~ the raven chronicles ~ 25

24 Mar

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

Dr. Sylvester Agnostica, MD.
Sterns-Carson Sanitarium
Green Pines, Ohio

November 20, 1932

By the time I had returned to my office, the effects of my ill-advised shoeless trek out into the frigid morning became painfully evident. I believe if Jenkins had not interrupted my adventure, I should have suffered frostbite in both my feet, and soon afterward, would no longer have had a need of shoes; the very thought of confinement to a wheel chair for the rest of my life loomed as an unspeakable horror.

While Mr. Jenkins stoked the fire, I sat in a chair near the hearth, put my feet up on a low ottoman, and slowly peeled off my frosty woolen socks.

Any sign of Evans this morning, I asked him.

No Sir, no sign, he replied.

After Jenkins had revived the fading embers into robust flames, he stood and faced me; Best not to waste any time with frostbite. I’ll find a nurse and send her straightaway to have a look.

As he turned to go, I asked about the disposition of Bobby Foster’s body.

It was quite a struggle, but we finally got him down. Appears his neck was broken before he was crammed up into those rafters.

Where is the body now, I asked.

In the attic, wrapped in a blanket.

Jenkins waited for my response, anticipating that I would have instructions for him regarding Foster’s remains, but I hadn’t thought beyond getting the corpse down from the ceiling. Souls like Foster who have no relatives are retrieved by the county and interred at potter’s field, but I remained adamant about not contacting the authorities until I had a complete understanding of the situation at Sterns-Carson.

Leave him in the attic for the time being, I said; It’s cold enough up there for him to lay awhile.

Aye, that it is, Doctor; I can attest to that.

Without further ado, Jenkins departed and closed the door behind him.

I thought it odd that Jenkins hadn’t even broached an inquiry as to why I had been outside the hospital in stocking feet in the frigid dawn. Perhaps my actions didn’t seem quite so odd to him, compared to all the other strange occurrences that had transpired lately at Sterns-Carson. If Jenkins had seen the woman in the snow — Eliza Drummond, or whoever, or more likely, whatever, she was – in all her naked glory, he’d be brimming with questions of his own.

As my body warmed, my feet began to tingle with pain, and a mounting fear that I had indeed been too long on the frigid ground vexed me.

Thinking back on the events, I could not honestly say exactly how long I stood outside in that hostile environment, it could very well have been a few hours as well as a few minutes. Once I had succumbed to the charms of my apparition, time ceased in relevance.

A soft knock heralded what I assumed to be the arrival of a nurse dispatched by Jenkins. I called for the visitor to enter; Mrs. Wallace came into the room with a basin of water and a small bundle of towels.

She walked wordlessly over to my chair, studied my feet for a moment, and then gave me a look of admonishment mixed with exasperation.

My Lady in White knelt in front of me before the fire, doused one of the small, white, linen towels and began to gently bathe my bare feet with tepid water.

The scene struck me as Biblical, and I watched fascinated by the pragmatic detachment with which a nurse carries out her vocation, even under the most intimate circumstances.

A bit longer out in that snow, Nurse Wallace said, and you’d have had real trouble.

Foolish of me, I said, but I heard a distress call outside my window, and rushed outside without thinking.

And what did you find, she asked.

I had to pause for a moment and consider the question and consider my response; discretion seemed to be my only recourse. It was just the wind, I said, just the wind.

A grown man ought not to run outside into the freezing cold in stocking feet to chase the wind, Mrs. Wallace replied.

She massaged my feet with renewed vigor and I was reduced to feeling like a wayward boy freshly scolded by his mother. The notion of that archetypal male-female relationship, took my train of thought to another station.

Did Zeke return during the night, I asked.

Nurse Wallace’s responsive body language spoke volumes before she opened her mouth. No, he did not, and I’m worried sick about it; You’ve seen what happens outside in this weather in just a short time and he’s been out there a night and a day.

Mrs. Wallace applied a thin layer of salve to my feet while I pondered what to say; If the child had been outside all the time of his missing, he would most likely have died of exposure already; a voice in my head responded — He’s not a child though, is he? He’s something else again. Some unholy creature, by his aspect.

