Disclaimer: This is an original story based upon the characters of Mary Poppins. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit will be made from this story.
Author's Note: This is a story that I was recently told to develop more and try to get published as a longer novel. I posted here because I need all the help I can get. It would mean a great deal to me if you would read and review and tell me what you think. Sorry to steer away from the current story I am writing here, but I will return to that one shortly. Any help would be greatly appreciated!
The Spoonfull of Sugar
It was late and the bleached white halls were quiet. It was actually more frightening that way. During the day, when there was so much to do and so many elderly to take care of it was different. Mr. Hall would be laying on the floor again and had to be taken back to his chair. Mr. Bolini and Mr. Vitori had gotten into another argument over bridge and were screaming at each other in Yiddish, another marriage proposal from Mr. Kent, letting Mrs. McKenty brush your hair while she called you Mona, Mrs. Jackson was back in the Twenties again and was jitterbugging on Mrs. Coulter's robe. During the day, there was so much to do, that it didn't really affect you that much, but nighttime—night time was different. At night the quiet was not relaxing, it was maddening. It was then that the individual sounds reached us and tore at our hearts. The silence was penetrated by bloodcurdling screams of those who saw imaginary murderers in the nurses who came in to tend to them at night, by Mr. Bolini's cries to his God to deliver him from "prison," by Mrs. Wahl's bitter sobbing for her late husband, and Mrs. Spencer's moans that came like clockwork, desperately calling, "Mama—please, come and take me home."
I looked at my watch as I made the rounds throughout the halls dispensing the late night doses of medication. The small little cups were filled with pills—pills for dementia, back pain, blood pressure, stool softeners, arthritis pills; each little cup held two or three multi colored pills. For those who couldn't swallow pills there were small cups full of thick syrups that smelled as vile as they probably tasted. Fearfully, I entered each room, hoping against hope that it would just be a simple matter of dispensing the pills, watching as they swallowed them and then calmly going out the door. I hated Geriatrics; I hated going to work each day and watching those people suffer. I got into nursing because I wanted to help people, and now all I wanted to do was run home and hide underneath my bed. I couldn't wait until my Geriatrics rotation was over with. They couldn't pay me enough to keep working here.
I made my way around a corner and noticed a new name plate on the wooden slat on the next door. My heart turned a little—Mrs. Chesney had been in that room, she had died a week ago. I had been off for two days and didn't know anyone had moved in. Out with the old, in with the new—it sickened me. The name plate said, Mrs. J. Manwell. I checked for a corresponding cup and found two small pills and a large dose of red cough syrup. I knocked gently at the door and when I heard a "Come in" I entered the room. It was like stepping into another world, suddenly the air didn't smell like dinner's carrot mush or bathroom accidents, suddenly it smelled of lavender and roses. Gone were the designated sheets and blue flannel blanket each person received, instead on the bed were two plump pillows with cream colored pillow shams. There was a large beautiful quilt with dusty rose and cream colored star patterns. There was a large oak dresser, one she had brought from home and it was covered with elegant jewelry boxes with large ropes of pearls draping out of them. On top of the dresser were also three pictures. There was a wedding picture in a silver plated frame, a smaller pearl edged frame of the man and the woman from the marriage picture and their arms were lovingly around a smiling baby. The third one was a very old photograph, of a little boy and a little girl.
"Good Evening," a voice said, suddenly drawing me out of my thoughts. The voice sounded as elegant and silvery as the room. I turned and saw her then, sitting in an old oak rocking chair. She seemed so different from anyone I had encountered over the past few months. She was small and thin, but carried herself with a certain grace and elegance that made me suddenly want to stand up straight. Her eyes were blue and I immediately recognized her as the child from the picture because her eyes seemed to still hold their childhood magic. Her hair was long and shining silver, cascading over her shoulders. She wore a white nightgown and a delicate crochet lace shawl. She smiled at me, and then said, "Are you here for my evening pills? I haven't met you before, please come in." Her voice had a delightful English accent to it. I walked in further, still unable to speak wondering if I was still in the same building. Class and manners had no place here; they had all been taken away by the Alzheimer's plague.
Her smile widened, and she regarded me with a comical look as she slowly stood up out of the chair. "You look tired," she said, "Would you like to sit a minute…have a cup of tea?"
