She was laid up in bed when I went in to see her, ducking my head under the low beam arching her doorway.
She was dressed in the largest nightgown you ever saw – she had completely vanished beneath it. And her face under the fringe of thick, ropy curls was pale.
‘I’ve got a broken heart,’ she said softly, looking up at me with her large, dark blue eyes. So dark they could be black.
‘Well, now.’ I told her, standing a little back so I could get a more complete picture, ‘Is that so?’
‘Yes it is so.’ she folded her arms like she expected to be in this for the long run.
I put my notepad away, and folded my stethoscope. I then sat on the chair next to her bed.
‘Well, then. What’s this about?’
She looked at me for a long time, her eyes piercing me. Then she smoothed the covers before her with small fingers, and took a deep breath.
‘Nobody believes me at all’ she said, ‘everybody thinks I am exaggerating. But I am not. I really, really do have a broken heart.’
She clutched her chest, and I saw in her frightened little face that she genuinely believed it.
‘And why is your heart broken, my dear?’
The tears filled her eyes almost immediately. She picked at the embroidery on her bedclothes, and her mouth trembled.
‘I – I don’t..’
She stopped, and the tears leaked from beneath her drooped lids. She wiped them furiously away.
I sat solemn and still, waiting for her to finish.
‘They said,’ her shoulders heaved, ‘they said they took her to the hospital because she was feeling poorly, but then,’ a tragic sob escaped her, ‘they said – they said – they say-aii-dd..’
She couldn’t stop her tears. I could see her small fists bunching up the bedsheets, and her hair, straw coloured, obscured her wet face.
‘What did they say?’
‘They said she went on holidday-aay-ayyyy’ her voice rose to a wail, and her face was turned up to the ceiling, and the pain on her face made me feel, for the first time, a stab of pity for the poor little thing.
‘Ah,’ I sat a little straighter on my seat, ‘and why does this break your heart, my child?’
She looked incredulously at me, wiping her eyes, glaring.
‘They won’t listen to me, Mister Doctor. They say I am being silly, and that Lucy went on holiday because she was getting old now and needed to relax.’
‘Well perhaps that is exactly what she did do.’ I said, raising my eyebrows a little.
‘She didn’t, Mister Doctor. That is utter – utter poppycock.’ She was firm and resolute.
‘She — she died, is what she did, Mister. She died, and my heart is broken, and nobody thought nicely that they could tell me about it. And my Lucy is gone, and I didn’t – even – get to say goodby-yy-yye.’
I looked at the five year old child for a long, long time.
‘You are a very astute little person,’ I said, finally.
‘I think,’ I said, carefully, ‘I think you are right. You do have a broken heart. We must find a way to fix it as soon as possible.’
She pointed at my folded stethoscope, ‘Aren’t you going to use that?’
‘Not for this, I’m afraid. I think a broken heart needs quite a different fix.’ I stood up, ‘It needs first for you to get your little feet out of bed.’