Superimposed Chapter 7

Superimposed Chapter 7 by Janet Jenkins Stotts

About Superimposed

  • 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
  • Just joining us? Please start reading with Chapter 1
  • A new chapter is serialized each week, with a new Topeka author featured in each chapter
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Read Online: Superimposed Chapter 7 by Janet Jenkins Stotts

Author Bio | Author Interview

Joe only slept ten minutes before his doctor, Harold K. McIntosh, came bustling into the sunroom. He took Joe’s hand from Holly to check his pulse and tut-tutted pompously.

“If you will just step aside, young lady, I need to further assess his vital signs.”

Holly stepped away from the bed and watched as Dr. McIntosh shook his head after each assessment.

“He needs to be in intensive care immediately. His heart is very weak, and I don’t like the way his lungs sound. Please arrange for an ambulance immediately.”

Holly was relieved and was dialing the hospital when Pastor Steve arrived and stopped her with a look.

“Dr. McIntosh, I believe we have had this conversation before. You know Mr. Grimaldi has made his wish to die at home clear and has appointed me to see that his wishes are carried out.”

“I don’t care what he told you. As his primary care physician, I am in charge of all decisions regarding his health, and I am sending him to ICU. It is a matter of life and death.”

As the argument became more heated, both Pastor Steve’s and Dr. McIntosh’s voices rose. Joe woke up and swore viciously until he saw Holly was still present. “I’m sorry, Holly. I have been listening to this same argument for months. It feels like I’m a gazelle listening to the lions decide how to divvy up my carcass. Steve… Harold… cut it out, now. Holly, call my attorney; his number is in the Rolodex on my desk in the study. I’m going to settle this once and for all.”

The extended conversation caused a fit of coughing, and Joe looked even paler when he was finally able to lie back on the leather couch recliner. Holly had never heard of a Rolodex, but once she entered the study, it was easy to see the circular card-holder. It was full of cards, organized alphabetically by the name at the top of the card. She panicked when she realized Joe hadn’t told her his lawyer’s name, but after a few deep breaths, she remembered the signature below hers on the privacy documents she had signed. She ruffled through the cards and sighed with relief when she found the name she was looking for, R. L. Stevenson. The phone was answered immediately.

“Good morning. You have reached the office of R. L. Stevenson. This is his personal assistant, Charles. How may I help you?”

Holly explained who she was and who her client was. Before she could explain why she was calling, a deep authoritative voice identified itself as “Stevenson” and said he would be there immediately. He asked Holly to return to the sunroom and keep everyone away from Joe. Before she could ask how she was supposed to do that, he hung up. In the silence, she could hear raised voices from the sunroom, so she hurried back to her client.

She was horrified at what she saw when she re-entered the room. Dr. McIntosh was on one side of the recliner, and Pastor Steve was on the other. They looked like birds of prey as they hovered over her client, each insisting only they knew his wishes. Holly lost it – a rare phenomenon for her, but not something that anybody on the receiving end cared to repeat.

“Stop it this instant. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Either you leave this room this instant, or I’m calling the police. Move it – NOW!”

The two men were shocked into silence, and Holly thought she saw a twinkle of amusement in Joe’s sunken eyes before he closed them wearily. The men turned on Holly and began questioning her right to tell them what to do. As they approached, Holly backed up until her back was against the door leading into the hall. Having drawn the men away from Joe, all she had to do was keep their anger focused on her until the attorney arrived. The next ten minutes were unpleasant, but she gave as good as she got until she heard the welcome sound of Mr. Stevenson’s voice.

“Gentlemen, I’m surprised at you. What can this lovely young lady have done to deserve your wrath? And where is my client? Surely this excitement can’t be good for him.”

Holly brushed past the three men and rushed to her client. His breathing was shallow and rapid and frequently interrupted by prolonged bouts of coughing. At the end of one such bout, Joe opened his eyes and looked straight into Holly’s. “Good girl,” he murmured and gestured for his lawyer to come closer. Holly withdrew a little to let Joe talk privately with his lawyer. She heard bits and pieces about a living will and a medical power of attorney, both of which she was familiar with in her profession. Finally, Mr. Stevenson called Pastor Steve and Dr. McIntosh back into the room and gestured for Holly to join them in a tight circle around Joe.

“Please… listen to Mr. Stevenson. He speaks… for me.” Even this short pronouncement was almost more than Joe could manage.

