Aunt Elise’s house, a tidy
little Victorian painted white with blue shutters and a red door, looks like a
gingerbread house about to collapse.
Sure, it’s clean or whatever.But
it’s old and sinking on one side.She
invited me for lunch after I got back from the bank yesterday, and after a
night spent drinking beer and trolling through online job postings, and then
spending the morning drinking coffee and trolling through more job listings,
the invitation to drive on out into the Berkshires and have an excuse to see
the sun is actually kind of nice.The
Berkshires is about as far as I can drive at any given time, given, well,
anyway.It’s nice to get out.
I knock and Elise opens the
door. “What the hell is that in the driveway?I didn’t recognize it.”
“It’s my Prius, Elise.I’ve been driving it for four years now.”
“What happened to the pick-up
truck?I thought you liked to drive
“I crashed that pick-up, Aunt
Elise.”She furrows her brow.“It was on the news, remember?I sort of accidentally ran over a
mailbox.And some hedges.And an arbor.”
“Oh yes, the mistress’,
right?Now I remember.”
“One of the
mistresses.”My husband of the time had
many.But I had been friends with
Shawna. “I hit some black ice.”
The police also harrumphed when
I told them about the black ice, as I recall.
“I always hoped you were a
lesbian, you know.With that truck.”
“Not all lesbians have trucks.”
“No, but the fun ones do.Have you met Sharon and Hazel down the
block?Lovely couple.Hazel drives a truck and—“
“Can I come in?It’s starting to rain.”
She pulls the door back further
and ushers me inside.The house is a
tea-party nightmare.Shelves filled with
teapots and chubby figurines pucker up at the flowered wallpaper in the
hallway.The rug of the adjacent living
room is the color of cotton candy and I swear my stomach growls every time I
I brush the plaques of
inspirational sayings out of the way as I hang up my coat on the coat rack.
She stomps like a thin Godzilla
back to the kitchen, causing the house to shudder and clink in alarm.“You’re in luck, I just made some chicken
“Sounds great.”I follow her into the kitchen and sit at the
table with a sigh.
“I have a job for you.”
“Is that door still
crooked?I thought for sure that
tightening the hinges would do the trick.”
“No, I mean a real job.”Elise places a colorful bowl down in the
middle of the table and glares.Sealing
her lips with some sort of judgmental superglue, she waits.
Oh, right.The hands.
I go over to the sink and wash my hands.
She’s got this thing about germs.
Betty and I used to mess with her when we came over, going over to the
sink and putting our hands together so that she would wash one of my hands and
I would wash one of hers and then we’d wait to see if Elise would notice that
we each still had one dirty hand.
As twins, Betty and I were
convinced that we were supposed to be born with some kind of twin-specific
super-power, but really the only thing we were consistently good at was making
our baby sister Piper laugh so hard that milk would shoot out of her nose.
That was another trick that
Aunt Elise didn’t find to be particularly endearing.
After I dry my hands and grab
the loaf of bread out of the breadbox, I say, “All right, so what kind of job
are we talking about?And please don’t
mention the one in the woodchuck town.”
“What do you have against
“Sweet Romany Halls! I don’t
have anything against woodchucks, I don’t can’t work in a town that worships
vermin, that’s all.”
“Fine. But please don’t take
Romany’s name in vain.”
Romany Halls is a professional
wrestler that Aunt Elise has a crush on.
One night when I was over doing some repair work for her I heard her
swearing at the television set.And I
mean full-on swearing.Aunt Elise never
swears, at least not that I’ve ever heard.
As I walked into the guest bedroom to make sure she was okay, I realized
that she not only was watching television in her guest bedroom, which was odd,
but that the walls of the bedroom were covered in posters of one very muscled
wrestler wearing not-so-many articles of clothing.It was like an homage to all that was
masculine and spandexy.
Whenever it’s just the two of
us, I feel obligated to tease her about her crush and her shrine to the
glory that is Romany Halls.Me?I don’t so much dig the guys with eye makeup
thing.But Elise, well, Elise seemed to
like them big, oiled up, and wearing nothing more than colorful
“So this job?”I grab a spoon and scoop out the chicken
“It’s for a friend of mine,
actually.Very nice.Her name is Eve and she needs help with Mansfield.”
“Mansfield?That’s quite a name.What happen, did he have a stroke?Car accident?
