Plague Life – Deleted Scenes

Continued from Plague Life – Part IV

The next few days passed with little but Joyce’s shifts to tell one from the other. When Joyce was off, Megan made herself scarce giving mother and son time together. When they had enough of that, Tommy might ride down or they’d both stroll down to see what Megan was working on. She was not light on projects and living alone in the house for at least the time being, gave her room to spread out. Her on-line classes were going as well as they could and she was actually finishing art, which had been tough to do when the world was spinning.

That morning Megan opened her eyes with a start, looking straight into the pear tree. The spare room that she uses on overnights looks out into the backyard-the tree specifically. Joyce was horrified when she found out that Megan slept with the blinds open-she could never do that. But then, her schedule made it impossible to contemplate. She herself had black metal blinds in her room-which brought darkness at the pull of a cord.

It was just before six, well over an hour before Joyce would be home. She lay still, sleepily trying to recapture the dream. She remembered Joyce in it, nude, pushing against her. Had they been in bed? No, she thought they were standing…Joyce was rubbing her backside… Megan pushed her basketball shorts down and rolled onto her side to run her hand across her bottom as Joyce had in the dream. Then she slipped her finger lightly between her legs finding herself swollen and damp.

It had been a dream and dreams are unbidden, so she didn’t feel guilty about it. Now though, she was awake sliding her finger into herself while thinking of Joyce. “Nope”, she said out loud. “Nope. Nope.” She threw back the covers and sat on the bed, shorts still at her knees. She stood, stepped out of them and walked the two paces into her private bath which is the best thing about this room. Still, she rubbed her bottom where dream-Joyce had and felt a weakness in her legs.

She peed and stepped into the shower for a quick freshener from the neck down, then brushed out her hair before slipping it into a ponytail. If she had dreamed of someone else would it have been okay to touch herself? She was ready for it, that’s for sure. She promised she’d take care of herself later, at home. But not now. Not here. A touch of blush on the cheeks and she was set. For reasons she didn’t want to explore too deeply, she cared about how she looked when Joyce got home. Not like that, though! Not really. She just didn’t want to be appear tired or drawn or anything that might concern Joyce.

There was no way Megan could know it, but what she was doing did work. Somewhere, between leaving the hospital, driving home or coming out of the shower, for a moment, or a flash of a moment, Joyce would look forward to seeing Megan. Not getting home. Not eating. Not having a glass of wine. But seeing Megan. Joyce didn’t let the thought linger and flower, but it was there-albeit forced fleeting.

Joyce, clean and damp, walked into the kitchen sniffing at the air. “Now that smells good…” She shuffled barefoot to the stove and peeked over Megan’s shoulder. There was a pounded chicken breast simmering in olive oil and lemon alongside a half dozen spears of asparagus and a smattering of capers.

“Asparagus? Where did you get those?”

“Had them at home. Picked them up over the weekend…”

“The chicken was…”

“You had it in the freezer. I split a breast, so there’s another left. I’ll pick some up next week. And there’s still quinoa-that shit lasts forever.”

“You’ve seriously expanded the breakfast menu”, she said squeezing her arms from behind before going to her place at the table.

“It’s not breakfast for you. You’ve been up all night…For breakfast, when Tommy gets up, you’ll have…” She opened the refrigerator door and pointed to a bowl sealed with plastic wrap. “Pancake batter-with chocolate chips…”

“When did you do that?”

Megan shrugged lightly, “A little bit ago.”

“Jesus Megs…”

“No biggie.”

Joyce sipped at the orange juice that had been set for her. “You do a lot for us…”

“Well, maybe. But then, there’s the fact that I have fuck all else to do”, she said grinning.

Joyce wadded up a napkin and tossed it at her. “Brat!” She smiled weakly, the fatigue of the shift settling now that she was home. She leaned back to allow the plated meal to be set in front of her. Hunger kept her from picking-she dug in.

“Delicious”, she said closing her eyes, savoring. “I know you snuck some butter in.”

Megan turned to face her and leaned against the stove, dish towel over her shoulder. “That’s why it’s so good.”

The silence between them was natural. Joyce ate, Megan cleared the counter and washed the pan.

“So”, Joyce asked picking up an asparagus spear with her fingers. “What do I call you?”

“Come again?”

“Someone asked today about Tommy. And who watched him. You were his babysitter for a while-still are really. Then you were a friend. Now with all this…and the shopping, and the…everything. I’m not sure what to call you.”

“Not Personal Assistant.”

