How many times have I looked out this window? Do I do it every day? What is it out there that I’m supposed to see? A young woman stood by the large windows of the promenade, the early spring breeze ruffled a few wisps of her hair. Scanning the farm below, and the distant pastures and forests, she pulled her shawl a bit tighter with her fingers. There is the old barn and the new one being raised, Mr. Tully is out in the fields with the other men plowing for the seed and the animals were in the pasture munching on the sweet spring grass. Why is this so important? What am I missing?
“Marsha? Marsha dear come away from there, you’ll get a chill,” a familiar woman’s voice called from across the room. “Marsha?” she clicked her tongue, she got up, her chair squeaking as it slid across the floor. Marsha abandoned her search outside and listened intently to the clicking of the woman’s white heels on the tile. Click, click, click, that hard wood heel on the tile was so grating; Marsha grit her teeth at the sound but stood like a mannequin in a department store window. And here is Marsha Kay Sloan modeling out latest trends for those on holiday. She snickered to herself at the notion. No I’m not a model, but I am looking….why am I looking?
“Marsha, honey, it’s time to come away from there,” the woman’s voice was right behind her. How did she get there so fast? Damn it! “I can’t find it.” She muttered, frustrated.
“Find what honey?”
She grimaced at the window, a tear slipping loose and down her cheek. “I don’t know. But I know it’s out there, I’ve just got to keep looking.”
The woman sighed and placed her hands gently on Marsha’s shoulders. “How about you take a break from looking and come have some tea with me, hmm? Doesn’t that sound nice?”
Tentatively, Marsha turned her head back, half smiled and nodded, allowing herself to be shuffled off to a table seating across the room. Settled in an over cushioned wicker porch lounge Marsha felt awkward and unsure. Her feet were too close together, she hated it when her heels touched. Her skirts were jumbled and her shawl didn’t cover as much as she’d like. God why do I have to suffer here? Why won’t you just show me what I need to see? She pleaded, her head down turned, hands folded neatly in her lap. An Image of a child prepared for a scolding she was sure to come.
“Sugar?” the woman asked, Marsha glanced up at her, not daring to move her head and look at the woman square on. Her hostess patiently waited an answer, watching the young woman’s eyes dart about their sockets, taking in as much information as she could without moving a muscle. Fascinating she thought.
Her hands shaking, Marsha held up two fingers, the woman smiled and plop, plop the warmed chamomile was sweetened. Staring at the china cup sitting demurely on its saucer, the panic began to rise. Should I take the tea and just sip it or do I drink it all down so I can go back to look? Will she let me go? Protocol, protocol, what is the damned protocol? Damn you mother, why didn’t you teach me what I should do?”
“Marsha, dear don’t you want your tea?”
She looked up; her hazel eyes bore into the woman sitting across from her. She didn’t mean to but there was an important search to be had and this lounge was just insufferable.
“It’s too hot,” her voice was quiet and delicate. “I’ll wait a moment.”
The woman nodded, her own saucer hovered in her hand just below her bust. “That’s fine, dear, just don’t wait too long.” She sipped her own drink, Marsha watched her intently. The cup rising, sip, lowering slightly to swallow then tipped again for another sip, back in the saucer and finally the whole apparatus on the table. “Marsha, you said you were looking for something, what is it dear?”
Marsha lifted her face, acknowledgement of her search gave her hope Maybe she can help me find it. “I can’t find it,” she said bluntly, looking the woman square in the eyes, her own had become hopeful but still puzzled. “I look every day and I cannot find it.”
“I will help you, dear but you need to tell me what you are looking for,” the woman insisted. Marsha pulled her shawl tighter, dropping her gaze to her feet and then around the room, stopping suddenly her gaze held off to the right.
The woman looked Marsha up and down assessing her overall appearance. Her hair was clean and nearly pulled back into a bun; face washed showing no signs of scratches. Clothing neat and tidy, if not a little out of fashion but it is to be expected. Her shawl was the only color in the whole ensemble; a lovely lilac purple accented the black blouse and skirt. Overall she looked perfectly normal, a touch matronly for her age but still within reason and passable in town. “Marsha?”
The young woman did not move, but kept staring at the other end of the promenade. “Where is Richard?” Her voice had changed, before it was hopeful and almost youthful, now it was deeper, husky and filled with worldly experience.
The woman felt a surge of hope like an electric jolt; she nearly jumped out of her seat. “Where is he supposed to be, Marsha?”
“He should be home by now, it’s nearly supper time,” her voice stayed low, she squinted then sighed. “Randall needs to come in and wash up. His father will be upset if he’s late for supper.” Marsha began to fret with the edge of her shawl and nearly stood up, the woman jumped in quickly to divert her.
