Heritage — Chapter 2 of 3
A Story of Life, Death and Family Ties
In case you missed it: Chapter 1
In the stark, antiseptic hospital room, Claire Beaumont slept on and on.
“She’s fallen into a coma,” the doctor said.
Peter Beaumont pressed his lips together. He was tired. His whole body hung loosely, his strength exhausted from the night’s vigil.
“How long?’ he asked.
“We’ll know more in a few days.”
Peter lowered himself into the hard bedside chair, touched his mother’s arm. His breath whistled faintly through pursed, dry lips. “I understand. Thank you.” He stood and moved toward the door.
“Will you be available, Mr. Beaumont?”
“I’ll be here as long as necessary,” Peter said. He stepped out into the hallway, and the doctor followed. “But I’ve got to get a hotel room. I’ve got to sleep. I’ll call with a number once I’m settled in.”
“Good.” The doctor was already in motion, disappearing down the gray-carpeted hallway. “Get some rest, Mr. Beaumont. We’ll notify you if her conditions changes.”
“Thanks,” Peter said. He stepped into the lounge.
Kitty Hastings stared sightlessly at a magazine draped across her lap, her body rigid. When Peter entered the lounge, she tossed the magazine aside and marched angrily toward him.
“Hi, Kitty,” Peter said.
“You son of a bitch!” Kitty spat the words like cold venom. She turned away, arms folded across her chest.
The reproach rang in Peter’s ears. Indignation rose like water in his chest, but a dam of weariness pushed it right back down; it wasn’t worth it.
“Get off it, Kitty,” he said, brushing past her. He moved to the row of pay phones behind her and opened the directory.
“She wants to die at home,” Kitty said, softening. “The whole family knows that.”
“I didn’t bring her here to die.” He found the heading for hotels and ran his finger slowly down the list of numbers. “She came for tests. That’s all. It just worked out this way.”
“What about what she wants?” Kitty demanded. “She planned this out years ago.”
“What?” He turned to face her, eyes narrowed. “What does that mean, she planned this out?”
For a moment, Kitty felt as if she were falling into a hole. She didn’t know what she meant. A vague, dream-like memory touched her, then quickly vanished. She hesitated.
“I mean she told the whole family she wanted to die at home, that’s all.”
Peter cleared his throat and turned back to the phone book.
“Where was the family when she was in pain?” he said, his voice shaking. “I’ll tell you where. They were at home in their beds, secure in the knowledge that old Uncle Peter was there at Mama’s side, taking care of everything. And now you want to complain. Jesus.”
He lifted the receiver and began rooting through his pockets for change. Kitty moved to his side and placed a hand on his shoulder. She laid a quarter on the open phone book.
“I’m sorry, Uncle Peter,” she said softly. “I’m just confused.”
She returned to her chair, and fixed her eyes on a point in the empty air, struggling to retrieve the strange feeling that had almost engulfed her — the image of a little girl, a shimmer, so much like a dream, yet somehow so real…
Peter Beaumont appeared suddenly before her. He had finished his call and was speaking to her:
“I have a room. Just a few minutes away. We could share it, save money.”
Kitty grabbed his words like a rope and pulled herself back into focus. “No thanks,” she said. “Maybe. I want to stay here a while. I want to see her.”
“Call me,” he said, already turning to leave. “I’ll call the nurse’s station from the hotel, once I know the room number. You can get it from them.” He paused in the doorway, considering her. “You okay, Kitty?”
“It was a long drive,” she said. “I’ll be fine.”
A peaceful mist was settling over her, pulling her toward sleep. As Peter Beaumont passed through the swinging lounge doors and disappeared down the hallway, she sank deep into her chair, accepting the calming silver rain around her, surrendering to it. In moments, she was asleep.
“My name is Claire,” the little girl said.
“Is that funny?”
Kitty began to dance the doll again; this time it was a frenzied, angry jig. “Yes,” she said, giggling. “My Gramma’s name is Claire. I think that’s funny. It’s not a little girl’s name at all.”
“And I suppose your Gramma was never a little girl?”
“Of course she was,” Kitty said sharply. “Don’t be stupid. But that was a thousand years ago, back when names didn’t count for anything.”
“I see,” Claire said. She sat on the ground across from the other girl. “Do you have a name?” she asked.
“My name’s Kitty.”
Claire laughed. She rolled on the ground and kicked her feet in the air.
Fire painted Kitty’s cheeks. She stood and turned away, arms folded across her chest. “You’re only laughing at me because I laughed at you.”
“No!” Claire said, suddenly also standing. “I used to have a cat named Kitty. That’s not a little girl’s name either.”
Kitty giggled in spite of herself. She sat down again, arms wrapped tight around her knees. She smiled. “My real name is Katherine,” she said.
They laughed together.
“Excuse me, Ma’am.”
A white-clad orderly was gently shaking Kitty Hastings’ arm. She opened her eyes.
“Visiting hours are over, Ma’am. You’ll have to leave now.”
“What? But it’s only…” She looked at her watch; it was eight o’clock in the evening. “Oh, Jesus,” she said. “I’ve been sleeping for hours.”
The orderly nodded. He smiled and backed away.
“Come back tomorrow,” he said. “Visiting hours start again at eight in the morning.” He disappeared from the lounge.
Damn it, Kitty thought. What’s happening to me? Her whole body was stiff. Her neck throbbed dully as she turned it slowly left, and then right, loosening it.
And what are these dreams? What do they mean? Like forgotten childhood memories, dredged up by Gramma’s illness… an event, a meeting. With each recurrence, the images became clearer, stayed with her longer.
The setting was the Beaumont farm. She’d played by the creek a thousand times as a child. But the fantastic elements of the fairy and the strange little girl… She was certain these had never happened. Yet they seemed so familiar, so real.
