Polly Andrews plucked anxiously at her sodden handkerchief.
The woman sitting next to her on the sofa placed a gentle hand atop hers. “Don’t, dear. You’re making yourself sick. That won’t bring Becki back, you know.”
Polly nodded, and in a strangled voice whispered, “I can’t believe she’s gone… my baby. My little girl.”
“You need to eat something. When was the last time she ate, Fred?”
Fred Andrews sat down on the other side of his wife. “She’s right, Pol. You haven’t eaten anything substantial since…“
He stopped, unable to continue. Reaching for his wife, he pulled her close, burying his head in her neck.
Bea Edwards watched from across the room. “Look at the two of them,” she said to Emma Parker. “Terrible thing to lose a child.”
Emma agreed. “I was worried Polly would collapse when the men carried that little casket from the church, but she just stood there, tears running down her face. Lord knows I wanted to take her in my arms and say, ‘Honey, this too shall pass.’ Why is it, Bea, that some folks have so much sadness to bear?”
Lynette Monroe overhead the conversation and left her seat to join them. “I don’t know how that poor woman held up these last two years, watching her little girl waste away. Her heart was wrapped up in that child.”
Bea nodded. “That’s a fact. Before the stomach ailment, Becki was such a lively little thing. Polly adored her. All those fancy doctors! And not one able to figure out what was wrong with the child, in spite of her being in and out of the hospital all those times…”
“Sure was hard on Polly. What a good mama she was to that girl,” said Jolene Parsons, carrying a pot of coffee in her hands. “You ladies want a refill?”
“Thank you, Jolene,” replied Emma, holding out her mug. “You’re right – I’ve never seen a mother more devoted than Polly. Nearly destroyed her own health taking care of Becki.”
All four women glanced in Polly’s direction. They watched Isabel Perkins trying to comfort her.
“Poor thing,” sighed Jolene. “Makes my heart break just to look at her. She’s trying so hard to be brave…”
Lynette frowned. “You know, those doctors got something to answer for… Each time Becki was in the hospital, she’d start to get a little better. I think they sent her home too soon. Once she got home, she always seemed to take a turn for the worse. Poor child couldn’t keep anything down, always vomiting.”
“One day I stopped by to see Polly on church business,” recalled Bea. “With all she had going on, she still invited me inside for some cake and coffee. That’s her way, always thinking of others.
“Becki was bedridden by that time. Well, just as Polly and I started going over the hymns for the next week’s service, Becki began screaming. Polly dropped everything and ran up the stairs to see what was wrong.
“Hearing that child scream made my skin crawl. It was the stomach pains again.”
“What did Polly do?” asked Emma.
“I looked in on them, to see if there was anything I could do to help – and there was Polly, sitting on that child’s bed, holding her close and singing lullabies, rocking her back and forth. Made me want to cry, it did.”
Jolene started to sniffle. “It’s damned sad… such a good mother!”
“None better,” said Bea. All the women nodded in agreement.
Lynette took a sip of her coffee and then put it aside. “I heard Fred was worried about Polly taking on too much, and wanted to get someone in half days to help out with Becki’s care. Polly wouldn’t hear of it. Said Becki was her baby, and no one was gonna take care of her baby but her. Those last two years, she did everything for Becki. Gave her all her medicine, bathed her, fixed her meals. She never let anyone help out – she was tireless when it came to caring for that child.”
Jolene nodded. “She was always looking for treats to tempt her appetite. She used to come into my bakery every couple of days and buy chocolate chip muffins… said they were Becki’s favorite, even though the child could never eat more than a bite or two…”
“No matter what, Polly never gave up hope,” said Lynette.
“She’s a good woman, that’s the truth,” Emma said. “Wonder what she’s gonna do now that Becki’s gone? It won’t be easy for her.”
“Well, thank God, she’s still got Cindy,” said Bea.
Six years old and pretty as a picture, Cindy sat cross-legged on the floor near her mother’s feet, intently coloring the pages in her activity book.
“I expect Polly will have more time to concentrate on Cindy now.”
As if she overheard the conversation of her friends, Polly suddenly reached down and caressed the top of the child’s head.
Lynette shook her head, her brown eyes sad. “Such a fine woman. She sure took good care of Becki…”
Her friends agreed. Polly was such a good mother.
There’s a little used bedroom in the back of the Andrews house. That’s where the entrance to the crawl space is located, and where the minutia and mementos of one family’s life are haphazardly stored. Hidden far behind the clutter in that cramped, dark space is a small, nondescript box. Inside the box, wrapped in a large white towel, is a small metal can of drain opener, a slender hypodermic needle fitted with a syringe, and several stale crumbs of chocolate.