“I’ve already called him; he is washing up just now.” Butterflies fluttered in her stomach, the woman anxiously watched Marsha.
Marsha looked right at the woman, this time composed and a complete woman. She nodded her thanks, taking up the tea cup and saucer in her hand, she held it for a moment poised to drink, sipped, still pondering.
“Marsha, did Richard go to town?” the woman prompted, taking up her own tea to sip.
Marsha stared into space; you could see her mind was trying to work out a problem. She sipped and then set the cup and saucer back on the table. “Yes,” she replied tentatively, her gaze still drawn away; she paused then looked right at the woman. “Yes, Nurse Joan, Richard went to town on Thursday, he should be back by now. Tell me is the train running late?”
Caught mid swallow, Nurse Joan hummed and shook her head. “No, I believe it is on time today. Where is Randall?”
“Off to school. He is quite good at his sums, my Randall.” Marsha smiled a moment, then it waned and she looked down at her hands.
No, no, NO! Don’t fade so fast! Nurse Joan thought as she scrapped for more questions. “Marsha, dear, do you know where you are?” A pit formed in her stomach, each time this question caused disaster.
Marsha looked up at the Nurse and smiled softly. “Its tea time, dear, you and I always take tea before supper.”
“Yes, I know the time, but where are you Marsha?”
Marsha shook her head and stared at the tea setting. “I am in my home, Joan, you know that. Richard will be back soon from town and Randall is washing up. You told me that much,” she snapped. Both women sat for a moment in silence.
“May I take this for you, Nurse Joan?” a steward dressed in white came over and gestured to the tea setting.
“Yes, George, thank you.” The steward gathered the tea and removed it from the table. Nurse Joan pulled a folder that she had tucked in her seat alongside her hip. “Marsha, I have some things I need you to look at. It might be hard but you must look at them to know where you are.” She pulled a pamphlet out of the folder and set it on the table. Marsha looked at it from a distance, not daring to pick it up, her hands still fretting with the corner of her shawl.
“The Marquette Asylum,” she paused and looked at the woman confused. “Am I on holiday or have I been ill?”
“A bit of both actually,” Joan said hopefully. “You were ill, but have been well for quite some time. Do you know why you are here, Marsha?”
“Where is Randall?” Marsha insisted. Joan pursed her lips in frustration then relaxed quickly.
“He will be along,”
“He must practice his sums, and letters.”
“Marsha, Marsha dear, how old is Randall?”
“Oh he’s ten, quite a young man,” she replied with pride.
Joan sighed, they were going nowhere and she knew that she had to make her see. “Marsha, where do you live?” the woman gave her a confused and a bit irritated look, “I mean what is your address?” Joan quickly jumped in to clarify.
Marsha sighed clearly irritated by this line of questioning. “I live down Webster Road in Bath, right across the street from the new school. Really Nurse Joan you are being quite persistent today.”
Marsha paused for a moment, the vacant stare had returned, pieces of the puzzle coming together. “From where the new school stood.” She said vacantly, her voice quiet and soft. Marsha stared at the table perfectly still. “I was polishing my grandmother’s silver when it happened.”
“What happened, Marsha?” Joan asked softly.
“The school,” Marsha paused, lifted her head and looked into the distance, a hand to her mouth. “The school…. That horrid man,” she raised a hand to her mouth stifling a gasp, a tear trailed down her cheek, she turned to face Joan.
For the first time in months Marsha actually saw who Joan was, the reality sunk in, bubbling up the panic like baking soda and vinegar. “Oh no,” she gasped from behind her hand. Joan watched her, keeping her expression somber. “My baby.”
“Marsha,” Joan said her name gently. “What do you remember from that day?”
“I was polishing the silver and Richard was tinkering with the truck, Ran… my baby,” she gasped again. “What did that man do to my baby?!” her voice rose along with her aggression. She looked right at Joan, her eyes wild, a sneer on her lip. “Randall!” she shouted for her son. “Randall?!”
“Marsha, settle down, please!” Joan tried to calm the woman.
“Randall!” she shouted one more time, then looked at the nurse. “Tell me, Nurse tell me my baby is alright.” She turned her attention away, not waiting for an answer. “Randall!”
“Mrs. Sloan, would you please calm down!” Nurse Joan used her Matron of the Ward voice. Marsha settled for a moment, tears flowing freely down her cheeks she dabbed with a corner of her shawl.
“Mrs. Sloan, you have been here in Marquette for a year. You came to us, very ill; we are trying to get you well again. But you have to remember what happened.”
