Sorry for the delay in posting — it’s been one of those days!
Through This Door
By Margery S. Stewart
She came to me and hugged me. “Of course I want you. By the way, Chris is coming tonight for a week’s visit.”
“That’s nice,” I said. but I had no desire to see him or anyone for that matter. I wanted to be alone, to think about Tom and remember.
Dad came home that night with rolls and rolls of wallpaper and buckets of paint. He grinned at me. “Well, as long as you’re going to be home, Mary Ruth, we better fix it up a bit for you.”
“I’ll help you,” I said. I was glad of the work, it seemed to take the strangeness that was in me and let it work out through my fingertips, so that when the sweeping agony of loss came, I could work savagely, and somehow it eased the pain.
I didn’t like to have Dad working so hard, though. Even with his scoffing that he had never felt better in his life. There was a grayness in his skin that I didn’t like, and he had a way of stopping suddenly and leaning against the wall.
On Wednesday night, we were just finishing the ceiling of the living room, Dad dropped to the floor as though he had been stoned. His face was ashen, and he caught at his side. “Been hurting off and on all day,” he panted, “made me sick …” He stopped talking and doubled up.
I stood above him, wringing my hands helplessly. “What shall I do, Dad? What shall I do?”
He shook his head, his forehead clammy with sweat.
Because I must do something, I ran for the hot water bottle and laid it against his side. It had eased countless stomach-aches in the young ones.
“Better call a doctor,” Dad gasped.
Now I was really frightened. I called Doctor Townsend in Hilltown. He wasn’t in. I brought a pillow for dad’s head, and another hot water bottle for his side. He twisted in new pain, and, in panic, I raced over to Mrs. Marriott’s.
Chris was there. He made me sit down and repeat slowly every symptom.
“What have you done?” He was already reaching for his jacket on the back of the chair.
“Nothing, just put some hot water bottles on him.”
“Good grief, girl!” Chris Jordan regarded me in horror.
He sprinted down the path and across the street. Mrs. Marriott and I followed as fast as we could. But he was on the way to the kitchen when we came in the front door, unscrewing the tops of the offending rubber bags as he went.
“If it’s appendicitis,” he said crisply, “that’s a wonderful way to have it burst.”
“Where is your icebox? Maybe you could chip some ice for me.”
I stumbled out to the porch and picked up the ice pick, hacked savagely away at the frozen crystals.
Afterwards we drove Dad to Hilltown and left him in a room at West Valley Hospital, while Chris went out searching for Doctor Townsend, and Mrs. Marriott and I paced the halls.
Nurses went past us in their rustling white uniforms, their white shoes soundless on the polished floors. I looked at the floors and something dimly familiar stirred in my mind. The rumpus room at Thelma Williams’ house. The Saturday morning job of scrubbing, waxing, polishing the endless squares of green and white. it was so senseless … week after week. Senseless … Something, like electricity shocked through me.
But suppose, oh, just suppose, Mary Ruth, that it hadn’t been senseless. Suppose it had been a gentle leading along to this, to these shining halls, these immaculate rooms that housed so many sufferers. I felt waves of understanding sweep through me. Take a girl like me … who had never had the slightest training, brought up to do things when she liked to do them … Oh, of course, there had been the meals to get on time, and the washing and ironing to do every week. But I had done them whenever I chose to do them. Take a girl like that, and set her down in the exact discipline of the hospital. Would she come through as well? The hours at Thelma Williams’ ran before my mind. The rising and the carefully allotted hours for this task and that. They hadn’t been in vain. I knew it now.
It was a long night and a frightening one. I sat with Mrs. Marriott outside the operating room and waited through interminable hours, until at last they wheeled him out, and Chris, still in the white clothes and mask he had worn to watch the operation, came to stand before us. Dad was going to be all right. I took a deep breath. But it was going to take a longer time than normally to convalesce, because his heart wasn’t as strong as it should be. He would need good nursing.
“But you can give him that,” Mrs. Marriott said.
I avoided Chris Jordan’s eyes. The hot water bottle was a mistake that anyone could make. I could learn. I had a reason for staying home now, there would always be a reason for never pushing open the door. No one else knew that Aunt Mercedes was a wonderful practical nurse. No one around here.
I said to Chris Jordan, “If you hadn’t been there, If you hadn’t known what to do … hadn’t guessed what was wrong …” My voice broke, and Mrs. Marriott reached out and gathered me close.
“You did what you could. The best you knew how to do.”
“But it wasn’t enough to want to help … it wasn’t enough.”
I couldn’t stop crying. But I made the words come out. “I’m going back. I’m going through that door. I’m going back.”
She let me cry all the tears I had not been able to shed before this night. I thought of all the times she had held my hand like this. I knew suddenly why she had come to live among us. She was like a river, clean and beautiful, flowing into the rivers of our lives, making them stronger and lovelier because she was the way she was.
“Everyone who goes through this door,” she said, “will know how to help another through it.”
Chris turned to us. “What are you talking about. Doors? Doors? What do you mean?”
“You wouldn’t know if we told you,” Mrs. Marriott said. But she was only teasing him. …
Today I was moved back to the nursery. It is the one place in the hospital I love beyond all others. The babies were adorable, as always, fat ones, thin ones, dimpled ones, red ones … their little wrinkling faces and reaching hands caught at my heart, as they had always done. Some of them already marked for sorrow, as the tiniest little girl in the corner, whose mother died this morning, or the little Graciano baby, with the twisted leg. But most of them were fat little pigeons, the objects of adoration of mothers, fathers, grandparents, and assorted aunts and uncles.
Someone rattled the nursery knob. I looked up, frowning. Only the doctors and nurses were permitted here. But it was a doctor, complete with mask and white coat and furrowed brow.
I flew to open the door. “They are doing very well, Doctor … only the little Graciano baby … Isn’t there anything we can do?”
“He’s the one I came to see, Mary Ruth.”
Mary Ruth? I looked again at the black shining eyes. “Chris Jordan! Doctor Jordan. Oh, how wonderful! What are you doing here?”
“Working. They took me in at the Smithson Clinic. I started yesterday.” He looked me up and down. “I always knew you’d look like this in your cap.”
“I … I … thank you, Doctor Jordan.”
He looked around the nursery. “Only twenty?”
“Twenty-four in a few more hours.”
“I think a dozen is a nice even number, don’t you, Mary Ruth?”
I stepped back. “Well … I … that is, I never thought of it.”
He said to the babies, “She used to be very truthful when she was young … like you.”
I giggled. “Well, then, I do agree with you, Doctor. Twelve is a nice, even number.” I backed hastily away. “No … Sir, don’t you dare. Not here. They don’t allow kissing in the nursery.”
“Very well,” he said, and put his mask back on, “but only because I respect head nurses as much as you. Now tell me, when will you be through here?”
I looked at my watch. “In just fifteen minutes and thirty seconds.”
He went to the door. “I’ll be waiting down on the lawn, by that third lilac from the left. Mary Ruth, I do love you.”
He was gone, and the nursery was still, except for the Jefferson baby who was getting hungry. But it seemed like music to me … like the notes of a new song, as though something magical and most unprofessional was filling the air with beauty.
I thought of Mrs. Marriott. Oh, I would call her tonight. And what would I say … except thank you, my darling, and thank you again and again, and all women like you, the undefeated, the brave, the tender, forever helping others to push open the dark and bitter doors to the shining future.