“It’s dark in here,” whispered Tracy, reaching for her sister’s hand.
“Your eyes will adjust,” answered Alice in her most cheerful, grown-up voice. “Sister Knight’s room is down there. Come on.”
“This place smells funny. I wish Mom was with us.”
Alice had been wishing the same thing. Everything about the nursing home seemed to press against her skin. She wanted to run down the dark corridor, through the heavy glass doors, and into the bright sunlight.
“Think about Honeysuckle,” Alice suggested. “She’s the most adorable kitten in the world, and she was a gift from Sister Knight. Now she needs something from us.”
“What?” Tracy asked her big sister.
“I guess we’ll find out. Listen, Tracy, I’m nervous too. Eleven-year-olds don’t know everything.”
“Are you here to see Mrs. Knight?” a nurse asked as she came toward the girls. When Alice nodded solemnly, the nurse boomed, “Good—you’ll be better for her than anything the doctor could order!”
Before Alice realized what had happened, the nurse had ushered them into the room and they were standing beside Sister Knight’s bed.
“Alice and Tracy.” Sister Knight spoke very softly, but her smile was as radiant as ever.
Alice told Sister Knight about the Primary quarterly activity that they had attended the previous week. After telling about all the booths and contests, she gave a happy sigh and said, “It was a really fun carnival.” Then there was an awkward silence. Should we leave? she wondered.
Suddenly Tracy said, “Want to hear the song I learned at school?” She began singing, “‘I’ve been working on the railroad …’”
Uh-oh, thought Alice. Maybe we’re not allowed to make this much noise. But Sister Knight loved it! Her eyes sparkled, and she began nodding in time with the tune. So Alice and Tracy sang more school songs, then some from Primary. Sister Knight even tried to sing along with them. By the third Primary song, she was smiling with her eyes closed. She was sound asleep.
“We’ll come back Friday,” Alice said softly to Tracy as they tiptoed from the room. She didn’t think that the hall was so gloomy now, and she noticed that Tracy wasn’t holding her hand anymore. “I’m going to tell Mom what a terrific idea you had about singing,” said Alice.
“Tattletale!” Tracy said, laughing.
“Will you come back with me Friday?”
“Sure. Sister Knight is still fun, even if she is in bed.”
Alice set up a schedule. Every Tuesday and Friday she and Tracy biked to the nursing home.
Alice took snapshots of Honeysuckle. She showed them to Sister Knight and told her about the kitten’s silly antics.
Tracy made her a dandelion chain, and she planted a bean in a paper cup. When she placed it on Sister Knight’s window-sill, she said, “I thought that maybe you’d like to have a tree in your room.”
Then slowly the visits started to change. Sister Knight seemed to be shrinking. Her body seemed to disappear beneath her bedclothes. There were days when Alice wondered if she even recognized them. It spooked Alice when Sister Knight sometimes looked right at her without seeming to see her.
One thing didn’t change: They always sang. Singing had broken the ice during their first visit, and singing was a part of each visit thereafter.
When summer ended, things got harder. “I don’t know how I can keep going to the nursing home with all my schoolwork,” Alice said. Tracy nodded, and Alice knew that deep down they both were beginning to dread the visits. They weren’t fun anymore, and Sister Knight recognized them less and less, although she always relaxed and looked peaceful when they sang.
In mid-October, Alice had an important science project due. She wanted to skip the visit to Mrs. Knight so that she could go to the library and find reference books on fossils. She was picking up her things to leave for the library when Honeysuckle rubbed against her leg. Alice reached down and scratched the top of the kitten’s head. It jumped onto her lap and purred contentedly. “OK, Honeysuckle,” Alice said. “We’ll go to the nursing home one more time.”
When Alice and Tracy walked into Sister Knight’s room, Alice thought, Oh no! She’s not here. Then her eyes adjusted to the dim light, and she saw the tiny woman huddled in the middle of the white hospital bed. Her thin hair stuck out in a strange, wild way. Her mouth was open, and she was moaning softly. The nurse entered the room, and put her arms around the girls. “Mrs. Knight is very weak and has been asleep for three days,” she explained, then left quietly.
Maybe she’s dying, Alice thought sadly. She tiptoed toward the bed, and, on an impulse, began to hum. Tracy joined in. Soon they were standing close by Sister Knight’s bed, singing:
“‘I am a child of God, And he has sent me here, Has given me an earthly home With parents kind and dear. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, Help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do To live with him someday.’”
As they sang, Alice looked at their old friend, wanting, but afraid, to smooth her hair and kiss her cheek. Suddenly a flicker of a smile crossed Sister Knight’s lips.
“The hymn!” Tracy whispered. “I think that she heard our hymn!”
Alice’s heart filled with joy. We may not know for sure if Sister Knight hears us, thought Alice, but we can sing, anyway. It was the one gift that they could give her. “I’ll be back next Friday, Sister Knight,” she whispered.
“Me, too,” Tracy called back softly as they left the room.