The Ink Chase Serial appears below, after Room 326
By CJ Alexander
“Good morning, Mrs. Doherty! How are we feeling today?”
Another new nurse’s aide pats Sharon on the leg, then hauls open the blinds. Sunlight streams in. Sharon Doherty winces, holds up a deeply bruised hand to shield her eyes from the glare. The aide straps the BP cuff onto Sharon’s other arm.
“How do we feel? How about after breakfast we go lose our love handles at the gym.”
“Oh, a-ha-ha-ha, a funny one, aren’t we?”
“If you prefer, we could just hang around and watch me die.”
“Now, now…nobody’s dying today, Mrs. Doherty.”
“Are you sure about that, uh…”
“Amanda. Can’t be sure of anything ‘round this place, can we?”
“We could use a tad more painkiller, Amanda, then we’ll be raring to go.”
“A-ha-ha-ha, Mrs. Doherty. With an attitude like that, we’ll be on our feet in no time.”
“Do us a favor?”
“Just call us Sharon.”
“You got it, Sharon.”
Sharon relaxes into the morphine drip.
“Good morning, hon. How about some breakfast today?”
“You call this breakfast? I’d prefer a Belgian Waffle with whipped cream and strawberries, a side order of bacon extra-crispy, a double mocha latte and some freshly squeezed orange juice. If it’s not too much trouble.”
“Whatever you want is okay by me, hon. I’ll put in your order, but try some of this nice hot tea while you’re waiting.”
“Thanks, Gillian, but you know what? I’m not very thirsty.”
“I’ll leave it right here, in case you change your mind.”
“You’re a doll.”
“It’s easy to be a doll around people like you, hon.”
Sharon rewards her with a smile. The smile incites a coughing spell.
“I’ll page your doctor.”
Dr. Finnegan advises the staff to administer additional pain meds whenever Mrs. Doherty requests them. She’s a fighter, but it won’t be long before… He opens her patient file and scrolls down to ‘next of kin’. He sighs, then dials the first name on the list.
“Do you still love me? Even with this bald head and hospital gown?” Sharon asks.
“Sure I do! Always have, always will.”
“Well, listen. After I die, after a year or so, you go and find yourself a new life—I mean, wife.”
“Please don’t talk that way. Nobody could ever replace you.”
“That’s true, but you’re still a young man with needs. Promise me.”
“You’re asking a lot, you know.” He squirms a little.
“Richie, I wish I could stick around and love you till the end of time, but…”
“Shh, I get it.” He heaves a big sigh and squeezes her hand.
“Promise, me, Richie. I’m suddenly very sleepy…”
He looks at her and nods. “I promise, Mom.”
“You never loved me, did you?” she asks her husband.
“Of course I did. That goes without saying.”
“Except you never said it.”
“Didn’t think I had to. I married you, didn’t I?”
“I’m not a mind-reader, Carl. Can’t you please just say it once, before I die?”
“Oh, come on, Sharon. I’m no good with words.”
“Just repeat after me, then. ‘I love you, Sharon.’ ”
He looks at his shoes.
“Can’t, or won’t?”
He remains silent.
“I love you, Mother.”
“Really? Since when?”
“Mother! How you talk!”
“Natalie, I appreciate your traveling all this way to say goodbye, I honestly do. But let’s get real.”
“There’s no greater bond than the one between a mother and her daughter.” It sounds rehearsed.
“So I’ve heard. Where have you been for the past 8 years, hmm? No visits, no calls, not even a card for Mother’s Day…”
“Well, you know how it is, I’m trying to make partner in my law firm. But I always loved you, Mom.”
“We only ever fought. That’s what I remember.”
“Please, Mother, let’s not argue anymore.”
“Bond or no bond, you’re my daughter and I always loved you.”
“I know. I appreciated all the birthday and Christmas gift cards.”
“It wasn’t easy, with your father always drinking up his pay check,” admits Sharon.
“You’re the one who held everything together, I know that.”
Sharon sighs and lays there, breathing noisily, until a strong tremor passes through her frail frame.
“Mother? You’ve made a will, haven’t you?”
“Spoken like a true lawyer, Natalie. But yes, I took care of that. Everything’s set.”
Natalie looks both relieved and concerned. If her father gets the money…
“I trust you’ve made the right decisions, Mom. Now get some rest.” She kisses Sharon’s pale cheek.
“Good-bye, Natalie. By the way, your brother is my sole beneficiary, so you can stop sucking up now.”
Where is he? I’m not going to make it until tomorrow. I’m so tired… Sharon presses the medication button, once, twice… Dear God, I’m so tired, and so scared.
He tries to hide his state of panic before he strides purposefully into Room 326, armed with a single red rose, her favorite.
“Hello there, beautiful!”
He bends down to receive her kiss.
“Scooch over, my love. I want to snuggle next to you.”
“I’m just about ready for lift off, sweetheart.”
“Aw, come on, babe! Let’s check you out of this dump and run away together. Are you game?”
