It's funny how we're born a living, breathing, newborn child, and when we're gone, are reduced to a tiny slab of stone and mere memories. But, nevertheless, there lay Timothy Q. Cowlstock Junior.
Those who loved him affectionately remembered him as "Timmy", an energetic boy of six years old. The other boys his age aspired to strike it rich and own fancy cars someday, but all Timmy wanted to do was stay where he was and play. He wanted to be forever young, and here he was.
He had his wish, in a way, didn't he? Dead of tuberculosis in 1920.
Four years later, the Cowlstock family assembled at the site of the grave, solemn and tearful. Timmy had left behind a mother, a father, and a sister, all of whom stood close together, sobbing into one another's sleeves. Rosemary had only been ten the last time she saw Timmy, but she could remember his cheerful face vividly, and pictured him frolicking about the dull green meadows of the cemetery.
"Whatever he's doing," she tearfully and absent-mindedly murmured. "I know he's not resting in peace. He's playing-- he's gotta be!"
"What a thing to say, Rosemary!" Mrs. Cowlstock gaped. "What a thing to say!"
She began to cry harder, and Mr. Cowlstock took her in his arms, giving Rosemary a stern look.
Rosemary felt guilty, but she would have rather imagined Timmy alive and well than dead and buried underneath an array of wilted flowers. Nevertheless, she opened her mouth to apologize to her parents, but instead, a cough emerged from between her pale lips-- a familiar occurrence this week.
"That's it," Mr. Cowlstock sighed sharply. "You're worrying me, Rosie. It's about time I send for Dr. McDerry."
Mrs. Cowlstock wiped her eyes and nodded. "Something's got to be done about that cough," she added.
Rosemary's gaze shifted back to the tombstone again. Coughing. That was one of the symptoms of... she couldn't even pronounce it. "Do you think I have what Timmy had?" Rosemary questioned her parents anxiously. They looked at one another somberly and didn't answer.
The next day, Dr. McDerry came round to the Cowlstocks' home. He examined Rosemary for quite some time, asking her tons of odd questions she would have never thought of on her own. He placed a stethoscope on her back and listened in. He took a look at her throat. Dr. McDerry did all kinds of crazy things-- until he had come to a conclusion.
He cleared his throat. "May I speak with the two of you?" he asked Mr. and Mrs. Cowlstock. "In private, that is."
Mr. Cowlstock raised an eyebrow, and Mrs. Cowlstock's lip quivered. Rosemary's stomach was a vaudeville act of tumblers, tightrope walkers, and tap dancers-- it churned and churned as if somebody had seized it and shook it with their own two hands.
She knew why Dr. McDerry was speaking to her parents. She had known it all along. Rosemary had tuberculosis, too! Her worst fears were confirmed when she heard a loud cry arise from the room to which Dr. McDerry had taken her mother and father.
"It can't be! You must be kidding!"
But it was, and he wasn't kidding: Rosemary was to leave the next morning for the hospital on the hill.
"I'll refer little Rosemary to a great doctor up at Waverly," Dr. McDerry assured Mr. and Mrs. Cowlstock as he scribbled away on his clipboard. "Dr. Willard Cantrell."
Mrs. Cowlstock buried her head in her hands.
"That piece of shit?!" Mr. Cowlstock cried in near-disbelief, clenching his fists. Dr. McDerry's mouth fell slightly agape with shame on the man's behalf.
Mrs. Cowlstock, red in the face, forced a laugh. "Dr. Cantrell treated our Timothy," she explained. "Please, forgive my husband. I guess we're all still a little bitter."
Dr. McDerry was confused as ever. "Bitter?" he asked. "Why is that?"
"Our son died of tuberculosis," Mr. Cowlstock explained, scratching his head and blinking back a few tears. "After the other guy"-- that other guy was the pediatrician they'd been taking the children to for their checkups for years up until now-- "referred him to Dr. Cantrell. The operation was a real flat tire and poor Timmy was gone before they could even get him out of the surgery wing."
