The Fourth Story

Here is the story I wrote for Ethel Small.  This one is a little more lighthearted than the last, but is based on a real incident at Willard.  I hope you enjoy it!

Ethel Small opened her eyes, rolled over in the bed, and placed her hand on Pauline Garrison’s face, smiling. The two women gazed into each other’s eyes, mountains of physical and emotional pain eroding away as they cuddled beneath a quilt that Ethel had sewn. It was 1930 and Ethel had snuck into Pauline’s room during the day. They had been cuddling through the night for sometime, but painful memories from her past drove Ethel to seek out Pauline’s company, even though they were at a higher risk of being discovered.

Waking up next to Pauline was so much more pleasant than waking up with Seymour had been. She could still smell the stale alcohol on his heavy breath as he slept. She flinched slightly at the thought of it.

“What’s wrong?” Pauline asked, gently smoothing Ethel’s hair.

“Nothing that being with you can’t cure,” Ethel replied.

“You’re thinking about him again, aren’t you?”

“Just thinking about how wonderful you are compared to how awful he was. It’s no contest,” she said, her smile growing wider.

Seymour had been a no account as a husband, beating her constantly in his drunken rages about the silliest things. In a moment of pure foolishness, she had agreed to marry him at age eighteen. She’d regretted it ever since. Even though she had divorced him twenty-two years later, she couldn’t shake the memories of him away permanently. She’d spent all of those twenty-two years of marriage scrimping and doing odd sewing jobs just to have money live off of since Seymour liked hard liquor so much. It angered her that he still even crossed her mind. Of course, she couldn’t have looked at her two grown children, Ruth and Harold, without seeing him, especially her son. He looked just like Seymour.

Her eyes darkened as she thought about Irma and Doris, the two babies she had lost. And that wasn’t counting the miscarriage. She wanted those girls to survive, but they were probably better off dead considering their father was an alcoholic and their mother was in a hospital. Her life certainly didn’t turn out the way she expected it to. She wondered if anyone’s did.

So much of this was Seymour’s fault. If he hadn’t beaten her, she wouldn’t have had that ovarian tumor and all these aches and pains that brought her to the hospital. They said she needed a “restive cure.” She had been resting since 1930 after that argument with Mrs. Nichols, her landlady. She had felt so awful after Mrs. Nichols had told her to leave that she just took to her bed. Then the landlady called the police. She’d never been in trouble with the police. She was a minister’s daughter. She had absolutely not been laughing in the middle of the night, nor had she consulted any spirits, even if that was the thing to do in Freeville, New York. She was at Willard to cure her aches and pains, not because she was crazy.

“You’re far away from me again,” Pauline whispered.

“I’m sorry, dear. I told you, I just can’t shake these memories today. It’s just so much.”

“Let me help you,” Pauline replied, leaning in to kiss her. As Pauline’s lips touched hers, Ethel could hear the sound of the doorknob rattling.

“Someone’s here,” she mumbled into Pauline’s kiss.

“Let them come. I love you,” Pauline said before the door was flung open.

“What are you doing in here, Ethel? This is not your room!” Nurse McMahon exclaimed.

Ethel and Pauline turned their heads in unison, smiling broadly at the obviously flustered young nurse. She was pretty, even in her stark white uniform. She had a cute figure and Ethel imagined her blonde hair would be lovely once it was let loose from its bun.

Both of the women beneath the embroidered quilt giggled before Ethel said, “There is a place here for you, sweetheart, if you would like to get in” while holding up a corner of the quilt. The two women burst into raucous laughter. Nurse McMahon left the room quite embarrassed, but they knew more attendants would follow. Ethel climbed out of bed and threw her dress over her head.

“I love you! Keep the quilt,” she said with a wink before she scampered off down the hall, whistling a made-up tune.

Pauline was moved to another unit. The two women never saw each other again, but Ethel held those moments with Pauline very close to her heart for the next forty-three years. Other than being rather chatty and, at times, bossy, Ethel never showed any real symptoms of mental illness. She wouldn’t leave, though, either, determined that she needed to be there for her physical health. In 1972, she had pneumonia, which led to congestive heart failure. She died a year later at the age of 83 in her sleep and was buried in her family’s plot in Trumansburg, New York. While she spent her life complaining about her many physical ailments, her legacy will be her beautiful handiwork and somewhere out there is Pauline’s quilt.

I like this story for the most part, but would like to keep the ending a little lighter than I did.  I am not sure how to change it without diminishing the fact that Ethel spent a long time at Willard, which is truly no laughing matter.  Suggestions are always welcome.  I am still stuck on story number five, but I will try to post something soon.  Thanks for reading!


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