"Um…I can only stay for a minute," I stammered as I walked in further and handed her the pills and the cough syrup. I poured her a glass of water, and cursed myself under my breath for being so rude.
"My name is Katie, Katie Jones," I said as I handed her the cup of pills and the water.
"I knew a Katie once," she said smiling as she took the pills and swallowed them, "A dreadful bore. She was always loosing her temper and her glasses. Of course, my brother and I were always hiding the glasses which I suppose caused her to loose her temper so I can't fault her for that now can I?"
"Um no," I said as I handed her the cough syrup. She grimaced, drank the liquid down and then gave a little shiver as the taste brewed in her mouth. "I never could stomach cough medicine," she said, and then suddenly she turned to me, "Oh goodness," she said, "Where are my manners? I am Mrs. Manwell. Mrs. Jane Manwell," she extended her hand and I took it, "It's very nice to meet you Miss Jones," she said smiling.
It felt like something from the Twilight Zone, as if Nancy Reagan was suddenly on Saturday Night Live. She was so out of place. "Please," I said, "You can call me Katie."
She smiled, "Then I will and it's a good thing, you will be able to redeem the name of Katie in my mind then," she said and then patted the footstool next to her. "Please sit down," she said. "I am feeling rather lonely tonight and you look so tired. Just for a minute."
Maybe it was the coziness of the room, the fact that I was really tired or the delicious feeling it was to have someone be concerned about me for a change, but I sat down next to her.
"That is a beautiful chair," I said after a few minutes of silence had past.
"Thank you," she said, "My husband made it for me. He was a wonderful carpenter. He made it when we found out we were expecting our first child. I rocked my baby in this chair when she was born…" she stopped and a quiver came into her voice. "And I held her in my arms in this chair the night that she died." She turned and looked out the window and strangely I felt relieved when I felt sadness for her at her grief. I was relieved that working in this place hadn't desensitized me.
"I'm sorry," I said and she turned back to me.
"Thank you dear, that's very sweet," she said and then turned back to the window. "She was two years old," she continued, "It was cholera. She came down with it on Monday and by Saturday she was gone." She turned back to face me and suddenly her eyes were glistening, "That is my cross in life," she said. "I am alone. There is no one left."
I leaned forward intently suddenly wanting nothing more in the world then to have this woman confide in me.
"First it was my father, when I was seventeen. He died in an automobile accident. My mother was so heartbroken. After my father's death my brother enlisted in the War. He was killed in France. That was too much for my poor mother, who seemed to give up on life after that. She just got old and died a few years after my brother. I married a wonderful man, Steven Manwell, and we had an adorable little girl Lydia. Cholera took my baby and thirty years ago this June; a heart attack took my husband." She stopped and swallowed hard as she turned back towards the window. "You see," she said. "There is no one left. I am alone. I've been alone for a very long time."
"I'm sorry," I said again and she continued to stare out the window. After a minute, she turned to me and her eyes suddenly sparkled as if it was Christmas morning.
"I won't be alone much longer," she said.
"You are healthy and strong Mrs. Manwell," I said, suddenly taking on a condescending voice thinking she was talking about death.
She looked up at me confused and then smiled, "Oh no Dear," she said. "I don't mean dying." She motioned to me with a long bony finger to come closer. The childlike delight in her face grew as I leaned in closer.
"The wind has changed," she whispered. It was a whisper that sounded like a magic incantation. "She's coming."
At that I started to go into my Nursing shell again. Suddenly things were getting weird.
"She said she would," Mrs. Manwell went on. "She promised us. She promised us she'd come if we really needed her. She came and took care of me after my baby was born. And she came when the baby died too. She's always kept her promise."
I stood up to go back to my cart, unwilling to see what I knew was coming. This woman was like the others, that's why she was here. I didn't want to get involved in her demented world; I just wanted to do my job.
"We got back from flying the kites in the park and she was gone. Mother and Father were surprised she left without saying goodbye. But Michael and I knew her better than that. We scoured that Nursery so sure she would leave us something. It was Michael that found it. It was a note written in her perfect handwriting. It said, 'Michael and Jane, you have what you need now. If you ever need me again I will come. I promise…" she paused for a moment and seemed to savor the next few words, "With love, Mary Poppins."
