PERSONAL BAGGAGE
A Tale of Marriage, Medicine and Murder

Chapter Three

This is a preview to the chapter Chapter Three from the book PERSONAL BAGGAGE by Margaret McMillion.
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In a fraction of a second, Penny passed from a dream world surrounded by blazing fire to wide-awake, gasping at air that seemed stiff with smoke. Sensing someone standing beside her bed, she peered into the darkness and fumbled with the lamp switch, trembling like a patient with escalating temperature. Squinting her eyes against the abrupt light, she surveyed the bedroom with a sweeping glance: she was alone in her room, there was no smoke, and the Bose showed 4 a.m., an hour and a half until time to get up and still pitch black outside.

Undoubtedly, her dream had derived from the fire in-service yesterday—and vodka at bedtime! She rolled out of bed. In the mirror her face looked like it belonged on a transplant list. It would take work to make herself look better, but maybe it would help her feel better.

Two hours later, she was finishing her toast as Johnny sauntered into the kitchen clearing his throat. “So, how was it yesterday? How did your first day go?”

“Fine.”
“Huh?”
“It was okay. How did your team do?”

“Well, we’ve still got weak places in the outfield but I can fix them. These boys try big time, you know? They swing for the fence.” Standing in front of the refrigerator, grapefruit in hand, Johnny launched into a discourse on last night’s game. “I finally convinced my second baseman he won’t get yelled at if he boots a slow-roller on a barehanded pickup, so now, you know, he never misses. And at bat—man, he got three hits! Their best pitcher was tipping off what he was about to throw so at the last possible instant I let my batter know what was coming. He made hitting look easy—I think he’s the smartest kid I’ve ever coached!” Johnny, still recapping the game, joined Penny at the table.

Mirroring his enthusiasm, Johnny’s hazel eyes sparkled with green flecks, reminding Penny of the loving looks he used to give her and his intimate, simmering gazes that had seduced her. Now, when he did look at her, his eyes were cold. She excused herself to brush her teeth and to apply lipstick.

From his bowl of Grape-nuts and that day’s paper, Johnny rose to kiss her goodbye. He gave her a cursory glance, then removed his glasses so that their frames wouldn’t tangle. “You look nice.”
Her eyes downcast, she smiled. “I hope you have a good day,” she said, pulling the kitchen door closed behind her. To Penny’s way of thinking, what Johnny meant was, “You usually look bad.”

Enroute to meet Maureen, the musical phrase that plagued Penny increased its tempo, making her conscious of her fingers, playing the notes on the steering wheel as if it were a keyboard. She raised the radio’s volume until Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” filled the car and she could feel the thump of the bass in her chest. As if on automatic pilot, her Chevette navigated the fifteen minute trip while heavy fog hit the windshield like light rain.

The Dixiana hospital appeared, a sprawling fortress shrouded in mist. Penny circled behind it, continuing to the end of the parking area because of a recent regulation requiring that employees park on the back row of the lot in order to leave the closer spaces for visitors. She pulled in just as Maureen Martin was getting out of her car.

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