Satterlee Hospital

Submitted into Contest #197 in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “I’m free!”... view prompt

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Historical Fiction

John woke up in the hospital bed feeling more tired than when he drifted off to sleep. Through the haze of his vision, he saw Mary Ann. He tried to smile for her, but the effort was too much. “Hi sweetheart.” He finally said.  

Mary Ann smiled at the expression of endearment and sat by his bed. “Hello John. How are you feeling?” 

John grimaced, not wanting to think about how he was feeling or not feeling. He had not quite come around to the reality of his situation and how he would get by in this life, in this way. “Tired. More tired than I have ever been in my life. “

Mary Ann shifted to the small table by the bed and gave him a drink of water. “You will feel better soon.” She put the cup back on the table. 

“How do you know that?” John wasn’t sure he would ever feel better. 

Mary Ann shrugged. “It’s the way it usually goes. If one thinks hopefully.” She looked away and then looked back. “I am thinking that things will go better soon for the both of us.” 

“How are you feeling, then?” John handed her back the cup. 

She took the cup and put it back on the table. “I am well enough. I feel tired as well. But that is to be expected. I am sure that your condition is much more exhausting than mine.”

“Your condition will improve with time.” 

Mary Ann raised an eyebrow. “Will it?”

“Of course it will. There’s no changing my condition.” 

“Have you thought about what you will do?” 

“What can I do? I can’t make it in Wisconsin. I’ll just be a burden to Helen and Annette. I heard that they found someone to help them.”

"Oh, who?” 

I’m not sure. In her last letter she mentioned a gentlemen. She said that it’s been very hard out there. It seems that she has moved on from me. She had to. It’s not possible to survive alone in the frontier.”

“So, you are free.”

“I am free. Free from battle as well. I don’t know if I can help the Union cause any longer.”

“It is a noble cause. To preserve the Union.”

“I agree, but, sadly, it has cost me.”

“John?" Mary Ann paused and John looked at her.

"You could have another family here.” she said

John looked at her. “What do you mean?” 

“We could be together. We could help each other.”

“How can I help you?”

“I will need someone to support me. I cannot do this alone. You know my situation.”

“Well, I won’t be able to work. How will I work?” 

“You can find work. Your condition does not preclude work.”

“Neither does yours.” 

“I can do what I need to do. But it will be easier with two of us. We need each other in this world. We are both in a predicament.” Mary Ann took his hand. 

“Masonry work is hard labor, Mary Anne. How can I provide for you without work? I could barely provide before the war. Before…this.” John said 

 “There is much more work here than out in Wisconsin.”

“It was a chore just to live a day out there.” John sighed. “A man needs to work in any state though. What should I do here? Laundry?” John looked at the laundry bag sitting next to Mary Ann. 

“Of course not. There is much work around the city. I am sure that with your knowledge you would be a help to someone.” Mary Ann nodded her head as she spoke, as if she were certain.”

“If I can work, I should go back though. Shouldn’t I go back? For Annette?”

“Why?”

“Why? She is my child!” John said attempting to sit up. 

Mary Ann softened. “I know you want to to go back. Why wouldn’t you? But you say that Helen has moved on. Annette will be well cared for. How can you help them?”

“So. I’m a burden.” He laid back down. 

“No. Not here at least. Not in Philadelphia.” Mary Ann took John’s hand at his expression. “I am sorry John, but it’s the truth. You know it. Perhaps, Annette can come out to visit us here.” She paused. “We need each other. I need you. Do you not care for me?”

“Of course I do. I thank God for you. I don’t think I would have survived except for your affection and care. Not just my wounds. What I have seen on the battlefield destroys a person. The images won’t leave my mind. At times, it makes me so angry. But then seeing you, getting to know you, seeing your strength, has given me strength. Some.” John shrugged. “I am not sure that I am strong enough to take care of you.”

“You are, John.” 

“You don’t know that.”

“You were strong enough to go out into the frontier, you were strong enough to join the army, you were strong enough to survive the battles that you have survived. That tells me that you are strong.”

“That was all before…this.” John looks at himself lying in bed. 

“You can still do many things. I have faith in you.”

“You had faith in that other chap as well…”

Mary Ann dropped his hand. 

“I am sorry, Mary Anne, that wasn’t fair.” He paused. “But maybe you should reconsider this plan of yours.”

“Why? I care for you and you care for me.” At least you said you did.”

“I do, I do.” John grabbed her hand back. “I do. It’s just that I feel like my life is over. At times, I feel like I can handle no more.” John looked around. “Where is that nurse? I will need more medicine for the pain. And it soothes my mind too.” 

“I will ask for her when I leave. I will make certain.”

John smiled. “You do take care of me.” 

“I can take care of you, John. And you can take care of me. Of us.” She caressed his hand. “And there can be more “us”, John.” 

John smiled and nodded and closed his eyes. “Then I better get some sleep. Something tells me that I will need my strength.”

May 13, 2023 00:13

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2 comments

Nancy Hibbert
14:52 May 15, 2023

Good story. I really liked it. Seemed real to me. I kept waiting to see who people were and what happened to them.

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Catherine Hudson
18:12 May 15, 2023

Thank you! Maybe they will reappear in a story. They were my real life ancestors.

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