The glass fang upsets Karen the most. She can almost pretend that her mother's face isn't so drawn or yellow and if she really concentrates, she can tell herself that her mother's voice scampers from her lips as usual and doesn't creak out in a crawl. But the fang buried deep into the arm, hooked into a vein—well, there's no getting away from that.
"You're thirteen years old," her dad says. "You need to be brave."
Karen thinks she is being brave so she looks at a loose thread on her mother's pillow and does her best to think of nothing at all.
"She's fine," her mother drawls, sounding as though she's just woken up, which is how she always sounds these days. "Aren't you, Karen?"
Karen's eyes fill up and she stares even harder at the pillow as she swallows. She wants to say she isn't fine. She wants to take her mother away from this ward, away from these other people, these much older women, some of whom look dead already. Most of all, she wants her old mum back instead of this shell but her dad's words are still fresh in her ears, so she keeps quiet.
"Sweetheart," her mother continues. "I need you to go into my drawer and take out my ring."
Karen looks at her dad who manages a smile and nods toward the light pine drawer at the side of the bed. Inside, along with the packets of paper hankies, bottles of pills and loose change, there's a worn down red felt ring box. Karen takes the box from the drawer and offers it to her mum.
"You open it," her mum says.
Again, she does as she's told and immediately, her mother's diamond engagement ring grabs the energy from the ward's stripped lighting and turns it into something beautiful, throwing it back out in squares of blue and red and white.
"I need you to take care of that for me, Karen. You keep it close to you, darling. Look after it for me until I get out of here." She inches towards her daughter and adds in a stage whisper, "I wouldn't put it past some of my neighbours here to nick it and exchange it for a magazine or some cigarettes."
Her dad smiles. "It's raining outside, Jean. Do you remember?" He turns to Karen and puts a hand on her shoulder. "It was raining on the day I gave your mother that ring. That was in January, too."
Her mum coughs a little and stretches out, looking like she's trying to find comfort somewhere in the bed. "It's not such a bad penny. Try it on, Karen.