“No not that…something to do with the house…I don’t know…”

“You better not say ‘maid’!”

“No”, Joyce scoffed. “How about Gal Friday?”

“What the hell is that?”

“I forget how young you are…”

“Accomplice?”

“If we ever plan a caper.”

“How about ‘Squire’, said Megan with a cocky head tilt.

“Squire?”

“Sure. They lived to serve their knights. To do whatever they could do to ensure the knight was at the top of their game. Right?”

“I’m a knight then?”

“Absolutely!”

“Were there female knights?”

“You definitely didn’t watch Game of Thrones.”

Joyce shrugged. “Naw. I’m more of a King Arthur girl…”

She finished off the last bite of chicken. “Hello. I’m Doctor Joyce Maples. And this is Megan, my squire.” She grinned widely if groggily, “That has potential.”

 

Continued here Plague Life – Part V

Tangles

Standing there in front of the open garage I thought of Joe for some reason. He was in his seventies when I took over managing the bar for him and he was tied up with Sherry who was a good thirty years younger. I knew Sherry for having a kid with my buddy Bull a couple of years before he killed himself. It wasn’t his only kid, just his only with Sherry and they are all still knocking around town, fun house mirror images of him. Even the girls, which is a shame. Don’t know what happened to Sherry but back then I’d find Joe’s Viagra everywhere; in the register, on the bar, the desk in the office, the floor…He couldn’t see too well but was too vain for glasses. I’d sweep them up into a small bank envelope and leave them in a drawer. I wished I’d have kept them. We buried Joe two years ago when the second fall cast a shadow over his brain. At ninety-six he wouldn’t have survived any surgery which was fine as he was pissed to have outlived everyone. Holly, the tenant in 703, was talking to me but I really wasn’t focused. Since the library was closed for this shit she was out of work and couldn’t make rent which I’d inferred. It was fine. Ma had really liked her, so she had a pass, which she didn’t know about. She was a nervous type who I’d once described as looking like a dark little man with long sideburns. Which was unfair but today she was dressed like a pile of dirty clothes left behind at the laundromat. I’d seen her out and about though, when we could go out. I’d seen her on the outside of a few vodka and crans. She cleans up well and, me being me, I’d watched her walk away a time or two or lean over a bar. I knew what she was bringing to the table. She was saying something about unemployment, and she’d have some of the rent next month for this month then when she got her big check…and on and on. She was squinting or smiling, I couldn’t tell. But then I heard her say something about making it up to me. That she could do that. That was it. That’s what made me think of Joe. And his pills. I wished I’d have kept some of those. I bummed a cigarette off her. She tossed me the pack. “I didn’t know you smoked”, she said. “I don’t”, I told her.

Plague Life – Part III

Continued from Plague Life – Part II

The next day, just after noon, Megan was in the driveway of her parent’s home just down the street from Doctor Maples’ place. She had the base of an antique steamer trunk on a collapsible work bench and was sanding the wooden slats along the frame. The belt sander was loud and the dust was thick enough that she had to stop every few minutes to clear her classes and shake her mask.

She used her mom’s car that was still in the garage, but her dad’s truck was gone. When her parents drove to their place in Arizona two months ago, the plan had been to stay a couple of weeks. Now Megan wondered when she’d see them again. They were happily hunkered on their rented corner of an 800-acre ranch with nothing but nothing surrounding them. Her mother was riding again, and dad was hunting most days and the word “retirement” kept slipping into their conversations.

Megan changed the belt in the sander to a finer grit. She made sure she was busy and didn’t let her mind wander to Joyce and what had happened the night before. Not because she didn’t want to, not because a fantasy of Joyce Maple wasn’t slavering, chained dog at the edge of her subconscious ready to fill her head with all the details she could provide. But she wouldn’t.

Regardless of the fantasies she’d had since childhood about the doctor down the street, Joyce was a friend. Not only had she known her since she was a kid but she trusted her with Tommy. Picturing her naked based on a chance glance and goofy joke seemed a betrayal of some kind.

The blanketing silence of the street settled quickly without the sander’s whine. She shook her hand which was still buzzing a little. There were doves cooing in the pear tree and a distant lawn mower but the street was eerily quiet. Those out tending to their yards or Mr. Jensen, waxing his car again, seemed hushed as they went about their chores.  She was about to bend to the task again when she heard Tommy from down the street.  Six-year-old boys do not do hushed.  “Hey Megsy”, he called. She removed her fogging glasses. He was riding his bike toward her and waving.

