Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 38

Sorrow is always dry

Rachel awoke. The bedroom was dark. She felt a draft. The bedroom door was open. “David,” she said. He stirred beside her, and she raised herself to a sitting position. She opened her eyes wider and looked again for what she thought she had seen in the first place.

Laura. It was not a dream. Laura stood at the foot of the bed, wisps of her hair backlit against the window curtains. “Laura?” said her father. “What—”

Rachel put her hand to his mouth. Laura never sleepwalked, but her mother could tell she was not awake. Her eyes stared. Her mouth opened and closed, as if she was trying to say something but had forgotten how to speak.

Rachel whispered, “What is it, honey?”

Laura’s consciousness latched onto her mother’s voice. Her body stirred to respond. “It’s Jennifer. She was in my room. Just now. She says she loves all of us very much, but she has to leave us.”

The glaze left her eyes. She saw her mother and ran to her. Rachel swept the sobbing child into her arms. She could not remember the last time her daughter cried.

Down in the kitchen, the phone rang.

The traffic light flashed to yellow, to red. David stopped well before the crosswalk. Rachel bit her tongue. There’s nobody here! It’s four-thirty in the morning! Run the damned light! But that wasn’t David. Five minutes, ten minutes, what difference did it make? Would her being there make the doctors any more brilliant? Yes, it would. Being there always made the difference. As long as she was there, they could raise Lazarus from the dead.

You want to see your daughter, or you want a chauffeured visit to the ER? That’s what David would tell her—if David was Carl, that is—and Carl would be right. Finally, they were on West Medical Drive. David let Rachel off at the main entrance and turned into the parking garage.

Rachel charged through the reception area. She ran up the open staircase. She burst into the bone marrow transplant unit. She didn’t stop to wash her hands first. Jennifer’s room was empty. She whirled on the desk nurse. “Where is she? Where’s my daughter?” Her voice came close to shrieking.

She was intercepted by Suanne Lane. “Jennifer’s in critical care.” She took Rachel by the arm. “This way.”

Back down the hall, through the two sets of pneumatic doors, into the Critical Care Unit. Into the machine. It was a machine, a living machine, and her daughter was caught in the center of it, in the web of an enormous mechanical spider, her body lit up in blue-white light, tubes and wires running in and out of her as if she were some kind of disassembled robot, some half-human android. Small throw pillows were strangely packed around her body, and medical personnel swarmed around her.

The nurse left her there, just inside the doors. Where was she going? Come back!

A woman stood outside the cubicle. Milada. She turned, her face almost transparent in the halogen light. She grabbed the hand of a passing intern, spoke tersely to him. The intern nodded and waded into the press of doctors and technicians around Jennifer’s bed and found Dr. Ingebretsen. Dr. Ingebretsen looked and saw Rachel. His face grayed. He nodded to the intern and worked his way around the gurney and toward her. He was not in a hurry.

Laura and her father came through the doors behind her, arriving at her side the same time the doctor did. Dr. Ingebretsen said, “Her temperature spiked about an hour ago. Most likely an opportunistic infection, a risk equal to GVHD in cases like this. We’re doing our best to cool her down.”

“Ice packs?”

Dr. Ingebretsen nodded. “Low tech but effective.”

Rachel closed her eyes and held her breath. But nothing would change. The chaff caught the breeze and whirled away, dust in the wind. When Rachel opened her eyes and glanced over her shoulder, Milada was still there. She had not moved in all that time. Their eyes met. Milada tore her gaze away.

“Milada—” Rachel called.

Milada pretended not to hear.

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