The Children

That Which Wills Thee [Chapter 3]

Young Marie O’Malley grew sick often, producing a hacking cough for weeks at a time. During these periods, the babe could hardly sleep, and often kept her parents and brother up with the sound of her sickness. Doctor Gregory, a trusted physician that was a friend of Gerald Flint and his family, was brought to the O’Malley’s home to examine the child.

He peered into Marie’s eyes and ears and throat but found nothing abnormal. With the listening device in his ears, something called a stethoscope, he listened to the sounds of the child’s heartbeat and breath.

“It is strained,” he said, turning back to the parents, Jane holding the older James on her lap.

“For what reason, doctor?” Jane asked.

“Perhaps just how her lungs are,” he said with a shrug. “These coughing fits… we call it a bronchospasm. Does she cough up mucous often?”

“Yes.”

“That, is in fact, good,” The doctor stated, “to clear the tubes inside her chest, to get some form of relief.”

William leaned forward, listening, puzzled. “And when she coughs all of it out, will she be all better?”

“Well… unlikely.”

“It is so painful for her, doctor,” Jane spoke up, “coughing throughout the night.”

“Hmm,” Gregory replied in frustration, “This is far from the first case I have seen with these signs. How often are you bathing her? The cold water can be bad for the breathing.”

Jane pondered on the intervals and responded. “Once a week.”

The doctor stood and began to put away his tools. “Once every two weeks, then. The nights when she cannot sleep, rub some strong alcohol upon her gums, she will be able to rest.”

“But the coughing will continue?” William asked, stubborn still.

The doctor sighed and peered out the open window. The sky was dingy, despite the midday hour, with smoke from the stacks staining the sky. “Others may not agree with me, but the smoke and fog could be the causes. This… asthma condition… it is worsened by the particles in the air. Like coal miners, breathing in the dust from the mines. Perhaps… keep your windows closed, cover her mouth with a cloth when she must go outside. I’m sorry there’s nothing more I can do, but I will ask my colleagues in the University if they know more.”

And so the doctor departed, with Marie no better than before. The coughing returned, and with it the sleepless nights for everyone.

William spoke on the topic to his wife one day, “My father began to cough like that before he passed, Jane.”

“He was an old man, and our daughter is just a babe.”

“More the reason that it should not burden her.”

Jane was stubborn. “The doctor gave us advice, she has been sleeping better with the alcohol on her gums, and the cold baths…”

“But still she is not better.”

“Then what?”

William pushed at the shutters on the windows, revealing the gray sky beyond. “He also said that the smoke is at fault.”

“I’ve lived here all my life with the smoke.”

“And I have not. The country does not have such dirty air. It is clean, you can breathe as deep as you wish on any day. I noticed this rancid aid from the first day I arrived.”

Jane stood and held at her husband’s back. “Do you speak of bringing our family out there… to do what out there with nothing?”

“If it is better for her, for our family-“

“The best place is here, about my family.” Jane shook her head vehemently. “You remember what I told my father. You would not take me away from here, from him.”

“Ask him if he would put that before his granddaughter’s well-being.”

James was soon at his mother’s side, pulling on the hem of her apron. “Momma… papa… don’t fight.”

“It’s not a fight, boy. We simply have to determine what is best for all of us.”

Jane huffed and returned to her seat. In the corner of the room, in the child’s bed, Marie began to hack and complain. William pulled the shutters closed, returning the room to candlelight. He sighed. “If we wish something is to change, the two of us must decide on it together.”

Jane remained silent as she tended to the girl, propping her head upon the pillow in the crib.

“Perhaps if we journey to the country, experience it for a day or two, to simply imagine life there… to smell the fresh air, to experience the trees and the grasses and clear, flowing rivers… perhaps your mind will open. Will you allow us that, wife?”

“I shall ask my father.”

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