“Hi Tommy!” she waved back, instinctively glancing up and down the street for cars. “Where’s your mom?” she asked then bit her tongue as if the innocent question would reveal something. Would she have asked that question that quickly yesterday? Two days ago?

Tommy had braked at the bottom of the drive. “She’s coming”, he said and pointed.

And there she was. Joyce had just stepped into sight from behind the mammoth rhododendron at the end of the block. She was wearing old jeans that were ripped at the knees more from use than fashion and a long-sleeved crewneck running shirt-a souvenir from some five K or other she’d run over the years. Her running shoes were a striking blue, a coincidental match with her sunglasses. Strolling more than walking she looked lankier than she was. Her mask was hanging at her throat, ready to be pulled up if anyone passed or wanted to exchange words from across the sidewalk or over the hedge.

The visions that Megan had tried to hold off crashed through the walls of her consciousness like the Kool-Aid man as she watched Joyce’s languid approach. She cut her eyes from her chest not wanting to go there. This is ridiculous, she thought.

“You’re comin’ to eat with us”, Tommy cried.

“Oh, am I, now?” Megan said smiling. She had pulled her mask down so he could see her face.

“This one talked me into pizza from Folino’s for dinner”, said Joyce, close enough now to join the conversation.

“And you’re gonna come!” Tommy yipped.

“Is that OK?” asked Joyce. “I know we said five but….”

“Naw-that’s good. What time?”

“Four?”

“Easily done.”

Joyce pulled her sunglasses down her nose and gave her a look. “You’ll have time to clean up, right?”

“Oh yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Good” said Joyce turning away with a slight tilt like a small plane leaning toward home. “See you then.”

Tommy was off up the street and out of earshot. “Hey Doc,” Megan called to her. “I enjoyed you walking away more last night.”

Joyce said nothing but, without missing a step, spun slowly and grinning with her tongue between teeth that had never looked so white, wagged both fingers like a kid playing quick draw, before turning away again with maybe, just maybe, a little switch in her hips.

“Sweet Jesus”, thought Megan.

Continuing here Plague Life – Part IV

Plague Life – Part II

Continued from Plague Life – Part I 

In the kitchen Megan could hear the water running in the shower. Her heart had settled, and she was breathing almost normally again. What the hell was that? She smiled widely as the pan heated and she pulled the bread from the freezer and um, cheddar, she decided, from the fridge. She dropped two slices into the toaster but waited to drop them. When the oil in the pan was just shy of shimmering, she poured in the egg whites and over filled a glass of Chablis.

In the shower Joyce was still shaking her head not quite believing what she’d just done but smiling at the thought of it. She’d apologize, of course. What the hell was she thinking? But that’s as far as she got before starting to giggle again. She was thorough under the hot stream but fast. She wanted to get out to the kitchen. She turned the water off.

Megan put the cheese on the eggs and folded the omelet, smacking her lips at the tartness of the wine. The bread went down and she pulled a robin’s egg blue Fiesta Ware plate from the cabinet knowing how good it would look with the white omelet. Would she have cared about the presentation of a midnight omelet an hour ago?

When she heard the door open to the mudroom Megan pulled her mask, which had been hanging around her neck, up over her mouth and nose. The kitchen was spacious and wide open, but they’d been cautious. Joyce came in, her short auburn hair damply cupping her face.  The towel she had covered with earlier was around her neck and she was wearing a clean set of green scrubs. Seeing without looking Megan could tell she wasn’t wearing a bra. Probably no underwear either but impossible to tell. Megan mentally slapped herself in the head for thinking about that, but it had been a weird evening.

“Yessss…” Joyce said, sipping an offered glass of wine as she sat. She also ooohed and ahhhed at the omelet but didn’t spend too much time admiring it. She didn’t realize how hungry she was until she began eating. She worked around the crisp edges of the eggs and wolfed down half a piece of buttered toast. “This is wonderful…Thank you.”

“Easily done…”

“…About earlier….”

“What?” said Megan innocently, using her eyes to compensate for the smile the mask was covering.

“I was tired…giddy, I guess…”

“Stop it…”

“No! Really. And I’m not a modest person…”

“Obviously…”

“I can’t be. Not now. That was my fourth shower today. We’re all the time in locker rooms, underwear, bare-assed changing clothes. I shouldn’t have…”

“Here. Can I do something?” Megan asked. Without really waiting for permission she slipped behind Joyce and put her hands on her shoulders.

“Wait…” Joyce protested.

Megan said nothing, just began kneading Joyce’s shoulders and neck.

