She called you Ophelia
“Mama was calling for you while you were out. She wanted to talk to you.” Leena said as she grabbed her coat to leave.
Knocking softly, Liza opened the bedroom door. As expected the older woman was in her big soft bed surrounded by pillows. She looked like she was floating on a puffy white cloud as the television on the dresser played at the foot of her bed.
“Come on in, dear,” she said her body almost disappearing beneath the bright white sheets and matching comforter.
“Leena said you wanted me.”
“Yes, dear. I had something for you.” Mrs. Davenport lowered the volume on the television, and then picked up some papers from the bed stacking them in one neat stack on the TV tray next to her.
“How are you feeling?” Liza asked.
“Fair to middling,” the woman grimaced as she tried to pull up in the bed. She looked tired but when she opened her eyes, Liza saw that ever present alertness there. “To be expected, I guess. At least that’s what the white coats keep telling me,” she said. “Close the door behind you.”
Liza obliged sitting in the chair by the window. The doctor’s prognosis wasn’t good. Mrs. Davenport was weak and tired all of the time. The treatments that were supposed to save her life were taken what little energy she had left.
“I have something to show you. I’ve been meaning to show you this to you for a while now, but I kept making excuses. Here,” she said pushing the stack of papers at me. They were court documents.
“What am I looking at?” Liza said.
“Just read it.”
Liza started on the first page and the first thing that jumped out was the date. It was a birthdate, Liza’s birthdate. The next thing she read took her breath away. Her name was in the box next to the birthdate. It was her real name.
Liza looked at Mrs. Davenport. It had been decades since anyone outside of Central had known her real name.
“Keep reading,” Mrs. Davenport said the frown on her face deepening.
Liza gripped the papers trying to control the trembling. Her heart was beating so fast it felt like it was about to burst out of her chest. Turning the page she found a photocopy of two birth certificates. One was for her and the other was Trina’s.
It showed the same parents on both. Trina and Liza were sisters. They’d been placed in foster care decades ago. Liza kept reading until she saw what looked like a photocopy of a page from a social worker’s documentation.
Baby T, Baby L removed from mother’s home due to evidence of abuse and unsanitary living conditions. The mother was an admitted drug abuser with multiple arrests and convictions. On mother’s last sentencing the children were in need of immediate placement.
On the mother’s release the children were returned to her home. On the mother’s passing, the birth father forfeited his rights; and the children were placed. However, upon further proceedings in adoption procedure the family requested the adoption of only one child Baby T. Adopted parents stated they were not interested in adopting both children.
“There hasn’t been a day that has gone by that I haven’t thought about you. What happened? What would have happened had we taken you?” Mrs. Davenport said.
“You have to understand that we just couldn’t keep both of you. We had one little girl and taking in two more children, well, we just couldn’t.” Mrs. Davenport said a plea in her eyes for Liza to understand. “But we never forgot you, ever,” Mrs. Davenport said hiccupping. She reached for a tissue. “I just wanted to let you know. We cared.”
“You cared,” Liza nodded. “Why,” she asked, “Why her and not me?”
Mrs. Davenport said looking back to the television screen. She was quiet.
“Did you ever look for me?” the older woman said nothing. Liza knew the answer already. The answer was no, she hadn’t.
“The social worker thought it wouldn’t be best,” Mrs. Davenport said.
Folding the papers, Liza made them as small as she could before pushing them deep in her back pocket.
“I understand,” Liza said as she walked to the lamp in the corner of the room and turned it to low. The glow from the television was bright, but she knew Mrs. Davenport liked to keep it on all night.
“I’m tired,” Liza said walking to the door with heavy feet. She reached for the knob, but her hand froze above it. A memory began turning over in her mind. Liza looked back at Mrs. Davenport feeling the calm return, overtaking her before she could decide if she wanted to fight it, then realizing she didn’t.
Locking the door Liza turned back to Mrs. Davenport, who was still watching her with a teary, hopeful smile.
“I’m so glad I told you,” she said, “I feel so much better now.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Liza said walking back to the bed. She pulled one of the pillows from behind her head squeezing it between her hands.
“Dear I usually sleep with that pillow,” the older woman said. Confusion passed over her soft face as she continued to stare.
“Yes,” Liza said squeezing the pillow’s firmness. “I know.” The woman went still. Liza saw the moment realization dawned in Mrs. Davenport’s eyes. A shrewdness replaced the usual motherly sweetness she showed the world.
“All is well.” She smiled clapping her long bony hands together. “Brava. You were always too smart for your own good,” the older woman said her laugh low as she lay back against her pillows. Her breathing had grown shallow but her eyes showed no defeat.
