Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 3

Only the good die young

Rachel folded her arms across her chest. The doctor stopped talking. He’d used a lot of acronyms: Jennifer’s ANC (absolute neutrophil count), her FDP (fibrin degradation products), and the wicked joker in the deck, GVHD (graft-versus-host disease). Nothing had changed: her daughter’s levels were all flat. In this business, no news was bad news.

But her husband nodded. He was the bishop, after all. Being understanding was his job. Not two years ago, over a span of six months he had blessed a newborn child, married the parents, and then conducted the funeral for all three. He understood that suffering came with the territory, that death was part of the job description.

The bishop’s wife did not. She hadn’t understood then, she did not now, and the good doctor hadn’t said a thing that meant anything to her. His empathy did not inspire in her any confidence. She didn’t care if he could feel her pain. She didn’t want him to feel, she wanted him to do.

“Tell me her chances.”

The bishop said, “Rachel—”

“Give me a number,” she insisted. Something she could hang her faith on. Otherwise, the substance of things hoped for was no better than a child’s wish for a pony on her birthday. We can’t afford a pony, dear. That’s what they were telling her.

The doctor pushed his hands into the pockets of his white lab coat. He shook his head somberly—he had somber down. She pressed. “Sixty-forty? Eighty-twenty? One out of ten? One out of a thousand?”

She was beginning to sound hysterical. But she knew they understood. Hysterical mother was her job description, and they were very understanding men. The bishop put his hand on her shoulder. It took all of her self-control to resist jerking free of him. She stood there, Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of bitter salt.

The doctor’s eyes briefly met hers. “There’s no way to say in cases like this.”

There are no other cases like this! she wanted to scream at him. This is my daughter—she didn’t come with a spare in the trunk! Instead, she calmly said, “So it’s all or nothing.”

The doctor sighed. Rachel took the sigh as a yes. Like boys shooting free throws: How about double or nothing, God?

In the waiting room outside the bone marrow transplant unit, a big picture window framed the Salt Lake Valley. The smoky city skyline shimmered in the midmorning sun. The Great Salt Lake sparkled in the distance, the brown-blue brine dissolving into a tan horizon etched by the rocky outlines of Stansbury and Antelope Islands and the hazy sky above.

The bishop said, “I’ve got to get back to work.”

Rachel searched out the golden spires of the Salt Lake Temple, dwarfed by the stressed-concrete-and-glass façade of the Church Office Building. She looked for Moroni and his trumpet, the angel perched on his golden ball like a little toy soldier, bugle raised toward deaf heaven. But it was too far away, the smog too thick on the ground.

The bishop said, “You’re squishing the dragon.”

She looked at the golden wyvern clenched in her fist. She relaxed her hand. The stuffed animal uncurled its wings in her palm. The bishop put his hands on her waist and kissed her on the cheek. For a moment, she melted at his touch.

And then he had to leave. Rachel remained at the window. I’m okay. What a lie that was. Her daughter was dying. She didn’t care if faith no greater than the grain of a mustard seed could move mountains. The mountains could stay put. All she was asking for was the life of one small child. So where had her faith been weak? What prayer, what blessing, what sacrifice hadn’t been good enough? She’d offered the marrow of her bones.

Children died all the time. She knew that. The Bromley child hadn’t been six months old. But if that was the way God was parceling out justice these days, he could stop being so ironic about it. They’d beaten the cancer. Now it was Rachel’s marrow that was killing Jennifer. She had a vicious immune system. Not content with her ovaries, now it was bearing down on her offspring. She drew air deeply into her lungs. Her heartbeat slowed. Time stopped. Nothing bad could happen.

She exhaled. Her shoulders slumped. One breath always followed the next. She returned to the sterile pale-blue room and sat by her daughter’s bed. Again, she found herself counting the breaths. She closed her eyes and shook her head to clear her ringing skull of the siren’s song. She reminded herself, reprimanded herself: there was still Laura, the daughter who would live, the daughter who needed her attention as much as the daughter who didn’t even know she was there.


Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.