“My client has filed documents stating his wish to die -” he held up his hand to prevent Dr. McIntosh from interrupting “- to die at home. Dr. McIntosh, you will bring all the paraphernalia of an ICU into his study. Mr. Grimaldi has reluctantly agreed to have nurses do the necessary medical functions. However, they are not to stay in the room, but to be signaled by a bell or the noise of the medical alarms. The only people with 24 hour access to his room are Holly and Pastor Steve. “

“Mr. Grimaldi has asked that no extraordinary measures be taken to prevent his death. Dr. McIntosh, do you agree to be bound by his wishes?”

“But, but… his condition is treatable. He could live another six months to a year, maybe longer. His quality of life would be less than it is now, but…”

“No buts, Dr. McIntosh. Do you agree to submit to his wishes?”

“If he insists, yes. I agree.”

“Very well. Miss Higgins, do you agree to move into this house and be on call 24/7 until Mr. Grimaldi no longer has need of your services? You will, of course, be paid overtime for your services. If so, you will want to return to your house to pack a small suitcase.”

“Could I think about it? That is a big commitment, and my boss may not be happy to lose my services,” Holly really needed to talk to Karen – she valued her down-to-earth advice.

“I have already cleared it with the administrator of the hospice,” Mr. Stevenson intoned solemnly. “Pastor Steve will also be moving into the house.”

“Please, Holly,” Mr. Grimaldi rasped.

Holly heard herself agree before she was aware she had made a decision. For some reason, she had trouble saying no to any of Joe’s wishes. The thought of living in the same house as Pastor Steve was distinctly uncomfortable. Something about his large, soft, white hands made Holly uneasy. She had a feeling he was gathering control of Joe’s last days into those hands. She had meant to ask him what church he served, but hadn’t had a chance. She was worrying over that problem and almost missed Mr. Stevenson’s next point.

“…private security service to guard Mr. Grimaldi’s privacy from any so-called friends or family,” Mr. Stevenson finally concluded.

“Friends or family?” Holly thought Joe had neither. And what had he meant by so-called? Who would intrude on the last days of a dying man?

That question was answered almost immediately by a commotion in the hall. A large yet voluptuous woman was struggling with two uniformed young men.

“What do you mean, I have to leave? I was once the queen of this castle. I chose the carpet you are standing on, young man.” This announcement so shocked the security men that they loosened their grip on her arms and she surged forward. “Joe?… Joe? Where’s my pookie bear?”

The woman’s voice was as large as her dress size, and her hair was an unconvincing shade of red. A spray tan and carefully applied make-up made it difficult to guess her age. Holly hurried into the hall and introduced herself.

“Hello, I’m Holly Higgins from the Topeka Hospice. I’m afraid Mr. Grimaldi isn’t feeling well enough to receive visitors. If you would just leave your name and message with me, I’ll tell him you called.”

“I don’t think so, my dear. I am Mrs. Grimaldi, and I’ve come to comfort my husband in his hour of need. Why don’t you just toddle on back to your hospice and tell them Lorraine is in charge of the situation now, and their help is no longer needed.”

“Nice try, Lorraine.” Holly was glad to hear Mr. Stevenson’s deep voice.

“Bobby darling, so nice to see you,” Lorraine’s voice dripped sarcasm. “What rock did you crawl out from under this fine morning?”

Mr. Stevenson ignored the barb with admirable aplomb. As referees go, Mr. Stevenson was a good one, Holly thought. She admired his smooth way of taking Lorraine’s arm and steering her towards the entrance hall, never reacting to her verbal abuse. Holly followed them, intending to go home, pack a small bag, and ask her mother to cat-sit. However, Holly suddenly realized that the drama was just beginning. The doorbell rang. Holly tried to answer the door and prevent any other distractions from gaining entrance, but Victoria beat her to it. To Holly’s annoyance, Victoria welcomed the new guests with open arms.

“Mrs. Grimaldi,” Victoria said to a thin, cool blond, while shooting daggers at Lorraine, “How very nice to see you. We need your strong hand on the reins at this sad time. And Mr. Alex, I’m glad you are here to support your mother.” Mr. Alex looked like he would rather be anywhere else than here. His lower lip stuck out petulantly, ruining his carefully-assembled ensemble of expensive linen slacks, polo shirt, and cotton sweater tied around his shoulders. He wore Italian leather loafers without socks and a Rolex on his left hand.

Victoria didn’t speak to the third person at all and came very close to clipping his heels while closing the heavy oak door. He was tall, perhaps because of the cowboy boots he was wearing. When he took off his cowboy hat, his tan stopped just above his eyebrows, revealing a balding skull as pale as a trout’s belly. Holly’s father had once said that a partial tan was the sign of a real cowboy, and Holly had to agree this man looked the part.