Dr. McDerry, pained, nodded. "I can see why that would give you your doubts about him," he told the frightened parents. "But I've known Willard for a long time. He's helped many patients with his innovative methods. If you let him take care of Rosemary, I think you'll find she'll be better than ever."
After a long time of profound thought, Mr. and Mrs. Cowlstock collectively agreed, deciding drastic times call for drastic measures, and so the next morning, Rosemary was taken to Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
The hospital wasn't too large, but it was a whole new world to poor Rosemary. A world where breakfast was cold oatmeal in a pasty hospital bed, not too soon after a stingy shot in the arm-- not the pancakes, fried eggs, and home fries she once loved eating, as she read the comic strips her father had saved for her from the daily newspaper.
Of course, though, there was the children's playroom, where Rosemary often passed the time away. It was a pleasant diversion, and although she was far too shy to join the other children in their feeble games, Rosemary didn't feel alone.
She liked to sit in the corner, putting together puzzles, coloring, and reading books that had been left as donations to the sanatorium. All the while, she had this warm feeling like a hug; like she was truly at home and someone was with her. If only Timmy could come back, she always thought, it would be the icing on the cake, and maybe being sick wouldn't be so bad.
And it could be very, very bad. Rosemary hated nighttime at the hospital. Most of the nurses went home, and only a few remained, sparsely distributed throughout all the floors of the old place. Sometimes Rosemary saw things. Sometimes she thought she heard screaming and crying. Or maybe it was the other patients of the children's ward, lying in pained sleep on their own cots-- but why weren't their lips moving?
What Rosemary resented the most, though, was the pain that was slowly creeping into her, slowly grasping her very soul and wringing it out to dry. The disease was progressing, and fast. It felt like her lungs were burning from the inside out.
One day, she woke up at night to a deafening sound.
"Save me!" somebody wailed. "Save me!"
The voice was shrill and otherworldly, and poor Rosemary didn't know where to turn. But she heard the clicks and clacks of two pairs of shoes. Two figures came into the distance. Nurse Alice and Dr. Cantrell, Rosemary thought sullenly. Here to give me another shot!
But it only took a split second, then, for Rosemary to realize how late it was for a shot-- and that the shadowy duo had no idea she was awake. Quickly, she shut her eyes, and listened for an indication as to what they were going to do.
"What do you think, Doc," the nurse asked. "About that Rosemary?"
Dr. Cantrell sat down on a nearby bench, and patting a space beside him, invited Nurse Alice to do the same.
She looked pitifully at Rosemary, whose eyes were clenched shut, and gave a sigh. "Poor thing," she murmured.
Dr. Cantrell nodded. "Won't be for long," he said. "You remember the special surgery."
Nurse Alice's head swiveled briskly with shock over to meet Dr. Cantrell's cold gaze. "Oh, Willard," she cried in a hushed tone. "You don't mean--!"
Dr. Cantrell grinned. "I've perfected it, Alice," he told her enticingly. "I insert the balloon into the diseased lung and inflate it. It should give her some extra time."
Nurse Alice sighed. "I don't want to meet the man who has to perform that operation," she muttered.
Dr. Cantrell's eyebrows furrowed, slightly offended. "You've already met him," he explained. "I'm going to be operating this time."
Rosemary's heart throbbed with fear.
"When's she going in?" Nurse Alice questioned him.
Dr. Cantrell looked very pleased with himself when he said, "Tomorrow at dawn. We won't even wake her up to tell her where she's going-- but when she does wake up, she's going to be in a better place!"
Dr. Cantrell had meant that she'd be in a better place with her disease, as in she'd feel better. But Rosemary's interpretation was very dim, and once the pair left to go home, she arose from her bed and quietly made her way to somewhere she could hide. Since the children's playroom was left virtually untouched at night, Rosemary decided that would be the perfect place.
She had never been there before, but as she tiptoed in the barren, dusty old room, a sense of warmth came over her. She spotted a lone red bouncy ball in one corner of the room, just like the one Timmy used to play with outside their house.
"He loved that ball," Rosemary murmured.
Suddenly, the ball rolled over towards her-- no mistake. Right to her very feet. But nobody was there to push it.
"Timmy?" she cried. "Oh, Timmy! It's gotta be you!"
