Fandom: Anne of Green Gables
Title: The Word at the Bottom
Theme(s): #29, Affaire de Coeur
Pairing/Characters: Anne Shirley/Gilbert Blythe
Disclaimer: All characters and situations are property of L. M. Montgomery (though, thinking about it, they may be public domain by now).
Summary: Set during Anne of Windy Poplars, Gilbert has a bad day at the hospital. The title is from "The Root of It", a poem by Norman MacCaig.
Today, Gilbert watched a woman die. He doesn't remember her name – he supposes he could find out, so he does. He owes this to her, this woman who died because he wasn't quick enough or experienced enough or because he just had too little knowledge of how a human heart works and why it goes wrong.
Her name was Mary Russell and Gilbert's chest tightens a little. She was married and had four children – three daughters, one son – and the knot in his chest tightens still further as he recalls the face of a woman who came to visit Mrs Russell, young enough and alike enough to be one of them. She'd brought flowers, but he couldn't remember what they were. It wasn't important, anyway.
One of the other doctors-in-training calls to him as he leaves the hospital, inviting him back to his lodgings for a nightcap. Gilbert refuses – he wants to go home and close his eyes and stop thinking about how still a person becomes when their soul departs from their body.
Mrs Russell isn't the first patient Gilbert has lost and he's not so ridiculous as to suppose she will be the last. He should be used to this by now, however, he isn't and he doesn't know that he ever will be. It makes him feel tired.
Gilbert reaches his lodgings quickly, it's less than a ten minute walk or a five minute run from the hospital. It seems even colder and more unwelcoming today, at least until he sees an envelope addressed in Anne's neat, swirling hand on the mat. He had forgotten it was Thursday.
She tells him in the first few lines that she has the "right kind of pen" today and three pages of a world that holds no interest for any but they two follow. Alone in his room it makes him smile and the knot in his chest loosen just a bit.
On the fourth page, Anne writes of the trials and tribulations of teaching at a school full of Pringles with her wry, sweet-natured humour at their and her own expense. She mourns the thwarted kindred spirit in Jen Pringle and ends with a flourish and a signature line cribbed from one of Aunt Chatty's letters halfway down the sixth page. Gilbert lays it down and all his thoughts for a long time after that are of Anne and her dreamy smile and her grey eyes fixed upon sights that no other mortal could, or would, see. His heart aches with missing her; there is no other being who shares that look and no one else he has ever known speaks the language of the dryads.
Eventually he takes up his pen to begin a reply. He wishes he could tell Anne happier stories about his studies, or at least turn tragedy into dark comedy but he doesn't possess the kind of nature that would allow him to. However, she seems to understand and that, really, is why he knows her to be the one person he can tell anything to and have her grasp his meaning almost before he finishes speaking. In her replies she always has something to say that soothes his doubts and fears in some indefinable way. Gilbert tells her this and then crosses it out, and then tells her about crossing it out, knowing something so silly will make her laugh. When he comes to the events of the day, however, his gift for letter-writing falters and his pen stills an inch above the paper. Writing about his failures to Anne is difficult, it stings to have to speak of it while the pain is still fresh, but if he doesn't then the wound will heal improperly and he will be of no use to anyone. Besides, if he can't tell Anne, it's not worth attempting to tell anyone else.
He signs it and adds a postscript that's for Anne and Anne alone. Sealing it is the work of a moment and he puts it aside for the time being, picking up Anne's letter again. Her handwriting sends a pang through Gilbert; her letters are all he has of her, at least for another six weeks. He folds it and replaces it in the envelope before storing it in a drawer with the rest of her letters.
He undresses and lies down on his bed, almost too tired to pull the covers over his head. It has been a tiring shift and the results have left him far from hungry, much as Anne's letter has brought comfort. He hopes for a dreamless sleep tonight; he may not see Anne's face in his dreams, but more to the point, he won't see Anne's face in place of Mary Russell's. The thought is enough of a relief that he falls asleep as soon as his eyes close.