Rebecca Williams had the brightest smile you’d ever seen. Maybe it wasn’t pure white, but the way she smiled was so sincere that it radiated warmth and light. She had a gap, not between her two front teeth, but between the pointy one and the flat one directly four to the left of that. You’d never notice it through all the brightness, but it was an inconvenience whenever she ate steak, which wasn’t often. Rebecca smiled every day until her jaw hurt. It was her greatest weapon.
She wore Velcro running shoes to work every day, and washed then weekly so they would stay stark white. Velcro because she didn’t have time or energy to waste on things like tying her shoes. She had lives to save, lunches to pack, IVs to place, PTA meetings to attend, vomit to clean, children to calm down. Between being a nurse and being a mother, Rebecca never got a break for something like tying her shoes.
“I’m coming home Friday,” said Tom, her husband, the PhD student who was always jetting off to some conference or another. “We’ll celebrate your birthday then. I promise.”
“It’s fine, really,” she said. “I’ve got to go.”
But as she tied yet another tourniquet around yet another old person who once again didn’t know where they were or why she was torturing them in this way, she thought of the homemade cards Tom got from the kids when he turned 30. She thought of the cake Dr. Peterson got when he was promoted to department head. Where’s my cake? She thought. Where’s my card? The voices of the past rang like clock tower bells in her head.
“He should have married what’s-her-name from high school. I heard she’s a lawyer now,” said Rebecca’s mother-in-law’s voice.
“You should’ve gone to medical school. It’s not like we couldn’t have paid for it. You don’t have to do everything yourself, you know. Look what you get for being so-called independent,” chided her father.
But the loudest voice of all was her mother’s, from the day Rebecca’s father turned 45. Rebecca had baked him his favorite cake—German chocolate—and he came home from work, ate three slices, and put it in the fridge without saying a word. 15-year-old Becky sat on the red suede couch by the bay window and cried.
“What were you expecting, hon? They don’t say ‘thank you.’ This isn’t your world yet. You’re a guest here, and you have to act like one until you can take it by force. Now smile.”
And she did.