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  1. GeoffreySmith
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    Huit, Neuf, Dix [1887]

    Discussion in '10th Anniversary Contest' started by GeoffreySmith, Jun 23, 2016.

    Heidi, sitting in the cold hospital room, tapped her fingers against her chair. She had goosebumps on her arms and her hairs stood up straight. The floors smelt of bleach and the linens of detergent.

    Antoinette, Heidi’s mother, lay on the bed. Her face, split with deep wrinkles and loose skin, was expressionless. “Where are we?” She asked Heidi, her daughter, who was sitting beside her.

    “The hospital, mom.”

    “Do they know we’re here?” The old woman asked.

    “Who?” Heidi questioned.

    “The owners.”

    “Of course, mom.”

    “Oh, OK good.” Antoinette smiled.

    “Do you want to play Rummy?” Heidi asked.

    “Oh, yes. That would be fine.”

    “Ok, I’ll get the cards.” Heidi rose from her seat heavily and lumbered over to the side table, limping on her left side.

    “Did I ever tell you about when I was a little girl?”

    Heidi nodded, bobbing up and down her thinning brown hair. “Yeah. I think so.”

    “Oh. It’s such a funny story,” she smiled.

    “You can tell the doctor when he comes in,” Heidi said.

    “Doctor?”

    “Yes, the doctor, mom.”

    “Oh, OK.” She looked down, blinked, then looked back up at Heidi, recalling her question. “What’s wrong with me?”

    Heidi sighed and brought her fingers up to massage the bridge of her nose. “You’re sick, mom.”

    Antoinette snickered. “No I’m not.”

    Heidi rummaged behind the side table, searching for the cards. “Yes you are, mom.”

    Antoinette turned from Heidi and looked down at her arm. “I can’t believe they did this.” She pointed to the clear IV tube that ran out of her arm. “Did you see what they did?”

    “Yes. It’s so you can get better.”

    “Oh. It hurts me.” Antoinette smiled playfully.

    “I know it does.”

    “Do you feel sorry for me?” The old lady’s grinned widened.

    “Of course, mom.” Heidi moved to Antoinette’s bed. “Ready to play?”

    “Oh yes. You sure these people don’t mind?”

    “Mind what?”

    “Mind if we play,” Antoinette asked.

    “No, mom,” Heidi said.

    “You sure?”

    “Yes, mom.”

    “Oh, OK.”

    Heidi began to deal the cards.

    “Wait,” Antoinette interrupted. “How many do we get?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well, how many of those,” Antoinette paused and searched for the word, “those, uh, hard...things, paper things. Uh, ah, les cartes.

    “Cards?” Heidi corrected.

    “Oh, yes.”

    “We get ten.”

    “Ten?”

    “Yes,” Heidi said.

    “Ten? You’re sure?” The old lady questioned.

    “Yes.”

    “You sure it’s not nine?”

    “Yes mom!” Heidi snapped fiercely.

    Antoinette recoiled into her bed, like an embarrassed child hiding from ridicule. “Oh,” she mumbled.

    Heidi took a deep breath, sat the cards on the table, and ran her hand through her hair. She reached for her styrofoam cup of ice.

    After a moment, Antoinette became bored. She glanced down at her arm. “I’ll take this out,” she murmured.

    “What mom?” Heidi asked, turning from the counter.

    “Oh, nothing,” Antoinette said, covertly using her fingernails to remove the tape around the IV.

    “No! Mom!” Heidi said, stepping toward the bed.

    Antoinette raised her arms in defense. “What did I do?”

    “Don’t take that off.” Heidi grappled her mother’s fingers off the tape.

    “Oh, OK,” Antoinette said.

    Heidi sat back down in her seat and wrung her fingers together. The pile of cards sat in a messy pile on the table and Heidi listened to Antoinette’s fingers tapping.

    The nurse came in after some time. He was short and round, clearly tired, but Antoinette, upset that her arm hurt so much, kept him busy.

    “Are you here to take this out?” She asked.

    “Your IV?” The nurse asked.

    “This thing,” she said, pulling at the tape.

    “Let me check,” the nurse said, examining Antoinette’s arm.“It must be the tape. Is it the tape?”

