Chapter 15 from “The One That Got Away” for you. Links to the previous chapters and the link to purchase the novel on amazon follow the excerpt.
I couldn’t quite wake up. It was definitely morning. Dismal light seeped into Leigh’s family room. I could hear a hard rain pelting the outside of the house and wind whining pitifully at sporadic intervals. I could hear the chirping rise and fall of Anna and her cousins’ voices from the bedroom. I could hear Leigh moving about the kitchen and clanging various cooking tools in the breakfast production. The enticing smell of bacon filled my nose. I had an excruciating headache just now and my body felt achy and hot with fever. I groaned softly and threw the blanket off. I pressed my hands to my head trying to relieve the pressure. I needed my medicine. No one appeared to be within plaintive wailing distance. My head hurt so badly that I was having trouble focusing properly. It seemed more sensible to leave my eyes closed. I was sure that if I stood up I would pass right out. Didn’t really want to go there. I heard a child run jauntily into the room and purposefully skid with her sock enclosed feet. I squinted my eyes open and saw Kate across the hall searching the living room for some lost and needed object of play.
“Kate,” I croaked. She didn’t hear me. “Kate!” She paused, poised to move a chair to look behind it. She immediately abandoned her quest and scampered over to me.
“Yes, Aunt Wendy?” My six year old niece twisted a strand of her shockingly orange shoulder length hair and waited expectantly. Her eyes were large and green but her nose and her mouth were small and thin. What I loved most about her appearance was the generous smattering of freckles on her face.
“Can you bring me my purse and a glass of water, please? Thank you, Kate.” I smiled feebly at my niece. The selected piece of hair had now traveled into her mouth and she chewed as she answered.
Kate sped off into the kitchen, being sure to slide the last few feet. Leigh came through the doorway almost instantly, wiping her hands with a dish towel. This had not been my intention, but had been my prediction. Leigh took one look at me and announced matter-of-factly, “Wendy, you look like crap. I knew you were over working yourself….” Leigh kept going, but I tuned her out. I was sure it was more of the same lecture that I had heard before. Her voice seemed to make my head vibrate. Sounds seemed so loud and uncomfortable. I resisted the urge to bury my head into the pillow. I needed my medicine. I saw Kate appear behind Leigh tiptoeing with a large glass filled to the brim with water. Her face was screwed up in concentration as she tried to prevent the water from slopping over the edges. She was only partially successful. She set the glass as carefully as she could onto the coffee table. It ultimately ended up resting in a small puddle. She extracted my heavy, oversized purse from her diminutive shoulder and struggled to deposit it onto the table. It landed with a thud, causing additional water to slosh out of the glass. I watched as the puddle expanded and created a tributary heading straight towards my purse.
“Kate! You’re making a mess!” Leigh interrupted her own diatribe to scold her daughter. She immediately rescued my purse by flinging it into my lap and then swiftly mopped up the spill with the dish towel. Kate scurried away.
“Thanks, Kate!” I called after her and began rummaging in the contents of my purse for my medicine. After pushing aside two pens, three receipts, a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a purple rubber frog, I located it. I pulled it out triumphantly and popped out two tablets. Leigh handed me the glass of water. I took it from her gratefully and drained the entire glass after swallowing the pills.
Leigh studied me with her hands on her hips. “You didn’t have the X-rays and blood work done, did you? I can’t believe I forgot to ask you about that before. What if you have cancer or something else serious? You can’t just bury your head in the sand about this, Wendy. I know that’s what you do. You think if you ignore things they’ll just go away. But they don’t, Wendy. You know Mom would have lived many more years if her cancer was diagnosed earlier. But you’re acting just like her! When she finally got medical help she was in such a mess that there wasn’t much they could do for her. You know this! Are you trying to do this to me again?”
Now she was crying. She sat down on the couch next to me and wiped at her tears impatiently. Mom was shut away in one of my other mental boxes. As long as I could remember, Mom had been a chain smoking, cantankerous loner. At some point I decided that I didn’t need anything from her. But it was very hard on Leigh. She needed much more approval and attention than my mother was willing to give. We never knew our father. I only knew that his name was Hal and that he was an ‘insufferable bastard’. I had found a picture of Hal and mom once when I was a child. In the picture they looked happy enough. I slept with it under my pillow for about a week until Mom found it when she was changing the sheets. She had never said anything, but, hard as I tried, I was never able to find it again. Watching Mom succumb to cancer was very painful. She complained bitterly about the whole process as she was subjected to horrifying amounts of medication and intensive chemotherapy. Her condition never improved. She was reduced to a beady-eyed shell of a woman by the time she finally died. Oddly enough, that was when I went into nursing. I say oddly because my mother’s medical experience created in me a real aversion for this field. I have often puzzled over my determination to become involved it. I don’t think it was to try to make it better. Maybe it was to learn more about this demon and to flirt with it. After I got my nursing license I would only work in doctor’s offices. I was not willing to work in a hospital. As a matter of fact when I had to do training in the hospital it gave me the creeps. Of course I would never show this. It was something to be overcome and harnessed. Well, maybe there’s my answer. I also had much more of an idea about what was really wrong with me. I just wasn’t ready to admit it to myself yet. Leigh was right.
