Granny remains unconscious during the whole trip to the hospital in Mount Vernon. Upon arrival, she’s immediately rushed inside the emergency ward and surrounded by a medical team. Taïga is helplessly following them, clutching her backpack and trying to keep up with the vanishing stretcher. She’s stopped by a kind nurse, who takes her to a small examination room, dries her tears and gives her a can of Coke and a cookie. She asks Taïga about her grandmother first, how old she is, if she knows about any allergies or asthmatic problems. Then she wants to know about Taïga. Not only her medical history, which the little girl doesn’t know anything about, but also what happened earlier tonight and about her mother. She’s then examined by a young doctor who explains that he’s a med student who wants to specialize in pediatrics. He lets her listen to her own heart with his stethoscope, and after making sure there’s nothing wrong with her, he takes her to the BICU (Burn Intensive Care Unit) to see her grandmother, who’s still unconscious.
‘Why doesn’t she wake up?’
‘We prefer keeping her asleep. Like that she’s not in pain due to her burns. She has breathed in a lot of smoke, and her lungs couldn’t quite cope. When that happens, the body kind of shuts down for a while-’
Taïga nods, biting her lip. Her grandmother has both her hands bandaged, and her head. She looks like some scary mommy with thin tubes going in through her mouth and nose. Somehow those tubes seem scarier than the mask earlier. Taïga swallows, fighting her tears. What if she never wakes up again? What if she’ll look like a monster?
‘-so it’s hard for her to take in the oxygen her body needs to function. That’s why she gets clean, fresh air through that machine, which also helps her to breathe.’ He looks at the little girl.
‘But she can’t open her mouth,’ Taïga whispers. ‘She can’t eat. Or drink. She… She loves tea. She says she can’t function without a cup for breakfast.’
The doctor gestures towards a hanging contraption. ‘Can you see the translucent bag hanging there? It’s her food. The way it goes straight into her body through that tube is called an IV – intravenous administration. We can also add medicine if needed – painkillers and antibiotics and such.’ He chuckles, ‘But I’m afraid adding tea is out of the question. She’ll have to wake up for that.’
Taïga nods again. Afraid to start crying if she tries to speak, she looks down at her feet.
‘But the good news-’ The young doctor kneels in front of her, forcing her to look him in the eye. ‘-is that she will be transferred to the hospital in Bigwood Falls first thing tomorrow morning.’ He checks his watch. ‘Or… that’ll be later in the morning today…’
Bigwood Falls Municipal Hospital
Granny and Taïga are sent back to Bigwood Falls in yet another ambulance. The young girl follows her grandmother to her new room, but is not allowed to stay while she’s being examined again.
Nobody pays attention to her at the nurse’s station and following the signs, she rushes downstairs and across the parking lot. She enters the ER hoping to find Derek there. He said he would wait, but that was almost ten hours ago, and she doesn’t really believe he’s still there. She didn’t have the opportunity to tell him that they were going to Mount Vernon instead of to the town hospital, and, honestly, calling him had totally slipped her mind.
The doors to the ER slides silently open and Taïga stops and stares. The emergency room is filled with people and there’s no way she can see if Derek is there or not.
‘Calling Dr. Blue* to the ER. Dr. Blue to the ER,’ a melodious voice singsongs on the high speakers.
A doctor comes rushing. ‘Dr. Goldberg reporting for Blue.’ He stops at the reception and takes the chart a nurse gives him.
‘Could you follow me, please? I know you were leaving, doctor, but there has been an accident on the construction site downtown involving a six-storey fall. The patient is a white Caucasian, 47 years old with diabetes. He’s in critical condition with a severe head injury and we need a specialist’s advice before taking him to surgery…’
They walk briskly away through the maze of people.
* public address system code for “baffling case needing more doctors to take a look in the hope that one of them will know what to do”
Hesitating at first, she walks over to the reception, politely waiting for the adults to notice her. A surgeon in scrubs is leaning against the desk with a cup of coffee in his hands, studiously reading a folder while the young receptionist is being bawled out by the head of department because of her inappropriate clothes – a minimal skirt and see-through T-shirt.
‘… it doesn’t mention anything about it,’ the young girl says, shaking her head and rolling her eyes at the two men.
‘I’m sure it does – somewhere. But-’ The head of department folds his arms on his chest, ‘-it’s obvious that you don’t report to work dressed like this. Being a trainee is not an excuse.’
‘Err…’ The tired surgeon in scrubs looks in Taïga’s direction. ‘I think this one’s for me…’ He grabs his stethoscope and pushes away from the desk he nonchalantly had been leaning on.
‘Could you tell me if-’ Taïga starts, but is interrupted by someone behind her.
‘Scuse me, kiddo.’ A paramedic pushes her gently aside, and wide-eyed she watches them bring in a bleeding man, reeking of alcohol and with his clothes torn.
‘Wersh zhe bashtard,’ the man mumbles incoherently, aiming a punch at the approaching doctor. Luckily he misses, but his gesture sends the nice Halloween decoration on the counter crashing to the floor.
