She feels better in the hospital, mainly because she can finally get warm. Molly has been taken to the children’s wing. Lucinda pleaded with the staff to have her share the room and only quieted down under threat of further sedation. She’s quiet, and says nothing, but she listens. She listens to the nursing staff beneath her closed eyes. They whisper words like hysterical and husband, and gone, and sometimes late at night they whisper gossip and secrets that Lucinda dismisses beneath the ever present, hellishly nagging thought that they must return her child to her.
After four days they bring Molly back. She looks frail and her skin is the same yellow-white of the nurses uniform. She calls Lucinda mother like before. She plays with her ragdoll like before. But her voice is ragged. Her eyes look too far away. Lucinda wonders what kind of gossip the nurses have been pouring in her ear.
That afternoon a woman with a clipboard sits beside Lucinda. Her smile is too wide, her teeth crooked and yellow. Lucinda tracks her with her eyes and nothing else. Lucinda’s black hair has gone ragged and her breath wheezes. Her fingers ache from where they dug the splinters out. The woman begins speaking, asking questions. She talks a lot about the vessel, asks Lucinda what happened to her, what happened to Robert. Lucinda remembers the warmth of his embrace, a whispered promise, then the desolation of frigid loneliness.
Lucinda wants to turn away from this woman, away from her yellow teeth and department store perfume, but the worry clouding her eyes as they pendulum between her and Molly is cause for her to sit up a little straighter, answer questions a little louder. She watches this woman and knows she will flay her like a vulture would carrion if she even comes close to taking her child from her.
The woman tisks and tuts in all the right spots when Lucinda describes what happened but she offers nothing in the way of an explanation, and less by way of apology. After a few more questions she leaves, squeezing Lucinda’s hand with her own. It’s clammy and damp.
The man comes next. The man is worse. He struts around her room examining the flowers, bending to smell them, ensuring she sees the big, fat, white star pin on his lapel. He makes grand gestures around her room and says things like ‘opulent’ and ‘just dandy’ to describe it. He pats her hand and smells like sweat. He sits down too close and asks her questions she either doesn’t know or doesn't care to answer. He’s stirring ghosts, a practice that leads only to madness.
His questions drill into her until she’s answering automatically in a tone she doesn’t recognize. He crosses over one line of questioning with another before doubling back and asking the same question with different words. Her head begins to spin, her fingers ache. She tells him these things and he agrees to leave. When he’s gone only the smell of his sweat and aftershave remains. His questions crash in her mind like angry waves against the shore.
She lays there for hours. She feels a scowl pulling her mouth down. Anger boils inside her and at first it’s undefined and she struggles to comprehend it. It isn’t until she’s roused from a doze in the night, her thoughts awash in memories of the too bright lights from the boat and the foul smell of the rushing sea water that she understands her anger. And once she does she feels it fold over itself and concentrate like a beam of light cutting through the fog of medication she’s had pumping through her since she was admitted.
In the morning she made her demand. She wanted to see the man again. The nurses make eye contact, they chuckle and tut at her until she turns her steel gaze on them and they freeze. From her small cot in the corner Molly hides her face from this scorn she’s seen before in her mother. The nurses sputter out platitudes and coo honey covered words that aren’t worth the air they take up. Lucinda continues mouthing the same demand, her voice rising with each repetition until she’s shrieking like a harpy, wailing for the nurses to use all their hot air for something good like picking up a phone and calling the man back.
The nurses skitter from her room like beaten curs. Lucinda refuses meals, insisting she’ll eat after she speaks to the man.
The Man doesn’t return.
She sees the woman instead.
This time her hair is pulled back and her clip board is clutched to her chest as if she were a templar knight hiding behind her shield. Lucinda has been hiding the pills under her tongue and spitting them into her bedpan as the nurses leave. Her head is clear, except for the inevitable film from the antibiotic drip they have connected to her arm. She knows something is wrong. Why doesn’t the man return? She says as much to the portly woman who replies with ice in her voice that the man isn’t coming, that he in fact is no longer in the city, and if she continues to make trouble then she will take Molly away. The woman doesn’t say this, not outright, but she speaks in the backwards knot-tying-language that he spoke in.
“As it stands.” The woman says through her uneven teeth and split lips, her dead eyes locked onto Lucindas. “You have signed a statement absolving White Star Line of any responsibility for personal injury. You’re a ward of the crown, and your stay is about through.” She shows Lucinda a bone white document with her signature on the bottom. Lucinda doesn’t bother reading it, she doesn’t need to look long at the swooping lines of her name to realize it’s a forgery, a good one, but a forgery no less. She looks across the room at Molly who peers at her from her small blanket fort made with one of the nurses while Lucinda dozed. She sees one bloodshot eye and one sewn button eye as Molly holds Anastasia up to peer out of a woolen hole at her. Lucinda seems to deflate into the stiff and scratchy sheets. She waves the woman away with the flick of her wrist, defeated, and asks for lunch. She takes her pills at the next administration and falls into a wretched sleep where she feels like she’s floating.
The next day they are discharged.
Lucinda Clutches Molly to her side at a busy crosswalk. The coats and clothing are ill-fitting, left overs from a congregation donation bin a balding priest brought to her bedside that morning. She wasn’t allowed a scrub, word of her outburst having spread through the hospital labeling her as ‘hysterical.’ All of the nurses' kindness had cooled towards her as they closed the ranks of their infernal sisterhood and shunned her as they would a pariah.
She hates how busy it is. Everything is fast. She blinks and misses the light, her and Molly stand in the cold street with hand written instructions and two tickets for a train line, more motion. Lucinda was thankful, in small part, that this was on a track. Molly says she’s cold. Lucinda hugs her closer to her leg. Molly tells her she is afraid.
“I know, sweet girl.” She clutches her daughter closer to her, feels small fingernails bite the flesh behind her knee. Lucinda was afraid too.