“Don’t…”

“Oh Shush!” She continued to knead her shoulders ignoring Joyce’s words and instead following the lead of her head lolling from side to side. They’d been in close quarters for over a month-essentially quarantined together so while this could have been seen as risky, neither was immediately willing to stop.

“I warn you”, said Joyce, “I might cry. It wouldn’t be the first time today.”

“You also laughed, so it’s been a big day.” She left a hole in the conversation in case Joyce wanted to fill it. When she didn’t, “You should do whatever you want. This is your home-this is your safe place. You want to cry, cry. You want to laugh, laugh.”

“What about mooning the babysitter?”

“By all means”, she said giving her a firmer squeeze.

“Does feel good.”

“I audited a kinesiology class.”

“Really?”

“I didn’t finish. There was a guy, then there wasn’t. But I learned a little of this.”

“You have a gift.”

“You’re sweet. And beat. What are you doing tomorrow?”

Joyce wasn’t due at the hospital till six tomorrow evening, so she was planning a day of nothing. Vegging with Tommy. They talked softly as Joyce ate and Megan continued to work the knots out of her shoulders. She’d be over at five to help get her off and ease the separation that Tommy always felt. It was their routine but there might have been another layer to it now. Joyce felt it as did Megan. And neither regretted it.

Dinner over and the massage finished, Megan moved toward the door. “I’ll be working in the garage all day tomorrow. Refinishing a trunk that I found in a shop a couple months ago, before the world changed. I’m available. If you need me before five, just text.”

“I’ll be fine”, said Joyce. “See you tomorrow…”

“Yep”, then pausing with a smile behind the mask, “Thanks for the bum shot.”

“Get out of here.”

She left and Joyce sat, nursing the wine and rubbing her shoulder where Megan’s hands had just been. It felt like they were the first hands on her in months.

Continued here Plague Life – Part III

Georgie

Georgie was sitting behind the station drinking the cheapest quart that thin money could buy. His mask was flapping, hanging from a band over one ear and showed stains of paint overspray, tobacco, blood and probably snot if I got close enough to look. Betting he found it. He was leaning to the left, away from his bottle hand, because the bleached-to-pink red resin chair he was sitting on was dumpster salvage-tossed there with a broken leg. I tried to steer clear because Georgie was always good to bum a buck or two which was okay normally but not so right now. He saw me right enough, but all he wanted was an ear in passing. “They should drop an atom bomb on all of it”, he said, looking at me but not-as his eye tended to float and wander. “Wipe out all this sickness and disease at once.” “Georgie,” I said moving on, “That would take us out too.” “That’s what I mean”, he coughed. “Start again but get it right this time. Have god not make any animal that walks on two legs. Give us enough time, we’ll just fuck everything up!” I slowed, waiting to see if he was done. He didn’t seem sure.

Plague Life – Part I

She turned the music down as she rolled up on the house. Sometimes after a shift like she’d just had, she needed it loud to keep her awake. But not tonight. Tonight, she was angry enough, frustrated enough to stay awake and drive to the coast if necessary. The concept, the idea, the thought of “enough” had been with her most of the day. Not the job. Joyce Maple was the chief of critical care at Swansea Health, a 250-bed hospital that served most of the county.

The virus cases had stabilized here, and she was back to her normal three 12 hour shifts and two overnights. They had a full staff-all healthy-and were finally fully stocked with what they needed to fight this freaking plague.

What she didn’t need however was her fucking husband-she still wasn’t thinking of him as “ex”-texting her between patients making demands about child visitation and his car. Which she was paying for, by the way. It was true that trying times reveal the true character of people. Happily, those she was surrounded with at work and in her tiny society at home have proven strong and positive. That turd, not so much.

She pulled into the drive automatically staying on her side until she hit the button above the visor to open the wide door into the empty two car garage. There was no “his and her” side anymore. Four months ago, she’d have been coming home to a husband and six-year old son. It wasn’t the largest or, truth be told, happiest family but it was what it was. It was a port in a storm-a place to hide from the world, a place to just BE. Which is what she needed right now. Which is why she was crying in the linen closet at work earlier. The first time that had happened. She was just tired and…fucking enough already.

Now she was coming home to her son Tommy, who would be asleep, and Megan Crockett, his babysitter. A blessing that one. Tommy had known her since he was a baby and since her university was on hiatus, she was back at home in the neighborhood with nothing besides online classes and art projects to do. They kept the proper distances and protocols, the girl even had her own masks because she worked with spray paint, so at least Joyce had someone in her life she could count on for something.