She walked to the nurse’s station and asked for Peter’s number at the hotel. She accepted the slip of paper, thanked the nurse, and started for the exit.
Peter Beaumont heard one sharp knock on his hotel room door and rose to answer it. “Hi, Kitty,” he said. He swung the door wide, stepped back. “I figured you’d take me up on the room, so I got a double.” He waved his hands, pointing to the two big beds.
She stepped into the room and threw her suitcase on the uncluttered bed. Peter’s bed was a shambles; apparently he had slept the day away as well.
“How’s Mamma?” Peter asked.
“No change.” She chose not to mention her own coma-like sleep. “The hospital will call if anything happens.”
She examined the large room around her. It was well-kept, but somehow plain. The air was damp. She noted a water stain on one of the curtains. She frowned.
“How’s the food in this place?”
“Expensive,” Peter answered. “I ate at McDonald’s.”
Kitty shook her head and reached for the phone.
When she had finished eating, Peter was already in bed. He sat reading a magazine and seemed impatient to turn out the lights. Apparently, his full day of sleep was not a topic for conversation, either.
The girls played together for hours. They played Pilgrims-and-Indians, Pocahontas, Davy Crockett — whatever Kitty wanted to play, Claire joined in with gusto. They ran laughing through the fields and soon found themselves back at the giant willow beside the creek.
Kitty dropped to the ground, exhausted. She leaned against the great tree, head resting back into clasped hands, elbows splayed. Minnows darted through the water before her, fighting against the current, sparkling in the late afternoon sun.
Claire appeared at her side. “My goodness, this has been fun!”
Kitty watched the fish as her companion sat down on the grass beside her, cross-legged, laughing.
“The fairy said something was happening,” Kitty said. “Something important. You’re supposed to tell me about it.” She picked up a pebble and launched it into the creek. The minnows scattered, then turned and shot downstream, blue and silver lightning, the fast current rushing them off toward the distant river.
Claire’s laughter stopped. She stood.
“That’s right,” she said. “I’d almost forgotten.” She looked anxiously to the hills around her, to the cornfield above, to the already setting sun. “Can’t we play just a little longer?”
“No,” Kitty said firmly. “It’s almost nighttime. I’ll have to go home soon. My Gramma’s waiting.”
Kitty’s words washed over the strange little girl, transforming her. An aura of great age, of weariness, settled over her like a cloud, radiated like mist from behind her child-eyes.
“Kitty? Do you know who I am?”
Kitty remained silent. She dug in the dirt with a stick. She sensed that to answer truthfully would spoil the magic; the spell would be broken and the game would end. Yet even now it was getting dark. Any minute, she’d be called back to the house. She’d have to leave then anyway, immediately, game or no game.
“Yes,” she answered, finally. “I know who you are.”
The telephone rang and Kitty woke with a start. Sunlight filtered through the shabby curtains. She closed her eyes.
Peter appeared from the bathroom, razor in hand, his face half covered in lather. He crossed the room in four great strides and snatched up the phone.
“Hello? This is Peter Beaumont… Great!”
“What is it, Peter,” Kitty asked from the bed.
He raised a finger to his lips. “Yes, she’s here with me. We’re on our way.”
He hung up the phone.
“Mama’s awake,” he said. “She’s asking for you.”
“Kitty!” Claire Beaumont cried as her granddaughter appeared in the doorway.
“Hi, Gramma.” Kitty crossed to the far side of the bed and took a seat on the radiator. She held the old woman’s hand. “It’s good to have you back,” she said. “Are they treating you right?”
“Just fine,” the old woman said softly. “Very fine.”
Peter moved to the bed and touched his mother’s free hand. “Hi, Mama,” he said. “Can I get you anything?”
Peter!” She gripped his wide fingers. “You see how good God is? Our family is together!”
Peter and Kitty exchanged smiles. They sat in silence.
“Peter?” the old woman said, her voice suddenly powerful, commanding.
“Fetch the doctor. I want to know when I can go home.”
“You’re still weak, Mama,” Peter started.
She fixed a kind gaze on his face. The vehemence fell away from her voice:
“Please.” She squeezed his fingers, a gentle reassurance. “I just want to hear it from the doctor. Maybe I’m not so weak anymore.”
When Peter had left the room, the old woman turned urgently to her granddaughter.
“Kitty,” she said, her voice again vibrant and commanding, “you’ve got to go to the farm.”
“The farm will wait,” Kitty said, cooing as if speaking to a child. “I’m staying right here with you. Why…”
She stopped herself, looked away. Her own words burned in her mouth. She had spoken as if she were facing a helpless, frightened old woman, someone incapable of knowing her own mind. But the eyes before her were sharp and clear. The hand she held was strong, filled with power.
“Gramma, I’m sorry,” she said. “I just…”
The old woman frowned. “Stop wasting time,” she said flatly. “Go to the farm. Today. Before nightfall.” She gripped Kitty’s hand tightly, then pushed it away.
The mist was descending again around Claire Beaumont. Her eyes closed.
“Hurry!” the old woman whispered. “Go!”
“Why?,” Kitty begged. “What do you want me to do there?”
“She’ll tell you that.” The voice was a whisper, barely audible.
Kitty’s spine stiffened as an electrical charge ran up from the radiator to the base of her neck. She felt a cold gust of wind and spun toward the window. It was closed.
The old woman was almost gone. She was mumbling soundlessly, repeating a phrase with each shallow breath. Kitty pressed her ear close to her grandmother’s lips, and strained to make out the words.
“Unless Ye become like these little ones,” Claire Beaumont was saying, “Ye cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Thanks for reading!
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