Honestly, I was so tired and my muscles were so sore, I almost started laughing when she said those words. How could I have been so stupid? This was the land of delusional people—why had I thought she would be any different? I had to admit though; this was a pretty good one. I had people were still in their childhood, who believed that I was their daughter, their wife, their sister, granddaughter, and Mr. Vitori even thought I was his son Antony—and now I had someone who had walked right out of a Disney movie.
"I know what you're thinking," she said and I turned back to face her. I doubted that she did know what I was thinking, how much deep down I wanted her to be different, wanted her to be okay.
"You're thinking I'm crazy, that I have Alzheimer's," she went on. " I've heard it many times before. It's okay. You're entitled to what you believe. She taught me that."
"Mrs. Manwell," I said, "I really need to be going," I started towards the door.
There was something about her presence that seemed to hold me their like a magnet.
"You don't believe in much," she said. "Do you?" and suddenly those blue eyes seemed to see right through me and I found myself turning back towards her.
"No" I whispered "I don't."
"I was like that once," she said, and her eyes held nothing but sympathy. She patted the footstool again and against all my logic and reason, I moved towards her and sat down again. She smiled and suddenly put a hand over mine. "When Matty died, there was a part of me that died with him. I started to think I had dreamed the whole thing up. I didn't believe in her any more. I closed off my heart. Maybe that's why she didn't come to me then. Because she knew I didn't believe in her anymore. It's a terrible existence, not being able to believe in anything. I am sorry," she said.
"Mrs. Manwell," I said, putting my hand over hers, realizing that it was futile to try and talk sense into her. "Mary Poppins is a Disney movie. She was created by a man with a brilliant imagination. She isn't real,"
She said nothing, just simply smiled and leaned forward, "Actually my dear girl, it was Mrs. P.L. Travers that wrote about her first. Mr. Disney came after. Pamela and I were friends growing up. I told her my stories and she changed them here and there and made them her own. It was Mr. Disney who told my story the best."
I tried to get up to leave again. There was no point in sitting here, she was completely delusional. Still there was something in her voice that held me there.
"That sweet man," she said and a smile crossed her face, "He talked with me on several occasions. He never doubted me, never told me I was crazy. He was one of the people in the world who still believed in magic. Even Pamela, God rest her soul, after time forgot that the stories she had written were true."
"I really have to be going now," I said, and then suddenly she reached a thin hand up and stroked my cheek, "My Dear," she said and suddenly I had tears stinging in my eyes. My grandma had called me that. The only person who had ever referred to me as "My," the only person I felt I truly had belonged to.
"Life isn't worth living unless you have something to believe in," she continued. "The magic of life is all around us."
I reached up and placed a hand on her arm, "I really have to be going now, thank you for the talk," I said and I was surprised at how gentle and real my voice sounded.
"Of course," she said. "I've kept you too long already. Please, come by any time."
I stood up and turned to leave. I was almost to the door when I heard a sharp knock on the door.
"Who the…" I started and I turned back towards Mrs. Manwell, she was leaning towards the door, her eyes shining. I opened the door and if it had been Ed McMann with a large cardboard check addressed to me, Brad Pitt with a engagement ring, and a little green Martian, I couldn't have been have been more surprised. There was a woman standing outside the door, with ramrod straight posture, dressed in a dark blue overcoat and a hat with cherries and daisies on it. In one hand she held an old carpet bag, and in the other she held an umbrella with a parrot head. She was very beautiful, with dark brown hair pulled back in a bun and eyes that were almost violet colored. Her mouth was small and dainty like the cherries on her hat, and her cheeks were—rosy.
I stared at her wide eyed as she seemed to be summing me up with those sharp eyes. "I'm…I'm…I'm dreaming," I stammered finally.
She looked at me in the eyes and without skipping a beat she said, "Good for you, I am Mary Poppins. Kindly step aside," she said and I unconsciously obeyed as she took a step inside the room. I scanned down the hall wildly looking around me, seeing if there was anyone, anyone who could tell me that there was no one there, that I was just imagining it. The halls were completely empty. I turned back inside where the woman had removed her coat and hat and placed them on a hat stand I could have sworn wasn't there five minutes ago. Underneath her dress was blue and white pinstriped and she wore a clean crisp apron. She walked towards Mrs. Manwell, who now had tears shining in her eyes.
"Jane Banks Manwell, what are you doing up at this hour?" the woman said with her hands on her hips.
