Barry and I were in a small room, just off from triage. It was styled with a sofa, two arm chairs, a small occasional table with a lamp, and cheap art work. Also on the table were brochures: organ donation, funeral homes, cancer foundations, and SIDS. And a vase of plastic flowers.
We knew instinctively when guided in here that this was the Bad News Room. Dr Zachary’s slight pressure from his hand on the small of my back was my first clue, plus the tangible sadness that emanated as soon as the door was opened, as if the ghosts of souls passing breathed and shivered within. Another clue was the Vacant/Occupied sign that hung and swayed over the window in the centre of the door.
Dr Zachary cleared his throat. ‘I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we can do,’ he said. His eyes darted around the room.
Barry slumped backwards; I fell forward and cradled my knees with my arms.
‘Mia. Mia. Mia.’ I keened.
Barry let out a long, slow groan.
Dr Zachary cleared his throat again. ‘I shall send for the grief counsellor.’ He left the room.
Deep in my mind, beneath my pain and angst, I registered his lack of empathy, his discomfort at being in the room with us, his robotic voice and manner. I sat up, touched Barry’s knee. He opened his eyes, but couldn’t meet my own.
‘She’s gone, Barry,’ I muttered, spit and snot flew from my mouth and nose.
A guttural cry was his response.
My mind spun like a carousel on speed. Up and down went my thoughts in rhythm with the horses and unicorns and camels and reindeer. What happened to Mia? How do we get to the bottom of this? How would I live without her light? A black void followed these questions, then it would all begin anew.
The spinning was interrupted when the door opened again. A woman dressed in a sky-blue twin set, complete with a pearl necklace, and an A-line skirt and sensible shoes quietly walked in.
‘Hello, Mr and Mrs Moriarty. I’m Helena. I’d just like to take a moment to have a chat with you. See how you’re processing all this news.’ She looked at us both, her face devoid of emotion yet somehow inviting.
‘Tell me what happened to Mia,’ she probed.
I relayed what we knew. The school called to advise they’d found her unconscious in the playground and called an ambulance. We were to meet her at the Alfred as soon as possible. The principal had travelled in the ambulance with Mia.
‘…I think she’s still out there,’ I finished, referring to Sally, the principal. ‘Lurking somewhere in the ED. Possibly thinking of all the paperwork she has to fill in, and hoping we won’t take this further.’ I’m surprised at the venom in my tone.
‘And she’s your only child?’
I nodded. ‘I bet Sally knows more than she’s letting on. Or at least, versions are being drip-filtered from the teacher on yard duty, year level coordinators, the restorative practice coordinator, and other parents.’
As if we weren’t going to dig for answers.
I continued, sniffing. ‘Dr Zachary advised us that a blow to the back of the head caused Mia’s death. Consistent with falling from a tree, monkey bars, or being pushed.’
Barry groaned again. ‘I gotta get out of here,’ he said, standing. He slammed the door shut behind him as he rushed out. I was left alone with Helena and her neat-as-a-pin, unruffled manner.
I stared at a spot on the carpet. Thinking of ways I could use the doctor’s report for leverage against the school. Someone had to pay for my daughter’s death.