Friday, August 3, 2007
The Aimee Doll (Prologue and Chapter 1)
April 27, 1917
In Danger of Closing
Judy’s Home, an orphanage in the outskirts of Chicago, which has provided shelter to hundreds of children in the 30 years since it opened, might close if a debt of $3,500 is not met before the end of the fiscal year. Miss Aimee Allensworth, caretaker of the orphanage, is making a call to society to assist in keeping the orphanage open.
“We are hosting a fundraiser at Judy’s Home, and I am inviting the public in general, but especially those who have adopted from the orphanage, or anyone who has it in their hearts, to come participate of our fundraising event.”
Aimee also grew up at Judy’s Home. Twenty five years ago, she was found inside a basket, out in the white snow in front of the orphanage. The only connection between the baby girl and her previous life was a doll with the name Aimee stitched on her dress.
Aimee grew up under the care and supervision of Miss Judy and Sister Mary Helen,
previous caretakers of the orphanage, and among the many children whom otherwise, did not have a proper family or home.
“I lived a happy life here at Judy’s Home,” states Aimee. “I felt protected and well taken care of. My desire is to be able to do the same for the children who still live at the orphanage and many other children who might come to be part of our home.”
The fundraiser includes a play by the children of the orphanage. The event will close with a formal ball. The night promises to be highly entertaining and will be attended by Chicago’s finest. For more information please contact the Chicago Times main office.
“Here’s an article about the fundraiser for Judy’s Home,” says the husband to the lady, handing her that morning’s newspaper, while he sits at the dinning table with a large cup of coffee in front of him, a pipe between his lips, which he ignores, preferring to use his free hand to tug at the corner of his mustache.
The lady grabs the newspaper with an almost dismissive gesture. She first finishes giving instructions to the maid regarding the evening meal, then still holding the newspaper, hands her husband his briefcase. “You do not want to be late for work, dear. You have a meeting this morning with the bank’s president.”
After her husband leaves, she remembers the newspaper and goes into her sitting room to read it at her own leisure. She begins reading the society column with a smile on her face at the mention of the fundraising event she has often given advice on. Halfway through, she stops reading, since her mind refuses to accept the words she has read. She starts reading again from the beginning. Once she gets to the same part, she holds her breath and brings her small hand to rest on her chest in a futile attempt to stop her racing heart.
She looks around making sure there is no one within earshot, and reads the words a third time. This time she reads them aloud, to make sure she is not imagining them.
“Twenty five years ago, she was found inside a basket, out in the white snow in front of the orphanage. The only connection between the baby girl and her previous life was a doll with the name Aimee stitched on her dress.”
She walks to her secretary desk, retrieves a tiny pair of scissors and cuts out the article from the newspaper. She looks at the article one last time before putting it away, not reading it this time, just looking over it as if searching for more clues. She finally folds the piece of paper, walks over to her armoire, puts the clipped article inside the pocket of her folded white cloak, and rests her hand over the lump it forms.
“How can this be?” is the last thing she says before she closes the armoire doors and leaves the room, hopefully unseen. As an afterthought, she walks into the room again and throws the rest of the newspaper into the fire.
Chapter 1 Dreams
The first rays of the sun, coming into the room through the small crack in the wooden wall, hit Aimee’s eyes and wake her up on this cold January morning. She covers her face with her pillow, trying to fall back into the blissful oblivion that was so hard to reach the previous night. She had another restless night, full of worries that had never plagued her before. Life seems to be getting more and more complicated with each passing day. Not that her life has always been easy, but she likes to find the bright side of things, she smiles and laughs and enjoys life.
“Enjoy everything you have, while you still have it,” was Sister Mary Helen’s advice to her when she was growing up.
And she had. As a child, she enjoyed her home, and Sister Mary Helen, and Miss Judy, and the food served on the table, and the friends to share it with. She knew she hadn’t been the best behaved child at the home. Every day she would wake up with the promise of a new fresh day, the promise to behave and be good, but sometimes there seemed to be an idea lingering on the back of her mind, and for some reason, bringing her idea into reality usually got her into trouble. Like the time she brought the baby skunk into the dormitory and hid it under the bed. The skunk had been well the first night, but he got scared the next morning when the other children started waking up and making noise. The smell could be felt for weeks afterwards, but she didn’t have to wait that long before Miss Judy called her into her office.
“Aimee, what were you thinking?” Miss Judy asked from behind her desk, with an expression that sometimes seemed to Aimee more a mix of amusement and bewilderment than real anger.
“I thought his mother had abandoned him in the forest, so I brought him to live with us,” she had explained. “Isn’t this the place for babies without mothers?”
