Sanitarium

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The nurse leaves the window open when she goes out. For fresh air, she tells me, but I’m sick of fresh air. Just once, I would like to fall asleep without shivering. But we are poor, sick little darlings, and we don’t know what’s good for us, so the window stays open.

She locks the door behind her when she leaves, same as she does for all the children here, but the locks are simple. I learned to pick them in the first week, and I have no intention of staying in a cold room all alone tonight. I wait until I can’t hear her footsteps any longer, and then I leave.

The halls are quiet. Even the nurses have gone to bed by now, or are on their rounds, and I pad quietly down the hall to Emma’s room.

She’s waiting for me, sitting up in her bed. They’ve left her window open too, poor dear, but it will be warmer together. I climb in next to her and kiss her pale cheek. She’s sicker than I am. The doctors think I have a chance of recovering, at least for a little while, since TB never really goes away, but Emma isn’t so lucky as I am. She’s been here much longer, and they don’t expect her to ever leave.

But still, even for all their fussing and pity, Emma is still happy. She smiles more than anyone I’ve ever met in my whole life, in the sanitarium or out of it, and she never complains. Even about the open windows. We cuddle together beneath her blankets to keep warm, and she strokes my thin hair and tells me every story she’s ever heard, and a few she made up on her own.

I fall asleep to the sound of her hoarse voice, and not even the cold wakes me up again.

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