Rosemary decided to test the idea, and smirked as she rolled the ball back in the direction from which it came. The ball came to an abrupt halt at one point just before the window, and with a start, came rolling back towards Rosemary. She started to recognize this feeling she felt, as she threw back her head and laughed.
The feeling she'd felt when Timmy walked in the old house, home from kindergarten, and begged her to play a game of ball with him in the yard. She would agree-- but grudgingly so. Well, not this time! Even though Rosemary couldn't see him, she was glad to be with Timmy-- the only brother she'd ever have. They played catch for hours, just like the old days. Usually their game would be cut short by Mrs. Cowlstock calling them in for dinner, but not tonight. One last game, one last sacred moment shared between brother and sister.
As morning neared, Rosemary grew uneasy, remembering the mysterious operation she was to undergo. A balloon in her lung? How ridiculous! What doctor would think that to work? Dr. Cantrell, that's who! Rosemary began to feel very sick as the thoughts dashed to and fro in her little head, and she had to sit down. The little red ball slowly rolled to her side.
Rosemary looked into the distance-- pictured Timmy's mop of blond hair he always hated to brush, and his green eyes that always twinkled when Mr. Cowlstock told him stories from the Civil War.
"I want to be a soldier," Timmy would whine.
Mr. Cowlstock would furrow his brows. "If you can't handle tangled hair, son," he would tell his little son sternly. "Then you can't handle the army. Here, hold my pipe while I go check on the apple pie."
Rosemary was overcome with sadness. Timmy would never get to be a soldier. Or for that matter, pick up a hairbrush. It was all gone. Whoever tore the life from him, Rosemary thought vengefully. Should be torn apart. She sighed sharply. "Timmy," she said, giving the little crimson, cloth ball a push towards the corner of the room where her ghostly brother stood.
"Pass the ball to me if Dr. Cantrell hurt you. I want to know if Dr. Cantrell hurt you."
The ball came rolling back briskly and Rosemary gathered it up, crying. "I love you, little brother," she sobbed. "We'll get back at that creep-- someday."
She looked wistfully out the window and looked at the curtains, swaying in the last wind of the night.
Rosemary's vision worsened. It was as if she was looking into the flame of candles, flickering out gingerly. She remembered the good times and the bad as she feebly embraced the ball, and coughed so hard, her chest felt like it was going to explode.
But it didn't.
No final, raspy breath.
She simply closed her eyes, and let go.
Dr. Cantrell, after having arrived in his brand new automobile, walked into work with a bounce in his step the next morning.
"Hello, boys," he said to some coworkers, putting on their scrubs and washing up. "Prepping for surgery?"
They nodded. Dr. Cantrell grinned and made his way to the children's ward to see if Nurse Alice had readied little Rosemary Cowlstock for the special operation. But a different nurse, one of the newer recruits, Nurse Gladys, was standing, confused as anyone, by an empty beside.
"Where's the girl?" Dr. Cantrell demanded.
Nurse Gladys shrugged feebly, looking a little scared. "I suppose you could check the playroom," she offered. "I came early for the morning shift, just a few hours ago, and I heard some noises from there. I mean, I assumed somebody was dropping off some toys or something... but it's worth a look."
Dr. Cantrell gave Nurse Gladys a mean look before he changed his direction and headed upstairs to the playroom. He knocked on the door with great force.
"Rosemary," he called. "You can run, but you can't--" He shook his head with frustration, and kicked the door open to an empty room, minus the two bouncy balls in the far corner.
Dr. Cantrell rolled his eyes. "That dumb witch was right," he muttered. "Somebody did drop off another toy." He stepped into the confines of the small room and shut the door. "God, this place smells," he thought aloud.
He began to think of where to find Rosemary, when all of a sudden, the two playthings, with a sudden jolt, started to roll towards him. The outside lock on the playroom door locked itself, and the window slammed shut on its own.
Nobody could hear Dr. Cantrell's deafening shriek, though the staff members who found him did say they could hear a few soft giggles. Sounded like children, they said, but then, who knows?...
Written by MsCourtneyElizabeth