'In Ashes' by Ceil Kessler
Leslie Gray, a stout burn unit nurse, peered through her reading glasses at a business card, then up at the thin, young man, then back to the business card which revealed the various modes of communication for one James E. Silas, Esquire.
“Well, you can go in, but don’t expect much.” Fluorescent lights reflected off the bright counter surface and onto Ms. Gray’s glasses, making it difficult to see her eyes. “Old Mrs. Long hasn’t said a word since the fire three weeks ago. Took her husband, you know.”
Mr. Silas’s head swayed in lament, as though it was used to doing so. Then he gave a slight smile and went, shoes padding on the shiny floor.
He poked his head into the door of the hospital room, and was struck by the smell of manufactured lemon clean. “Mrs. Long?” Henrietta Long, who had been looking through the window at the overcast day, turned and stared at Mr. Silas as though he were more clouds. “Mrs. Long, I know this is a hard time for you. I’m an attorney.” He paused, feeling how useless he was to her. “I’m so sorry. I’m your late husband’s attorney. We have something. From his will.” Mrs. Long’s expression, partially hidden by gauze and tape, changed not at all.
Not sure his words actually registered with her, he reached into a tote bag and produced a small jewelry box. “Your husband wanted you to have this, after he passed.”
Henrietta Long’s eyes sparkled aware. She looked at Mr. Silas with wonder, and reached up with both hands to receive the silver box. It was vaguely familiar. No, she was sure she knew it.
She cracked open the box and a small plinking song began to drift out. A large tear grew in her eye, then rolled down her cheek.
“Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle,” she breathed. She looked up at the lawyer. “An old Italian song. We sang it to our daughter,” she explained. Upon opening the box entirely, she noticed a small card with a phone number and an address. At the top, it said, “Catherine”.
“Your daughter’s address?” asked Mr. Silas. “Your husband said you hadn’t talked to her in a while.”
“I was a hard mother.” Her voice faltered. In her head she began to replay the fights, and the day her daughter left.
He didn’t want to interrupt the personal moment; still Mr. Silas heard himself ask, “Would you like me to stay?”
Mrs. Long smiled. “You’re a nice boy. Go home. Call your mother.”
Mr. Silas stood and turned to leave. “I had a hard mother too,” he said first to himself, then the doorframe, then turning to look at her. “Sometimes, I wish I could call her. You should call your daughter.”
He looked around the hospital room, which held all the tidy, unburnt possessions of Mrs. Henrietta Long and said, “Good luck, Mrs. Long.”
Henrietta sat for a long while, singing and deciding.
First published here: http://magnificentnose.