The surgeon motions for the paramedics to follow him.
‘Patient is FD*, huh? Get me a saline drip going, will you, Janet?’ he adds to the nurse falling into step with him. ‘I’ll stitch him up but you’ve got to get ready for a full work-up; physical, blood, toxicology… And we’ll have to get an officer here – this guy will sober up in jail…’
* F*cking drunk
Taïga watches them disappear around the corner, the man swearing and struggling all the way.
‘Hey.’ A nurse hails her. ‘Where are your parents? You have a special place over there with books and kid’s magazines, if you want.’
She nods towards the far corner, then she does a double take. Frowning she studies Taïga’s face.
‘Aren’t you the little girl living at the Cove? That burned last night? I’m Sarah’s mom. Sarah Goodman? I think you were in the same class last year.’
‘We still are, ma’am,’ Taïga says politely.
‘What about your grandmother? She’s not supposed to leave you unattended.’
‘My grandmother is admitted here, she’s on the fifth floor.’
‘I see. So what are you doing in the ER?’ Mrs. Goodman checks her watch. ‘If you could wait a sec, I’ll just tend to the person over there and I’m yours.’
Mrs. Goodman heads over towards a red-eyed man by the window. ‘Your painkillers, Sir.’
‘Oh. Thanks.’ He pops them into his mouth, accepting a plastic cup with water. ‘Wait!’ He grabs the nurse’s arm. ‘Are there any news? About my wife? She’s been in there forever.’
The nurse shakes her head. ‘She’s still in surgery, Sir. You have to be patient…’
Taïga backs up against the wall as a pediatrician hurries by with a battling and screaming toddler in his arms.
‘Don’t forget your bag, ma’am,’ he says over his shoulder to the toddler’s frantic mom behind him.
She stops and looks bewildered around her. ‘My bag?’
‘‘Do not plotz! You heard him, all right. Even I did – and my hearing aid is out of batteries.’ A grumpy old lady scuffles to her feet and grunting with pain she tries to sit down in the wheelchair held in place by a nurse.
‘Feh! Just there for the taking,’ she grumbles, motioning with a scrawny arm towards an armchair next to Taïga, who quickly grabs the scattered items – a toy tiger, a half-full baby bottle and a handbag – handing it all over to the anxious mother.
‘Thanks, you’re an angel!’ The young mother scurries after her howling offspring. ‘Momma’s here, darling…’
Taïga looks at the chaos surrounding her. With surprise she recognizes Dylan from school being tended to by a female doctor. His cheeks are a flushed red and he’s shivering in his thick sweater. Fever, Taïga thinks. She feels a rush of pride of her accurate diagnosis when the doctor states, ‘Your son is running quite a fever. He might have a conjunctivitis – his eyes are red – and he’s coughing… Open your mouth, please… Koplik spots!’ She looks up at the hovering parents, ‘I’m not sure, but this could be measles. Isn’t your son vaccinated?’
The parents look at each other. ‘We’re against all kinds of vaccination…’
Taïga wonders if she has had a shot against measles. She vaguely remembers her mother taking her to the doctor as a little kid, but she can’t recall anything about being vaccinated.
Her musings are interrupted by a sudden growl. Frightened, she whips around, only to find herself staring at a snoring man, his head uncomfortably tilted backwards. The nervous woman next to him puts her magazine away and leaning her arms on her knees throws him an irritated glance.
But Taïga isn’t watching them anymore. She blinks. It is Derek standing over by the window. He’s leaning his forehead against the glass, watching the leaves swirl in the autumn breeze. She rushes forward, throwing her arms around his waist, almost sending them both crashing through the huge window.
‘Derek! I can’t believe you’re still here!’
Derek picks up his cap from the floor.
‘Sheesh, Taïga. Careful! How’s your grams?’
‘Sorry… She’s upstairs being examined again. She’s all wrapped up like a mummy and she can’t breathe on her own. They said in Mount Vernon that she will be alright, but I’m so scared, Derek.’
‘You’ve been all the way to Mount Vernon? Geez. That explains why it took so long.’ He pats her shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, mom says the doctors there are highly trained. I’m sure they didn’t lie to you.’
The people around them shush, and they exit the ER as fast as they can.
The sun is shining but there’s a chill to the air. The pavement outside the hospital is covered in leaves, and there is already personnel from the Leafblower Task Force working on cleaning the area with their noisy machines.
‘It’s cool that you’re back with your grams and everything, but…’ Derek says, watching the two guys advancing with sweeping motions towards them. They are sending not only the leaves blowing, but also a fair amount of dirt and dust. Derek sneezes. He can’t concentrate on what Taïga is saying, his sensible ears are hurting way too much and it feels like there’s no oxygen in the air he’s breathing. The guys operating the blowers are wearing face masks and ear protection, and Derek struggles not to put his hands over his own ears and howl. He motions for Taïga to follow him and promptly turns on his heels, trying to put as much distance between himself and the high pitched whining of the machines as possible.