For some reason, Miss Judy hadn’t said anything more, and she got out of that one easy.
If it wasn’t one of her ideas, then it was picking a fight with Nick. Nick liked to torment Nely, and poor Nely didn’t know how to defend herself, so it was up to Aimee to stand up to Nick. After all, she was faster and stronger than any other kid at the orphanage, and she could climb up on a tree and quickly escape if Nick or the other boys came after her.
The memories make her smile and relax her enough to help her fall back into the blissful oblivion, until she feels a warm liquid fall on the side of the bed, wetting her blanket. The wet spot quickly turns cold, and a shiver makes her jump out of bed.
She is annoyed for a brief second, but she quickly laughs it off. “Josh must have peed his bed again.” She looks at the boy sleeping on the top bed.
“Oh, I’m too old to be sleeping in a bunker bed and getting peed on by a different kid every morning."
She looks down at her wet pajamas. "Now I will have to heat water to take a bath this early in the morning. Oh, well. A nice bath will cheer me up. It looks like it might be a beautiful day,” she murmurs, peaking through the window. She tiptoes out of the room, the old wooden floor screeching as she walks.
After her bath, she decides to take a walk. The cold morning air slaps her face when she opens the door, but she welcomes the feeling. As she walks on the snow, her steps take her on a path she knows only too well, her favorite place in the world, Judy’s Hill. On that hill she has laughed and cried, and climbed trees and lived life to the fullest, but on this morning, the path up the hill is making her melancholic. "What will I do now I no longer have a job?" she wonders.
The wind blows back her long black hair and intensifies the color of her rosy cheeks as she continues her walk up the hill. Will my dreams ever come true? She picks up a dry leaf from under a small tree, and with her finger traces its border. First, of course, I need to figure out what those dreams are.
Working in the hospital had been fun. Not many women were willing to struggle with a career, let alone medicine, but she had been lucky to get a fellowship from the Woman’s Medical Society. With additional income from Miss Judy and the pressure both funding sources created, she finished medical school in record time and with excellent grades. But a year later she was fired from the hospital during her first year of residency and had her license taken away.
She had meant well. Her friend Alex had come into the hospital unconscious after he had fallen from his horse. She recognized him immediately from his long blond hair, his ragged clothes and his scraggly beard. When the paramedics laid his bloodied figure onto the metal gurney she quietly made a promise to care for him until he got better, no matter the cost.
How could she not help him? He had been kind to her. He had saved her from driving down a cliff when she had decided to learn to use her adoptive family’s automobile, after her cousins had challenged her to do so. Alex had saved her life. The car… well, there wasn’t much to save after it fell down the cliff. Alex had miraculously appeared in her life every time she needed him. He was her guardian angel.
The hospital cared for him while he was unconscious, but once they realized Alex was a homeless person who could not pay his hospital charges, they discharged him. Aimee could not allow that to happen to her friend. She could not abandon him, because she knew he would never abandon her. While she was a doctor, she had to make sure he had the best medical care available. Aimee knew Alex was in no condition to return to the streets, so instead of signing his discharge papers she falsified an identity for him which allowed him to stay almost a week longer. When the hospital staff found out, they accused Aimee of violating every medical principle on the books.
“What about basic human principle?” she had protested. “He can’t take care of himself.”
The hospital replied they could not respond to every pro-bono case that came in. She was told in ridiculous ethical terms, her obligation as a doctor preceded human need. She was also reminded that, being a woman, she was lucky to be part of the hospital staff as it was. When she refused to accept their outrageous ways, she was fired.
Being fired from the hospital left her with no income to support herself, and loosing her license left her with no profession with which to find another job, so she returned to her childhood home-Judy’s Home.
As if the shame wasn’t enough, she had to tell Miss Judy she had failed once again. She failed at being adopted, failed at every relationship she had been involved in, and now she failed in her career.
Two days after returning to Judy’s Home, Miss Judy had called her into her office. She stood in front of the desk, with Miss Judy sitting behind it and Sister Mary Helen standing next to Miss Judy’s chair, but instead of lecturing her, Miss Judy and Sister Mary Helen had been worried and sad, which was worse than the reprimand she was expecting.
“You were fired from the hospital for helping a homeless man?” Miss Judy asked her.
“He’s a friend,” she had explained.
“Where did you meet him?” Miss Judy wanted to know.
“He lived in a shack, in the woods close to Allensworth Manor.”
“Your adoptive family?”
“Yes. Them,” Aimee replied.
“Aimee, you must have been only a child back then. Why did you befriend a stranger? Didn’t you know better?” Miss Judy asked.
