The Opposite of Fate by Alison McGhee Read Online (FREE)
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In the beginning, a girl lay in a hospital bed in a room with white walls and a single window. Her name was Mallie Williams. She was twenty-one years old. She lay there for many months, months in which people came and went from the white room. Had she been conscious, she would have recognized some of them, the ones she had known most of her life. William T. Jones, her neighbor up the road. Crystal Zielinski, his girlfriend and the owner of Crystal’s Diner. Charlie, her younger brother. Lucia, her mother. And Zach, her boyfriend.
Others, Mallie would not have known. The doctors and nurses in their scrubs and white coats, stethoscopes slung around their necks, noiseless shoes on their feet. The lawyers. The guardian ad litem. The members of Lucia’s church, who gathered around her bedside to pray. The young orderly with the yellow cap, gold earring dangling from his ear, who once a day entered the white room and pushed his mop around the tile floor until it gleamed.
Months went by. Most things remained the same in the white room. The doctors and nurses settled into routine and resignation and finally into the kind of watchful resentment that sometimes happens in the face of hope turned hopeless. Until they were banned from the room, William T. and Crystal and Charlie gathered daily around Mallie’s bed. So did her boyfriend, Zach. They tried hard, but in the end even Zach’s face changed from worry to anger and finally to resignation.
Outside the hospital, others also kept watch, protesters carrying signs, trying to sway the decisions of the people within the hospital’s doors.
In the quiet white room with the double-glazed window, Mallie lay silent and asleep and unaware of the debate and protests and media coverage swirling around her. By all appearances, she was also unaware of the complicated emotions that anguished the people who loved her, the ones who came and went from her bedside. Her dark hair grew long and silky. Her skin softened, its freckles and few lines smoothing and disappearing over time. These changes were small and subtle, noticeable only to the people close to her.
It was Mallie’s stomach that everyone noticed. Flat and muscled on the night she was admitted, her belly over time mounded itself and became the first thing anyone looked at when they walked into the white room. Such a small thing in the great scheme of the world: new life. But this particular new life was complicated. For a while, it was all anyone who knew her talked about.
Sixteen Months Later
William T. Jones
That was the second thing Mallie said, when she began to talk again. Her eyes were open and looking toward the window of her room at St. John’s.