‘… you should have seen her face, Derek. It was all swollen and red, covered in blisters, and her hands were all black. Black! Do you hear me?’ Taïga tries to explain everything that has happened since she left in the ambulance last night, but both keeping up with Derek and talking isn’t easy.
‘Did you know they use bandages lined with silver and- Hey, we can sit here!’ She stops and points to a bench, but Derek doesn’t slow down, a grim expression on his face. Is he listening to her at all? She hurries after him. ‘Hey!’ She passes him, waving her hands in front of his face. ‘Are you listening to me?’ Walking backwards she tries to catch his attention but only succeeds in clumsily stumbling on her own feet.
Derek catches her as she falls, scooping her up in his arms as if she didn’t weigh more than a pack of flour. The two paramedics from earlier walk past, nodding in recognition. Laughing they admonish Taïga to watch her step, joking about the proximity to the ER.
Derek puts her down again. ‘Yeah, don’t push your luck…’
But that’s exactly what Taïga does. High on emotions and before she even realizes what she’s doing, she leans in and kisses him full on the mouth. Oh my God! With her stomach churning in terrified delight, she stares wide-eyed at his astonished expression, anxiously waiting for his reaction.
She doesn’t have to wait long. With a whoop Derek cartwheels, finishing with two handsprings and a backflip. Taïga giggles with relief. That’s so typical of Derek, showing off to hide his embarrassment . The hospital staff having a smoke a little further away indulgently smile at them but the kids don’t notice.
‘C’mon!’ Euphoric Derek looks at Taïga over his shoulder. Laughing she sets after him and they run off, just happy to move. Derek is relieved of the opportunity to quickly lay a good distance between himself and the steadily approaching noise.
They stop behind the hospital, catching their breath. Taïga is elated. Pointing towards some craters next to the loading ramp, she asks Derek to help her up.
‘There’s an easier way, you know.’ He motions towards the stairs leading up to the emergency exit. ‘You can jump from there.’
‘Sure. But where’s the fun in that?’ Taïga reaches upwards. ‘C’mon, it’s too high. I just need to get a grip on the ledge and then I’ll do it myself.’
Derek bends in front of the craters and lets Taïga put her foot on his laced together hands. She extends her arms, waiting for him to hoist her upwards. She gets a good grip on the ledge, and Derek withdraws, letting her dangle by the arms.
The craters are big, and she has to struggle to get up. Pushing with her feet against the wood, she pulls herself over the top edge of the highest crater. She rolls over onto her back, staring at the cloudless sky.
She did it! She climbed up on her own. And she kissed Derek!
‘Hey! Are you done up there?’
‘Nope.’ She stands up. Closing her eyes, she opens her arms and starts spinning, faster and faster. She’s so happy it hurts. She can still feel the warmth of Derek’s lips on her own and-
‘What the f-?’
Derek’s astonished voice brings her back to reality. When she opens her eyes, her view is obstructed by a multitude of red leaves swirling around and above her, making her gasp in fright and stagger dangerously close to the edge.
‘Don’t move, it’s just a dust devil,’ Derek shouts.
He’s already scrambling up the craters, ready to pull her out of the vortex-shaped formation of swirling leaves, but the force surrounding the young witch pushes him violently up and backwards.
Taïga reacts instantly. With a flick of her hands, she gathers the leaves in a thick heap, cushioning Derek’s fall.
Groggily he touches his head. ‘Ouch. What happened? Where did these come from?’
He drags his hands through the thick layer of leaves in wonder. Raising his eyes he recoils at the sight of Taïga standing on top of the craters, surrounded by immobile leaves. A low growl escapes him, and instinctively he shudders, feeling the hair on his neck stand on end.
‘What- Who- What- What are you?’ He staggers to his feet, backing away, struggling hard not to follow his impulsion to turn and attack her.
‘I can explain. It’s… it’s nothing really. I’m just a witch and-’
He just stares at her with an inscrutable expression on his face, but quickly averts his gleaming eyes. His body shivers dangerously in the presence of the force emanating from the young girl and which is shredding his natural defenses to pieces. His jaws are already aching and he groans, salivating badly.
Oh, no. It can’t happen now. Not here. Not in front of her.
Shaking his head, he fumbles with his hands behind him before turning on his heels and setting off. Taïga jumps down, but he’s too fast. Hurdling over the table and bench he climbs the high fence effortlessly, and rushes off through the forest.
Sobbing she sinks to her knees, angrily rattling the high chain-link fence and hating it with all her might because it’s stopping her from running after her friend. Why did she let her guard down? Now she has scared him away forever… But she couldn’t just let him fall onto his back on the hard concrete, could she?
