View From a Train

Submitted into Contest #168 in response to: Start your story with someone looking out a train window.... view prompt

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Fiction Drama Contemporary

        For the fifth time this week, Jasmine saw the little girl propped up in her bed looking out the window of Whitebridge County Hospital.  This part of the Whisper Valley train line was unique because it loops around in a way to give passengers a discernible view inside some of Whitebridge County Hospital. Not only was Jasmine able to identify the girl’s shoulder-length dark curls and olive skin, very much like her own, she saw the girl wave. Could she see Jasmine smile and wave back at her?  Jasmine swore she could see the girl’s bright but heartbreaking smile. She was in the hospital, so Jasmine was sure the girl was anxious and sad. Jasmine guessed that the child was seven or eight years old. Being in the hospital is scary enough for an adult, but for a child it is overwhelming.

              Jasmine felt a genuine connection to the little girl and worried about what was wrong with her that she had been in the hospital for at least a week. She knew all too well that hospitals liked to release patients as quickly as possible. When Jasmine’s dad had heart bypass surgery, he was only in the hospital for three days, and when she broke her leg a couple of years ago, they didn’t even keep her overnight. So, when a patient was kept for at least five days, there had to be something seriously wrong. Jasmine remembered when she was seven, she’d been hospitalized for a ruptured appendix and later developed sepsis which required her to stay in the hospital for 13 days. It was the first time she came face to face with her own mortality, something a child shouldn’t have to do. There was a nice nurse that helped her through it though.

              Although Jasmine had never spoken to the girl, she almost felt as though she knew her. She realized that was ridiculous. How could she know someone she’d never met nor spoken to? Still, Jasmine sensed a familiarity between her and the girl. Was that real, or was Jasmine’s yearning for a child of her own getting to her? At 32, Jasmine was concerned that her biological clock was ticking, and so far she hadn’t met a man with whom she wanted to have a long-term relationship , let alone marry and start a family with. Sure, she could get pregnant through a sperm bank, but that wasn’t her thing. She truly wanted it all—to continue to be a respected English professor at the University where she worked and to be a successful author,  but also a wife and mother.

              Jasmine decided that if the girl was still in the hospital window on Monday that she would visit her after work. Being somewhat familiar with what seven- and eight-year-old girls liked because of her two nieces, Jasmine went shopping over the weekend. She envisioned her girl being imaginative and creative, as she was as a child, so she wanted to purchase gifts to encourage those things. Jasmine’s nieces, like her when she was little, loved their dolls and dollhouses.  She bought a lunchbox style dollhouse, that the child could play with in or out of the hospital. It was quite impressive with its wood printed flooring and wallpaper with a cloudlike pattern in blue, pink, lavender, and peach pastels. Jasmine would enjoy having some of the furniture, such as the sleigh bed and standing “brass” floor lamp, in her home if they were the right size. Jasmine also purchased two female dolls, one White and the other Black, which would fit in the dollhouse perfectly.

              On Monday, on Jasmine’s way home, she disembarked the train at the Diamond Grove stop and walked to the Whitebridge County hospital holding a large gift bag with pastel pink polka dots, stuffed with tissue paper, and adorned with a bow. Jasmine knew that the woman at the information desk wouldn’t divulge any information about a child, so she greeted the friendly middle-aged woman with a smile and proceeded to the elevator like she knew where she was going. Based on her calculations, the little girl was on the fifth floor, east side, third window from the left, probably room 508. When she approached that room though, she noticed an attractive old woman with curly winter white hair cut into a stylish hairdo propped up on her pillows dozing. Jasmine did a double take. My God, she looks like my grandmother, but Grandmom is alive and well in her home. I just talked to her last night. She was doing great. Did she have a heart attack, and nobody told me? Jasmine panicked, but when she looked at the name posted next to the doorway, she saw the last name was Sanderson, not her name Cook.  Figuring she miscalculated the room the girl was in, Jasmine continued to the two rooms on the right and left of the room she’d just observed. In two rooms, she saw an elderly man, in another a middle-aged and elderly woman, and further down the hall two middle-aged men.

              A slender no nonsense nurse approached her. “Mam, are you looking for someone?”

              “My coworker asked me to drop off this gift to her niece. I thought she was in room 508, but there’s an elderly woman in there, so I started looking in the other rooms around 508.”

              The nurse looked puzzled. “This is the cardiac ward. There are no children here. She would be in pediatric ward, the 4th and 5th floors of the B wing. Take the walkway over there and follow the signs. You’ll eventually end up on the west side of the hospital,” said the nurse and hurried away.

              Now, Jasmine was the one who was perplexed. She’d always prided herself on having a keen sense of direction and could always figure out what was east and west. How can I be so wrong? Maybe she is on the 5th floor on the west side of the hospital, but that doesn’t make sense. The west side wouldn’t face the train tracks. When Jasmine got there, she nonchalantly glanced in some rooms on each side of the fifth floor. Sure enough, none of the windows had a view of the train station or tracks as far as she could tell.

              Jasmine approached the handsome thirty something man at the nurse’s station. On his nametag was the name Bryan Sanderson. Was he related to the woman in 508 in the east building? “Good evening, Mr. Sanderson. I’m having a bit of a problem here. Maybe you can help me?”

              “I’ll try,” he said with a charming smile.

              “I have a gift to deliver for my coworker’s niece. She told me that her niece was on the fifth floor of the east building, but I found out that’s the cardiac ward. The floor nurse told me there weren’t any children there. “

What’s the little girl’s name?” Bryan said as he moved towards the computer.

