A Tale of Marriage, Medicine and Murder

Chapter Twenty-Eight

This is a preview to the chapter Chapter Twenty-Eight from the book PERSONAL BAGGAGE by Margaret McMillion.
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Light crept around the blinds in Penny’s bedroom and pulled her out of a dark dream: she had been groping for a wall switch, her terror increasing as the search became more and more desperate. She turned her face into the pillow and waited for the fear to fade away, to let her move beyond it into the new day. But what day was it? Two days since.... She sucked in a breath and held it, pressing her fingers against her eyes to keep back tears, pushing her abdominal muscles against feelings that threatened her. If she even relaxed, she might loose control; if she permitted herself to remember people gone from her life, it could wreck her.

She moved through a gloomy house filled with shadows that had no color, where despair hung in the air and once-treasured objects closed in upon her.

She started coffee, pulling on her sweats while it perked. Trying not to wake Johnny, she poured herself a cup and eased open the door to the patio. Lilacs and azaleas spread soft pinks around the perimeter of the yard and unopened wisteria blossoms hung on their vines like grapes. Penny stepped outside breathing sweet air into her lungs while an early bird made the only sounds on earth. “Chewey, chewey, chewey, tummy hurts, tummy hurts.” It was the nutty mockingbird who spent his days fluttering against the car windows, looking at his reflection in the side mirrors, and defecating on the paint. Johnny said he must have flown into a window and hit his head too hard.

She carried the empty cup inside and pulled the door shut. The house was stuffy: its air tight and confining. As she poured her second cup, a wind-shear of loss hit her in the chest with a force that made her gasp for breath.

Grabbing a jacket, she carried her Reebocks onto the front steps. Zac barked at her from his pen, but Penny, craving solitude after untold hours of talking to police officers, ignored him and pushed up the hill alone. The morning sun at her back cast on the pavement a long shadow: an extremely thin giant with a stalk-like neck, pendulum arms, and stilt legs. For once her waist appeared small, but hardly attractive with the rest of her so distorted. She walked heavily, finding it hard to lift each foot, as though she had aged ten years since she last walked this street. She thought of patients who endured hell-on-earth treatments to extend their lives by just a few months. Why did people subject themselves to torture when life is so impermanent? She pulled her jacket tighter and her steps faltered. Exhausted, she turned homeward to rest in bed.

In the four poster, she dreamed of her father and of walking home from church with him when she was young and he was not yet old, holding his hand and skipping to keep up with his long strides. When she woke again the sun was over the house and light poured through her window. She padded into the den, where Johnny was completely absorbed in a muted NASCAR race on television, stood behind his chair, and touched his shoulder. “Happy Birthday.”

“Good afternoon!” He gave her a quick glance. “I was about to give up on you.”

“I got up early but I was too tired to stay up. You surely were quiet!” Penny picked up the remote control, advanced the volume, and the roar of car engines filled the room. She yelled over the uproar. “Don’t forget you have a date tonight.” She poured a glass of orange juice and carried it outside where sunlight freckled the lawn and illuminated a world so green she could smell the color. Two squirrels stared at her from a bed of pansies and the mockingbird whistled: “He hit him, he hit him; take it out, take it out, take it out.”

An image of Dr. Scales’s bashed head popped into her mind, pressurizing her stomach and chest. She stumbled across the patio to the brick retaining wall and crouched on it, the surface cold and rough through her sweat pants. Folding her arms around her middle to hold herself together, she spoke her thoughts aloud. “Dr. Scales is dead.” She wondered what had happened to Dick’s snake. The last time she saw it, it was plummeting toward the concrete parking lot.

Johnny opened the door. “Are you sure you’re up to this? We can always go some other time.”

“I want to celebrate your birthday and start your next year right.”
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"In a story of evolving relationships, Margaret McMillion breathes life into her characters, especially Penny, who must find..."

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