“He is the nicest person I know. You taught me not to judge by appearances, and apart from his living conditions he is a decent human being. He became my friend when I felt lonely and sad at Allensworth Manor. He was friendlier and easier to get along with than any of the society people I met during that time. And he didn’t deserve to be treated like he was at the hospital.”
“My child, you did well by helping another human being,” Miss Judy said with a very sad expression on her face. “But what will you do now?”
“I’m so sorry,” Aimee began to say with her eyes cast down. “I know you counted on me having a career of my own, and after all you’ve done for me I let you down…” She stopped talking when she realized neither woman was paying attention to her. Instead they were talking softly among themselves.
“She put her career at risk to help another human being,” Sister Mary Helen repeated.
“We must have done something right when raising this child,” Miss Judy agreed, “but what will become of her?”
“Miss Judy, this child is accumulating her fortune in heaven. She is on the right path, and I'm sure God will guide her.”
"A reprimand from Miss Judy and Sister Mary Helen would have been better than the sad look on their faces," she thinks to herself, reaching the top of the hill and sitting under the tall maple tree. "A good reprimand would have left me angry and I would’ve been able to fume it out eventually. Anger is easier to deal with, but having their sympathy hurts more, because I'm now left with the certainty I have disappointed the two people who care about me the most."
She brings her knees close to her and wraps her arms around them. From the top of the hill, she can see the valley covered in snow. To her right she can see smoke rising from the chimney of Judy’s Home. To her left, down on the lower part of the hill, she can see the river, now mostly frozen. Across the river pine trees agglomerate into a forest. Beyond the forest, but completely out of her sight, lays the Allensworth manor. Judy’s Home and the Allensworth manor are two places that, to Aimee, are as different as heaven and Earth.
Legally she is still part of the Allensworths, but she might as well not be. She hasn’t been back to the mansion since she was expelled from St. Francis Academy, some six years ago. The Allensworth matriarch, Aunt Evangeline made it clear in a letter to Aimee the scandal she created after her expulsion from the finishing school was unacceptable. If Aunt Evangeline found out about her expulsion from the hospital she would completely be disowned by the family. Aimee wonders what would scandalize Aunt Evangeline more, the fact that she was fired from the hospital, or the fact that she took the patient home with her to care for him herself after he'd been discharged from the hospital.
Hopefully no one will find out about that.
Not that it matters. She is not planning to return to the Allensworth manor any time soon. The only person in that family who seemed to care about her at all was the head of the family, her benefactor, but she had never met him in person. He had often communicated with her through letters, but he was a very busy man, and didn’t have time to deal with the details and misfortunes of her life.
Her life is up to her now. And the truth is that she has a world of possibilities open to her. Granted, she can no longer practice medicine, but she still has the knowledge she gained during medical school.
It would be wonderful to be able to put that knowledge to good use, she thinks. Certainly Miss Judy and Sister Mary Helen would approve of that.
She thinks of her possibilities. One of them is to join the army. Maybe they will let her be a nurse. She thinks about this idea for a while and ends up discarding it. She hates the reality of war.
So, if not the army, maybe I can use my knowledge of medicine to help cure the poor and needy. That sounds more worthwhile. She could become a missionary. Missionaries help take care of the poor and sick, they build hospitals and schools. Or even a nun.
I could ask Sister Mary Helen about becoming a nun! Miss Judy will also be happy when I tell her I am considering this possibility. This will make it up to them.
She stands up, brushes the snow from her coat with her hands and walks down the hill back to Judy’s Home. Judging by the position of the sun, she realizes she is late for breakfast. She debates whether to go into the kitchen to find some leftovers, or go directly into the chapel, where she knows Sister Mary Helen will be at this hour. She touches her stomach, which makes a growling noise and finally decides her new career can wait until after she’s had something to eat.
“It’s a very demanding job, Aimee,” Sister Mary Helen tells her.
Aimee had sought her after a large bowl of oatmeal. She had gone into the tiny chapel and waited until Sister Mary Helen finished saying the rosary to talk to her.
Now both women sit in one of the few benches and Aimee has Sister Mary Helen’s full attention.
“But do you think I can do it?” Aimee asks.
“Oh, child, I don’t mean to discourage you, but is that really the path you want? I mean, if you are getting a call from the Lord to join the convent I would be more than pleased to help you, but are you sure about this?”
“How do I know if I’ve had a calling?” Aimee asks, wondering if thinking about it on the hill counted as one.
Sister Mary Helen laughs at her question. “It’s something you feel deep down in your heart. It’s what you want to do more than anything else in the whole wide world. Is that what it feels like for you, Aimee?”