At home they had honed a routine that worked for them so far. When the garage door closed, Joyce got out of the car, kicked off her sneakers, stepped around to the laundry area and stripped. Her scrubs, top then bottom, and tonight her bra and panties went into a pile on the floor. She swore that she spent more time dressing and undressing at work than she did in front of patients. She wore no jewelry, no watch, nothing else. She bent and picked up the bundle to put in the washer surprised to find it empty. Megan must have done them. Sweet. And she knew better than to touch them before they were washed, so that was fine.

But she was distracted and moving slowly, more thoughtfully than usual as she tried to get the day out of her head. By now she should have been wearing the old robe or have moved to the bathroom for a shower but instead was standing in her altogether thinking about laundry when the door from the mud room opened and she heard Megan say, “Hi Joyce! I did…” They both froze for a moment, Joyce leaning naked over the washer and Megan with her hand on the doorknob.

“Shit!” said Joyce reaching quickly to snatch a bath towel off the stack on her folding table. She hadn’t been facing the house door either way-it was a full side view was all. No biggie. A side boob tops. “I’m sorry Megan…You should have knocked…” Joyce, holding a towel over her breasts that fell to her knees took a deep breath and closed her eyes hard for a second to reset. She opened them with a wry smile. “I’m sorry Megan. It was my fault…”

“I shouldn’t have just barged in.” Megan said.

“It’s okay. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize”, Megan said. “You’re beautiful.”

“Hah!” Joyce barked lightly. “But, thank you.”

“No problem. If I looked like you, I’d never wear clothes.”

“Stop”, said Joyce still smiling but blushing, nonetheless.

“I separated some eggs”, said Megan. “Was going to make you an egg white omelet. Cheddar or Swiss?”

“Megs”, she said using the nickname she called her ten years earlier when she was one of the neighborhood kids, “Like I’ve told you, you don’t have to cook for me.”

“Doctor Maple”, Megan said seriously, “I’ve eaten your cooking. So yes, yes I do.” Joyce’s eyes widened at being teased. “The county is depending on me.”

“You brat! If I had a free hand, I’d throw something at you.”

“Cheddar or Swiss?”

“Surprise me. But it’s really not necessary.”

“Of course it’s not ‘necessary’. A lot of things aren’t necessary. But would you like it?”

“Sure I’d like it.”

“And I opened that Chablis that was in the fridge…”

“Ah, THAT is necessary.”

“Figured since you weren’t going in till late shift tomorrow.”

“You remembered that…” Joyce said.

“Of course. Your schedule is my schedule.”

That simple statement caught Joyce in a way that surprised her. Of course, her babysitter would know her schedule. Since the dick had moved out and all this shit hit the fan, Megan had been her only constant relationship outside of work besides Tommy. Which was fine-who had time for anything else at this point. Her job was to keep everyone in her orbit safe. She had enough to worry about.

“Helloooo? Earth calling Doctor Maple. Doctor Joyce Maple.”

“Sorry”, Joyce said. “I’m in a bit of a fog tonight.”

“No wonder. That’s fine. Are you out of wheat bread?”

“No. The last is hidden in the freezer behind the ice cream.”

“Oh”, said Megan keeping a teasing tone, “Secret hiding places now?”

Joyce smiled wanly and shrugged indicating the towel covering herself. “I guess I have no secrets from you anymore…”

“Oh, I think you do…” Joyce cocked an eyelid. “I’m a butt gal. At best, I got a hip shot.”

Joyce gasped then coughed as a deep laugh rolled through her chest. It was an infectious tumbling laugh that Megan had no choice but to join. “Butt Gal”, she laughed as her shoulders heaved. “A new super hero!”

“We’ll make T-Shirts!” Megan laughed.

They cackled together from across the garage until Joyce ran out of breath. She swiped the corner of the towel across her eyes.

“I can’t remember the last time I heard you laugh.”

“Yeah”, said Joyce breathing normally again. “It’s been a minute.”

“Sounds good.”

Again, the conversation wound down with neither seeming to be in a hurry to finish it until Megan finally spoke up, “Go. Take your shower. I’ll have the food ready when you are.”

“Don’t forget the wine.”

“I definitely won’t.”

Megan had turned and was on the way to leaving and closing the door behind her when Joyce called to her, “Hey Megs…”

When Megan turned, Joyce turned her back to her, her bare back uncovered from shoulders to ankles, and walked slowly into the bathroom, giggling like a girl.

Continued here Plague Life – Part II