A woman discovers something missing. (3 EDITOR'S PICK & HON. MENTION)
|The box lay in the corner. It brimmed with shirts, jackets, and pants of all colors and sizes. Some were worn. Some were old. Some were stained. Some, it seemed, were too small to believe they fit her children. The years had gone by with little fanfare, or fervor. This was life upon this Earth, and Patty had watched that box, filled with the pieces of children's past. It was time, she thought. It was time.
She called her aunt and asked what kind of thread, how big of pieces to make, and the stitch type to use. She also measured how big she wanted to make it and where it might hang. She even wondered if she should use it. Her mother sewed quilts so many years ago. She reminisced how she handed her mother patches and colored thread. She missed that – being with her mother. Making a quilt from the pieces of her kids’ past would be no easy chore. But she knew not what those little pieces of cloth truly meant.
This warm spring morning with a slight breeze tickling the white curtains adorning her open window, she walked over to the box in the corner and picked up the first piece -- a dark blue jersey that Timmy, the oldest, had worn. Of all the pieces in the overflowing box, this was the last one placed inside. He’d flippantly stated that it was “too hot” as he peeled it off his frame and handed it over, right after he came from baseball practice. She picked it up and felt the soft polyester, and remembered her favorite picture (of the several tucked in the pages of the old book) of Timmy in that favorite shirt. She recalled just how it was described. Her mind went back...
Timmy’s senses were tingling. The sweat was pouring from his forehead as he anticipated the batter’s swing. The game was on the line and he manned his usual place, centerfield. The crack struck his ears and the crowd reacted to the drive. Timmy immediately knew the ball was hit well. His reaction was swift – Turn toward the wall and run with all your might! The ball slipped through the high sky as Timmy tracked it with his eyes. Just maybe he measured… Just maybe… His legs felt so light and strong. He might just as well have been flying as he didn’t feel the ground beneath him. He only felt the wind. With all the speed he could muster, his eyes stayed on the ball. His concentration fully on the spinning leather stitches, he dove with his glove outstretched. The ball hit his mit, and mud splashed amply everywhere, covering his shirt and half of his face. He slid several feet in the muck and the grime and hit the fence with a thud. The crowd cheered wildly, and then fell to a hushed murmur. Timmy felt nothing. He only looked down into the heel of his glove and there it was -- a gleaming white baseball. He struggled to his feet and with a half-mud smile, his dad took that picture.
She remembered, and smiled as she cut the shirt with the number ‘7’ in the middle. This will be the centerpiece, she thought. After several minutes of cutting eight squares out of the jersey, she turned toward the box and peered inside.
There lay a frilly white shirt. She lifted it up and sucked in a large breath. Oh, that scent brought it all back…
Maria waited. “Mommy.”
“Yes, dear.” She smiled and looked into that tiny face. Maria fidgeted and her eyes scanned the worn oaken planks.
“What if I mess up?” Her feet tapped in antsy anticipation.
“Oh, honey. You’ll do fine. You’re my girl after all. Plus you have a wonderful voice. Like an angel.”
She smiled even broader.
“I don’t want to go. They will laugh if I mess up.”
“Now, Maria. Mrs. Roberson is counting on you. She picked you for the solo. She told me that you have a great voice.” Her eyes softened with a look only a mother could give, comforting Maria. “I’ll tell you what. You know that perfume that mommy just got that you like?”
“I’ll let you wear it for the rest of the day, but you have to be a big girl and go out there and sing. Sing like I know you can.”
Maria grinned briefly and meekly lifted her eyes to meet her mother’s. “Ok. But don’t let Billy Ruiz come near me. That would just send him over the edge. He already tries to kiss me at recess.” Patty couldn’t help but laugh at the image in her mind.
“Ohhhh, Maria. I love you little girl. Now, go out there and make me proud.” She hugged Maria tight.
Cutting those pieces felt strange, yet satisfying, as she knew it would end up in a very special memory quilt. Perhaps the scent would somehow stay when she pulled it over her body. Patty could only hope as she eyed the next item.
“Oh, no.” Patty said aloud. “I didn’t realize this was… “ Her voiced trailed off. “I just… “. Her hands covered her mouth. The shock on her face clear. “That was so funny!” She held up a small orange and black, broad-striped shirt and laughed. This story was retold and referenced many times...
Sam was no more than three, and like most small boys his size, full of mischief and energy. Laura, the music director’s wife, had toddler duty at the church that day. Sam was his usual self, and played seemingly with all the toys in the nursery, all at the same time. Laura had her hands full that day with Sam and five other toddlers, Sam being the oldest. She enlisted the help of one of the teenagers, Sherry. Even with the extra help it proved to be a difficult day. The inevitable came.