Aimee turns her head to the side. “I’m not sure if I want to do it more than anything in the world, but it would be a good thing to do, wouldn’t it?”
“Of course it would, but the Lord calls each one of us to do different things in life, and you must follow your heart to know which one is the one for you.”
Aimee must have looked more confused than ever, because Sister Mary Helen continues talking to her in a very gentle tone.
“If you consecrate your life to the convent, there are things you will have to give up.”
“You give up your will in favor of the will of the church. You have to learn to submit yourself to the orders of others.” Sister Mary Helen pauses, looking intently at her.
“I hadn’t thought of that. I’m not very good at following orders.”
Sister Mary Helen laughs again, nodding slightly. “Also, you might be required to move far away from here.”
“But wouldn’t I be able to come back?”
“Only if you get an approval.”
“I wouldn’t like that at all,” Aimee admits. “My life in the hands of others.”
“It’s not the only thing to consider, Aimee. You have learned what it’s like to fall in love. Are you willing to give that up completely?”
“I would willingly give up the heartaches.”
“Of course, child, but what I am talking about is, are you willing to give up being loved by a man? Are you willing to give up the gift of being a mother and having a family of your own?”
“I hadn’t thought about that. I guess I always took for granted the idea I would eventually get married and have a family of my own.”
“Then, my dear, think about it. You don’t have to make a decision such as this one right away. It would be better for you to wait this one out.”
Sister Mary Helen leaves the chapel to go tend to the children when they call her, and Aimee remains sitting on the bench, feeling even more miserable. If not the convent, then what will I do with my life? The missions are still an option, but just like in the convent, it would probably require her to go far away from here. When was the last time I knew for certain what I wanted to do with my life?
She thinks back to the times she was in love. Even then, she wasn’t certain if a life with them is what she wanted. With her first love, they were still too young. He died in a terrible accident, and she mourned his death for a long time. Her second love broke her heart when he married another girl.
She could definitely live without any more heartaches, but Sister Mary Helen brought up a very important point. Aimee is not willing to give up love. She wants to get married and raise a family of her own. She dreams of having the family she wished she had grown up with. Deep down in her heart she knows this is what she wants to do more than anything else in the world.
When she hears her name called, she stands up from the bench and goes out into the main area of the house. A few steps out of the chapel, she comes to an abrupt halt when she sees the children gathered in front of her, with Miss Judy and Sister Mary Helen standing in front of them. Miss Judy holds a cake in her hands, with lit candles on top.
“Surprise!” they yell in unison.
“Happy birthday, Aimee!” Sister Mary Helen cheerfully says.
“Happy birthday, Aimee!” The children yell at the top of their voices.
Miss Judy looks at her with an endearing smile. “Happy birthday, my dear child.”
Aimee is taken aback by the surprise. She has lost track of her days since she came back to Judy’s Home. But she should have been aware, at least, that it was late January, and that at Judy’s Home her birthday is celebrated on the day she was found out in the snow, in front of the orphanage.
“Miss Judy! Sister Mary Helen! You remembered.”
“My child, how could we forget your birthday? You have been an essential part of this home since the first day you came to live with us,” Miss Judy says.
“Yes, Aimee,” Josh adds, “you have been with us forever.”
Aimee looks down at the boy and tries to convince herself that he means it in a nice way. She has to admit she comes back to Judy’s Home quite frequently.
Soon, the children start hurrying her by singing, “We want cake! We want cake!”
Aimee laughs and accepts the cake from Miss Judy’s hands. She puts the cake on the table and proceeds to cut it and hand it out to the children. Josh playfully sticks his finger into the cake and uses the icing to decorate Aimee’s nose. The children laugh at his mischievousness, and Aimee laughs with them.
She looks around herself, at the cute expectant faces of the children. I do want a family of my own. I want my life full of moments like this one. The children’s faces convince her she doesn’t want to go into the convent. Still, that certainty doesn’t help her in her search for a new career, but maybe there’s no reason to hurry that decision either. Maybe she can stay at Judy’s Home longer than she planned, and help out around the home. There’s more than enough work to do, and that way she will be able to enjoy the company of the children and Miss Judy and Sister Mary Helen for a while longer.
Someone knocks at the door and Miss Judy goes to answer it. She comes back into the room with a gentleman walking next to her. “Aimee, you have a visitor,” she announces.
Aimee looks up from the cake and the children. At first she has some trouble recognizing the visitor. He is dressed in formal business attire, with his long blond hair styled back, clean shaven face and a bouquet of red roses in his hands.
“Happy birthday, Aimee.”
It isn’t until she hears his voice that she realizes the man in front of her is Alex.