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.
“I’m ready,” Wendy answers. “These psychiatry readings are interesting but they’re a waste of time. I’d rather be on internal med with you, Josh.” She stands and sighs. “None of us is going into psychiatry anyway, so why spend so much time figuring out what’s real and what’s fantasy?”
Josh places an electric company bill in the spine 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 what does it take to understand the simple fact that the mind affects the body?”
“That’s not really true, what you said,” Jenny says. She stands and stretches, adjusts her loose workout pants to her new 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. 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 imposing 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 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, and you can’t tell where they’re coming from. 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’ livers and kidneys.”
“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 minute ago we were all studying medicine, and now 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. Sure I was influenced by learning that my mother’s first baby died years before I was born. 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 studying, I drove to the apartment where it 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’d found the address years ago on envelopes in a shoebox in my mother’s closet, letters written to her during the year it happened.”
“You should have asked me to come!” Wendy scolds. “What was it like?”
“A rundown house, small and neglected backyard, looked like the kind of place where criminals or druggies would live and probably did then, too. My parents certainly didn’t have much money back then.”
Jenny pauses again, notices her friends are paying rapt attention, and continues. “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 those back carriers with the aluminum poles. There was a lake nearby they probably walked around.”
“Romantic,” Josh says.
“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 forty years ago! It was crazy of me to take the time to drive out there.”
“There’s probably nothing more to learn.” Wendy offers. “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 unknown cause,” 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 clippings in that same closet where I found the old letters. My mother caught me with them and took them away.”
Wendy is on her feet, too. “Them?” she says. “Why would there be more than one 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, 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