She scrambles to her feet again when the chain-links start to pop open. The thick metal posts are slowly beginning to bend, creaking and groaning with the strain. Terrified she backs away, staring at the open gash in the fence. She would never have thought this could happen…
She runs all the way back into the hospital, passing the reception desk and not stopping before she’s in the lobby lined with elevators. She rushes forward to the one announcing the odd floors, and pushes the button. A woman with a bouquet of yellow flowers admonishes her to stop playing when she impatiently hits the elevator button again and again. Distracted, Taïga mumbles an excuse. Letting the uptight lady wait for the elevators on her own she sets off looking for the stairs instead.
Breathing hard from running up five flights of stairs, she erupts into her grandmother’s dimly lit room. The blinds are drawn, and that suits Taïga just fine. Sniveling, she dries her tears, approaching the figure on the bed. She can hear her grandmother’s labored breathing, but at least she’s not connected to a machine anymore. They have taken away most of the bandages on Granny’s head, and Taïga is relieved to see that her grandmother doesn’t seem as badly burnt as she first had thought. Her swollen face is recognizable even though it is covered in a white paste generously applied in a thick layer. Just like a beauty mask.
Not scary at all.
Taïga curls up next to her unconscious grandmother, seeking comfort. Exhausted and emotionally drained, she promptly falls asleep.
She doesn’t even stir when the nurses come to check on her grandmother and renew the IV after lunch.
‘Shut… It seems our patient has a visitor.’ The two nurses, Jeretta Johnson and Emmie Ballandi, smile at each other.
‘It must be her granddaughter. She was riding with the patient in the ambulance, during the transfer from the BICU in Mount Vernon. Haven’t you read the night nurses report?’
‘Of course I have.’ Jeretta checks that Granny’s face is totally covered in white paste. ‘Nurse Goodman called up from the ER this morning about this case.’
‘Really?’ Emmie says absentmindedly while securing the bag with fluids and preparing to add a shot of antibiotics.
‘Yes, her daughter’s in the same class. She wanted us to contact the social services, because the kid lives alone with her grandmother, and God knows how long she’ll have to stay at the hospital… You know, their house burnt down entirely – the fire brigade is still at the premises…’
‘Yeah, Luce mentioned it before leaving her shift– she’s dating Luke Stevenson, by the way.’ Seeing Jeretta’s puzzled expression Emmie clarifies, ‘The new Captain of Bigwood Falls fire brigade? You can’t have missed him, he’s the good-looking blond guy who waited for her last Sunday. Anyway, she was quite worried… Here, hold this.’
Taïga whimpers softly, cuddling up against her grandmother.
‘Isn’t it sweet? Poor kid must be exhausted.’
‘Uh-huh. But I don’t know if Dr. King will approve. It’s not very hygienic to let her sleep with her boots on the bed…’
‘You’re right, Em. Better not get “His Majesty” started on the risks of infection.’ Jeretta grimaces and checks her watch. ‘But he’s not due on his afternoon round for another hour yet… Let’s find out what we’re supposed to do with the little girl first. Then we’ll ask one of the CNA’s to have the bedding changed before “His Highness” arrives and-’
Both nurses almost jump out of their skin when the door suddenly opens on the feared head of department. He strides into the room discussing the previous case with the junior resident in tow.
‘… so it’s Campbell who’s in charge? Well, he’ll have to perform debridement on the burn wound again. And what have we got here?’ He rubs his hands, but stops and frowns. ‘Who has allowed this child onto the bed?
‘We were just discussing it with… err…’ Jeretta looks around her, realizing her colleague has cowardly left her to face their superior alone.
‘What are you waiting for? Get the kid out of here. It’s not visiting hours – yet.’ He takes the chart from the bed.
‘I don’t think she has anywhere to go. Sir,’ Jeretta ventures but Dr. King doesn’t answer. Still frowning, he flips through the chart.
‘What? No insurance plan? That explains why they were so eager to get rid of her at Mount Vernon…’
‘Ahem. We could always fix an extra bed,’ the nurse adds.
‘And who would pay for that? Mrs. Grey’s fictive insurance maybe?’ Dr. King sneers, glaring at the brash nurse who dares interrupt him. ‘This is a “pre-existing” case, for God’s sake. Even if the patient subscribes to an insurance when she wakes up – which I doubt – it still won’t pay for the treatment received before signature.’
‘But it’s just a bed, Sir. We have several in the pediatrics facility we could get here within short notice and-’
‘Don’t you have anything nursey to do? Medications to administer, records to write…’ He squints at her name tag. ‘… Jeretta.’
The nurse bites her lip. Mumbling an excuse she takes the tray with used bandages and exits the room.
‘Since when is a simple nurse at facts about managing a hospital?’ Dr. King grumbles, giving the chart to his young colleague. ‘How old is the patient anyway? 70? 80?’
Dr. Mitchell checks the chart, but Dr. King continues before she has the time to answer, ‘Burns are tough on older people and we don’t need another death to disrupt our statistics right before the upcoming board meeting – it’s already enough that we have difficulty hiring proper staff…’ He snorts with contempt, thinking of the young ER trainee. ‘But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep expenses down. Of course she’ll get the emergency care needed, but no extras like expensive anabolic steroids steroids or a skin graft.’