The entrance of this small group had managed what even Mr. Stevenson could not – they silenced Lorraine. It was a brief triumph, however. Lorraine puffed up like a blowfish, turned to the two guards who were holding her, and said, “Here are the real usurpers. Throw them out at once!” Then she appealed to Mr. Stevenson, whom she had just been berating. With a brilliant, false smile, she said, “Bobby, you know how upset Gloria always makes Joe, not to mention those two lay-a-bouts she brought with her.”

The room erupted into bitter name-calling and flagrant defamation of character. Holly was able to catch enough to know Gloria was Mr. Grimaldi’s second wife. The tall cowboy, Mark, was a friend of Gloria’s son, Alex. The nature of that relationship was unclear, especially since Mark said nothing at all during the whole melee.

Holly saw Victoria pull Gloria aside and ask in a hoarse whisper, “Is Pesha coming?” Before Holly could find out who Pesha was, a truck from a medical supply store pulled up to the front steps. The driver and his helper unloaded an oxygen tank, a hospital bed, and various monitoring devices as the squabbling group gradually subsided into silence. This time, Holly made sure she was the person answering the door. She directed them to set up the ICU equipment in the study, and they did so with rapid efficiency.

Holly used the house phone to call the sunroom and tell Dr. McIntosh he could move Joe into his study. As Dr. McIntosh and Pastor Steve carried Joe down the hall to his study, a shriek was heard. Everyone turned to see a beautiful young woman drop into a totally unconvincing faint. She lay there on the floor, waiting for someone to rush to her aid, but no one did. Holly started to move towards her, but a glance from Mr. Stevenson cautioned her, and she stopped. Mr. Stevenson stepped forward and gave the woman a slow clap as if acknowledging a performance. He then extended his hand to help her up, and said, “Clara, how nice to see you.”

“Oh, Bobby. How can you be so mean? I was just overcome to see my favorite uncle looking so poorly.” Clara’s southern accent was no more convincing than her faint, but her statement refocused the group’s attention on Joe. They all surged forward, each one trying to be the first through the study door. Suddenly, the piercing sound of monitoring equipment unhappy with its readings caused the group to pause, and it was soon joined by several other mechanical shrieks. Holly used her elbows to fight her way forward and was appalled to see Dr. McIntosh pounding on Joe’s chest while Pastor Steve tried to fit an oxygen mask onto Joe’s increasingly blue face. The beeping of the heart monitor changed into a flat line buzz and stayed there.

“Oh no,” Holly thought, “I’m too late.”

 

Chapter 8 will be published next week at http://www.tscpl.org/community-novel

About Janet Jenkins Stotts

Janet Jenkins Stotts got her MA in Curriculum and Instruction with emphasis in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Kansas. Until last year, most of her writing was work-related and included federal grant proposals and material published in the national GED Administrator’s Training Manual. Thanks to TSCPL, she took part in the National Novel Writing Month last November and completed the 50,000 word challenge. She has since turned that novel into The Orchid Garden, a mystery based on the trip to China she made to assist in the adoption of her granddaughter, Ella. She hopes to have it published through Amazon print and Amazon kindle by the end of the summer. She and her husband live north of Topeka with four dogs, five goats and a goat that thinks it’s a dog.

An Interview with Janet Jenkins Stotts

What is your writing background? What sort of work do you usually write?

I usually write fiction, both novels and short stories. I sometimes dabble in haiku and would like to be part of a haiku club here in Topeka.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I love P. D. James and Elizabeth Peters.

 Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

I participated last year and enjoyed it, so I wanted to do it again.

Do you usually write in a burst of inspiration, or is your work carefully outlined?

I try to have a rough outline, but I write in fits and starts and sometimes disregard my outline.

 What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project?What challenges you about them?

I was challenged by the structure being so similar to the one last year.

What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?

I thought it introduced some interesting new characters, and it gave me a chance to start writing the death of Joe.

What do you like most about the chapter that you contributed to the 2014 Community Novel?

It was fun to write some new characters.

What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?

I hope they tie the two narratives more closely together.

What sort of writing can we expect from you in future? Are you currently at work on any writing projects? I am still working on my novel “The Orchid Garden. I have also sent a couple of short stories off to Glimmertrain.

 

Lissa Staley

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Health Information Librarian, Arts & Crafts Librarian, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book group leader, and frequent library customer, especially with her children. She reads a new book every few days, but recently loved Adorkable by Sarra Manning, Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman and Tin Star by Cecil Castellucchi.