“I don’t know.But she has put out several ads in the paper
and everyone who shows up to check on Mansfield
apparently refuses to treat him.”
“Refuses to treat him?That’s horrible.Why doesn’t she take him to a clinic?If he’s rehabbing, a facility is probably
better equipped than her house.”
“She says that he can’t travel
to a clinic.He must be in pretty bad
“Have you ever met him?”
“No, I know Eve from
college.She comes down sometimes, and
I’ve met her grandson a few times.
Lovely boy.But I haven’t met Mansfield.”
“Is she nearby?Can I pop over there today and see what’s
going on?”I really need a job.
“She’s up in Vermont.But last time I spoke with her on the phone
she mentioned that she has a guest cottage you can stay in when you come.I guess she has a lot of land.”
“Wait—you already told
her I would go?”
“Of course you’ll go.”
“You know that time you asked
me to tell you when you were overstepping some boundaries? Consider them
She takes a bite of her
sandwich, her eyes demanding from over the top of her bread.
I chew my bite of sandwich,
taking my time in savoring the flavors of Aunt Elise’s chicken salad, just to
make her sweat for a bit.I close my
eyes, exaggerating the chew.
When I open them again her eyes
are no less stern as she wipes the side of her mouth with a hot pink napkin.
Damn.She’s not sweating this at all, is she?Not even a little bit. “Fine.I’ll go.
This is a paid job, right?”
“Good.And yes, of course, provided you don’t walk
away like those others.”
“Speech pathologists don’t
usually make house-calls.I’d imagine
that the other folks just tried to convince your friend to take Mansfield
to a proper rehab facility.”
“Try not to be so judgmental
before you even get there.”
“I’m not being judgmental.”Maybe a little.“He should be where he can get the best care,
and that’s not always at home.”
“Eve and I went to Smith
together, Mags.I’ve known her for years
and years. Trust me, if she’s determined that the best place for him to be is
at home with her, then she’s right.
“When did you tell Eve I’d be
“Tomorrow. It’s going to be a
great job for you.You’ll see.”
In some cases,
bloggers ask us for first chapter reveals.
Please paste your first chapter here:
Nothing says Happy Friday like
having Mr. Roth dribble crackers and sing La Cucaracha.Nothing.
“Great job!But let’s make sure to give those crackers an
exaggerated swallow before the next stanza.
All right?”I grab the paper
cloth from the box and give his chin a wipe.
He stares at me with rheumatic
eyes, pushing his whole damn heart into his smile.
“Your smile always makes my
day, Mr. Roth.”I pick the last remnant
of saltine out of his gray stubble and throw the paper towel into the
garbage.When Mr. Roth first came to see
me, the stroke had paralyzed the left side of his face.The paralysis had diminished somewhat and
now he can do things like smile.And
At least we fixed the
swallowing.That’s a biggie.He exhales a barely audible bar of his
favorite song and I join him.“Make it
louder for me!La cucaracha!La cucaracha!
Ya nopuede caminar…”
His smile widens and his voice
rises, like a phoenix, dammit.That
asshat Dr. Robbins said he’d never speak again.
And here Mr. Roth is, six months later, singing.
Days like this, I love my
job.Just as we’re about to finish up
our session, Dolly pokes her head in the door. “I’m sorry, Mags, but Dr.
Robbins says you’re going to have to keep it down.”
“Tell him to shut his damn
door.”That man exists to be the pain in
my neck.You know the pain, the one you
wake up with every morning and no amount of Advil can kill?That one.
“Was I too loud?”Mr. Roth asks, worry crossing his cherubic,
“No, angel.Not a bit.
You’re a rock star and I’m damn proud of you.” One day I am going to
open my own clinic, so naysayers like Dr. Robbins can learn to shut the hell
Dr. Robbins, the asshat, runs
the clinic. So naturally, he feels that everything in the office is his, too,
like, you know, the pretty nurses and speech pathologists that he employs.
Grabbing Mr. Roth’s arm, I help
him with his jacket.Dolly clicks the
pen in her hand like it’s a hand grenade.
On off, on off, on off.
“Stop it,” I hiss to her as I
grab Mr. Roth’s gloves.“Now keep
practicing those scales we talked about and I’ll see you next week.”
He squeezes my hand and then
says to Dolly, “She’s a saint, this one.
A regular saint.”
