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(from Jazz Notes in the Misty Blue: A Mountain Empire Anthology)
"Tumbleton Quarry, Virginia"
by Jeannette Harris
A whiff of bacon woke her in the morning. What a gem, she thought dreamily, reaching for rumpled clothes. The room was bathed in light and color. Her body felt near muscleless. She sank back briefly into the pillows and curled like a snail against the covers.
"Good morning," he announced with cheer, as she meandered finally toward the kitchen. "How do you like your eggs?" The sight again of a woman with him to begin the day lifted his spirits. Her hair was uncombed and haloed her small face in slight curls. Her makeup had worn off and the glow of her skin charmed him.
She felt a little disoriented. Jean blinked her eyes and focused on the surroundings: Gary at the stove, coffee perking on the counter. A tug pulled her mind toward home, the small kitchen overlooking the woods and the cereal she usually ate every morning by the window. "Over easy," she requested. "With coffee."
He opened the refrigerator door and reached toward the back. "Have a seat. I'll bring them right over."
"You really are a find," Jean said, admiring his lithe body as well as his cooking skills.
"Put me in your gift shop," he joked, bearing a cup to the table.
She reached for her coffee and sipped slowly as he finished preparing breakfast. They ate in a comfortable, reflective silence as sun poured in the windows.
Finally, he cleared his throat. "I have to go to work pretty soon," Gary informed her, clearing the plates.
"That's okay," Jean assured him, pushing back from the table. "I have things to do today too."
An awkward interval fell, as Jean gathered her shoes and purse. Would he ask? When would she see him again?
"I'll call you," he said at the door, buttoning her coat snugly.
"Okay," she breathed in relief. "I'll look forward to it."
They kissed briefly and he guided her out.
"Lovely evening," she said, then turned to walk down the sidewalk.
"It was," he agreed, half-closing the door. "Take care."
Jean reached for her keys.
"Okay, let's go out." Pammy pulled herself up into a sitting position and immediately held her head. "Oh, ow," she said without meaning to say anything at all.
"Aren't those pills helping?" Michael asked.
"No. Not at all," Pam pouted. "I want the ones I had."
"The doctor says they're too strong."
"I know what he says," she said irritably. "He doesn't have to deal with this head, though." She heard Michael 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," he commented dourly.
"Well," she said, still holding her head, "I don't. But I can cook."
"No, just take it easy. I'll fix spaghetti." Michael had a few dishes that he knew how to fix for himself and for her. He didn't know how to use spices very well and he didn't know how to bake, but he could use the microwave and he could heat up canned or frozen food on the stove. These were newly-acquired skills since his wife had been hurt. Resentment of Ulna and Earnest welled up in him again, as he opened a can of sauce and filled a large kettle with water for spaghetti.
Pammy settled back into the couch, took another pain pill, and concentrated on the television. The news was on, reporting on accidents like hers. Why her? she thought again. Well, why not her? another voice in her head answered. She would say she had bad luck except that she had Michael and he was a dream, the man cooking her supper now in the kitchen. Her friends, too, she reflected did the best that they could. "Would you bring me another beer," she called, "please?"
"You aren't supposed to drink alcohol with those pills," Michael called.
"I know," Pam said groggily.
Later, when Michael brought their steaming plates of spaghetti into the living room, she was sound asleep.
A few weeks after that, Michael came home and again found Pamela passed out on the couch.
"Wake up, Pammy," he said and shook her. She didn't move. "Pam, wake up," he demanded. Finally, he called 911.
"Hello, my wife is passed out and I can't wake her up." The rescue squad appeared with sirens blazing some minutes later. They loaded Pammy into their vehicle and screamed to the hospital. She was still comatose. He called her best friend, Ulna, and she came in to sit beside him.
"How is she doing?" Ulna asked.
"I can't tell. They won't tell me anything."
Ulna put a hand on his arm. "She'll be all right, I'm sure."
Michael shivered. "Right," he 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 Michael into his office. He looked grim. "I'm sorry to tell you this," he began and Michael felt tears welling up in his eyes. His heart suddenly pained him. "We couldn't save her."
"What happened?" Michael asked, although he suspected the truth.
Dr. Sarkow looked down at his notes. "It was an overdose of alcohol and pain pills."
Michael put his head in his hands. "Why would she do that?" he groaned.
The doctor patted his hand. "We don't believe it was intentional. Accidents happen, you know."