*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*
You can read parts one through nineteen HERE!
Gladys can see what looks like the school Principal standing outside the doorway of the hospital room. He almost looks like he’s on watch – him against whatever dares try and make its way in.
But when she finally makes her way down the long, glossy corridor, Gladys can see that Mr. Anass is anything but on guard. His eyes are moist and his cheeks, slack. His face is so forlorn it immediately brings tears to Gladys’ eyes.
“Good evening, Ms. Harris.”
Gladys can’t help but think that referring to it as good is pushing it.
“Hello, Mr. Anass. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
He looks at the floor.
“Well, school business and everything.”
It’s clear to Gladys that that end of things could have been dealt with elsewhere, would’ve already been taken care of. He has no need to be here. Anass is here because he’s chosen to be.
“Yeah, I guess that puts you in the middle, doesn’t it. I’m sorry about that.”
“No, no. I, uh, am happy to be…” He stops. “Happy is the wrong word. I’m thankful to be of some service.”
“Can I go in?”
“Helena’s in there.” He gestures with his head towards the door behind him. “Under normal circumstances, it’s just immediate family, but since that’s not possible…”
They exchange a glance and Gladys swallows past the lump in her throat before reaching out to push open the dense yellow door.
It’s quiet in the room until a sharp beep from the life support machine pierces the air. Bitty lies still in the bed apart from the small, slow rise and fall of her chest under the delicate, light blue sheet. Her face is bruised and swollen. Her eyes sharp slits, her hands at her sides, cut and battered.
‘Shit,” breathes Gladys.
“She’s in a coma.” Helena whispers.
“What the hell happened?”
“Good evening, Ms. Harris.”
Again, with the good crap.
“My name is Stephanie Statton. We’ve met before. I’m sure you remember. And I’ve called a couple of times as well…left messages on your machine.”
The tall willow of a woman rises from her chair in the dark corner and takes a step towards her, extending her right hand, which Gladys shakes distractedly.
“What is going on? What’s happened to this poor girl? Who is she?”
“My friend.” Helena says dryly. “She’s my only friend.”
“I should explain, Ms. Harris.”
“Damn right, you should explain. You had me thinking it might be my daughter in this bed. Your message was so unclear.”
“I really do apologize. I was…well, I was panicked, quite frankly, but you’re right. I should have left more detail.”
Gladys looks at Helena and her heart swells. She’s okay. Still here. Still hers.
“I happened to be with Helena when the call came in. I knew she and Bettina had become friendly and I thought, considering Helena’s circumstances…and I guess, Bettina’s, that she should come along.”
Mrs. Statton reaches into her bag and slides Helena’s essay out of one of the pockets.
“This is what I’ve been calling you about. I don’t know how much you’re aware of.”
“Okay,” Gladys lets out a frustrated sigh. “I’m not sure this is the time or the place. This poor girl,” she points towards Bitty’s beaten body, “is obviously fighting for her life.”
“She tried to end her life.” Helena says quietly.
“What? She did this to herself?”
“Well, no.” Mrs. Statton begins to explain. “It’s more complicated than that. Please bear with me. I’m only just piecing it all together myself through what I’m hearing from the police. Bettina has been…”
“Bitty,” Helena croaks. “She’s Bitty. Not Bettina.”
Mrs. Statton takes a breath.
“Yes, you’re right. Bitty has been on her own for some time. She used the address of a house where she dog sits occasionally to register for school, but doesn’t actually live there, we’ve since found out. She lives in a hostel. Pays for it through the dog grooming and I guess, the occasional sitting job.”
“She’s all on her own? No family?”
“Another piece we’re learning.” Mrs. Statton advises. “Her mother threw her out when an Uncle, and that title is questionable, got too close to Betti…Bitty. She never went back.”
“I don’t get it. Why this…now?”
“Her mother.” Helena says, still staring at Bitty.
“Her mother?” Gladys is even more baffled.
“Her mother came looking for her.” Mrs. Statton’s voice is working hard at sounding calm. “The Uncle finally ditched her and she decided Bitty was to blame. But Bitty wasn’t having it and when the mom realized she was being challenged she went off the deep end. Beat her daughter senseless, right there in the hostel room. Apparently slammed her face into the porcelain sink.” Stephanie gives up the battle and her voice breaks. “She took some cash from the room before she left, but what she didn’t realize was that a bottle of Vicodin had fallen out of her purse.”
“She swallowed every pill.” Helena is bent at the waist, twisting her hair, a shadow of a mass forming at her feet.
“God, it’s so awful I can’t even imagine.” Gladys looks from Mrs. Statton to Helena. “But I’m sorry. I still don’t understand the connection with Helena, other than, as you say, they’ve become friendly.”
Mrs. Statton looks to Helena and gets what Gladys deems as permission.
“Ms. Harris, do you know why Helena wears those bracelets?”
Confusion passes over Gladys’ features.
“She likes them? I mean…I know I bought one of them for her at the Dollarama. That one with the crosses. Remember Helena?”
“I remember.” Helena does not look up.
“Ms. Harris, she uses the bracelets to cover a scar. A scar I’m guessing you’re unaware of.”
“A scar? What kind of scar? Helena, what did you do?”
“Nothing. I stopped. I fixed it.” She finally looks away from Bitty and Gladys can see that this is about so much more than bracelets and scars.
“You got stuck with me. You think I don’t know, but I do.”
“Helena, I was never…”
“He left me.” She chokes, her quiet demeanor vanishing. He left me and he left you with me…with no choice.
“There’s always a choice, honey.”
“You drink because of me!” Helena is now pulling hair out by the tufts.
“Helena, I drink because of him. You’re the reason I don’t drink more.”
“Why would you want me? Helena practically screeches. “Why would I stick around for this?” She stands and her arms open at her sides, palms facing the ceiling in defiant question, bracelets swinging with the force of her movement. “You’re not even my mother.”
Mrs. Statton tries to quell the sound of her sharp breath.
The long, vertical scar on the underside of Helena’s wrist becomes visible and no one speaks for a moment. Even in her frenzy, Helena is aware that she and Gladys now share the wound.
Gladys swallows. Her mouth is dry and there is a pounding at her temples, a bellow for alcohol. Her hands shake as she takes the now slightly rumpled documents from her purse.
“I am your mother, Helena. He signed. Today.”
Helena pulls her flannel shirt tight around her chest.
“I’ve been trying for years. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“What did you want?”
“You, honey. When I first met your father, I knew he didn’t really love me. He was using me to raise you after your mother died, but I didn’t care. I loved you and that’s all that mattered to me.”
Helena sniffles, kicks at the hair on the floor and pulls her shirt tighter.
“He ditched you with me. I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“No, he was leaving me and he was going take you. Find someone else. I begged him to let me have you.”
“Then why was it so hard to get him to sign me over?”’
“Oh, sweetheart. I know it’s tough to understand, but the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing. No matter what, it would be difficult to give up your child. To admit that you’re not what’s best for them.”
Helena looks back at Bitty. Her face bruised beyond recognition, the tubes and pumps trailing off the bed, the sucking sounds of machinery replacing her lungs and suddenly she understands.
Like her own scar, Bitty’s tattoo means she’s alive.
~ The End ~