His r’s don’t come out quite
right but hey, it’s a work in progress.
The second he’s out the door, I
walk over to the nurses’ station and pull up the electronic records on my next
patient. I haul on down to room number six, where Mr. Earle is waiting for me
to re-adjust his tracheal tube.
I reach for the handle and I’m
blindsided by Susie, the intern.She’s
the best kind of intern, hard-working and wicked smart, and rather pretty in a
cute, slightly disheveled kind of way.
She’s shaking as she bumps into me, wiping tears from her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” There can be
lots of things wrong when you’re twenty-one.
Hormones and boozing and all that, but this looks… different.
“Nothing, I’m fine. Tracheal
tube, right?”She straightens her Hello
Kitty scrubs and adjusts the chunky black-rimmed glasses, making sure the
floating strands of pinkish hair stay behind her ears.
I open my mouth but the words
just sort of dry up.Sometimes, it’s
best just to leave it.She knows I’m
here—prodding would be rude, right?Let
her tell me when she’s ready, or not, her choice.Besides, I’m running behind.
Susie and I wrestle Mr. Earle’s
tube back where it belongs and the second we finish and leave the room, Susie’s
Dr. Robbins is standing in the
hall, blocking the path between where we stand and the nurses’ station.
He looks up at Susie and gives
her a grin that turns my stomach into a rolling pool of bile and fire. His
yellowish, crooked teeth and greasy hair make him look more like a Goodfellas
reject than a doctor.But hey, it could
just be that I’m biased because he told me once that he hired me for my boobs.
Not my stellar resume.Not my incredible grades that I worked by
butt off to earn, but because he liked my boobs.
I wanted to quit right then and
there.To stand up and shout and sue and
do all those noble things I would tell my sisters to do if they were in the
But yeah, I had just gotten
divorced and needed the job.Nothing
like having to buy your cheating ex out of half of your own damn house.
So the words disappeared and I
sort of just resorted to sending politely worded emails, like “Please remember
to interact with the staff in a professional manner.” And “I believe we are due
for the state-mandated sexual harassment prevention course.Can I sign us up?”
Susie freezes beside me.Her cheeks turn to scrambled eggs and she
grabs my hand.“Don’t let him touch me
My vision blurs.Like actually
blurs as he walks towards us.That
creep. That stupid, sexist creep.He
touched her?She’s just a child.Mostly.
Practically.Hell, it doesn’t
matter how old she is!He’s a monster.
Dr. Robbins sidles over and his
snakelike tongue pokes in and out of his mouth as his eyes roam over
Susie.“Susan, do you know where the
canned peaches are?I need to use them
for a videofluoroscopy this afternoon.”
He leans in closer to her and she clenches my hand as his chili taco
breath assaults us. “Maybe you can show me in the supply closet?”
She shakes like a shake weight
in those cheesy late-night infomercials.
“No.” Her voice is barely above a whisper, but I can hear her just fine.
He, however, moves closer.“Stop,” I say.As usual, my words do nothing. No one
listens, dammit.Again and again and
again I’ve asked him to stop doing this.
“Stop,” I say again,
He just moves on in closer,
like I’m nothing more than a lamp.
That’s when I see it.He reaches down and grabs her ass.She jumps and he smiles.“Get off.”
She hisses but he doesn’t listen, he never listens.He cups her whole cheek now, grinning.
I punch him in the face.
His head slams back, blinking
like, well, like I just punched him in the face.
Did I really just punch my boss
in the face?
My fingertips chill and my hand
I didn’t—tell me I
Susie gasps, her hands covering
her mouth and a look of unadulterated panic in her eyes. My throat tightens.
Oh my God, I totally did.
“She asked you to stop.” It’s
the only thing that leaves my mouth in a somewhat coherent fashion.
He narrows his eyes, a large
red bump creeping across his smarmy face. “You hit me!”
Susie, her jaw now on the
ground, looks at me. Her eyes are wide and frightened like a deer’s.Her voice is flat when she says, “You punched
I kind of hate deer.
“Yes!Yes, I see that.You’re fine, right, Dr. Robbins?You should have stopped.We all know you can’t go around grabbing
asses like they’re doorknobs. But you just kept grabbing and squishing it
around so I had to, had to—“
“You’re fired.”He growls.
“Get out, Miss Anderson.Get out now before I call the police.”