              “That’s the thing. I can’t remember her name. I feel terrible about that. My friend did tell me her niece had a view of the train tracks.  Do any of these rooms in the children’s ward have a view of the train station or tracks?”

“Definitely not. Only the east side has that view. My mom was a pediatric nurse at this hospital before the children’s wing was over here. I remember her telling me stories about how children were housed on the fifth floor of the east building and, on one side, the kids could see the train station. Conductors would blow the whistle when they went past the hospital. The kids loved it.”

“When was that?”

“She started here in 1990 or maybe it was 91.” Along with a dazzling smile, he has the most alluring blue eyes. “My mom worked here until 2013. She’s been Director of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in the city ever since. Why don’t you call your friend and at least get the niece’s name,” said Bryan as he started entering information in the computer.

Jasmine could see that Bryan was getting impatient with her. She had to contact his mom. Something very weird is going on. Maybe this guy’s mom could shed light on what’s going on. “I suppose that’s what I need to do. By the way, do you have a grandmother or aunt on the cardiac floor?

      “Nope. Why do you ask? “

         "When I went to the room, I thought my friend’s niece was in over in the east building, I noticed the name Sanderson next to the doorway.”

              “Unless I have a relative I don’t know about, nobody related to me is in the cardiac area.” Did his eyes just twinkle? Bryan looked up from the computer briefly. “Good luck. Once you find out your friend’s niece’s name, come back. I’ll be glad to assist you.”

“Thanks. By the way, what’s your mom’s name? I have another friend who’s a nurse at Children’s Hospital. I’ll ask her if she knows your mom.” Jasmine had no such friend, but the lie might enable her to get in touch with Bryan’s mother.

“It’s Miriam Sanderson,” said Bryan and continued typing. “See you later.”

While Jasmine waited for the next train to take her home, she called Children’s Hospital and obtained Miriam’s office phone number and called it.  Since it was already 6:00, Jasmine didn’t expect anyone to pick up, so she was surprised when Miriam did. Jasmine explained that she was a Social Science major at Coventry University. “I’m doing a report on the importance of stimuli when children are in the hospital. Could I call you over the weekend to ask you a few questions?”

“I’m sorry, I'm really busy this weekend, but I’m done working and am waiting for my husband to pick me up. He won’t be here for another 20 minutes. We could talk now if you’d like.”

“That would be great! Thank you so much. Would you be able to tell me about when pediatrics was in the east building and how kids would watch the trains? Did that have a positive effect on them?

“Oh my. It sure did. There was one little girl I’ll never forget. She was on the 5th floor around 2001 or 2002 when pediatrics used to be on the 4th and 5th floors of the east building. The poor little thing had a ruptured appendix which cause her to acquire sepsis. It was really touch and go for a few days. By the time she was released from the hospital, she’d been here two weeks.”

Jasmine couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It sounded like the girl Miriam was describing was her. Unexpectedly, Jasmine remembered details of her interminable hospital stay when she was seven. Once she started to feel better, she was really bored. When she didn’t have visitors or wasn’t reading or coloring, she’d watch the trains to pass the time. The sound of the whistle was really soothing and the sight of all the train cars moving past her window was really kind of hypnotic. She wondered where are all those people were going—to work, to their grandparents in another town, or on vacation? The stories Jasmine made up about them kept her busy for what seemed like hours. “What did the patient look like?”

“I can see her right now. She was the cutest little thing. The child had beautiful shoulder-length dark curls that her mother would brush for her every day when she came in. I’d say she had olive skin, but it had a bit of a pallor since she was so sick. Despite feeling poorly, she always managed to smile at the nurses and to say please and thank you. Such a sweet little girl. Whenever I was in her room, I’d spend some additional time with her, giving her an extra cup of juice, putting a cool damp cloth on her forehead, talking to her…”

Jasmine’s heart was pounding. She took a couple deep breaths. “Do you remember her name?”

“Jasmine. I remember that because it was such a pretty name. I can’t recall her last name though. It was at least 15 years ago when she was here, but she made an impression on me. Aside from being so sweet, she absolutely loved the trains. She could see them from her window. When she was so sick, I’d make up little stories about the people on the trains. Then, when she started to feel better, we’d tell each other stories about them.”

“Mrs. Sanderson. I believe that little girl was me. Thank you so much for taking such good care of me. “That little girl I saw looking out the hospital window was me too, but that doesn’t make any sense. How can the current me and the child me both exist in this time and place?  Jasmine felt her entire body tremble. Was the elderly woman who looked like Grandmom me too? Is this real or am I hallucinating?

“Jasmine, are you still there?”

“Sorry. Yes, I’m here, but I’m suddenly feeling a bit nauseous. I don’t think my lunch agreed with me,” Jasmine fibbed.

“I’m sorry to hear that, dear. Please call me again. Maybe we could meet for lunch sometime. I could answer more of your questions for your paper. Besides, I’d love to see you all grown up if that’s alright with you.”

“That would be lovely, Mrs. Sanderson. Thanks again for your help,” said Jasmine and placed her phone in her handbag. I think I need to go back to the hospital. I want to meet the woman in room 508 in the east building.

October 22, 2022 01:56

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4 comments

Kelly Johnson
02:38 Oct 24, 2022

Great job with the twists! I enjoyed reading this😊

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21:27 Oct 26, 2022

Thanks, Kelly. I appreciate it.

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Lisa Lange
21:31 Oct 23, 2022

I figured Jasmine was the old woman when she thought the woman looked like her grandmother - you did a good job of dropping the reader clues to all the pieces of the puzzle - her future husband, that the little girl was her.

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21:29 Oct 26, 2022

Thanks for the feedback, Lisa. I’m glad the clues worked.

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