Marsha’s face changed from calm to enraged in a split second. “That bastard killed my baby!” she shrieked. “He blew up the school. He was on the first floor, my Randall.” She began to sob, gasping between statements. “The house shook and two windows shattered. All I saw was a cloud of dust out the window, and Richard running toward it from the side of the house.” She paused for a moment. “Across the street, half of the school was rubble. Children were screaming and parents were rushing to help the survivors. My Richard started digging in the rubble for Randall; I rushed over and lead some of the children to our yard, away from the mess. There was blood everywhere.” Marsha held the ends of her shawl to her face and sobbed into her hands. Joan waited to let her calm down a bit.
“When they pulled Randall out, he was so perfect, not a scratch on him. Richard handed me my boy and we both cried; he held us so tight. Our bright little boy,” Marsha stopped sobbing, her expression became vacant again, Joan watched silently as another puzzle piece set into place.
“He had to go, the men were needed to help with the other survivors,” her gasp shuddered as she remembered. “Richard went to get a ladder to help get kids down from the upper floors, a truck rushed up to the site. It had just barely stopped and then it was gone. On fire,” she sobbed. “So many bodies around it. Hours later Mr. Smith came to me and told me that Richard had been too close to the truck when it blew up, he was killed by a piece of flying metal.”
“Marsha, dear I need you to remember what happened next.”
Her face scrunched up again, a new wave of pain and anguish welled up. “I buried my baby and my husband side by side in the cemetery.” The woman began to keen, wailing her sorrow, cursing the murderer Kehoe. She held her arms out looking into the empty space, cradling the air like a child, crying why, why, why?
Joan sat down beside her and wrapped an arm around the woman, trying to bring her back to calm. The last time they let her grieve she became catatonic for a month. Marsha held her arms across her chest, her sobs quieting. She raised her head and looked directly at Joan, confused. “How did I get way up here in Marquette?”
Joan sighed. “That’s why we are talking dear. Do you remember after the funeral? Do you recall what happened then?”
Marsha paused, again Joan could see the gears turning, and she was trying to piece together the events. A quick movement in the distance, Joan looked away to see a steward motioning if she needed assistance. Joan shook her head and the man backed away. When she looked back, Marsha’s eyes were glazed over. She looked like a life sized china doll with striking hazel eyes.
“Mrs. Sloan?” Joan asked, shaking her shoulder slightly. “Marsha? Marsha, honey please talk to me.”
A good shake of her shoulders and Marsha’s gaze found Nurse Joan’s face. An eerie grin spread across the woman’s face casting a grim pallor, her eyes red and face blotchy from crying she looked like an abused woman who had her sanity shaken loose. The smile faded and Marsha gracefully stood. Joan did not stop her but watched as she walked back to the window and looked out into the farm. Nurse Joan, still hopeful got up and walked over to her. She reached out and put a hand on Marsha’s upper arm.
“Marsha, dear? Marsha, lets come back to the sofa, we need to talk.”
The woman’s vacant expression turned to frustration, her eyes flicked to Joan’s face for a split second then back. “I can’t find it.” She muttered her voice once again a higher pitch and quiet.
Joan stood there, her hand rubbing on Marsha’s upper arm for comfort. She watched the woman who had just come back to the world, who had relived that level of grief only to fade again.
“We’ll look again later, dear,” was all she could say, her own discouragement weighing on her, Joan turned back to the tea table, looking back only a moment before gathering her things and slowly, thoughtfully, walked the promenade.
“Will she ever get better?” A man’s voice asked. Joan looked at the steward walking beside her.
“I don’t know, Jackson. She has experienced a horrible tragedy; her mind just might not be strong enough to handle it.”
“What did she do? The grief I understand but to be committed here? So far away from her family.”
The pair stopped turned and looked back to the woman standing at the window.
Joan sighed. “She stood like a statue during the whole of the funeral. Both her son and her husband were buried on the same day during the same service. No one could get her to speak. After a week of living alone someone went to call on her, just to see how she was doing. When they went into the house they found Mr. Sloan’s body lounging on the couch and her son’s body tucked neatly in his bed.”
Jackson gasped at the macabre scene. “A-and Mrs. Sloan?”
“Sitting in her rocking chair by the radio, knitting. Every so often asking her husband a question and reacting as if he answered. She never saw the friends who came into the home; she was in her own world.”
“So what is it that she’s looking for?” Jackson asked hesitantly.
Joan shrugged. “I don’t know, her sanity maybe?” she sighed, her gaze held on the woman standing alone at the end of the promenade. “No, that’s not right. I think it’s simpler than that; she’s simply waiting for her husband and son to return to her. The “it” she’s always looking for is her family.”