The Story Continues
Chapter One was so well-received, and my muse so insistent, that Chapter Two was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Here it is! Will there be more after this? I don’t know. I follow my muse. She runs the show. I have left it unfinished, just in case.
Here is the link to Part One of “There Is No Way This Turns Out Well,” in case you missed it.
I hope you enjoy it!
The Still of the Night
Paula Stillwell was thirty-four when she died at my hands, from my error.
Statistically, thirty-four is young for a brain tumor, but death pays no attention to such things. As a favorite songwriter of mine once wrote, “death is there to keep us honest.”
She was unmarried. No children. Her place of employment had been the Hope Home for Battered Women, where she held the position of counselor. She had been in excellent health prior to the diagnosis, a marathon-runner, resting heartbeat of fifty-four, body honed to a fine edge by countless hours of training, a walking, talking, breathing picture of fitness, except for a mass of tissue, two centimeters in size, about the same weight as a grape, one small invasive fleck of tissue which had the power to negate all of that training.
And then she met me.
“Death is there to keep us honest.”
I looked at her sister before me. I looked at the manilla envelope she had thrust into my hands.
I got up, walked to the front door on weakened legs, opened it, and looked out at falling snow. March snowstorms are the norm where I had fled, snowfalls measured in feet rather than inches, blanketing the countryside, embracing me like the coldness of Paula’s death. Six inches already covered the ground, more falling rapidly.
I turned back to the woman by my woodstove. There would be no flight for either of us that night.
“It’s snowing. There’s no way for you to leave tonight. You can use the spare bedroom. I’ll look at your medical records, give you my opinion, but that’s all I can give you. You have no idea what you are asking of me. It’s too much.”
She might have smiled. Her green eyes bore into me, through me, another tear found purchase, tracked down her cheek, dropped to the floor.
“Don’t thank me! I don’t deserve it. I’ll never deserve it. Listen, I always have ice cream before bed. Join me, tell me about you, fill in some gaps. Tell me about the woman who tracked me down in the foothills of the mountains.”
Two scoops for each of us, Rocky Road, I handed her the ice cold treat on that ice cold night.
“What’s your name?”
“Heather! Heather Stillwell.”
“Keep talking, Heather. I need to know about you.” And I did need to know about her. It was irrational, but the woman before me had taken on an importance which was completely illogical and, I had thought, before her arrival, unwanted.
“I’m thirty-two years old. My parents are both dead, a car accident when I was ten. Paula and I were raised by our grandparents after the accident, maternal side of the family, in Seattle. I’m a teacher, middle school, also in Seattle. What else do you need to know?”
“Things that can’t be found in this envelope, in your medical records.”
I still could have ended it right there, but the window for escape was closing. The more I learned about Heather, the more I was emotionally involved. I knew that and yet could not stop, some masochistic urge bubbling below the surface.
She took a bite of the ice cream. Shivered. Hugged herself, even though the woodstove had the room in the high seventies.
“I love to travel. I’ve been to Europe several times, South America, even Russia. I’m not the fitness freak my sister was, but I do cross fit and manage to keep the pounds off. I’ve never been really sick. The flu a couple times, but never really sick. Until now. Now, it’s as though I’m being raped, and I’m completely unable to fight off my attacker. The headaches forced me to take a leave of absence from my teaching position. At times I can barely function. God how I miss my kids.”
Quiet tears as the grandfather clock struck ten.
I’ve had patients die on the operating table before, five total, but before Paula Stillwell, none had been my fault. I felt my own tears quietly flowing. Two sisters, both with brain tumors. What were the odds? How God must have laughed as he pulled those strings, the Master Marionette entertaining the audience.
“Tell me about you, Doctor Andres.”
“What possible difference can it make?”
“It’s important to me, Doctor. Please!”
No escape possible! Never let the job become personal, that’s what we were taught in med school. Stay detached, don’t let emotions enter the picture at all. You have successes, you have rare failures, stay above it all, do your job, heal the sick, move on.
I heeded none of that as Heather’s question hung in the air.
A Quick Bio
“I’m actually an orphan too. My biological parents, drug addicts both, gave me up for adoption at birth. I spent two years in foster care, eventually got adopted by some good people, drove myself hard, went to med school, excelled, won honors, top of my class, that sort of thing, worked my craft, and killed your sister. Now I’m, what is it the kids like to say, now I’m trying to find myself. Yes, that’s it, I’m finding myself, reinventing myself, and communing with nature.” My laugh was hollow.
Her smile was like a lance to my stomach.
“You are running away, Dr. Andres. I suspect you have been running ever since the foster home. You have a gift, you have the power to heal, and you are retreating. Don’t attempt, please, to make it anything other than what it is, and please don’t joke about a talent wasted. Have you been married?”
“Married to my profession, yes. Once to a woman, a good woman, she refused to be second-class and left me five years ago with our son. They live in New York now.”
Her lance opened me wide.
I reached for the file she had brought with her. Opened it, began to read. To her credit, Heather remained quiet while I absorbed the information. The grandfather clock announced another hour. The silence, a physical presence, deepened.
I closed the file.
“There is an eighty percent chance you won’t survive the operation. Realistically, with me operating, inactive for nine months, the odds go up to eighty-five or ninety against.”
“There are statistics for such things, Doctor?”
“Based on the recorded history of similar cases, yes. Hospitals and insurance companies love those statistics. And your statistics scream DON’T DO THE OPERATION!”
The wind roared outside. The clock struck eleven.
“I will die without the operation.”
“Yes, Heather, you will most definitely die. You probably have six months to live without the operation.”
“That’s what they told me. But, with you, I at least have a chance of living beyond that.”
“A very slim chance, yes. We all die, Heather. Is it such a frightening thing to contemplate?”
“Frightening? No, doctor. What is frightening, to me, is to give up.”
The door rattled from the wind.
“Please, Doctor!” And her green eyes took me captive, refusing to relinquish their hold on me.
We both fell asleep, in our chairs, by the woodstove. When the morning light touched our faces the caress was warm, sunlight replacing the cold finger of the snowstorm. I stood, stretched, walked to the kitchen and put a pot of coffee on. I cracked four eggs in the skillet, the daily routine oddly comforting, calming, slowing my heartbeat.
My guest awakened with the beep of the coffee machine, stood, stretched as I had, walked to the window, looked out, smiled, turned to me.
“Good morning, Doctor! What is that I smell?”
“Breakfast! Sit down, please,” and I placed a cup of coffee on the table for her, followed by a plate of eggs and toast. “The snow is already melting. Pretty typical for this time of year. The roads will be clear in an hour or so. We should be in Seattle by noon.”
She looked up from her breakfast. Her smile threatened my moorings.
“You’ll do it? You’ll operate on me?”
“I wouldn’t be so happy if I were you. I don’t think I’m doing you any favors. I don’t think I’m doing either of us any favors.”
Thanks for Reading
I think that will do it for this story. I’ll let you decide how the operation played out. My muse is telling me it is time to move on to other stories. Thanks so much for reading the second part of my story.
2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)