Emily Wainwright, R.N. pushed the button to answer the buzzing intercom. Room #314. The occupant of #314 had never made any voluntary motion. Beth, the nurse assistant on duty, must be ringing for assistance.
“What do you need, Beth?”
“You’re going to want to see this, Em.” Beth’s voice was tight, trying to restrain the excitement in her words. “Jane Doe is watching me.”
A momentary chill ran through Emily’s body, and then she dismissed the thought. Beth had to be imagining things. One of the other R.N.s thought she saw a reaction to the overhead lights once, but it turned out to be REM. The patient was sleeping with her eyes open. She punched in the away-from-desk auto-response and walked down the hall to #314.
Jane Doe had been transferred to Regents when she was around two years old. No one knew her exact birth date. She caused quite a commotion when her parents abandoned her in the baby deposit box at River Medical Center. It’s unusual to find an infant in a baby box. Normally, newborns no more than a day or two old, often suffering from withdrawals, were the occupants when the bell sounded. Baby Jane’s parents had attempted to care for her for nearly two years before giving up and obviously not wanting the financial responsibility for her care. Somewhere there was a record of live birth and two parents who were missing a child, but they had never been found.
In the eight years since her transfer to Regents, the little girl had been a behavioral vegetable. Emily was just an intern when Jane Doe was admitted. Over the years, she had spent her time changing her, feeding her, taking her to the lavatory, and walking her in the halls. Jane was in every way physically healthy, capable of complete function, but she’d never done anything of her own volition.
“Oh my God!” Emily gasped when she walked into Room #314. Beth was restocking the dressing drawer and Jane’s head, which had been turned to watch Beth, swung around now to follow Emily into the room. Tears swelled in Emily’s eyes at the miracle as Jane’s eyes met hers, focused and alert for the first time.
“Flippin crazy, huh?” Beth said. “She hasn’t taken her eyes off me.”
Jane’s head turned to the sound of Beth’s voice and then back to Emily.
Emily approached the side of the bed and stared at her patient. The eyes staring back at her blinked attentively from a face that suddenly looked pathetically malnourished. Once listless and dull, they were a deep rich brown now and full of life.
“You look pretty today,” Emily said.
Words she’d said so many mornings out of habit had always been met with the same stone face. Today, the skin-and-bones ten-year-old screwed her face up in confusion. She reached her hand down under the covers and between her legs. Her eyes closed for a moment before opening again, this time to stare down at her body in the bed. She pulled her hand up and stared at it, and then she sat up suddenly and threw the covers off.
Emily jumped. This was almost the dead coming to life. “Do you understand me?” she asked.
The girl’s eyes stayed fixed quietly on her body. Her right hand began to twitch. Emily watched the motions wondering if they were voluntary. Then her eyes lit up in surprise.
“Quick, give me something to write on,” she snapped her fingers at Beth.
Beth tore the lid from one of the supply boxes on her cart, and Emily handed the cardboard and a pen to Jane Doe. She immediately began writing – Jacob Parker 5105552663 and then she put down the pen.
Emily took the paper in surprise. “I’ll be damned,” she said. “Nothing for eight years and then this!”
The girl turned to look at her again, completely disinterested in what she’d written. “You sang me songs,” she said.
“What?” Emily couldn’t believe her ears.
“I recognize your voice. You sang me songs.”
“Sweet Jesus! You can talk?”
“Em, that looks like a phone number,” Beth observed.
It did. But is that even possible? Emily thought. Jane could never have learned a phone number at two years old, but then she had never learned to talk either. What if she knows who her parents are?
“What about it, Mystery Girl? Is this a phone number? Someone you know?”
Jane just stared blankly at the writing as if she didn’t know she’d written it.
“What the heck?” Emily shrugged at Beth. “What can it hurt?”
She pulled her cell phone from her uniform pocket and punched in the numbers. It’s ringing, she mouthed.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice answered.
“Hi, this is Emily Wainwright. I’m the head nurse at Regents Nursing Facility in Ashbury, South Carolina. May I speak with Jacob Parker please?”
“I’m sorry,” the woman answered after a moment, her voice audibly distressed. “I think you have the wrong number.”
It was crazy to have expected anything else, but…
“What’s the matter?” Beth asked, regarding Emily’s puzzled look.
“Well, I’m not sure.” Emily frowned at her phone. “She said it was a wrong number, but I don’t think it was.”
Emily walked over to the bed and ran her fingers through Jane Doe’s chestnut brown hair. It was still almost impossible to believe she was awake. Jane looked up and smiled the first smile of her life.
“I’m sorry, Honey. I thought we might finally find out who you are.”
“What’s wrong with Jane?” the girl asked. “That’s what you call me, isn’t it?”
“Have you been hearing everything we’ve said all these years?”
A scowl came over Jane’s face. “I don’t think so.”
“But you remember some things,” Emily prompted.
“You have a pretty voice,” she announced. “You sang me songs. And you sneaked me orange Popsicles. You knew I liked orange.”
Emily looked again at the writing on the cardboard, and then turned it for Jane to see. “Do you know what you wrote here?”
Jane shook her head.
Emily ran her fingers into her hair, arm up, elbows out, and looked over at Beth.
Beth shrugged. “♪♫ Doo-do-do-do, doo-do-do-do ♪♫” she sang.
“Right?” Emily confirmed. “Where’s the stiff-lipped guy?”
As if on cue, her phone buzzed in her hand. She stared down at the caller ID in disbelief – Jacob Parker (510) 555-2663.
“You gonna answer it?” Beth urged.
Three times Emily made the effort to push Answer Call. On the third, her thumb caught the call just before it went to voice mail.
There was a long silence at the other end. Too long. Just as Emily took the phone from her ear to look for the Missed Call message, a woman’s voice sounded.
“Forgive me,” she started.
“Oh, Hello?” Emily returned the phone to her ear.
“This is Angela Parker,” the woman from earlier answered after a moment, her voice still obviously upset. “I’m sorry for before. My husband passed away years ago and… It’s just… Is there something I can help you with?”
“I… I’m… I’m not exactly sure…” Emily stuttered, equally distressed. “Is it… I’m sorry can you give me a minute please?”
There was no question she could think of to ask that would be answered by a parent who had used a baby deposit box. And there was another thing; Angela sounded older than she expected, at least in her fifties. Emily wrestled with the situation. Covering her lips with a finger, she showed Beth the Caller ID.
“We’ve had something very strange happen here, Mrs. Parker.” Emily finally decided to just tell it straight. “We have a little girl in our care here who’s been mentally unresponsive for eight years. She just woke up, totally out of the blue, and wrote down your husband’s name and number.”
“Is this some kind of a joke?” Mrs. Parker asked.
“This is my personal cell, Ma’am, but I assure you this is a hospital, and this is no joke. Is she… could you have a daughter?”
“No. Just Jay… just Jacob Jr…” her voice trailed away as if she was going to say more and changed her mind. A long silence passed in which the air in #314 became a solid entity that forged its way in and out of lungs. Finally, she continued, in tears now, “I’m sorry, this is difficult for me. My son was killed this morning. Would it be alright if I talked to the girl?”
Emily extended the phone to Jane in a warranted daze, and held it to her ear. Jane sat expressionless and listened. After a moment she spoke with the same absent-minded manner that she’d written.
Then she turned to look at Emily as if the phone made her uncomfortable. Emily took it back.
“Hello?” she asked. “Hello?”
© 2012 Anne Schilde