Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 44

She's not long for this world

Rachel saw Jennifer in her dreams, lying in the isolation room at Deseret Children’s Hospital, surrounded by machines and attended to by knights wearing strange suits of white armor. She saw the same thing when she was awake. Except the dragons weren’t real. Or perhaps they weren’t real only in her dreams.

Jennifer’s room was filled with dragons. They unfolded their great golden wings, clawed at the smooth tile with obsidian-sharp talons, ready at once to snatch this child’s soul from death’s stubborn hold and wing her far away from Hades’ gate and across the walls of heaven. These were terrible dragons that feared no fiend or demon. Dragons that slept aside the throne of God until dispatched and returned to his presence when the Valkyrie called.

A rush of wind was all it’d take, and she’d be gone. Rachel pulled Laura to her side tightly, lest she too be drawn away in the fierce vortex of the dragons’ wake.

Rachel put on her suit of armor and sat at Jennifer’s side in the fragile stillness. She held her daughter’s small, white hand in her gloved mitt. Remember, Jenny? Last summer in Maine with Grandpa and Grandma? Portland Head Light, the cool summer morning just before dawn. A light mist on the steel-gray bay. The long, low growl of the fog horn filling the air with the sound of distant dragons, calling to them across the infinite chasm. There, look! A wyvern gliding down the sound, skimming above the lobster buoys, slipping away behind the shrouded isles. The dragons, they knew even then. They had followed her here, had sought her out in the shadow of these towering battlements of stone. They had come to take her away, to take her home.

Rachel didn’t know where her daughter’s home was, except that it was not here. And not knowing hurt like death itself.

The end was nigh, and the family flew in like a flock of starlings, paying their last respects outside the glass of the isolation room, as if attending a wake. Rachel wanted to scream, It’s a hospital bed, not the bloody zoo! But there she was as well, standing guard like a terracotta soldier over this life-size china doll.

“Nothing personal, Rachel,” Carl said. “But it kinda creeps me out.”

“Carl!” their mother said, giving him a well-practiced cross look.

But Rachel was with Carl on this one. So she was glad when Laura broke the mood and said, “You should see Mom’s new outfit. It’s so cool.”

“A new outfit?”

“Our neighbor gave it to her. She’s from Romania, and she’s real rich. Andy Millington threw up on her, so she gave it to Mom.”

Laura’s grandmother looked unsure how to react to this information. Rachel said perfunctorily, “I don’t think that’s an appropriate subject for this occasion, Laura.”

Laura almost stamped her feet. “Jenny’s still alive! Quit treating her like she’s dead already!”

Instead of answering, Rachel gave her daughter a heartfelt hug. Laura seemed to know that she was speaking for her mother now and didn’t wriggle out of her embrace.

Later that night, while they were clearing the table, Rachel’s mother brought up the subject Rachel knew had been weighing on her mind and on the mind of David’s parents as well. She said, with a cautious nonchalance, “Are you still trying to have children, Rachel? We could help out, you know.”

It was a tremendously funny way of putting it. She meant money for the fertility treatments. Rachel shook her head. “It’s not like we ever stopped trying, Mom. But we’ve had other priorities. And there comes a point when you’ve just got to stop fighting nature.”

She smiled gamely. Oh, but what a lie that was. Give her half a chance, and she’d beat nature senseless with a stick.

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