by Silvia E. Hines
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Jenny, Josh, and Wendy are drinking coffee from unmatched mugs and studying in a small studio apartment that has a distinct student look. Jenny and Wendy are perusing the screens of their laptops while Josh is reading a large book with the words Internal Medicine embossed on the cover. Jenny is balanced cross-legged on a huge pillow on the floor, and Wendy and Josh lean against a futon mattress covered with an orange print cloth and set partly against a wall and partly on the floor for lack of a frame.
“Is it time for a break yet?” Jenny asks, looking up from her screen.
“It must be,” Wendy answers. “These psychiatry readings are interesting, but they always feel like such a waste of time. I’d rather be on internal med with you, Josh. None of us is going into psychiatry anyway, so why spend so much time trying to figure out what’s real and what’s fantasy?”
Josh places an electric company bill between the pages of the book he’s reading and closes it carefully. “Like you’ve never heard of holistic health, the placebo effect, psychosomatic illness, and all that?”
“Oh, okay,” Wendy says, twisting her mouth to the side to indicate benign annoyance. “But how much do you have to go into to understand the simple concept that the mind has an effect on the body?”
“That’s not necessarily true, what you said,” Jenny says. She stands and stretches, adjusts her loose workout pants to her standing position, then adds a few vigorous yawns.
“The mind doesn’t have an effect on the body?” says Josh. “It’s back to Descartes for you?”
“No, no, that’s true, the mind-body thing. I meant it’s not definite that none of us is going into psychiatry. I haven’t decided yet. It’s still on my short list.”
All three are standing now, taking turns refilling their coffee mugs from a large electric coffeemaker in the adjoining kitchenette. The black and chrome percolator stands tall and important in the otherwise Spartan kitchen area.
“What!” Wendy says loudly. “What happened to pediatrics? I was going to refer all the babies I deliver to you. And then you were going to pass them on to Josh when they got too old for you.”
“Psychiatry has always pulled me,” Jenny says, “but usually I run from it. I decide people are too unpredictable or too complicated for me to have any helpful insights about them. You can’t tell where people are coming from. And you can’t really say what causes what, childhood trauma or genes and all that, because you really just don’t know. I can do more for them, I sometimes think, by fixing up their bodies. Then, I go back...”
“It’s about your mother, isn’t it?” Josh asks. “Losing her baby? Brooding and vulnerable when you were growing up so you felt you had to be good all the time and couldn’t get angry at her?” Jenny opens her mouth to speak, but Josh goes on. “And then you’ve been stuck on that theory about needing to know your parents’ complete history—”
Wendy interrupts. “I think I will be content to know the history of my parents’ liver and kidneys. And that of my patients.”
“But seriously, it’s about your mother, isn’t it?” Josh persists.
“I really don’t know, Dr. Freud,” Jenny says. “Isn’t it between you and my unconscious mind to decide? I’ll stay out of it.”
“Wait a minute here,” Wendy says. “A moment ago we were all studying medicine, and now, suddenly, you both sound like psych residents.”
The three move back to the small living room area and sit with their coffees in hand. Josh brings a box of chocolate cookies with him from the kitchenette and places it on the floor in front of them.
“If it’s okay to talk about this,” Wendy says, “I assumed you had an overriding passion to save babies because of your mother.”
“It’s okay to talk about it. I guess I was influenced by learning that my mother’s first baby died years before I was born. I knew I couldn’t bring Ben back to life for her, so I wanted to save future Bens before they died.”
Jenny pauses, takes a few breaths, announces that it’s getting warm in the apartment and turns on the old-fashioned rotating fan that sits on the floor in the middle of the room. When no one speaks, she continues.
“You know,” she says, “after Josh and I had dinner with my mother last week, when I should have been sleeping, I drove up to the apartment where it all happened.”
“Where what happened?” Wendy’s brown almond eyes enlarge.
“Where Ben died. It’s not too far from the shoreline, just a little east of here, a very small town called Cantonbrook, where my parents lived when they were first married. I found the address on envelopes in a shoebox in my mother’s closet, letters written to her during the year it happened. I was always a little snoop. I wrote down the address because I thought someday I’d go there.”
“You should have asked me to come!” Wendy exhorts. “What was it like?”
“A rundown house, small and neglected backyard, looked like the kind of place criminals or druggies would live in and probably did then, too. My parents certainly didn’t have much money back then. I tried to imagine them there, back in the Seventies, younger than we are now. I know from the pictures they looked like hippies. She had long hair down to her waist, his hair was big and frizzy, and he wore those round John Lennon eyeglass frames.”
“What did you do?” Josh asks.
“I walked a few blocks and imagined them strolling on those streets with baby Ben in a Snugli carrier. I don’t think he lived long enough to go in one of those back carriers with the aluminum poles. There was a lake nearby they probably walked around. You know, when I think of my parents in those bright, wild, hippie clothes, probably smoking pot, although neither of them has owned up to that. I can’t imagine those innocent, goofy kids coping with the death of a baby!”
“Very interesting,” Wendy says. “Did you ring the doorbell? Did you learn anything?”
“Of course I didn’t ring the bell. This happened thirty years ago! And I needed to get back to the present, the books. It was a little crazy of me to take the time to drive out there.”
“There’s probably nothing more to learn, anyway,” Wendy says. “It happened and that’s all there is to it. Just like in a newspaper story, the facts tell the story. The tragic death of a baby without warning.”
“A newspaper story?” Josh says, his eyes widening. “Do you think there’s a newspaper story?”
“A baby dies of what may at first have been unknown causes,” says Wendy. “There might be something. At least, an obituary.”
Jenny bolts upright from her position on the floor. “I think there was a newspaper story,” she says. “There were newspaper clippings in that same closet where I found the old letters. But my mother caught me and took the clippings away. I don’t think I could have read well enough then anyway. The clippings never reappeared. I think I knew the articles were about Ben, but now that I think about it, she had already told me about Ben’s dying, so why did she take them away?”
Wendy is on her feet again. “Them?” she says. “Why would there be more than one newspaper story for a thing like that?”
“We’ll Google it,” Josh says, warming to Wendy’s excitement or possibly developing some of his own. “Well, actually, any articles from that far back probably haven’t been digitized. We can check the microfilm room at the public library. They should have every story that appeared in the New Haven Register for years back, maybe since the paper began.”
“The next time we’re all off-duty at the same time, we’re going!” Wendy cries. “What do you say, Jen?”
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Silvia E. Hines