“Yes, sweetie.” Laura chimed back as all experienced pre-school workers do.
“I need to go to the bathroom.” Sam’s brown eyes batted back at Laura.
“Oh. Ok. I’ll take you.”
So, off they went -- Sam in his favorite broad striped shirt. They strolled around the corner toward the bathroom right next to the sanctuary. She opened the door for him and was about to go in when Sam gave her his look.
“I can do it. I’m a big boy.”
“Oh.” Laura said. “I’m sure you are.” Laura smiled down at him.
Laura waited. And waited. He had been in there a long time. “He was a big boy.” She thought. “I’ll give him a few more minutes. Besides, it was nice to have left Sherry back there with the other equally exuberant kids. Laura wandered up and down the hall. Still, she waited.
“He sure is taking his time,” She whispered to herself. She decided to take her mind off things and tried to listen through the doors to the pastor’s sermon. The sermon was a good one. Of course, she thought all of Pastor Reynold's sermons were good. She sat listening in the hall. Then it happened. Sam streaked past her in two blinks of an eye and before she could stop him he’d opened the doors to the sanctuary and scooted in.
At first, there was silence. Laura knew what was coming. The giggles at first and then full wild laughter. Laura rushed in too late. There stood Sam, naked, with a roll of toilet paper in one hand and only a mischievous grin to wear.
“Mommy!” He cried out. Laura's stomach churned in mortification. She scooped him up and darted to the door. In the bathroom, she found a full roll of toilet paper filling the toilet, and a small wide-striped shirt tossed on the floor.
The memories lapped upon Patty's mind as she picked up each piece of clothing. Some were hard to recall. Some had no memory at all. But most had a story attached and a flood of feeling. Patty worked at a frantic pace -- Cutting and sewing and cutting and sewing. Her less than nimble fingers somehow managed to do the job. The box kept giving and giving, and the quilt took shape.
For her first quilt since she was just a young girl, she was quite proud. She smiled and hummed as she worked and kept her mind on the task. April gave way to May. May gave way to June. The weather teemed much warmer now and the box lay almost empty. Her arthritic fingers hurt from the multiple sticks of a needle and the tedious sewing of each patch. But she lovingly did it. She wouldn’t trade this job for the world.
At last it neared completion. She sewed on the second to last patch and she peered into the box which had one last article inside. Poetic, she thought as she reached in to grab it. A soft light-blue onesie draped over her hand. She trembled when she realized what it was.
Tears streamed down her cheeks as a well of emotion bubbled inside her. She clutched the onesie and held it to her cheek, wiping the tears and trying to remember. She needed to remember. Oh God how she’d tried to forget sometimes, but this day she needed to remember. For the longest of time, she held that onesie and mopped the rain of tears with it. “James” she said finally. “My little angel.” The heartache returned as if it was yesterday.
The doctor and nurse went about their business. The nurse prepared the wash basin, while the doctor checked her progress. Eight centimeters dilated -- Time to push. The pain shot through her frame, but she knew what she had to do. She’d done this three times before, but this one was different. It felt different. It was different.
The pain surged like a giant wave, and she knew she had to push. The nurse held her hand tight.
“Push!” the doctor said in a stern professional voice. “You have to push! He’s almost out.” The doctor waited patiently as he stared at the head. The forceps were firmly in his hands. “Just a bit more.”
The doctor latched onto the head and helped pull the baby out. The news was not good, as James finally emerged. He was blue… very blue. “It’s a boy,” He stated clinically.
“Nurse! Emergency procedures on a code blue, stat!” The nurse rushed to the doctor’s side, wrapped up the baby, and placed the limp child upon a waiting bed atop a gurney. Off they whisked him.
“What’s wrong?” She asked frantically. “Where are you taking him? What’s wrong!?! What’s wrong!?!” She screamed. “Oh, my God. Please. He’s dead isn’t he? Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” Her hands covered her face at the mere thought.
“No. He’s not dead, but he isn’t breathing. We need to take him to intensive care right away. This is very serious. The emergency physician, Dr. Nettles will be working on your child while I wrap up here.”
“What’s going to happen to him?” Her mind was swimming. “James. My little James.”
“They’ll do all they can for him. Dr. Nettles is an excellent doctor. Just try to be calm as we wait for the afterbirth.”
She was out of her mind as the doctor ‘wrapped up’. Where did they take my baby?