Dr. Mitchell knows when to stay silent. Her superior has spent the morning taking care of administrative matters after firing the ER receptionist and is in a foul mood. She doesn’t want to jeopardize her internship by answering back, even if she doesn’t agree with the heartless policy the board promotes for profit, so she just concentrates on the chart, nodding noncommittally and hoping the old woman’s burns won’t spread more deeply.
‘We can treat her in the outpatient burn clinic, then it will be no concern of ours if she can afford the exams and change of bandages, or not. First degree burns heal on their own in a couple of weeks anyway…’ Dr. King concludes coldly.
If no infection develops, Dr. Mitchell silently finishes his sentence in her head.
Dr. King turns on his heels, but stops with his hand on the door handle. He glares at the old woman and her granddaughter. ‘See to it she has all she needs to get a quick discharge and report to my office.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ Dr. Mitchell is grateful Granny was the last patient to see on the round. She counts to thirty before following her superior out of the room, hoping he’s left the floor altogether. She’ll corner the sympathetic nurse and together they’ll work something out to help the poor old lady and her grandchild. Somehow.
Dr. Mitchell is soon back, accompanied by Jeretta carrying a bag with leftover clothes to replace the ones destroyed by the fire. Granny won’t leave the ward for another week at least, but Dr. King had been adamant about being ready for a quick discharge, and Dr. Mitchell is not a person who postpones her duties. They gently wake Taïga from her deep sleep, giving her some Good 2 Grow orange juice with Olaf from Frozen, a club sandwich and an apple. The young girl devours the food sitting on the bed, dangling her skinny legs and listening to Dr. Mitchell explaining her grandmother’s case. The young doctor is talking about burns and health insurance plans and a lot more Taïga doesn’t understand.
‘… so that’s why we think it would be better for your grandmother to be an outpatient. She will come here every week to get her bandages changed, and she’ll be on medication at home.’
Taïga waits for the young doctor to stop, before asking, ‘I saw her face, ma’am… Will she… I mean, when that white goo wears off, or is washed off, will she, like…’
‘Recover without scars?’
Taïga nods, swallowing.
‘Well. I don’t want to minimize this, Taïga. Your grandmother was badly burnt, and burns can be tricky on older people as their skin is thinner and more fragile. Luckily it was mainly first degree burns on her face. She’ll be in a lot of pain when she wakes up and I can’t assure you that she’ll recover without needing a skin graft. Her head and hands were severely touched, and we confirm the doctor in Mount Vernon’s diagnosis; second degree burns, bordering on third degree. That means that the first layer of skin has burnt through to the second layer and as the skin and muscle are partly destroyed, there’s a risk of infection… So, yes. She will be scarred, and she might be partly incapacitated. That’s why it is very important not to reject her when she returns home again. Help her face the world…’
‘The doctor at Mount Vernon said she was getting antibiotics through the IV. If she gets antibiotics there won’t be an infection, will it?’ Taïga is grasping for straws.
‘Probably not. But all burns are subject to infections if they’re not properly treated. I will prescribe medication for your grandmother to take at home; antibiotics and something against the pain. She will also get anabolic steroids to decrease the healing time somewhat.’
‘We have some soon to be outdated Oxandrolone in stock,’ Jeretta says, folding a flowery sweatshirt and posing it on a shelf, together with jeans and disposable underwear.
‘Perfect, Jeretta. Let’s add a month’s treatment to the clothes you brought up from… err…’ She stops in time, almost having let “pathology” slip her tongue. ‘… downstairs. Check if we can dispense with some Oxacillin or Mezlocillin, too.’
Jeretta nods, jotting it down in her little notebook. ‘Shall I add vitamins, Doctor?’
Dr. Mitchell nods. ‘Of course. Take whatever is needed from the pharmacy…’ She clears her throat, addressing Taïga, ‘Anyway, your grandmother will stay for at least another week, so you don’t have to worry about her getting proper treatment. We’ll do our best to heal her correctly and as fast as possible. When she gets discharged, she’ll have enough medication to last a couple of weeks, the time she gets around to subscribe to a new health plan.’
Taïga nods. ‘Can I stay here with Granny? I’m sure she doesn’t mind me sleeping next to her. Or I can sleep on the floor.’
‘Children are not allowed on this ward…’ Dr. Mitchell searches Jeretta’s eyes for support but the nurse busies herself with the IV. ‘Do you remember the nurse you talked to at Mount Vernon?’ She waits for the little girl to acknowledge her statement before continuing. ‘Well, she asked you about your parents and close family, and it appears you’re living alone with your grandmother. Is that right?’
Taïga nods warily.
‘We have a strict protocol to follow in cases like yours. Even if there are friends of the family who are willing to house you, they have to go through some paperwork first.’
‘If I can’t stay here, where will I stay? I can’t leave Granny all alone. She’ll be so worried if she can’t find me when she wakes up,’ Taïga whispers.