“I’m ready when you are! Help me pack?”
Sharon smiles just the way he likes: first she presses her lips together, then she slowly curls one corner up in a playful smirk. He knows what comes next; she never could hold her merriment back. The other side of her mouth will soon follow suit. See there! Her lips part, revealing the wickedest and sexiest of grins.
“Rock my world,” he says.
He savors her smile, refusing to notice the gray teeth that almost match the pallor of her lips. Her gaze burns with a shared passion they never got around to consummating.
Sharon exhales a lengthy breath. He pauses, listening closely, waiting for her to inhale again. He picks up her hand and waits some more.
Eventually he remembers he still needs to breathe. He leans over and brushes his lips across Sharon’s still warm cheek.
“I was thinking. Maybe we could buy a houseboat and rent a docking space. I’ve always wanted to sail on San Francisco Bay. We’ll watch seals cavort, and spy on otters as they dive for abalone. We’ll sell tacky trinkets at Fisherman’s Wharf. Without a license! We’ll hunt for first editions in every bookstore and go to Giants games. Unless it’s foggy, then we’ll head on up to Napa Valley and do some wine tasting. We’ll watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge. Every night, Sharon, my love. What do you say to that, babe? What do you…”
A loud speaker announces the end of visiting hours. A nurse’s aide pokes her head in the door of Room 326. “Oh. Is she…?”
◊ ◊ ◊
CJ Alexander’s writing career began the day she first laid crayon to paper. She is the blog designer, virtual host and editor of the Whitesboro Writers Group, which recently published its first e-book anthology, Halloween Musings & Amusings. Several of her short stories have been accepted for publication in 2016 at Horrified Press. A retired accountant, she currently writes and edits in Whitesboro, New York.
The Ink Chase
A Serial in eight parts
I jumped at a voice that suddenly came from the far corner, addressing me.
“Welcome, Governor David Barry, to the humble abode of Chedipe. At long last, we have the pleasure of making this acquaintance.” A deathly white lady dressed in yarns of indigo silk, emblazoned with black flowers, was seated on a throne of gnarled bark draped in mangrove branches. At her feet was a glistening crocodile skin.
“Was it you that had me brought in here?”
“Yes, it took some convincing though. No harm done, I suppose?”
“Why did you do it? Who are you? What unearthly place is this? Who was that creature? What do you want of me?”
“Easy, David. Since you do not believe in the civilized courtesies of a longwinded, formal introduction, I shall come straight to the point, as you choose. I need someone you have in your care—a raving-mad scientist, an alchemist with sharp practice.”
“Who?” Did I know of anyone like that? I figured not—there’d been a mistake—a misunderstanding. Surely she wanted someone else.
“A villain that goes by the name of Harry Harlow—Dr. Harlow.”
“Beats me if I know such a man.”
“His parole papers are lying on your desk, Governor, rejected by the parole committee. I want you to overrule the recommendation and release him.”
“I don’t remember him. What possible use could you have of a common convict, an outcast, in this sorry world of yours? You seem pretty able to ferret people out with your dark minions—he must be incarcerated on the islands—why don’t you get a gofer out there and heave-ho him yourself?”
“My ink doesn’t work on water, Mr. Barry. It mixes, it thins. And that’s where you come in—you will bring him to me.”
“Ha! As if!”
“Then I’m afraid I can’t let you leave here. You could linger awhile, and keep me company.”
I fidgeted. “You can’t stop me!”
“Oh, really?” she waved an arm and a spill of blue ink appeared at my feet and touched my toes. A jab of pain took my breath away, as I felt my metatarsals freezing and cracking up. I removed my shoe and flung it—my foot had turned blue and lifeless and it seemed it was about to snap off.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” I yelled.
She waved her fingers languorously and the pain disappeared. Color returned to my foot and it became comfortingly warm and alive again.
“I hope you understand I mean serious business Mr. Barry.”
“Yes – but how can you be sure I would return here once you let me go?”
She sighed wearily. “I knew you would require an incentive—how’s Diane doing by the way, Mr. Barry?”
“How do you know…leave her out of this—you Ched…Chedipe!”
“But we can’t, you see. She’s now very much part of the plot—my vile design—as you would put it. Has she been keeping well lately?”
“No, she hasn’t…if you should have anything to do with her!”
“Here, give her this.” she tossed me a vial with a colorless liquid in it. “It will make her instantly better—and the baby will be safe. My ink has touched her—albeit unwittingly. Beware. The vial contains only a couple of doses, not a permanent cure. When Dr. Harlow is beside me, you shall have the permanent dose—and Diane and the baby can be on their way, without a care in the world.”
“What if you don’t keep your word?”
“What if I do? You will never know until you carry out your little errand, Mr. Barry. Now please be gone, this tiresome conversation is killing me.” She tilted her head to a side and closed her eyes. The rustling rose beside me again—the shadows were back, beckoning me to leave. I pocketed the vial and rushed home to Diane to give the spell.
To be continued