Sundays were family days in the Blackshear household. It had been that way, since the siblings were small children. The day started bright and early with a light breakfast, then it was off to open the church and prepare it for the services. In Reverend Mother’s absence, her adult children continued the practice, each automatically attending to duties they had been assigned long ago. The church service went off without a hitch, led by the assistant pastor.
It was early evening, by the time Reverend Mother’s children arrived at the nursing home for their visit. She was happy to see them, feeling safe with them seated around her bed. As usual, Rachel and Joshua entered bickering and Reverend Mother attempted to mediate. Seated on the foot of the bed, Richard grinned in Harriet’s direction. They always shared a laugh over their sibling’s petty squabbles.
She was not amused and didn’t even look at him. In fact, his sister did not even appear to be listening to the others. Her inscrutable expression seemed both impatient and eager. There was an air of suppressed excitement about her that was incongruous. They had visited their mother at the nursing home at least half a dozen times. There was nothing interesting or exciting about it. On the contrary, Harriet normally dreaded the lengthy visits and the ugly turn they usually took.
Richard frowned, sensing that something was off about her. There was a time when he could ask Harriet what was wrong and she would tell him. Lately, that question only seemed to set her off. He realized that she had been acting strangely, since she had come home. Normally mild-mannered and considerate, Harriet had been angry, secretive and defensive with him. She was such a homebody, Richard usually had to drag her out of the house. Lately, Harriet was gone more often then she was at home.
Even her mannerism seemed different. Instead of her usual self-conscious slouch with eyes averted, she was sitting up straight staring directly at their mother. It wasn’t just her assertive posture and attitude which made her seem different. Richard struggled to come up with the right word to describe it and decided that Harriet was giving off a whole new vibe. Preoccupied with these musings, he didn’t realize that he was staring until she turned and looked at him. Their eyes met and Richard was struck by the sudden impression that someone different was looking out through Harriet’s eyes.
She quickly turned away and he realized that he had seen something which she hadn’t meant to reveal. Observations came together in his mind. The uncharacteristic way Harriet had been acting, her secretiveness, the long absences from home and late night returns…Richard was on the verge of making a very important connection. Like a long forgotten word on the tip of the tongue, he was grappling with it when the sudden stab of a blinding headache blotted it out.
All at once, the lights were too bright, the beeping of the machine regulating Reverend Mother’s intravenous antibiotic drip was piercing, and Rachel loudly talking over her brother hastened his developing migraine. Richard needed to go home and lie down in quiet darkness, but they had ridden together to the nursing home. If he made them cut the visit short and leave, then he’d never hear the end of it from Reverend Mother. She didn’t believe that he actually experienced migraines. To her, they just were excuses he used, when he didn’t want to do something. Richard closed his eyes against the pain and heard his brother walk across the floor.
“Oh, I almost forgot. I smuggled in some candy for you mom,” Joshua said conspiratorally.
Richard heard rather than saw the bottle hit the floor and shatter, sending hundreds of hard shell candies hurtling across the floor. He opened his eyes and saw everyone except his mother crawling around, trying to retrieve them. Richard joined in, feeling around as he squinted against the glare of the brightly colored round candies against the white linoleum floor.
Exasperated, Reverend Mother berated Joshua for being so clumsy and turned on the others for their ineptitude in cleaning up the mess. She poured the rest of her water from a pitcher into a cup and directed Joshua to put the candy in the empty pitcher. They were still scrabbling around on the floor, when Reverend Mother began coughing. Joshua urged her to drink some water.
The coughing subsided momentarily and resumed more forcefully. Reverend Mother suddenly found it difficult to catch her breath. Beads of sweat leaked onto her forehead, as she lay back against the pillows propping her up. Reverend Mother quickly grew tired from the effort to breathe without coughing.
Richard activated her call light, to summon the nurse. Five minutes later, no one had come. Richard stepped into the hall and looked around. No one was in sight. He set off for the nurse’s station, each step jarring his throbbing head. The nurse’s station was vacant. Richard walked around checking doors, until he came upon the charge nurse in the medication room. He described what happened and the nurse ran towards Reverend Mother’s room with him at her heels.
In short order, she herded them out into the hall and closed the door in their faces. Joshua had to restrain Rachel, to keep her from charging back into the room. Within minutes, they heard the nurse announcing a code blue over the intercom. Another nurse came rushing down the hall with a crash cart. Reverend Mother’s aide came running towards them from the opposite direction and the nurse directed her to call for an ambulance.