Before speaking, I shut my thoughts and opinions about Zeke back inside the mental box where I had stuffed them after my encounter with him that day in the examination room where he’d taken liberties with my sanity.

I wouldn’t worry too much about that boy, I said; He survived in the wild before he ever graced our door.

He doesn’t belong out there with the animals, she said; He’s a child who needs more than an iron bed in an asylum. He needs a mother, and a family to care for him, a chance to be more than what he is now. And I intend to see that he gets that chance.

I was taken aback by her forceful statement; that Mrs. Wallace harbored some fancy regarding the boy’s destiny gave me concern.

He’s not a precious foundling, Mrs. Wallace, I said; The boy has a deformedness that will only worsen as he grows older; He will need ongoing medical care, and there could be worse places for him than here.

Without looking up, she replied, As a child of God, he deserves something better.

Nurse Wallace quickly finished her ministrations, gathered the basin and towels, stood and gave me a stern look. Keep your feet elevated; I’ll send breakfast, and come back in about an hour to check on you.

With that, she turned heel and left the room.

I laid my head back, listened to the crackling fire and gazed out the front window. An ethereal light that now rimmed the horizon, announced the full arrival of day.

I found myself wondering if Eliza Drummond still wandered in the snow, or if she’d found shelter. I concluded that the whole thing had to be a hallucination, and my considering otherwise was simply a reaction to all the chaos in the world around me, a believer in what only fools believe; credat Judaeus Apella.

Another knock sounded at the door; Sampson entered wheeling a serving cart loaded with breakfast foods and a tall carafe of coffee.

Hope you’re feeling better, Doctor, he said while positioning the tray above my lap; Got myself caught outside one winter day and my right foot ain’t never been the same.

His comment troubled me, but I didn’t let it show. Nurse Wallace assured me that I should be fine, I said.

That’s good to hear, he replied with a big smile; I tucked today’s paper on the tray there for you; Now you eat up and just call if you need anything else.

Touched by his genuine concern, I said, Thank you, Sampson.

The big cook nodded and smiled again and left the room.

I placed a napkin on my lap, poured some coffee, then retrieved the newspaper nestled behind the big white plate. I unfolded the morning edition of the Plain Dealer, gazed at the screaming headline, and felt like I’d never come in from the cold:

SINCLAIR BODY FOUND

My mind reeled as I read the bloody account; I was overwhelmed by a sense of dread, as if by some convoluted logic, I might be called to task for this savage act.

Then I wondered about Mrs. Sinclair, and if she somehow knew of the death of her husband; but of course she knew; she probably knew everything about it; in context of the events recounted in the newspaper, Eliza Drummond’s appearance at dawn cast her as a likely marauding accomplice.

I gathered my wits, read the story again, and strived to maintain an air of objectivity. It finally dawned on me that I had come to this story media in res; Mr. Sinclair had been reported disappeared yesterday morning, and I’d not seen yesterday’s paper.

I reached for the telephone on the nearby table, rang the hospital operator, and asked her to please locate a copy of yesterday’s Morning Edition.

It was not long before an orderly delivered the paper; rumpled like it had been plucked from a trashcan. I unfolded and smoothed the newsprint.

There on the front page, I got my first glimpse of Kendree Sinclair, casually strolling and enjoying a cigarette, accompanied by a statuesque beauty that was not Rhea Sinclair.

I then wondered what part Sinclair had played in his wife’s commitment to this institution. Up until this morning, I had assumed he had been removed from any Drummond family business. That may have been a mistake on my part; Mr. Sinclair may have very well been a key player in the whole affair, Eliza Drummond’s characterization of his relationship with her family notwithstanding. It just might suit both Jacob Drummond and Kendree Sinclair that the respective daughter and wife be shut away as a device to finally subdue her.

Once again, I became incensed that Mr. Cannon and Jacob Drummond had placed me in the center of their strife; my marriage has become a shambles; my hospital has become a fortress; my sanity has been pushed to the breaking point; all as a result of Rhea Sinclair being committed to this hospital.

I pondered my options and they were few; the one thing I could do, was to execute my duty as Administrator of Sterns-Carson Sanitarium; the duty that will no longer be waylaid by circumstance.

Mrs. Sinclair’s therapy, begins today.

©2012 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved

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