    She gazed up at him with a questioned look. “Yeah,” she nodded, confused.

    He plodded out of the room to get more tape.

    “Who was that,” Antoinette asked.

    “The doctor, mom,” Heidi replied.

    “Doctor? Why do I need a doctor?”

    “You had…” Heidi stopped. “You’re sick.”

    “Oh, OK.”

    The nurse walked quickly back in with a sealed packet of medical tape.“Alright I got some more tape. Tell me where it hurts again?” The stocky nurse asked.

    “What hurts? What do you mean?”

    The nurse looked at Heidi, surprised.

    “Your arm, mom,” Heidi said.

    “My arm doesn’t hurt,” she replied.

    “Alright,” Heidi said, disappointed. “She has Alzheimer's,” Heidi said to the stocky man.

    He nodded diligently. “OK. Alright then,” the nurse said. “I’ll, uh, be back then.” He smiled at Heidi and turned to walk away.

    “We’ve been waiting for an MRI. What time do you think it will be at?” Heidi asked the nurse before he left the room.

    “Oh, well, there’s quite a line. I’d say tomorrow morning. If there’s no other serious admittees,” he smiled, tapped on the wall, and left.

    Heidi nodded and looked up at the clock. It was 3:45. She brought her mom in at 5:30 that morning. Heidi sighed and relaxed in the chair. Her shoulders were in tight knots, tensed from watching Antoinette. Her body ached and, exhausted from watching Antoinette, she found it hard to stay awake.

    That morning started when Heidi found Antoinette on the floor, unresponsive with a half frozen face. Heidi knew it was a stroke and immediately called the ambulance. Panicking, she knelt beside her mother as the ambulance came. Despite Heidi’s efforts, Antoinette never responded.

    Once in the ambulance, Antoinette finally came to.

    The old lady turned to the nurse and, in her french accent, said “my name is Antoinette.”

    The nurse perked up, looked around, and was silent.

    “I’ve been a good girl my entire life,” Antoinette said. “Do you believe me?”

    The nurse smiled. “Yes.”

    “If I stook out my tongue, you’d see I’m lying.”

    The nurse laughed.

    “But, tell me, am I going to heaven soon?”

    “What mom?” Heidi said.

    Antoinette snapped her head toward Heidi. “Heidi Belle! Why are you here? Did you go up to heaven too?”

    Heidi looked around at the nurses. “What mom?”

    “Well, we’re in heaven, aren’t we?” She asked, looking up at the bright, cold lights in the ambulance. Her eyes were clouded, stiff and sick, but her pale green irises radiated like seedlings in a dry field.

    Heidi the memory snapping away sprung awake in the hospital chair. She smelt the antiseptic fog of the hospital. It was 2:00 AM and Antoinette was sleeping on the hospital bed, quiet machines humming behind her.

    In the hall, every once and awhile, there was a sound-- a quiet patter of footsteps, a low laugh, a taut yell. Through the night, Heidi listened as the nurses moved sleeplessly from one room to the other.

    Heidi pulled out a stack of cards and sifted through them. A two of clubs, a six of hearts, and a two of spades.

    She drew three more: a two of diamonds, a three of clubs, a five of spades.

    The cards brought back some trace of a foggy memory of Antoinette teaching her to count. It must have been morning because, in Heidi’s memory, the carpet was striped with the sun’s bands and the mirror, quietly hanging on the wall, radiated warmth. The ground, soft and clean, felt good against Heidi’s young legs.

    “One, two, three,” Heidi remembered hearing. “Heidi, what comes next?” Her mother had asked. “Heidi!” She’d repeated after a few moments.

    “Un, deux, trois,” Antoinette said in french, trying to spark Heidi’s memory. “Quatt…”

    “Quatre,” Heidi completed her mother.

    “Cinq.”

    “Six,” Heidi continued.

    “And what comes after three en anglais?”

    “Four?”

    “Et apres ca?”

    “Cinq.”

    “Non. En anglais,” her mother corrected.

    “Five!”

    “Right.” Her mother smiled at her enthusiasm.

    “Then six,” Heidi said. “And sept, and aat?”

