by Ryan Lee King
Nina hurried down the stairs in her plain lilac t-shirt and blue jean overhauls, her thick white socks muffling her decent. “I’m coming. I’m coming.” She said to the phone that continued to ring on the foyer table as if it could hear her. Her friends were talking about heading down to River Street that night but had yet to finalize things. Nina snatched up the phone with eagerness. “Hello?”
The voice that answered back didn’t belong to one of her friends. “May I speak to Janice Williams, please?”
Her disappointment changed to curiosity. “Who can I ask is calling?” Nina twisted the phone cord around her fingers out of habit.
“This is Karen Brewer. I’m a nurse at Candler Hospital.”
“Just a moment.” She covered the bottom of the handset with the palm of her hand and yelled up to her mom. “Mom! It’s for you. It’s some lady from the hospital.”
A moment or two later, her mom walked into the foyer wearing a blue pantsuit and pumps. Her dark blonde hair was up in a bun. At her approach, Nina handed her the phone and retreated to the nearby stairs.
Nina started up the stairs, but a funny feeling made her take a seat on one of the steps midway up. She watched her mom through the banister railings with a strange interest. After a short conversation, her mom hung up the phone and then drummed her fingernails on the foyer table while in thought. Nina found it strange and came back downstairs to join her mother.
“What was that about, mom?”
Her mother’s drumming stopped. “Your grandmother is in the hospital.”
Nina stood there stunned. “Oh, my God. Is she okay? What happened?”
Her mother responded with clinical detachment, “She collapsed. She’s over at Candler in a coma.”
Nina sank onto the nearest step, her heart with her. “Are you planning to go see her?”
Janice gave her daughter a slanted look. “No. Why should I?”
Her mother and her grandmother Nigella had a falling out several years back due to Janice’s growing desire for money and her self-serving habits. Out of spite, Janice had forbidden Nina from seeing her grandmother, but that never stopped her from doing so in secret. She loved her grandmother and wouldn’t let her mother’s issues get in the way of their relationship.
“She’s your mom, and she’s in the hospital for god’s sake. Can’t you just get past this hang-up of yours? Show that you’re human for a change.”
The slanted look turned into a glare. “That’s enough, young lady. We’re not going, and that’s the end of it.”
Nina’s eyes watered, and her jaw clenched. She couldn’t believe her mom was this heartless, despite her mom’s actions in the past. Nina knew she could leave later that night under the pretense of going out with friends and see her grandmother instead, but didn’t hospitals have visiting hours? She didn’t want to miss her chance to see her. In a split-second decision, Nina made her choice. She was going to see her grandmother, no matter if her mom liked it or not. Nina ran up the stairs to her room, slipped on her shoes, and grabbed both her key and purse. Her keys jangled on the way down the stairs.
As if somehow knowing what she wanted to do, Janice stood in front of the door with her arms crossed. “Just where do you think you’re going, young lady?” Her mother questioned.
Nina slid to stop in the foyer. “You know where, mom.”
Her mother scoffed, “No, you’re not!”
Nina clenched her jaw for a brief moment before blurting out, “What is wrong with you? Is your heart completely stone? We should be there for her!”
Her mom didn’t say anything, only kept glaring her. Nina made to move toward the door, but her mom held out her hands to prevent her. “You’re not going to see her, and that’s final.”
“Oh, yes I am, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Nina pushed past her mom and turned the knob on the front door.
“If you walk out that door, I’m not paying for college. You hear?”
Nina turned to her mother and looked at her like she had grown three heads. “Really? Do you even know what you sound like? You’re threatening not to pay for your own daughter’s college because she wants to see your sick mother in the hospital? God, mom. Seriously, what is wrong with you?”
Nina turned to leave again. “I mean it. If you walk out that door, I’m not paying.”
Nina lowered her head knowing that her mom was telling the truth, but it didn’t matter. She couldn’t let her grandma be up there all alone. She’d figure out how to pay for college later. “Whatever, mom. Keep your money, since that’s all you seem to care about. I’m going to see grandma.”
Her mother said something in reply, but it was drowned out by the slamming of the front door. Nina hurried to her car as her eyes well up. She desperately wished her mom would put the past behind her but clearly, she didn’t care to.
At the hospital, Nina hurried to the reception desk where an older black lady wearing red-framed cat-eye glasses, sitting behind the counter, greeted Nina. “How can I help you, deary?”