I reached to put my arm around Leigh’s shoulder. She rested her head there for only a fraction of an instant before she popped back up and slapped her hand on my forehead.
“Wendy, you are burning up!” she exclaimed. “Let’s get you to the guest room. Don’t you even think about doing anything but rest today.” She gave me the ‘evil eye’ and dared me to argue.
“I don’t have time to be sick,” I protested half heartedly.
“Who does?” Leigh retorted.
I really did feel awful. Maybe a day of rest wasn’t so bad. I wasn’t scheduled to work at Jake’s until tomorrow.
“Let’s go, girl.” Leigh was already halfway across the room. I hesitated. I really was afraid that I would pass out if I got up, but I didn’t want to say so.
“Leigh, I’m kind of dizzy. Can you…”
Leigh was back in a flash. Glad to be needed, I am sure. Why was it so hard for me to ask for help, even from my own sister? Leigh assisted me in walking to the guest room with her arm steadily around my shoulders. She said nothing as we slowly covered the distance. My vision swam a bit twice, but I was able to stay on top of it. As I lowered myself onto the bed and snuggled inside, I noticed that the bedspread was the same color blue as the couch in Alice’s parents’ house.
After Leigh was satisfied that I was appropriately settled, she informed me that she would be back momentarily with ibuprofen. She closed the door after her and I could hear her shushing the girls who were clamoring to come inside.
“She’s sick and she needs rest. Come on, breakfast is almost ready. Kate and Anna, you set the table and Franny, I want you to pour juice for everybody.”
The multitude of footsteps creaked down the hall. I tried to find a comfortable position. It was not easy. I felt so exhausted. I was almost asleep when Leigh came with more medicine. I took it dutifully and went back to the business of trying to go to sleep. I basically ended up sleeping the whole day away. Some parts were completely dreamless, but most of it was Alice’s life as Silent Willow. Snatches of her existence revolved and blended, jumped and scattered. The pieces were mostly uneventful and in a random order. They were like the little parts of memory that pop into your mind as you are doing something else. By stringing them all together they wove into a full quilt of a life. Alice lived out her days in the Indian village. She was given everything but her freedom. She never fully embraced the Indian ways, but accepted her situation as her lot in life. She became a valued and contributing member of the tribe. She performed her duties with poise, but was rarely known to laugh. Laughing was kept mostly for the children of the tribe and her own. She bore and raised four healthy children. When her first child became school age she started a school for all of the children. She taught them a mixture of lessons from her own background as well as some of the new skills she had learned from her Indian family. Towards the end of her life she became merely known as ‘Teacher’. As an old woman she contracted an illness which resulted in her death. The last day of her life she slipped in and out of consciousness. When she was awake, she kept insisting that her missing son was still alive. Throughout the many years that she lived with the tribe she had never mentioned her son again after that first year. Grass Blossom was with her almost constantly during her last sickness. Silent Willow would not be comforted until Grass Blossom promised to seek out her son. The promise was the last memory from Alice that I could find. After that there was nothingness. I searched within my dreams for Alice, but found only blackness. I settled into a deep, heavy sleep.
It was almost evening by the time I would consider myself fully awake. I felt hollow and alone. I knew that Alice was gone and that I would not dream of her again. I would miss her. Her pain and hopes had been so tangible. A life lived unimportant and unknown, but vibrant just the same. Throughout time people live and die, struggling to fulfill their destinies, experiencing exhilarating joy and deep sorrow and then it appears that it’s just over. History remembers some people, but most slide into silent oblivion without a ripple leaving only their name and descendents that have no recollection of them. Their experiences and life sparks were no less absolute than those living today. And what of those spirited individuals that glowed so brightly that they made a larger than life impact upon others? The ones that History remembers? They just disappear too. It somehow just didn’t sit right with me. It seemed there should be more to it.
I still felt very sick. I rolled over and wiped some excess drool from the corner of my mouth. Ick. I flipped the pillow over to avoid the offending wet spot. Even this small procedure made my head spin. Okay. I would go have the blood work and X-rays done. I could feel myself filling with dread. I knew deep inside that there was something terribly wrong with me.