    “Non!” Antoinette cut in. “Seven,” she picked her up and entangled her in arms. “You’re getting too good at French, mon belle. You’re going to be so smart.”

    Heidi smiled at the memory of her mother with strong arms and a taut face rocking her in the early morning light.

    “Alright, after seven?” Heidi remembered Antoinette saying.

    “Aaate?”

    “No. Eight.”

    “Oh. Eiiight?”

    “Right. And after?”

    “Nuef. Or… uh nine.”

    “Oui,” Antoinette smiled. “Apres ca?”

    “I don’t know…” Heidi said, shyly. “Tix? No… uh…”

    “That’s OK, mon amour. You’re learning so much. Good job,” Antoinette smiled.

    Heidi could still feel the words dance off her lips. “Je t’aime,” she remembered hearing in that blurred, foggy memory.

    Antoinette stirred in the hospital bed, knocking Heidi out of the memory. Then she moaned, as if in pain. Her eyes fluttered open and closed furiously. Everything flooded back to Heidi-

    Still dazed from sleeping, Heidi sat up straight. “What is it mom?”

    No response. Heidi stood and walked to the bedside. She placed her hand on Antoinette’s head. “Mom?”

    Antoinette’s eyes clicked open and the pupil, nestled between her striated green irises, shrunk reflexively.

    Antoinette smiled at her. “Oh I didn’t know you were visiting. Why are you in my room?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “It’s so beautiful,” Antoinette said under her breath.

    Heidi exhaled and nodded, relieved. “How’s your arm, mom?”

    “My arm? It’s fine. Oh, yes. It’s such a lovely day outside isn’t it?”

    “Outside?”

    “Well yes silly.”

    “How do you feel mom?”

    “How do I feel?”

    “Why did you wake up?”

    “What are you talking about?” Antoinette smiled.

    “OK, never mind,” Heidi said. “How’s your day?”

    “Splendid,” Antoinette gleamed. “Do you love my room? And my new blankets?”

    “How do you feel, mom?”

    “It’s all new. My dad bought it for me. Well, not my dad. But someone. It’s all new. See?”

    Heidi nodded and smiled. She ran her fingers through Antoinette’s hair. “How do you feel mom?”

    “Oh, me? I feel grand. Just grand. Today’s my birthday. That’s why I got all this new stuff. See? The new stuff. Did you know today was my birthday?”

    Heidi nodded. “Bon anniversaire.”

    “Oh, who taught you french?”

    “You did.” Heidi smiled.

    “Me?” Antoinette said, surprised.

    “Oui,” Heidi lilted.

    “Oh, I do love french,” she said. “Do you know how to count to ten?”

    “No. Teach me,” Heidi smiled.

    “Un, deux.” The old lady said. “Well...?” She insisted. “Un, deux.”

    “Un, deux,” Heidi repeated.

    Antoinette smiled and continued.

    “Trois, quatre, cinq.”

    “Trois, quatre, cinq,” Heidi replied.

    “Six, sept.”

    “Six, sept.”

    “Huit, neuf, et…” Antoinette paused. “Et…” she tried again. Then she was quiet and thoughtful.

    Antonette’s eye bounced around the room as she searched for the french word. A sob rose in Heidi’s throat as she watched her mother struggle.

    “Dix,” Antoinette said at last. “Ah, dix,” she said relived.

    “Oui,” Heidi smiled, “dix.” She exhaled and closed her eyes, running her fingers along Antoinette’s hairline. “Merci,” she whispered.

    Antoinette smiled and closed her eyes. “Je t’aime.”

    Heidi kissed her mom’s forehead. “Je t’aime.”

    Antoinette’s eyes opened, revealed her big green irises, then closed slowly again. A smile hung on her mouth and Heidi climbed into the hospital bed, careful not to wake her.

    At first, she watched her mother sleep, running her fingers through Antoinette’s thin white hair. “Je t’aime,” she said under her breath. “Merci, mon mere. Merci.”

    She rested her head on her mother’s shoulder, closed her eyes, and wrapped her arms around her mom’s frail chest. Heidi rocked for a long time until they both drifted soundlessly asleep in the cold hospital bed.
     
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