We always saw her drifting in and out of the ward. She came during shift change, so the same people didn’t see her enter and leave. She never imposed, you wouldn’t realize she was there until you turned and there she was, fresh and cool like a spring breeze. We figured she was an unfortunate young mother, a poor thing who couldn’t take her baby home yet, bending over the crib to coo comfort at her little one.
It was her smile that did it, the smile that that only made a dimple in her left cheek. Her and her sad green eyes and her honey-colored hair. Folks called her the ward angel.
You don’t see the cause of death on infant certificates written as SIDS anymore. SIDS stood for just about anything, from accidental smothering to coldhearted infanticide. That was usually a home disease, though.
It was a lovely spring, plenty of breezes, plenty of air. But the black mark on those days were all the babies that never made it home. Folks say they’d drop in to see the tyke and find it lying still on its back, as if sleeping.
We worried about her the most, our little angel. She moved with such a light step it was as if her feet were afraid to touch the ground and wake her infant. If you could’ve seen that woman, her smile as she bent over the crib…
Well, the whole thing boiled over when Hannah Foley comes in and sees someone else hanging over her twins. We swear on our scrubs no one came in but our ward angel, but she said the woman leaning over her boys was ugly as a walleye. When she shouted for the other woman to leave, she drew back like she was hit. Hannah ran and got one of us, but the lady was gone. So was little Benjamin Foley’s breath.
Takes a while for people to put two and two together sometimes. The most famous case of SIDS turned out to be the momma herself, but it took ‘em seven kids to reach that conclusion. Sometimes the medical industry doesn’t move as fast as it should, but we get there in the end.
We cornered her after shift change. She was leaning over a cot. She always hit a different cot, not sure how we missed that one. Jessup asks her her last name. She smiles real pretty as if she doesn’t understand. Jessup asks her again and she breaks into tears. Barbara is all set to comfort her, but we hold her back.
Even the crying is off, like she’s trying to make a pretty show out of it, just like everything. Jessup asks her her name. The crying stops. She lowers her hands and just stares at us. Maybe she never hit that response in her whole career. She ain’t prepared, but we are.
She screamed just like a real woman, that was the hardest part. Even after the fire’d been going a while, longer than it probably should. The smoke was thick and greasy, spread like molasses over everyone. Thank god for the breeze.
Needless to say mortality went down.
We stuck her at a crossroads, because no one’s sure what the protocol is for this sort of thing, and buried her with a good, flat stone in case she ever gets the idea to come and visit.
Ward’s a bit slow these days, mostly new dads coming in to peek at their wife’s hard work, grandparents arguing about whose nose he got. But there’s one woman who comes almost every day, dark as a spring wood, always with a smile.
We call her the ward angel.
Just in case.