‘You mustn’t worry about your grandmother, she’s in good hands here at the hospital, and so will you be. Err… we have contacted the Department of Human Services. There’s a very nice lady coming to pick you up later, and you will stay with her tonight.’ Dr. Mitchell sighs, plastering on a bright smile. ‘And then you’ll be placed with a foster family until your grandmother is well enough to take you home again. Or your mother, if we can reach her. We didn’t find any other relatives, apart a great aunt in Romania. The administration has contacted her and…’
Taïga listens but can’t assimilate what she’s hearing. She sits immobile, feeling numb and not really concerned about what the doctor is saying.
As soon as the door closes behind them, she jumps off the bed and walks over to the window. She stares with unseeing eyes at the cars coming and going on the parking lot as the afternoon melts into early evening.
She’ll be sent away for how long? Maybe Granny will never be well enough to take care of her and she’ll have to stay in a foster family forever! What if something bad happens to Granny? What if she… if she dies? Then she’ll be handed to an orphanage or to the relative in Romania, just like the Baudelaire kids. But she doesn’t have any siblings to help and support her…
She shudders, closing her eyes for a brief moment.
If only her mother were there… But she isn’t. There’s only Granny, and she won’t even know that Taïga has been taken away. Maybe she’ll never find out, and… No, she mustn’t think negative thoughts. When Granny gets better, because she will get better…
She sighs again. How did Pollyanna do it? There’s no way she can stay positive. Not right now. OK. They are alive, both of them, and that’s what everyone seem to repeat over and over again. But they don’t even have a home anymore. Will the social services let her grandmother take care of her if they don’t have anywhere to go? She hopes they will be able to track down her mother. Maybe she lives in a nice house where they could all live together, the three of them.
She swallows, but the lump in her throat won’t go away. She wonders if there are any foster kids at school. She doesn’t think so. She would have known, Bigwood Falls is such a small town. Maybe she won’t even go to school with her friends anymore, maybe she’ll be sent so far away that she has to start all over in a new town? And what about Derek? He probably won’t even want to talk to her again… Not after what happened today-
A sudden noise from behind startles her.
‘Taïga? The fire! TAÏGA! HELP!’ Granny is sitting up straight in bed, looking disoriented around her. ‘Where am I?’
‘Granny! I thought you’d never wake up again!’ Taïga rushes into her grandmother’s arms, making her yelp with pain.
The little girl backs away, stammering an excuse, ‘I’m sorry, Granny. I didn’t mean to hurt you. The doctor said you were in a lot of pain and I promise I will be more careful but I’m just so happy that you’re awake!’ She beams at her grandmother. ‘Everything’s going to be all right now.’
Granny tries to smile but her face is strangely rigid. She reaches for her granddaughter but stops and stares at the bandage covering her hands and reaching halfway up her arms. ‘What is this nonsense?’ She struggles to get a grip on the IV, but it isn’t easy with only the thumbs free on her bandaged hands. She finally pulls it out and swinging her legs over the edge of the bed stands up a little shakily. Taïga supports her with an arm around her waist.
‘How long have I been here? Are you all right? The fire… Did the fire brigade show up?’ Questions are woozily stumbling over the old lady’s numb lips but she doesn’t wait for Taïga to answer. She touches her forehead and looks at the white paste on her bandaged hand. ‘What on earth is this?’
‘I think the doctor said Silvadene cream. You mustn’t retrieve it, because it keeps infection away,’ Taïga says, proud of having remembered the doctor’s orders. She points at a blue jar next to the sink. ‘She said you have to wear gloves when you apply it, it’s so powerful.’
Granny staggers towards the mirror. Staring at her reflection, she leans against the edge of the hand basin and intently scrutinizes her white pasted face.
‘It doesn’t seem that bad,’ she mumbles. ‘A bit swollen, perhaps, but manageable… Where are my clothes?’ She turns towards Taïga.
‘Err… I don’t know. Probably left in Mount Vernon – they were so badly burnt and the paramedics had to cut them off you in the ambulance. But the things you had in your pockets are here.’ Taïga points towards a plastic bag on the nightstand.
‘Ambulance? Mount Vernon? Oh, my. You’ll have to tell me all about it. Can you give me my things, please?’
Taïga obeys, and Granny empties the plastic bag on the surface next to the sink.
‘My credit cards… mirror… and-’ Clumsily she shuffles through the few items. ‘Yes! Here it is. I knew I would need this.’ Triumphantly she holds a small vial up towards the light with both her hands.
‘A mixture of Propolis, Aloe Vera, Calendula and a little bit of this and that in coconut oil. There should be enough to take care of my hands at least, and maybe even my face…’ She holds it out to Taïga. ‘Please, unscrew the cap for me while I get rid of these bandages.’
Taïga carefully unscrews the tiny cap, watching out of the corner of her eye how her grandmother liberates her hands from the thick bandages. They look truly awful, and the little girl gasps at the sight.
Granny looks at her, her eyes glazed over in pain. ‘Drop some on my hands… Here and here… Would you mind massaging it in?’