The desk phone rang, but the lady ignored it as Nina spoke. “My grandmother was admitted today; do you know where she’s at?” Nina’s words were thick with worry.
“What’s her name, sweety?”
“Nigella. Nigella Bromley.”
The receptionist turned to the computer to look up the name. Nina watched her closely waiting for an answer. Her eyes darted back and forth between her and the black and white reception nameplate on the desk. “She’s upstairs, deary. Just go up those elevators to the third floor. Room 3-16.” She looked down at her thin silver watch that dangled on her wrist. “Just so you know, visiting hours end at 8:30 pm.” Nina thanked her and headed to the elevators. Her worry increased with every floor the elevator went up. By the time the elevator opened on the third floor, Nina was sick to her stomach. She stepped out into a waiting area with chairs, magazine covered tables, and windows that looked out onto the parking lot. She found the double doors that led to the patient rooms and stepped through, looking side to side trying to figure out where to go.
Down the hallway, she saw the nursing station, standing IV machines, and empty wheelchairs. Nina picked a direction and slowly walked along the corridor, making sure to read each room number. She paused when she saw her grandmother’s last name and first initial scribbled in green pen on a patient nameplate. Nina ran her fingers over the name and peeked her head inside, unsure she wanted to see her grandmother like this.
She’d always known her grandmother Nigella to be a strong woman both in spirit and health. She couldn’t even recall a time where her grandmother had been sick, so upon seeing her grandmother hooked up to an IV and other machines, she stopped halfway into the room. Nigella looked frail and tiny under the beige hospital blanket. There was an IV taped into her arm, and the nasal cannula hung loosely around her face. Her wispy gray hair almost looked greasy as it clung to her face and pillow.
Nina felt ill looking at her like this but swallowed it for the sake of her grandmother. She needed to be here for her since no one else would be. The thought that her mother should be there crossed her mind, but she quickly dismissed it with no small amount of disappointment.
Nina gathered her fortitude and dropped her purse in the nearby recliner that sat next to the window. She pulled the other chair in the room, a dark blue uncomfortable thing with armrests, up to her grandmother’s side. “Grandma? It’s me, Nina.” She took her grandmother Nigella’s hand in hers. Some part of Nina hoped she’d respond, but Nigella never did. The sounds of monitors and the IV machine were deafening. Seeing her this way made her eyes water and before long tears streamed down her face for what felt like an eternity.
Nina stayed at her grandmother’s side, talking to her until the attending nurse reminded her that visiting hours were over. “I’ll be back tomorrow and every day until you get better. I promise.” She kissed her grandmother on the forehead and left the hospital for home.
Nina went straight to her room when she got home to plopped down on her bed. In no time at all, Nina has passed out clutching her worn stuffed koala bear. That night Nina dreamed of her grandmother.
Over the next week, Nina continued to visit her grandmother, and each night she would come home to dream of her. Each night the dreams felt more vivid than the last. Sometimes the dreams felt as if they were set in the 1950s and other times they felt like a movie replaying memories she had of her grandmother.
Unfortunately, the condition of her grandmother Nigella also became more and more apparent. As much as Nina didn’t want to admit it, her grandmother didn’t appear to have much time left. Nina continued to visit her grandmother as long as she could each day with growing worry that it might be the last time. She even tried to get her mom to visit Nigella a handful of times, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Her mom barely had spoken two words to her since she had left to see her grandmother that first night. It made her wonder if her mother loved anything at all, including her.
The next time she dreamt of her grandmother, she pictured herself and her grandmother sitting on a bench in Forsyth Park. It was one of the places they’d frequent to spend time together in secret and feed the birds.
In the dream, her grandmother leaned over and hugged her. “Nina darling. I love you so much, and I hope you know that.” She took Nina’s hand. “I want to thank you for being here for me. I know it wasn’t easy. Look after your mother, will you?”
Nina was confused. This wasn’t like the other dreams where she felt like she was just watching something. This was different. “Grandma?”
“I’m sorry, my darling, but I have to leave now. I wish we could have had longer together.” Grandmother Nigella took the golden heart necklace that dangled from her neck and placed it in Nina’s hand. “You deserve all the happiness in the world. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I only hope this helps.” Grandmother Nigella stood up from the bench and kissed Nina on the head, just as Nina had done every night to her in the hospital. She cupped Nina’s face in her hands. “I love you. Never forget that.” The grandmother smiled. “Goodbye, my Nina darling.”
