William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Thirty-Five

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Julia drove though the morning rain.  It was nearly ten by the time she reached the compound.  A woman wearing a black parka opened the gate.

Julia rolled down her window.  “They’re expecting me.”

“Can I see some identification?”

Julia flashed her medical license and the woman nodded.  “Third building once you drive to the left.”

Julia drove into the compound and parked in front of a large bungalow.  As she got out of the car, a woman in black came forward to meet her.  “Do you have a medical bag?”

“In the trunk.”

“Bring it.”

Julia retrieved her bag from the car and followed the woman inside.

Two women dressed in robes met her inside.  “We need to spray you, OK?”

“Spray me for what?” Julia asked.

“Germs and chemicals.”

“What kind of spray?”

The woman held out a commercial size bottle of Lysol.

Julia shrugged and was sprayed.

“Come with me,” said one, leading her down a hall into a large room where Ruth Black sat by the fire, staring at a laptop computer.

Julia took off her coat and sat at the table, stared at the woman in front of her.  If the woman from the courthouse had been telling the truth, Ruth Black was 103 years old.  She would be the oldest human Julia had ever seen.   She couldn’t have been more than four and a half feet tall.  Her skin was dry and flaking.  Only the eyes stood out.  Intelligent eyes, eyes that bore down on you.

“You got my message.”  Ruth Black typed at the keyboard.  “I’m glad you came, even though you’re late.”

“What you you want from me?” Julia asked.

Ruth Black looked up.  She was sitting in a wheelchair and Julia saw that she had no legs.  “I need your help.”

“You need medical help?”  Julia couldn’t place the woman’s accent.  Something African.

“No.  I need your help.”

“Why me?”

Ruth Black summoned an aide and asked for two cups of hot chocolate.  “I need someone with your curiosity,” she said, coughing, “and someone with your expertise.”

“Expertise in what?”

“Karen is not doing well.  She has been through a lot.  She would have died years ago but we’ve been able to keep her stable.  But she has a high fever, nearly 104 for the past three days.”

“Then she’s seriously ill,” Julia said.  “She could die or go blind.  She needs to be in a hospital.”

“That cannot happen,” Ruth Black said sharply.  “That cannot happen because a hospital would be unable to diagnose her.”

“Why is that?” Julia asked as a mug of hot chocolate was placed in front of her.  “I’m not going to drink this,” she said.  “You put some drug in your letter to me, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Ruth Black said, taking a sip of the beverage.  “It was quite complex, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I would.  Some kind of memory enhancer and a hallucinogen?”

“Quite mild.  I needed to get you here.  But there’s nothing in the hot chocolate.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“If I wanted to drug you now, I would put something in the spray.  You need to trust me.”

“Why do I need to trust you?”

“Because you need my help and I need yours.  Because I have knowledge that you want, and because things are changing very rapidly now.  A balance has been lost and secrets are no longer secrets.”

Julia drank from her mug.  “Can you elaborate?”

Ruth Black moved her wheelchair around the table so that she was face to face with Julia.  She held out a small leathery hand and placed it on Julia’s cheek.  “We’ll talk after you see Karen.”  She closed her eyes, then moved her hand down to Julia’s throat.

Julia felt a chill, felt her blood pulse under the old woman’s surprisingly strong hand.

“You’ve had a gentle life,” Ruth Black said, her eyes closing even tighter.  “You are loved more than most people are loved.  Your husband has led a troubled life but he values you more than he values himself.”

“That’s cute,” said Julia.

“No.”  Ruth Black moved her hand down so it rested over Julia’s heart.  “You will have one child.”

Julia opened her eyes wide.

“A girl.  She’ll say her first word at nine months, play Eponine in Les Miserables when she’s 19 at a theater in Prague.  She’ll divorce her first husband in Madrid shortly after the birth of your grandson.  Do you want me to continue?”

Julia said nothing.

“She’ll return to California after the hard times, marry again to a wonderful man, and work as a writer.  She has a daughter…I can’t see after that.”

Julia pulled away.  “I don’t believe in fortune telling.”

Ruth Black smiled, revealing again her single tooth.  “I could say seven words right now that would reach right into your brain stem and put you to sleep for more than an hour.  Do you believe that?”

Julia stared at her. “I’m not sure.  I don’t think I want to find out.”

“You’re going to have a very rough couple of days.” Ruth Black stroked her hand.

“More fortune telling?”

“Now honey, anybody can tell the future a little bit.  You just work up an image of the past and organize your expectations.  If you find yourself sitting at a red light, you just reach into the future a bit.  That’s all I’m doing.  We are all going to have a very rough couple of days.”

“Where is Karen?”

“In the back room.”  Ruth Black turned her wheelchair and motioned Julia toward a hallway.  “As I mentioned, she has a high fever.”

Two women in white tunics led Julia down a corridor to a narrow room with a small army cot.  The lights were dim so it took her eyes a moment to adjust.  When she saw the girl in the cot she gasped.  Karen Sorrows was blue.

She ran over and placed her hand on the girl’s neck, then put her ear to her mouth.  She was breathing but only barely.  “She needs an ambulance,” Julia said as she took out her cell phone and tried to get a line.  “She needs an ambulance,” she repeated, but the women said nothing.

Ruth Black peered in from the doorway then turned her wheelchair around and headed back down the corridor.  “Do what you can for her,” she called back.  “She’s having a hard time making the passage.”

Julia gout out her stethoscope and tried to find the girl’s heartbeat.  “Call 911,” she said.  “Tell them we have a critical coronary patient.”  She found no heartbeat and reached under the girl’s tunic to massage her chest.  She looked up when neither of the attendants moved.  “What the fuck is your problem?  Call an ambulance.”

Marea Raley walked into the room.  Julia recognized her from the courtroom.

“You’re a lawyer,” Julia said strongly.  “This girl needs medical attention.  As an officer of the law you are required to intervene.  Call an ambulance now.”

“I can’t.”  Marea sat at the edge of the bed.  “I can’t because she’s already dead.”

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Written by williamdoonan

May 16, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Posted in MedicineLand, Writing

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