Taïga shakes her head. She doesn’t want to touch those swollen red extremities but knows her grandmother can’t do it on her own. She applies the oil with her fingertips, seeing in wonder how the skin heal from her touch. As soon as Granny can fold her fingers, she takes the vial from her grandchild and applies the rest of the potion on her face, directly onto the white paste. Whimpering softly, she rubs the greyish goo until it disintegrates, leaving her face a little swollen but unscathed.
With utter precaution she starts unfolding the silver-based dressings from her head.
When the last silver-impregnated gauze falls into the sink, Granny stares incredulous at her own reflection. There are only thin stripes left of her long, thick, silver hair and pink blotchy patches are shining through on the left side. The overall impression is of an old scarecrow. A very puffy old scarecrow.
‘It’s not that bad, Granny. It will grow back,’ Taïga says tentatively.
‘I know it will, dear. It’s just so… so ugly. I will have to fix this somehow, but it won’t be possible with so many people around… And I need my wand.’ She touches her face with the tip of her fingers. ‘Ouch! It still hurts… The mixture was probably not strong enough to be efficient deeper than skin level,’ she mumbles and frowns which makes her whimper again. ‘I didn’t expect to be this badly burned.’
‘Will you heal in a week, Granny?’
‘In a week? No, I won’t. My elixir has taken away the external symptoms, but there’s no magic strong enough to cure me so fast. And I can’t make the potions necessary without magic anyway. What’s up with the one week delay?’
‘Well, Dr. Mitchell said that you don’t have health insurance and that’s why they can’t keep you for more than a week or so.’
Granny stares at her. ‘Ahem… Health insurance, she said?’
Taïga nods. ‘Can a health insurance cure you?’
‘Not exactly, but it would have helped a lot if I had one. I should have listened to Mrs. Brown when she insisted on signing the renewal forms right before she… err… passed away. But then again she was always bugging me about some trivial matter or other, bless her soul. They are still on my desk, darn it.’
Limping, she starts to pace. ‘You see, being taken care of at a hospital isn’t free, you have to pay and the fees are important. Of course they can’t turn you away – emergency services are provided by law to everyone, but you’re expected to pay afterwards. Now, you mustn’t worry, I have some money hidden for crises like this…’ She stops and smiles, but the smile changes into a grimace and she groans in pain.
‘Maybe they won’t send me away if we can pay the hospital…’ Taïga speculates, hating to add more worries to her grandmother’s pain.
‘Send you away? Who will send you away?’ Granny speaks in a flat voice trying to keep her face immobile. Only her eyes reflect the deep concern her grandchild’s words have stirred within her.
‘The Human Department, or something-’
‘The social services!’ Granny interrupts. ‘How dare they report us to the social services?’
‘Dr. Mitchell said that I couldn’t stay here so there’s someone picking me up later tonight.’
‘Nobody’s picking you up. Over my dead body, they aren’t.’
She limps towards the door. ‘We’re out of here. Take your rucksack and let’s go home. I have more than enough to pay the hospital fees in my mattress.’
‘Our house is totally destroyed, Granny. We can’t live there anymore.’
‘We’ll buy a new house. A smaller one, of course, but there’s enough in my mat- Wait a minute. Totally?’
‘It was all ablaze when we left in the ambulance. The roof was caving in and-’
Granny stops her with a tired gesture. ‘Is there any chance my bedroom’s untouched?’
Taïga shakes her head. Granny sits heavily on the bed, letting the information sink in. ‘We can’t stay here.’ She knows that if she can’t pay the hospital fees she’ll be discharged rapidly, and if the social services get their hands on her granddaughter, she might never get custody of her again. At least not before she has somewhere to take her home to. And no debts. She sighs. Too much paperwork. Too much bureaucracy. There’s only one thing left to do – contact her sister in Romania. She’ll take them in, and maybe the hospital will prescribe her debts after a while. She doesn’t have an address or number for Shasta in Tuscany, but it will probably be easier to contact her with the palantìr once they are on the same continent…
‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,’ she mumbles standing up and heading for the door again. ‘I have to find a phone.’
‘Wait! You can’t go out in the hospital gown, Granny.’ Taïga giggles.
‘Oh. Just a detail but you’re right. And I can’t conjure up clothes without a wand…’
‘Dr. Mitchell brought clothes and medicine for when you’ll be well enough to go home. They’re on the shelf in there.’ Taïga points to the closet, but Granny is more interested in the phone on the nightstand next to it.
A few minutes later Granny has called her sister and booked two seats on the next flight to Bucarest. Taïga packs Granny’s sparse belongings in her backpack, adding the antibiotics and other pills left for her.
‘Don’t forget the Silvamajing – I might need it.’ Muttering, Granny slips on the horrible outfit, and they sneak downstairs and out from the hospital.
‘This is ridiculous!’ Granny tries desperately to pull up the low-cut jeans that keep sliding down over her hips with each pace. ‘I can’t wear this!’
