The Black Cat
Several of the nurses and doctors had gotten together to put this evening together for the kids. Even some of the benefactors for the hospital lent a helping hand and supplied us with enough decorations to make it really feel like Halloween inside. The children stuck inside tonight were at least getting to experience all of the fun of the holiday despite their conditions.
After hearing about the evening, I volunteered in a heartbeat. Of course, I wanted to help the children at the hospital have a spooktacular Halloween. When I arrived earlier this evening, I’d been greeted by zombies, ghouls, witches, ghosts, and even a centaur wandering the halls of the hospital. Smiles graced the little faces of these monsters as they wandered through the hospital, stopping at different desks and rooms to get candy.
Yet, instead of wanting to be in there, Lacy had asked to come outside, despite the cold, and sit by the pond. Maybe it wasn’t my call to make. After all, Lacy wasn’t one of my patients, but tonight was supposed to be about them having fun, and she had such a beautiful smile.
So, as Twilight faded into night, Lacy and I sat near the pond, staring out at the near crystal-like surface of the placid waters. Occasionally, her gaze would drift down to her makeshift gondola around her wheelchair, then out to the water. She remained silent, lost deep in thought. I couldn’t imagine what she must be thinking of at that moment. It couldn’t be easy being so young, stuck in a hospital, in a wheelchair, on a night like this.
I’d been warned by some of the nurses about how much of a handful she could be when she was in a wheelchair. She hated them. She hated being stuck in them and having to rely on someone else to push her around. However, she seemed to like the idea of turning one into a gondola to go with her gondolier costume. She wore the classic look: dark pants, a red and white striped long-sleeved shirt, a little red scarf around her neck, and a straw boater hat on her head.
She’d been ecstatic as we started the night, trick-or-treating from room to room. However, as time went on, the smile left her face until she eventually asked to come out here.
Silence reigned over us and the night air was quickly growing chilly. Why did Halloween have to be in October? It made it really hard to dress up as Minnie Mouse and stay warm at the same time. At least the black leggings helped.
I rose from my bench and started to suggest that we head back inside. Before I could even get a word out, Lacy ripped the hat from her head and threw it like a Frisbee into the pond. It landed with a soft splash that sent rippled skimming across the pond, shattering the reflections of light held within it.
“What are you doing?” My gaze shifted from her to the floating hat, and back. Why would she throw it away like that? She’d been so proud of the costume when I first met her.
“Halloween is stupid. I’m never going to Venice. I want to dance again. And I’m tired of being sick!”
“Dr. Bruer told me that you’re almost done with chemo and that things are looking good. I’m sure you’ll be out of here in no time.” I wanted to lift her spirits, but my words seemed to have the opposite effect.
The young girl looked up at me with angry, tear-filled gray eyes. “Do you really believe that?” she asked but didn’t even wait for an answer before speaking in a flat voice. “Because I don’t.” Her gaze shifted back to the water.
My mind shut down upon hearing this confession, and my heart ached. She was too young to be like this. There had to be something I could do. That’s when I noticed a black cat across the way. It sat perfectly still with its tail wrapped around its paws, watching the two of us with unblinking, pale blue eyes.
“You’re a lot like a black cat, aren’t you?”
Lacy wiped at her eyes. “What?”
I pointed across the pond to the cat watching us. “Since everyone thinks black cats are bad luck, people tend to treat them cruelly. They’ve seen a lot of bad things in their life.” I knelt in front of her and met her eyes. “You’ve experienced a lot of bad in your life too, haven’t you?”
She blinked, then nodded.
“My mother used to tell me that whenever I saw a black cat, I should do a good deed so they don’t forget that there is still kindness out there.” I sighed “I know it’s not easy, but you have to look past the bad. There are plenty of good things out there to celebrate.”
She narrowed her eyes and I could see some harsh words forming on her lips, but I cut her off.
“I know what you’re going through. All of us doctors know what you are going through, but none of us really know what it’s like. We’ve seen patients go through chemo, but most of us haven’t experienced it ourselves. I can’t imagine what it feels like, and I wish you didn’t know, but you do. There’s nothing I can do to change that fact. All I can do is try to bring as much happiness and joy as I can into your life as I can.”
Lacy’s lips trembled as she studied the cat. “Everyone is always telling me how strong and brave I am, but to be honest, I don’t feel that at all. I’m scared all of the time, and clearly,” she gestured to her gondola wheelchair, “I’m not very strong either.”
“Bravery and strength aren’t always what people assume. Bravery isn’t an absence of fear, it’s the ability to overcome it. As far as strength, it’s more than just muscle mass. There’s the strength of the heart and mind, which I’m told you have plenty of. I mean, isn’t that why your parents aren’t here?”
Lacy looked down at her lap, where her hands rested with fingers interwoven. “Mom had to work tonight, and I didn’t want my little brother to have to trick-or-treat in a hospital because of me, so I told Dad to take him around the neighborhood back home.”
I placed a hand on her shoulder and gave her a reassuring shake. “You see, that’s what I mean. You put your brother’s needs above your own, which is pretty strong of you, and you did it even though you don’t want to be alone, which is brave. Don’t sell yourself short, Lacy.” I stood and began pulling my shoes off my feet.
“What are you doing?”
I rolled up the leggings beneath my polka dot dress and peered over my shoulder. “Something very important.” With that, I grabbed the hem of my dress and held it up as I waded into the inlet of the pond toward the hat. God, the water was freezing!
“You’re crazy!” Lacy giggled.
“Probably!” I shouted back. I retrieved the hat and quickly returned to the shore. After shaking it out, I handed it back to its rightful owner.
“It’s ok to be mad. It’s okay to be scared. Those feelings are valid for someone in your position, just don’t let them override everything else. Make sure to enjoy the good times when they arrive, and never forget that there will always be more to be had.”
Lacy put the hat in her lap and sighed as I sat in the grass next to her. “I know. It’s just really hard, you know?” she glanced at me and I gave her a sad smile while nodding. “I mean, I’m not asking to dance a lambada tomorrow, I just want to be able to dance at all. And maybe go to Venice one day.”
With my shoes in hand, I rose to my feet. “You’ll get there, I’m sure of it.” A shiver ran down my spine. Again, why did Halloween have to be in October? Why couldn’t be in a warmer month? I looked down at my young companion, who smiled up at me. She had to be freezing too. “Ready to go back inside? I bet we can find still find some candy.”
She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “Yeah, okay.”
I pulled the wheelchair away from the water and headed for the nearest door. Lacy spoke up as the doors slid open. “Doctor Felicity?”
Her fingers played with the brim of the damp straw hat for a moment before she continued. “Thank you, for being here tonight.” She tilted her head back to smile at me, and I returned the gesture.
“Of course. I’m always here to help if you need it.”
“Do you think they have any Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups left?” she asked, excitement trickling back into her voice.
“I’m sure we can find some.” I chanced a final glance over my shoulder at the cat. It still watched us, and when it met my eyes, it winked and was gone. I thought he looked familiar.
All Hallows Eve was drawing to a close, and I could already smell the coming scent of peppermint on the wind.