The next 24 hours was excruciating. The doctors said James had a severe infection and James’s lungs were not very strong. He was breathing with some help. She mustered all of her strength and with her husband’s help, she walked down the hall to the nursery. There he lay. James was at least not all blue any more. Other than the machines hooked up to him, he looked like a normal little infant boy. Oh, how she wanted to hold him.
“I want to hold him.” She told the nurse.
“I’m sorry ma’am. The next few hours are critical. We can’t have any possible infectious contacts.”
Patty wept. She relived that scene over and over in her mind.
In the morning, James held on, but the news turned grim. The doctors said he likely only had a few hours, and "beyond their capabilities to save him". The infection overwhelmed his tiny system. His weakened lungs labored with each breath. Her little baby was dying. She felt so helpless. They dressed him in the onesie with “Our little angel” embroidered on the front and she finally got to hold him. This had to be the worst and the best hour of her life as James passed away.
Patty wept bitterly and sobbed. Normally people would want to finish a project like this. She was so close -- her last patch. But she couldn’t push herself to do it. In the morning she thought, she would cut out the last patch and finish the quilt. Then, she wrapped the almost-completed quilt around her and clutched the onesie to her cheek. The warmth surrounded her. For the first time in her life, she felt a completeness she had never known.
And then, there in the stillness, Patty's soul rested.
Leonard grunted as he lugged a box of stuff out of the room and into the hall. He returned to the room and grabbed an old book and a quilt and proceeded to drop them into the box. Stacy sauntered in for her 10 o'clock shift.
"Hey, Stace," Leonard greeted.
“Hey, Len. What's going on?” Stacy responded.
“Oh, Mrs. Jenkins died late last night.” He paused and glanced into the room. "Went peacefully as I understand it."
“Patty Jenkins? The rich old woman in the private room?” Stacy's voice filled with surprise.
“Yeah. Found her this morning.” He turned and brought out a small box of shoes. A pair of fuzzy slippers lay on top.
“Ohhhh, that’s such a shame." Stacy shook her head in lament. "She’d been very happy recently. She was working hard on that quilt. It looked like it was coming along quite nicely. I never even knew she could quilt until recently. I remember when her niece stopped in to give her all the quilting supplies a few months ago.”
“Yeah, she was wrapped up in it, but look." He nodded toward the box, "It wasn’t quite finished.” He pointed to the box with a corner of the quilt hanging over the side.
Stacy walked over, pulled out the quilt, and held it up to the light streaming from the room's open window.
"There is a piece missing, isn't there?" She shook her head. "Maybe I could finish it.” She examined the patches, and peered into the box. “What’s this?” She asked.
“Oh, she was holding that when she died. Evidently, it meant something to her.”
“Looks like a onesie.”
“A what?” Leonard asked puzzled.
“You know. A onesie. A newborn’s outfit.” Stacy dropped the quilt, grabbed it and held it up. “Our Little Angel,” she stated. “Oh and what’s this?” She spied the old book.
She picked it up and felt the worn leather binding. The faded letters and cracked cover dulled in the fluorescent lighting. This is old.
“It looks like a diary. Where did this box come from?” Stacy said pushing and poking the side.
“Oh, that was brought in about a year ago. It was left over from our community garage sale for the nursing center. You know. Kind of a fund raiser. People donated all kinds of stuff and the proceeds went to the care of the residents. I guess someone just stuck the box, clothes, and that old book in her room, and never went back for it." Leonard wiped the sweat from his brow onto his sleeve.
Stacy tapped the cover a few times and stared at Leonard. "Yes. I remember now. Patty carried this book around with her for months on end. She constantly had it with her. As I recall, she laughed and smiled a lot, and even cried at times when I'd see her reading it. This book meant a lot to her.”
She cracked open the book with reverence. “Oh, my God. It is a diary.”
Stacy stiffened, and read the inside flap. “This diary belongs to Katherine Boggs. Dedicated to my children, Timothy, Maria, Samuel, and our little angel, James.” Stacy's brow crinkled, and she looked at Leonard.
“Who’s that?” Leonard wanted to know.
“Don’t know.” Stacy replied. She flipped through a few pages, paused, and then looked up. “Has her next of kin been notified? You know, Patty's kids?”
“Oh, Mrs. Jenkins? She didn’t have any children. She wasn’t able to have them.”
HONORABLE MENTION IN MARCH 2010 TWISTED TALES CONTEST
EDITOR'S PICK IN 4/21/10 DRAMA NEWSLETTER
EDITOR'S PICK IN 4/6/11 AUTHOR'S NEWSLETTER
EDITOR'S PICK IN 5/14/14 MYSTERY NEWSLETTER
Please also see the play version here.