Hell was quiet, just a small whitewashed room with a blue curtained window they never opened and the smell of antiseptic permeating the wrinkled bedspread the nurse had fixed lopsided, in too much of a hurry to straighten and neatly tuck in the edges. An IV drip hung from a stainless steel frame, the cold metal fingerprinted by the sticky hands of children, which seemed out of place in the sterile hospital environment. Red Popsicle had melted on the floor, looking remarkably similar to the drops of blood that had stained the gray tile only a few days before.

Under a chair with black plastic legs and a faded purple cushion lay a pink sandal, hardly the size of an adult’s palm, dusty with a crumpled dandelion leaf stuck to the bottom. Perched on the chair was a little girl of less than three, one sandaled foot tucked securely beneath her yellow dress with the blue bow around the waist, the other dangling bare above the cold floor. Red Popsicle was dripping from the almost empty stick in her small and sticky hands.

The door creaked open and a nurse in blue scrubs entered the room, dark hair piled on top of her head. The little girl looked up at her with guileless blue eyes and smiles from beneath her blonde fringe of hair. The nurse, unable to resist, smiled back only to falter.

“Where’s your mommy?” she asked in a soft, cooing voice.

The little girl only grinned in reply, displaying Popsicle-stained teeth. She offered the stained stick, expecting that it would be taken and her hands wiped clean.

With a heavy sigh, the nurse took the little girl’s hand and led her from the room, stooping to scoop up the pink sandal, and as soon as she had appeared, they were both gone, the only evidence that remained being the melted bits of Popsicle and tiny fingerprints smeared over the stainless steel frame that someone would soon wipe away with a cleaning cloth.

“Little girl around three years of age, blonde haired, brown eyed,” said a woman’s voice over a loudspeaker a few minutes later, still muffled by the interminable silence in the room. “Parent or guardian please come to first-floor reception.”

The room remained as it was, not even a breath stirring the stale air. Occasionally the sharp tap of footsteps on the tile outside the door would come and go, fading in and out as quickly as a wave laps upon a beach, slowly eating away the shoreline.

“Little girl around three years of age, blonde haired, brown eyed,” the woman’s voice said again. And again. And again.


Madeleine Richey has been writing since she was a child, and travels the world in her free time. Her favorite place is Uganda, East Africa.