“She called you Ophelia, sometimes O in all my surveillance,” Liza said. “but never Mama, Mommy, or even mother. Why not? Because you weren’t her mother and she wanted you to know that every day of your life. Didn’t she? You clocked me as soon as I showed up. Didn’t you?” Liza said louder than she intended.
“Even back then you were something else,” she said smiling. “So smart. Quiet, but there was something else even then. I saw it that day Roger brought me to meet you girls. I’m sure He saw it too.”
“You know He who shall not be called by name,” the older woman said reaching beneath her duvet. Liza tensed until the woman pulled out a cigarette and a lighter. “Oh calm down, girl,” she said lighting the end. “If I wanted to kill you I would have done it much sooner than now.” She inhaled before laying back again on the pillow. “I can only handle few puffs at a time now,” she coughed slightly, “but God it’s worth it.” She took another small puff. She coughed several times but her face looked blissful afterwards. “He was the one that told us about your sister- not you. You he kept for himself. He wanted you as soon as he saw you. What was I supposed to do?”
“Save your own ass.”
“See, like I said you were always such a smart girl.”
“How long were you with Central?”
“A while,” she smiled taking another puff. “Then I had to go and get old, and sick. It was the best and worst thing to ever happen to me.” Liza sat down in the chair.
“I knew no one when I came here, but as usual I found a way to fit in. You know how it is. I don’t even remember what the mission was, only that when it was through no one came for me. Months passed then a year, then two. By then I thought they’d forgotten about me. At least that was what I told myself. I know stupid, right?” Liza didn’t respond but she knew. Central never forgot, nor did they make mistakes.
“Somehow, they got to my husband first. Made him believe he wanted to adopt a kid. So you see it was all Roger’s idea, of course,” she laughed but it wasn’t a joyful sound. “I couldn’t have children,” the woman said. “Truth be told I never thought about being a mother, but we all get old, eventually.”
“So, you got her so you wouldn’t be alone.”
“Partly, yes. I mean we had Leena, but she was all Roger’s. My husband loved being a Daddy, he would have taken you both, was going to, but,” She inhaled again managing to keep it all in this time. “that’s when He came back,” she said her voice just a whisper. “Only He didn’t want me. I had gotten soft, my profile here was up. I couldn’t just drop everything and disappear anymore, but I learned quickly it wasn’t me he wanted anyway. But, of course, you know how they are. They can’t just let you go.”
“You let me go.”
“Darling, I never had you. Besides He wanted you, and we both know He always gets what he wants,” she said her eyes had a knowing sparkle.
“You knew what he wanted with me and did nothing.” The older woman nodded her eyes locked on mine. Liza stood up. The woman’s face hardened. Her eyes dropped to the pillow in Liza’s hands. “We all have to go sometime, dear,” she whispered, licking her dry cracked lips. Liza knew what she wanted but she lay the pillow on the bed drained of anger and hatred for the woman she had long forgotten.
“Besides I knew eventually you would leave me, anyway,” she said. Liza realized then the breadth of Mrs. Davenport’s selfishness. She’d only been concerned then and now about her life, her comfort.
“She hated you for it,” Liza said anger choking her words. “For separating us.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” she said taking another puff. “She forgot about you the moment she got here. My husband waited on that little girl hand and foot,” the bitterness vibrated with each word. “Trina don’t care about anyone but Trina. Or at least she didn’t, right?” The woman winked, her laughter like a creaky, dry board. She stopped suddenly, inhaling deeply to catch her breath. “You’re just like Him. I can see it. I guess you know where all the bodies are buried too, huh?” Ophelia said carefully putting her cigarette out in the ashtray.
Liza looked down at the woman she’d grown to care about taunt her, goad her to react. Liza fought against the calm refusing to give in and put her out of her misery. She wasn’t who Liza believed her to be. She was a Watcher, just like her. The pattern had been there all along, but Liza had refused to believe it for the tradeoff of the one thing she’d never had: a family. Only this family had been built on a foundation of lies.
“You got kids, dear,” Ophelia asked her eyes deceptively innocent. “No, of course not, Central’s the only family you’ll ever have.”
“No children,” Liza said quietly. “A husband once, but I haven’t seen him in a while. Your husband was Roger, right?” Liza smiled when the woman nodded slowly. “Say hi, for me.”
Liza pushed the pillow slowly into the woman’s jeering face. She tried to fight at first but they both knew it was impossible. As the pillow cut off the woman’s oxygen her thin arms flailed but there was no strength to them. The woman’s lungs were shot. It didn’t take long before the frail body went slack. Stepping back, Liza looked down at her. It was almost like she was sleeping.
Liza put the pillow back behind the woman’s head. Unlocking the door, she closed it softly behind her.