"I was waiting for you," Mrs. Manwell replied, suddenly seeming like she was ten years old again.
"Come on," the woman said, "Let's get you to bed," and tenderly put her arm around Mrs. Manwell leading her to the bed. She pulled back the covers and then gently helped her into the bed. Still unable to speak, I watched the interaction between the two of them, as the woman brought the covers up and then smoothed a piece of Mrs. Manwell's hair out of her eyes.
"I knew you'd come," Mrs. Manwell said smiling.
"Of course I came," the woman said as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "I made a promise didn't I?"
"How long will you stay with me Mary?" Mrs. Manwell asked, her childlike eyes seemed to be begging.
"For as long as you need me," came the reply and then suddenly the woman's features softened and she bent down and kissed the old worn forehead.
"Janie," she said tenderly. "I was there—with Matty. I took care of him. I didn't leave him. He wasn't alone."
Mrs. Manwell's tears streamed down her face and she whispered, "Thank you."
Watching this tender exchange I suddenly realized that tears were streaming down my face also. I had never seen beauty in this place and even though I told myself that it was a dream, that I had fallen asleep in one of the chairs in the lounge, I didn't want to wake up.
Suddenly, the woman turned to me and said in a crisp but kind voice, "Don't you think you'd better deliver the rest of those pills? Can't waste a minute in our line of work can we? Spit spot," she said and then turned back to her charge.
I stumbled out of the room and took my cart again. What had just happened? Was I completely loosing it? I delivered the rest of my pills and then clocked out in a hurry and headed home. I lay awake that night, so exhausted but unable to sleep. Jane's eyes seemed to haunt me, "The magic of the world is all around us," her voice resounded in my head. Maybe it was all real, maybe there were Jane Banks and Wendy Darlings, Alice's who had really fallen down rabbit holes and Lucy's who had stepped into Narnias. What if there were others who were in forgotten nursing homes whose delusions were really magical stories no one had ever written down? I lay in bed my mind whirling when my alarm clock started beeping and I suddenly woke up.
I must admit my heart sank a little, as I realized it had all been a dream. Slowly I got up and showered—I was due back at the nursing home in an hour. As I was eating breakfast, I thought about Mrs. Manwell, and wondered as is often the case how much was dream and how much was reality. Had I dreamed up her as well? I drove to work and was strangely feeling happier, ready to take better care of the people I had the honor to take care of. As soon as I got to work, I took my pill cart and started down the hall. When I turned the corner, I saw the name on the plate tucked in the wooden slat, "Mrs. J. Manwell." Smiling, I knocked on the door.
"Come in," came the reply. I walked in and the smell of lavender and roses met me again. The room was shining clean, and Mrs. Manwell was dressed in a smart blue dress, her silver hair tied back in a bun.
"Well, look whose here," she said smiling, "Come in my friend."
I walked in and delivered her pills and the cup full of cough syrup, feeling the eerie déjà vu feeling I felt after seeing someone who had been in my dreams.
"What would you like for breakfast today Mrs. Manwell?" I asked, and she smiled at me, her eyes sparkling.
"I've already had my breakfast, thank you Dear," she said as she swallowed down the pills.
"Mrs. Manwell, the dining room just barely opened," I replied.
She said nothing, just held out her hand for the dreaded cough syrup and I gave it to her. She took it in one hand and with the other, she reached down and took something off of the little table. I stared in disbelief as I saw what she had.
In her hand was a golden spoon with sparkling white sugar in it.
She winked at me, put the spoon in her mouth and then downed the cough syrup. "Perfect," she said.
I worked at that nursing home for six more months, and late at night when the sounds of lonely people haunted the hallways I sometimes waited by Mrs. Manwell's door…but I never saw the mysterious woman again.
But without fail every morning the bed was made, the room clean, Mrs. Manwell was fed and happy and there was a little gold spoon with sugar waiting on the little table, to help the medicine go down.
Author's Note: Okay, now that you have finished with the story, a few specific questions--What needs to be developed further? Should Mary Poppins be older when she appears? Should she appear at all? I have had suggestions to make the story more about Katie and Jane's relationship and still show that Mary Poppins does come but not make that a focal point of the story. I however, like seeing Mary take care of Jane again as she promised she would. Anyway, any info will be very helpful!