The park faded away as she watched her grandmother Nigella walk away. The next morning Nina woke with wet cheeks. Worried, she went to visit her grandmother at the hospital only to find that the room was empty. Her grandmother had passed away during the night, and her mother hadn’t told her. She recalled that last dream and sobbed until she couldn’t cry anymore.
The funeral came and left in a blur. Nina remained heartbroken but her mother, on the other hand, didn’t seem phased by any of it. At least her mother had the decency to wear black to the funeral. The day after, Nina and her mother visited the legal offices of Turner and Kelly, where her grandmother’s will would be read.
Nina and her mother stepped out of the elevator and immediately found themselves in a waiting room, similar to a doctor’s office. Her mother approached the receptionists’ window while Nina took in the dull furniture, the fake plants and massed produced art on the walls. The tables intermixed with the seating contained stacks magazines like Sports Illustrated and Cosmopolitan.
By the time her mother had joined her, and she had started paging through the November issue of Cosmopolitan, a man in a pressed black suit approached them and shook their hands. His mustache matched his salt and pepper hair. “My name is Philip Sullivan. I’m,” he corrected himself quickly, “-was your mother’s lawyer. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
He offered them both a tissue, but only Nina took one. At his beckoning, the two ladies followed him into a private room and sat down at the large meeting table. “I’ll be right back. I need to get your mother’s folder.” Mr. Sullivan disappeared into the hallway, and Nina’s mother turned to her.
“Don’t think you’ll get any college money out of this. You chose her over college money. Now you’ll have to live with that.
Money was the last thing on Nina’s mind. “Not everyone is so focused on money, mom.”
Her mother glared at her. “You say that now. Just you wait. You’ll change your mind after having to pay for college on your own.”
“On my own? First semester starts soon. I don’t have the money for that.” Nina had hoped her mother wasn’t as vindictive as she sounded, but apparently, she was.
“Not my problem.”
Nina bit her tongue and swore to herself that she’d never be like her mom. She wasn’t going to let money be the focus in her life, especially not at her grandmother’s will reading.
Janice put on a fake smile when Mr. Sullivan returned with a folder in his hand. Nina looked around the stark off-white meeting room as Mr. Sullivan opened the sealed envelope and pulled out a sheet of notarized paper along with a golden heart necklace. He placed the necklace down on the table, and Nina’s eyes immediately focused on it. It was like the one from the dream.
Mr. Sullivan cleared his throat, as if to begin, but didn’t. Janice and Nina waited for him to speak, but instead, he looked the paper over, and then pivoted over to another sealed envelope. He pulled out its paperwork and reviewed it. They watched as he scratched his head and went on to compare both papers, all the while looking as if he was trying to figure something out.
“Well?” Janice asked, getting impatient.
Mr. Sullivan shrugged and cleared his throat before reading Nigella’s last wishes. Following the reading, Janice turned to her daughter and slapped her across the face before storming out of the room in a huff. Both Nina and Mr. Sullivan sat in the meeting room in shock.
Nigella had left her fortune and property to Nina and nothing to her daughter Janice, save for a handwritten letter. Nina’s mother refused even to read the letter. After collecting his wits, Mr. Sullivan slid the necklace over to Nina. She opened the locket to see a picture of her grandmother and her. Tears streamed down her face as she closed it and held it to her chest.
Mr. Sullivan sat confused, still shaking his head. “I could have sworn she bequeathed everything to your mother. How strange. I don’t remember her changing it.”
Nina looked up at him and rubbed her thumb over the heart locket. “Really?” She took a tissue from the box in front of her and wiped her eyes. He nodded and closed the folder in front of him.
In the elevator, Nina thought back to her dream and her grandmother’s words, “You deserve all the happiness in the world. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I only hope this helps.”
Was this what she meant? Thanks to her grandmother, she’d be able to go to college. She wouldn’t have to worry about having a roof over her head either. Tears streamed down her face again as she clutched the golden heart. “Thank you, grandma. I promise I won’t let you down. I only wish you could be here to see it.” But even as she said it, part of her already knew her grandmother would be watching from heaven.