"Maybe I weren't good 'nough to 'er."
Bess's voice, barely above a whisper but still audible in the quiet room, brought me out of my mental calculations of her med chart.
I jotted down the notes and turned to her, "Good enough to who, Bess?"
"Hmmm? Oh, nothin'. I's jus thinkin' out loud, is all."
The moisture in her eyes belied her casual comment. I waited, measuring if I should pry further or just let it pass.
She looked back at me as if weighing my ability to be trusted, or maybe to see if I was just asking to be polite.
Shaking her head, "I sure 'nough loved 'er. But...she could neva love me back."
"Loved who, Bess?
"My girl... Millie. Millicent. She neva did like the name. A family name, an' I was proud to give it to 'er, but she was keen on bein' called Millie. So, of course, I did."
Bess was a recent addition to the home. She'd was brought in by social services. They couldn't find any evidence of next of kin. She was nearly seventy, but her condition made her seem much older. They said her home was run down. A neighbor had called them because they hadn't seen her in several days.
When they came for her she put up no resistance and willingly signed over her house to pay for the nursing care. They said she seemed relieved, saying nothing, but let out a big sigh as they carried her out. All she wanted to bring with her was an old photo album.
"It was odd," said the social worker. "Her place was a mess. We had to move a lot of things just to get to her , but there were two clean and empty parlor chairs. One clearly hers, but the other had a footstool and a cup of tea sitting on the table next to it. Her dining room table was set with two complete table settings and her spare room was spotless. The bed was made, the pillows fluffed and some plastic flowers were on the nightstand. It looked like it had been decorated for a little girl some time ago."
I thought that perhaps Bess had forgotten we were talking as she stared out the window but she suddenly began again, right where she left off.
"From before she was born, I loved 'er somethin' fierce. I played with 'er and fed 'er. Bout wore myself out makin' sure she was okay. Howard spoilt 'er too. The good Lord took 'im home when she was near ten years old. It was jus 'er an me then. Thought lovin' 'er would teach 'er to love."
"Are those pictures of your family?" I pointed to the well worn photo album that she always kept within reach.
"Yeah, that'd be them."
"May I see them?"
A contagious smile crossed her face as she reached for it. She opened up the album with such tender care you would think that it held pictures of royalty. She patted the side of her bed to call me over and began to open the pages.
Bess and Howard. They were young and love was etched in every expression. The world was just waiting for them, it seemed.
Then, Bess was pregnant. Round and glowing, a new look of contentment on her face.
And, Howard with his arm around her, gazing down at the new baby.
"Is that Millie?"
"Sure is. That'd be my girl."
The pleasure in Millie's voice and her clear adoration of her daughter touched me and my own tears threatened.
Then, the photographs changed. Fewer were of Howard and Bess. Then Howard was gone. Most were of Millie. In the pictures Bess did appear in she looked tired and worn. But, her loving gaze was always for Millie. It was surprising how rarely Millie returned that gaze in most of the pictures.
Assuming Millie passed away, I asked, "What happened to her?"
Turning away, ashamed, she said, "She's in the next county. Least, last I heard."
My children flashed through my mind. How could this be?
"Maybe I weren't good 'nough to 'er..."
I wondered to myself if perhaps Bess had been too good to Millie. Her love was striking and larger-than-life, but Millie seized it for herself instead of sharing it...and returning it.
I hugged Bess tight because there were no words, praying I'd be the best daughter I could in the short time she had left.
Author's note: This is a work of fiction but it was inspired by a woman that I met several years ago when volunteering at a nursing home.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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