Taïga has to agree. Jeans aren’t really her grandmother’s style. But taking a plane in a long sweeping dress and a witches’ hat isn’t a good option neither, especially as she doesn’t want to attract attention.
They wait for the taxi in front of the hospital’s big entrance. Nervously Granny looks this way and that, starting each time a car drives by. Taïga is checking the surroundings too, hoping against better judgement that Derek will show up. Without even noticing it, tears are starting to roll down her pale cheeks.
A doctor stops on his way in. Frowning he watches the nervous old woman. She definitely doesn’t look well enough to be an outward patient. He debates with himself if he should check on her or not. The weather decides for him, the menacing clouds finally spewing out their load of moisture and he quickens his path. Dr. King knows what he’s doing – if he has decided to discharge a patient, they are probably well enough. Deep in thought he’s almost overrun by a couple in a hurry, pushing a wheelchair in front of them.
‘OY GEVALT! ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME!?! I SAID SLOW DOWN!’
The high pitched voice makes both Granny and Taïga start but luckily the commotion doesn’t concern them. Taïga recognizes the old woman in the wheelchair from the ER.
‘Mother. You can’t just decide to brake with your feet,’ the daughter says patiently.
‘WHY NOT? AND DON’T LET THAT SHLEMIEL PUSH ME.
‘Because you almost fell out of the wheel chair, bless your heart.’
‘FART? I DIDN’T FART!’
‘Mother, I didn’t say that. You could really have hurt yourself.’
The old lady looks astonished. ‘WHAT!?! PERVERT? DR. REILLY IS A PERVERT? NEXT TIME I’LL WEAR MY FANCY KNICKERS.’ She chuckles.
‘You must leave your feet on the foot rests.’ The husband breaks in.
‘The foot rests.’
‘THEY ALREADY TOOK TESTS AND I’M AS HEALTHY AS A YOUNG MAIDEN.’
‘RESTS! FOOT RESTS!’ The man shouts, exasperated.
‘DON’T SHOUT AT ME! I WILL REST AT HOME.’ She glares at the man. ‘If we gets home anytime today, that is…’ she mutters. ‘MIND YOU, I MUSTN’T MISS DALLAS!’
‘Dallas isn’t even on Netflix.’
‘I HAVE THE DVD’s!’
‘Well, YOU WON’T MISS IT THEN.’
‘WHY DO YOU THINK I WILL MISS IT? I SAID I HAVE THE DVD’S!
The man rolls his eyes.
‘Here. Let me help you.’ The daughter kneels in front of the wheel chair and installs her mother’s feet correctly. ‘Arnold, hold the umbrella over mother. Or is it asking too much of you?’
‘It would take more than a few raindrops to finish her off…’ the man murmurs grimacing but shifts the umbrella to shelter his mother in law.
She swats at his hand. ‘I HEARD THAT! Schmuck…’
‘Mother! Luzzem, please.’
Taïga meets her grandmother’s eyes and they both try hard to keep their faces straight. Then Taïga hiccups, and suddenly her face scrunches up but not with laughter. Instead tears burst forward.
‘What is it? Why are you crying, dear?’ Granny doesn’t understand. One second the little girl was trying not to laugh and the other she’s crying her heart out.
The cab arrives noisily, honking repeatedly at a white Honda with the Human Department’s Logo on the door and who’s maneuvering to park. It finally overtakes the slow driver and screeches to a stop at the curb. The window on the passenger side rolls down a few inches and the driver sneers with a heavy Pakistani accent, ‘Aunty? You’re the one called for transportation to Seattle-Tacoma International? What are you waiting for? Are you mounting or not?’
‘Of course we are. We wouldn’t have called you otherwise.’
‘Don’t be acting pricey, Aunty. We have a timing. Not only for your flight, but I’m having dinner with my co-brother and cousin-sister. Put your luggage in the dickey. No luggage? Good. Hurry now. I won’t ask you thrice.’ He starts closing the window, but changes his mind when a spectacled woman sheltered under a large black umbrella approaches. ‘Buy yourself a driving-license, Miss,’ he shouts after her, adding under his breath, ‘Bloody social services, always meddling…’
Granny glances after the woman and kneels hurriedly in front of Taïga. ‘We’ll have to leave now, or we’ll miss our flight.’
Taïga nods, drying her tears on her sleeve. ‘Will we come back soon, Granny? I didn’t say goodbye to… to my friends.’
Granny doesn’t answer. She just hugs her granddaughter, steering her into the waiting cab.
She leans forward and knocks on the partition. ‘We have to make a slight detour – I have some luggage to pick up first.’
Part I – End of Chapter 18
You have just finished the first 18 Chapters of The Grey Witches. You can just continue reading the next Chapter…
Or maybe you’d like to find out something about where the next Chapters will take Taïga and Granny…
Thank you, jameesims3, for the hospital. It can be downloaded on her blog: Jamee’s Sims
I have kept the general layout, but changed the decoration of the “ER”…