For clear background to read text throughout ACR, run cursor over graphics display.
(from Jazz Notes in the Misty Blue: A Mountain Empire Anthology)
"Isle Dolorosa Lovage, Maryland"
by Jeannette Harris
A whiff of bacon woke him in the morning. What a gem, he thought dreamily, reaching for rumpled clothes. The room was bathed in light and color. His body felt near muscleless. He sank back briefly into the pillows and curled like a snail against the covers.
"Good morning," she announced with cheer, as he meandered finally toward the kitchen. "How do you like your eggs?" The sight again of a man with her to begin the day lifted her spirits. His hair was uncombed and haloed his small face in slight curls. His makeup had worn off and the glow of his skin charmed her.
He felt a little disoriented. Jason blinked his eyes and focused on the surroundings: Gerry at the stove, coffee perking on the counter. A tug pulled his mind toward home, the small kitchen overlooking the woods and the cereal he usually ate every morning by the window. "Over easy," he requested. "With coffee."
She opened the refrigerator door and reached toward the back. "Have a seat. I'll bring them right over."
"You really are a find," Jason said, admiring her lithe body as well as her cooking skills.
"Put me in your gift shop," she joked, bearing a cup to the table.
He reached for his coffee and sipped slowly as she finished preparing breakfast. They ate in a comfortable, reflective silence as sun poured in the windows.
Finally, she cleared her throat. "I have to go to work pretty soon," Gerry informed him, clearing the plates.
"That's okay," Jason assured her, pushing back from the table. "I have things to do today too."
An awkward interval fell, as Jason gathered his shoes and knapsack. Would she ask? When would he see her again?
"I'll call you," she said at the door, buttoning his coat snugly.
"Okay," he breathed in relief. "I'll look forward to it."
They kissed briefly and she guided him out.
"Lovely evening," he said, then turned to walk down the sidewalk.
"It was," she agreed, half-closing the door. "Take care."
Jason reached for his keys.
"Okay, let's go out." Sammy pulled himself up into a sitting position and immediately held his head. "Oh, ow," he said without meaning to say anything at all.
"Aren't those pills helping?" Michelle asked.
"No. Not at all," Sam pouted. "I want the ones I had."
"The doctor says they're too strong."
"I know what she says," he said irritably. "She doesn't have to deal with this head, though." He heard Michelle rustling around in the kitchen and a pot banging on the stove. "Did you change your mind?"
"Doesn't sound like you feel well enough to go out," she commented dourly.
"Well," he said, still holding his head, "I don't. But I can cook."
"No, just take it easy. I'll fix spaghetti." Michelle had a few dishes that she knew how to fix for herself and for him. She didn't know how to use spices very well and she didn't know how to bake, but she could use the microwave and she could heat up canned or frozen food on the stove. These were newly-acquired skills since her spouse had been hurt. Resentment of Ulna and Earnest welled up in her again, as she opened a can of sauce and filled a large kettle with water for spaghetti.
Sammy settled back into the couch, took another pain pill, and concentrated on the television. The news was on, reporting on accidents like his. Why him? he thought again. Well, why not him? another voice in his head answered. He would say he had bad luck except that he had Michelle and she was a dream, the woman cooking his supper now in the kitchen. His friends, too, he reflected did the best that they could. "Would you bring me another beer," he called, "please?"
"You aren't supposed to drink alcohol with those pills," Michelle called.
"I know," Sam said groggily.
Later, when Michelle brought their steaming plates of spaghetti into the living room, he was sound asleep.
A few weeks after that, Michelle came home and again found Samuel passed out on the couch.
"Wake up, Sammy," she said and shook him. He didn't move. "Sam, wake up," she demanded. Finally, she called 911.
"Hello, my friend is passed out and I can't wake him up." The rescue squad appeared with sirens blazing some minutes later. They loaded Sammy into their vehicle and screamed to the hospital. He was still comatose. She called her best friend, Ulna, and she came in to sit beside her.
"How is he doing?" Ulna asked.
"I can't tell. They won't tell me anything."
Ulna put a hand on his arm. "He'll be all right, I'm sure."
Michelle shivered. "Right," she nearly whispered.
They sat in silence on uncomfortable straight back chairs, reading magazines and watching people come and go from the crowded waiting room.
Hours later, Dr. Sarkow called Michelle into her office. She looked grim. "I'm sorry to tell you this," she began and Michelle felt tears welling up in her eyes. Her heart suddenly pained her. "We couldn't save him."
"What happened?" Michelle asked, although she suspected the truth.
Dr. Sarkow looked down at her notes. "It was an overdose of alcohol and pain pills."
Michelle put her head in her hands. "Why would he do that?" she groaned.
The doctor patted her hand. "We don't believe it was intentional. Accidents happen, you know."
... Michela, the Christmas mouse, scrunched her furry red stocking-bonnet down over tingling ears and hopscotched onto Rhonda and Roy’s gingham-wrapped presents, cardboard decorators boxes and painted china bottles. She stopped to nibble on a crinkled green velvet bow and roll its copper bells around with her toes to make them jingle. Leaping from Rho’s dollhouse chimney, Michela stretched mid-air to the lowest tree branch drizzling with peppermint-flavored artificial snow. She curled her hands and feet around a hanging angel’s halo and tightened her hold as the harp-playing lacey rendition of divine messenging and comfort swung rhythmically in warm waves arced from the fireplace’s fizzling coals and sparking logs.
”Whee!” Michela coraled cheerily to Pauline who studied her from the window’s generous sill with steadily serpentine violet feline eyes.
"Felice Noel," tooted the yellow metal Model-A from its track circling the trunk of the tree.
"Ho ha," huffed the wooden green firetruck beside it as both disappeared under a slate-gray stone-foam tunnel toward the diningnook's panelled wall.