"Matilda? Matilda, dear, wake up." Miss Honey brushed her fingers lightly over the little girl's forehead. Matilda's eyes fluttered open. "Hello, Miss Honey…" she said sleepily, "Is it…is it all over?"
"Yes, darling," said Miss Honey, "Your surgery's over."
"And it went quite well, too," added Dr. Hicks, "Found everything just as we expected. Your appendix was not ruptured, so we were able to remove it too much difficulty. By tomorrow night you should be home in your own bed." Matilda turned her head to look up at him. "Thank you, doctor," she said, "Thank you for saving my life." Dr. Hicks smiled. "It was an honor, my dear," he said.
"How are you feeling now?" Miss Honey asked. "I'm fine," said Matilda. She yawned. "What time is it?" she asked, "Is it quite late?"
"Yes, dear, it is rather late," said Miss Honey, stifling a yawn herself. "Miss Honey, you look awfully tired," Matilda remarked, "Why don't you go home to bed?"
"I wouldn't think of leaving you alone, dear," Miss Honey replied.
"I'll be alright," said Matilda. "The surgery was the main thing I was worried about, but now it's over I'm not afraid anymore." She yawned again. "You should go home…and rest, Miss Honey. Don't want you…to get ill as well…"
"If you insist, Matilda," said Miss Honey. "Is it alright if I stay to see you settled in your room and tuck you in?"
Matilda nodded, her eyes almost closed. "Yes, please; I'd like that."
When Matilda woke, stripes of sunlight fell across her bed through the half-closed blinds on the window. She looked about, remembering where she was. A nurse came into the room. "Ah, good afternoon, dearie!" she said, "Had a good long sleep, did you?" Matilda nodded. "I guess I must have," she said. Her voice sounded hoarse. The nurse poured some water from a plastic pitcher on the bedside table into a paper cup. "Here you go, luv," she said, placing the cup in Matilda's hand, "Drink up."
"Thanks," said Matilda. The nurse bustled about the room, checking on various things. "Want the telly on, luv?" she asked. "No, thank you," said Matilda. "If you don't mind…could I have a book, please?"
"Of course, dear," said the nurse. "I know just the one." She trotted out of the room, and returned a few minutes later with a slightly worn copy of Madeline. "There you are," she said, laying the book on Matilda's lap. "Just the book for a little girl who's just had her appendix out." Matilda gave a little sigh of disappointment, so softly that the nurse did not hear it. "Thanks," she said."
Miss Honey spent a good deal of her day explaining to the schoolchildren––and the faculty––why Matilda was not in school, and assuring them that she was going to be just fine. She went home with an impressive array of colorful cards, scrawled with illegible, but heartfelt, get-well wishes. After stopping by the house to collect a few of Matilda's things, she made her way to the hospital. She stopped at the library on the way to return some books. When she mentioned to Mrs. Phelps that Matilda was in the hospital, the good-hearted librarian insisted on going with her to visit the little girl, and hastily gathered an armful of Matilda's favorite books.
When they got to the hospital, Miss Honey approached the front desk. "Excuse me," she asked the receptionist at the front desk, "could you tell me which room Matilda Wormwood is in?"
"Matilda Wormwood…" the receptionist repeated under her breath, glancing at her computer screen, "Hold on a minute." A tall, blond doctor who was walking by stopped in his tracks and turned around. "I beg your pardon, ma'am," he said, "Did you say Matilda Wormwood?" Miss Honey caught her breath. "Yes…" she answered. Had something bad happened to her precious girl? "Do you know Matilda?" asked Mrs. Phelps. "Well, not really," the doctor answered. "I helped bring her into this world…that would be, what, five, six years ago now?"
"Nearly six," Miss Honey put in. "She was the most beautiful baby I have ever seen," said the doctor. "Prettier than my own kids when they were born. Had the most intelligent, knowing look in her little eyes. She was the sort of child you just know is going to grow up to be…extraordinary."
"That she is," said Mrs. Phelps. "Absolutely extraordinary."
"Wouldn't surprise me a bit if she turned out to be some sort of genius," said the doctor.
"She certainly is that," said Miss Honey.
"Remarkable child…" said the doctor, "But…you're not her mother."
"No––well, yes––not naturally, but––I've adopted her," said Miss Honey, "Just a couple of months ago."
"Have you, now? Well, I'm glad to hear it," said the doctor. "Her parents were a couple of idiots. Glad to hear she's with someone who realizes how special she is."
"Would you like to come say hello to her?" asked Miss Honey. The doctor glanced at his wristwatch. "Can't, I'm afraid," he said. "But I'll stop by later if I get a chance."
"Here we are: Wormwood, Matilda, Room 212," said the receptionist. "The lift is just ahead on your right, and her room will be on your left."
"Thank you," said Miss Honey and Mrs. Phelps. They found Room 212 with ease; the door was half open, and they peeked in eagerly. "Matilda?" Miss Honey called. "She's not there!" gasped Mrs. Phelps, "Oh, Matilda––"
"Now, now, Mrs. Phelps," said Miss Honey, "perhaps she's just gone to the loo. Or, um…"
"Are you looking for Matilda?" a friendly voice asked. Miss Honey and Mrs. Phelps both turned around to see a nurse standing behind them. "Yes," they both replied. "Come with me," said the nurse. She led them down the corridor and around a corner. "She really shouldn't be up and about just yet," she said, "But when I saw what she was up to, I hadn't the heart to send her back to bed." She stopped in front of a door with bright-colored shapes and the words "Children's Playroom" painted on it beneath a large square of glass. She put her finger to her lips, and motioned for the two women to come close and look in the window. Miss Honey and Mrs. Phelps eagerly peered in. Matilda was sitting on a small plastic chair in the middle of a rug in the corner, with a book open on her lap, which was quite usual. What was unusual was the crowd of smaller children sitting on the floor at her feet. There were even a few who looked older than Matilda, listening with rapt interest as she read aloud. She held up the book with the pages facing her audience, to show the pictures. Though her voice was muffled through the door, Mrs. Phelps and Miss Honey could hear her reading:
" 'Good night, little girls! Thank the Lord you are well!
And now go to sleep!' said Miss Clavel.
And she turned out the light–
and closed the door–
and that's all there is–
there isn't any more."
The children sitting on the floor applauded. Miss Honey softly turned the doorknob and opened the door. Matilda immediately looked up. "Miss Honey!" she cried, "Mrs. Phelps!" She started to jump up to hug them, but her little face scrunched up in pain at the sudden movement. Miss Honey ran to her and gathered her in her arms. "Matilda," she said quietly, "My little miracle."
"Here you go, Matilda," said Mrs. Phelps, setting down the stack of books she was carrying next to Matilda's chair, "Something to make your recovery go by a little quicker." Matilda's eyes lit up. "Thank you!" she said.
"Will you read us another story, Matilda?" asked a little girl with her arm in a sling. "I could," said Matilda, "Or I could tell you one that I've made up myself. Would you like that?"
Mrs. Phelps let out a shriek of delight. "Ah, yes! Story, please Matilda!"
"All right," said Matilda, settling into her chair, while Miss Honey and Mrs. Phelps sat down on the rug with the children.
"Once upon a time…"