ANOTHER YEAR LATER
Anna steps onto the window sill and hauls herself up, standing in the gap briefly before taking a silent step inside the hospital ward. Beside her, a child sniffs and turns in her sleep. Anna freezes for a moment, keeping her eyes trained on the girl, but continues further inside when she doesn't move, starting to pull presents out of the sack and deposit them on various beds.
She can tell from the size and value of the presents that this is a terminal illnesses ward. The things she’s leaving at each bed are ones that a family would want to give their child on their last Christmas.
The thought that the small forms in each bed might not be there when she returns next year tugs at something in her. Anna swallows thickly as she bends down to place a large box in front of the bed of a young boy who is sleeping with a frown on his face, as though in pain. Slowly, she glances around and moves closer, placing her hand hesitantly on his forehead, sweaty and warm beneath her palm.
It takes a few seconds for her to remember how to do it. She tries to remember her seven year-old self, sat cross-legged next to Nick by their father. So you can take people’s pain away? she had asked eagerly. You can make them hurt less?
Not always, her father had replied. Sometimes, the pain is somewhere deeper than your hand can reach.
Anna tugs her thoughts away quickly before they can wander too far down that path. Instead, she focuses herself on the sleeping boy, shutting her eyes and feeling warmth flow through her fingers. She opens her eyes slowly to watch as the boy’s frown eases and assumes a more peaceful expression and he lets out a sigh of relief as it does so. Anna lingers for a moment more, lets her eyes brush over the contours of his face, then moves away.
She moves around the remainder of the ward in much the same fashion, leaving a present at the child’s bed before easing their pain. Anna works steadily, methodically; it helps distract her from her own thoughts. By the time she’s finished, she can just hear footsteps echoing down the hallway, coming closer. Quickly, she ducks behind a curtain, leaving herself just enough space to continue to observe the person who enters the room.
Even in the darkness, Anna can tell she’s beautiful. Her blonde hair swings in her face as she bends over to tuck a child more into bed or adjust their pillows, letting her hand ghost lightly on their foreheads every now and then, the moonlight reflecting prettily off of it. Occasionally, Anna catches a glimpse of the tender expression on her face, careful and soft, and she feels her heart flutter slightly. There is something about the look on the woman’s face, how her eyes seem to be aged far more than her face, which touches something in Anna. Maybe, she thinks, because she has seen it before. With...
No. Anna feels her hand clench subconsciously around the hem of the curtain. No more.
The young woman continues with her rounds, paying the same amount of careful attention to each child. Anna watches in silence as she finishes and stands in the doorway, casting the beds one final look before heading out into the hallway. She waits until the footsteps have receded completely before stepping out from behind the curtain and also stepping silently out of the ward. She glances down at her the next list in her hands, one that reads STAFF in capitals at the top, and purses her lips. She’s splitting the presents with Nick this year – him doing the houses and her doing public buildings, but she’s quickly coming to realise that she got the short end of the stick, because the people in public buildings tend to be awake, and staying awake for the whole night, and she thinks maybe that’s why she’s leaving them presents? She doesn’t even know.
Besides the point. Anyone in the hospital staff room will be awake. And she can’t run into anyone who’s awake.
(She doesn't do that any more.)
YOU ARE READING
Twelve Ways To Spend One's Christmas EveShort Story
"Anna dislikes being stuck three-quarters of the way down a chimney. She really does. Not to mention, she's still going round North America, and there's, like, three continents still to get through in about as many hours."