William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Twenty-Five

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Alice stabbed at the radio buttons.  Moving from country music to Christian rock and back again, she realized she didn’t have any idea how she was going to approach Millicent Sorrows.  How do you start a conversation with a one hundred and seventy year-old former slave?

After one last consultation of the GPS screen, she turned onto a pebbled road lines with Spanish oaks.  “Wake up, fool.  We’re here.”

Carson rubbed his eyes.  “I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

“That’s why most people don’t drink for the entire duration of their flights.”

“First class; I feel guilty if I don’t drink.”  He pointed at a bent trailer.  “That’s got to be it over there.”

“Do you think she’s been pulling down social security since its inception?”

“No, look at the address.  It’s the one next door.”

Alice rolled up to a tiny bungalow, set back from the street, a sycamore dominating the large overgrown yard.  Two women sat on the tiny porch.  One was in a wheelchair.  “There’s our entree,” Carson said.  “We have something in common.”

Alice helped him unload the chair, and together they approached the house.

“Can I help you?” the younger of the two women called out.

Alice’s heart raced as she locked eyes with the old woman, the one in the wheelchair.  “We’d like to speak with Millicent Sorrows.”

“Who might you all be?”

Alice took a deep breath.  “My name is Alice Yee.  I’m a doctor from California.  This is my assistant, Carson.  We’d like to talk to her about her granddaughter, Karen.”

The older woman lifted her head.

Carson rolled forward.  “Your granddaughter, Karen Sorrows.”

“Karen,” the old woman said softly.  “That girl hasn’t been around here for years.  She went up to New York.  She got married.”

“That was Elvia, dear,” the other woman said.  “You don’t have to talk to these people.  You haven’t had your nap.”

The older woman frowned.  “I like talking to young people.  Why are you sitting in a wheelchair, boy?  Have you hurt yourself?”

Carson nodded.  “Skiing accident.  When did you last see Karen?”

“We’ll have some tea, Gwen,” she said, sending ther other woman inside, then turning to Carson.  “She won’t give me whiskey anymore, though I keep asking.”

Carson produced two airline-sized bottles of Dewars from his backpack.  “I might be able to help you there.”

The woman grinned toothlessly, then drank both bottles.  “Thank you, son.”

“When was the last time you heard from Karen?” Alice asked.

“You’re a Chinese girl, aren’t you?  Or Mexican.  I can’t tell at my age.  My grandson married a Mexican girl from Peru.  But they got divorced.”

“I’m Chinese,” Alice said.  “We’re concerned about Karen.  We work at the hospital where she was taken.  We want to be sure she’s OK.”

An old Lincoln Continental rolled up the driveway, and a middle-aged woman wearing a business suit approached.  “And who might you be?”

Alice introduced herself and Carson, and explained the nature of their visit.

The woman pulled a cigarette from her bag and lit it with a gold lighter.  “I can’t imagine she’s been much help to you.  Her mind is a little fried with the Alzheimer’s.  And sweet Lord, it appears that Christine has been giving her alcohol again.”

“I gave her the Scotch,” Carson said.  “I’m sorry.”

“What is it that you are here for?”  The woman pulled heavily on her cigarette.  “Will you be wanting some cure for your ailments, young man?  I don’t just do that on the driveway.”

“Excuse me?”

“We’re worried about Karen,” Alice said.  “She had cancer.  We’d like to conduct a follow-up.”

The woman exhaled slowly.  “Hospitals out west must have a lot of money, sending doctors all over creation.”

The woman in wheelchair perked up.  “I remember the hospital we visited when Lilly got the smallpox.  Remember that, Ms. Millicent?  It wasn’t but a day until she recovered.”

“What we want to know,” Alice began, but Carson interrupted.

“Can I have a cigarette?”  he asked.


“It’s you, isn’t it?”

The woman took a deep drag and flicked the cigarette into the yard.  “Who’d you think you were talking to here?”  She pointed to the woman in the wheelchair.  “I did wonder what allure old Laverne had to keep you interested.”

“You’re Millicent Sorrows?”  Alice asked.

“I’m going to need to see some identification now.”

Alice produced her medical license and Carson pulled his student ID and video rental card.

“Christine,” Millicent Sorrows called out.  “Will you do me a kindness and bring me the shotgun?”

Christine appeared at the screen door and swatted at a mosquito.  “Ms. Millicent, please do not be yelling out at me.  And that shotgun has not worked properly since Tyson tried to shoot that racoon and instead blew a hole through the barn.  And we haven’t any shells left anyhow.”

Millicent Sorrows inhaled deeply.  “I did not intend to shoot them, Christine.  I meant only to scare them, which is now manifestly impossible.”

“We just want to help,” Alice insisted nervously.

“I don’t believe we need your help.”

“What was Morgan Sorrows like?” Carson asked.  “He owned you, didn’t he?  That would have been about a hundred and fifty years ago, back when you were a slave.”

Millicent inhaled deeply.

Alice felt her heart beating faster.  “Ms. Sorrows, I am a medical doctor.  I’m concerned about Karen.  If you won’t help me, then I will call child services to investigate an underage pregnancy.”

“Did he beat you or love you?” Carson asked.

“You’ll be leaving now,” Millicent answered.  “Now, while I still let you.  ”

Alice picked up her bag.  “Let’s go,” she said to Carson.

Carson didn’t move until Alice kicked his wheelchair.  He trailed behind her but lurched to a stop when Millicent Sorrows grabbed the joystick.  “I’m going to tell you something, young man,” she whispered into his ear, “beatings and loving are rarely mutually exclusive.”

Alice turned in time to see Millicent retreat into the house.

Written by williamdoonan

March 7, 2013 at 12:05 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

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