frustration, I pull the table over, open my laptop, and, for no reason I can fathom, begin typing various forms of foamry into the Bing search on the browser. God, how I despise Google. The words of two children have me unnerved; Patty’s foamry and Naomi’s glow have no connection that I can see, but hey… it’s not like I don’t have the time.