A Tale of Marriage, Medicine and Murder

Chapter Twenty

This is a preview to the chapter Chapter Twenty from the book PERSONAL BAGGAGE by Margaret McMillion.
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The grim month of February stretched on without horizon. Like sagging skin, Penny’s bedroom drapes hung in beige wrinkles above her matted-brown carpet. The house suffocated her. Her clothes pinched her waist and pricked the middle of her back, an itch she could not reach. Seemingly routine events triggered memories and unexpected tears, and she hardened herself against emotion with activity. Dark days and bleak weeks merged into a mindless stretch of time as she moved from one duty to another, her senses dulled and her body burned out. So many unhappy thoughts filled her mind that she started a list of anything that brought her joy. The list was short.

One Friday morning as she completed her third night shift in Jacksonville, a vicious rain fell straight down out of a dead sky. Needles of ice stung her face while she scraped the windshield, and all but one of her car doors were frozen shut. Hail pelted the Chevette and bounced on the roadway like mothballs as she drove home to Dixiana through a frigid torrent.

Still wearing jeans and a turtleneck, she climbed into bed under an extra quilt, while the ice-fanged wind rattled bare branches and tossed sleet against her window.

That afternoon, Penny dragged herself out of bed and into the kitchen where Johnny worked over a table covered with bills and receipts. “Welcome to the world,” he said. “Have you looked outside?”
She plodded to the living room window. The street resembled a long hospital sheet and a mixture of sleet and ice covered the grass. Standing barefoot, looking at the winter wonderland chilled her, although the house was warm.

“It rained all day with the temperature around thirty,” Johnny said. “They should have canceled school—I’ve lost count of how many buses wrecked carrying the students home.”

Penny opened a large can of chili, but the lights blinked off as she reached for a saucepan. The clock on the stove stopped at 5:30 p.m.

Johnny entered the dark kitchen from the garage. “This is more lousy than the forecast, you know it? I brought some wood from the woodpile into the garage so it can dry out; the little bit we had in there will burn fast.... I need a shower; where do you keep candles?”

Penny laid a bonfire in the fireplace, congratulating herself when the big logs began to blaze. In years past, she and the children had enjoyed sitting by the hearth with a roaring fire, but now their wood was only for emergencies. As she poked the kindling, adding more logs and inhaling smoke, she could almost hear the sounds of children in the room.

Johnny shut the doors from the living area into the rest of the house. “Don’t pile on too much wood, okay? No telling how long this storm is going to last.”

Penny stabbed four frozen hot dogs with shish-kebab skewers and roasted them over the flames, holding the metal ends with a potholder. The wood crackled, and as the meat thawed, drops of water bubbled and hissed on the logs. The saucepan of chili came to lukewarm on the hearth.
“Gourmet,” Johnny declared when they finished eating. “You did good.”
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"A nurse juggles jobs at two Mississippi hospitals, aging parents and a stressed marriage in McMillion's novel .... a comprehensive..."

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