Adam had mixed emotions about the Sunday morning service at Our Lord and Savior’s Independent Christian Church. On the one hand, he had survived a congregational mutiny, though he was criticized for the unconventional tone of his sermons. On the other hand, he had probably lost several senior members who had been posing a threat to his ministry for a very long time. In this case both pro and con factors held both positive and negative potential for his career. This seemed true throughout his checkered life. He would simply adapt to the circumstances, as he had always done. This time he would introduce change into the old church slowly. He would avoid controversy and concentrate upon integrating the congregation once more into a dynamic body of believers.
Throughout the day he cloistered himself in his study to avoid running into his wife. Once and awhile he would interrupt his research to check on Cora but only furtively so as not bring on her ire. She had not forgiven him for her cold shower and for the imagined misery he had caused her all these years. He saw her watching television earlier this evening and then peeked into the master bedroom moments ago to find her asleep in her robe—he hoped throughout the night. After a long reflective afternoon, he had scrounged himself up a meal from the canned goods in the kitchen and spent the evening watching television, while dozing in his chair. While he leisurely showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, and then pulled on his pajamas, he looked forward to a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s ordeal. The Lord, he chose to believe, was back in his life. With his congregation intact and plans made to commit his wife to the Alcoholism Treatment Center at the county hospital, all was well. He and Cora were being given a second chance.
This time there was no gradual slide into slumber. He did not toss and turn until he fell asleep. When his head hit the pillow he fell almost instantly into deep slumber, with a clear conscience tonight and only fleeting abstractions for dreams.
The next thing he remembered, after ten hours of uninterrupted sleep, was looking over and trying to read the clock. He had experienced, for the first time in several months, a full night’s sleep. Through blurry eyes, he could make out an eight on the digital clock and what looked like a ten. Ten minutes had already elapsed since he had awakened. Reaching over groggily, he shook his wife, until he thought she was awake. Then, mustering all his strength, he rose from bed, bent down shakily, and dragged her to her feet.
With her arm draped limply around his neck and feet barely synchronized with her brain, she was lugged down the hall, sat on the commode, and brought rudely around.
“Cora… Cora…Wake up, Cora!” he demanded looking into her face.
“No-o-o, lemme shleep.” She yawned expansively. “I need shleep.”
“No, no more sleep, Cora.” He shook his head. “It’s time to get dressed, eat breakfast and go to the hospital.”
“No-o-o,” she groaned miserably, “I’m not going to the hoshpital!”
“Yes, you are!” He wrung his finger. “Don’t argue with me; it won’t do any good! You were sick last night. I thought you were going to croak. It’s true, Cora, you need to be hospitalized! We agreed to that. If you don’t go, you’ll die. Is that what you want, Cora, to die horribly bleeding from both ends?”
“Uh-uh,” she answered hesitantly, chewing her lower lip.
It was a gross exaggeration, but Adam wanted her to dry out. That would take hospitalization and a painful period of withdrawal. As he looked down at his wife, she appeared weak and vulnerable. She began whimpering softly to herself, and yet there were no tears in her eyes. Although he had the upper hand with Cora, he felt insecure. At such times in the past his wife had been unpredictable. Sudden outbursts might follow periods of quiet depression. Nasty insults would follow the kind of sniveling he saw now.
Through it all, as he got her ready, fed her, and made sure she had used the toilet, an afterglow of the prophetic dream he had Thursday mingled with memories of the past few days. He was half convinced that the Holy Ghost was present in his house and had also been there during Sunday’s service. How else could you explain that incredible breeze that blew through his study, kicking up in one magnificent display against those troublesome elders of the church? His other half, however, found a dark interpretation in the phenomena and the dream. One thing was certain, he realized with mixed emotions now: there had been a definite presence in his home. A pervasive cold breeze had run amuck also through the church, and yet in the prophetic dream he had Saturday night it had grown suddenly warm. In a nightmarish finale to an otherwise inspiring dream, he had been standing in front of a multitude delivering the greatest sermon of his career. The crowd was cheering, which, now that he thought about it, seemed strange for a sermon. Inexplicably, he recalled with a shudder, shadows had fallen over the scene, fading to black as on a stage. The warm breeze had carried the smell of brimstone, the traditional odor of hell.
What had that onslaught of darkness meant? He wondered, as he spruced up his wife. Had he really smelled brimstone upon awakening from that dream? Why, that same moment, had the breeze blown warm instead of cold? Was the odor of brimstone, as well as the breeze, mere figments of his imagination?… Or was the Lord reaching out to him finally after all these years?
The breeze and intangible ambience were missing this morning, but in his haste they might simply have been overlooked. Could there be, after all his lofty meditation, a mere random current blowing through the house? If so, how could one explain the sudden gale at the church? Had elder Todd Billingsley been correct when he blamed the air conditioner’s compressor for the inexplicable breeze? That excuse sounded absurd to him now. After experiencing physical manifestations and that prophetic dream, how could he accept these phenomena as mere coincidence or chance?
Once again in the presence of his wife, he was filled with doubts. While loading her into the car, he listened with irritation to her mutterings and longed for his ambience now. Even if it was a figment of his imagination or an abnormality of his mind, it comforted him and gave him hope. Already, as he backed out of the driveway, Cora was gradually, through eye contact and facial expressions, becoming her old, nasty self.
Throughout her alcoholic career, she had been consistently nasty at such times. That same devilish snarl, he saw now, would appear on her face, those same blue eyes would fill with fire, and her mouth would spew forth all manner of obscenities and insults. This time the demon waited inside her for just the right cue.
She was his darker half—all that had gone wrong in his life. After years of alcoholism, she had sunk progressively lower in his esteem, becoming worse with each passing year. And yet she had, he remembered with melancholy, once been a lover and paragon of devotion and wifely inspiration, until, at one point, during his ministry, a change began, and a shadow fell over her soul. For some reason, he was not sure why, she chose evil over righteousness and darkness over light. She became, after so much practice, opposite to him in every way—his antithesis: drinking, smoking, and mocking him with every breath.
For a moment, as he turned onto the freeway, he caught Cora’s aroma: Lilacs of the Field. Thanks to his resolve, his favorite perfume had replaced the odor of sweat. He had even tried unsuccessfully to brush Cora’s teeth. In green slacks, a white blouse, and red sweater and with her hair combed for once, after months in a bird’s nest mess, she looked almost normal slouched in the back seat and staring blankly into space.
Though her body was weak from lack of proper nourishment and fatigue and each moment she seemed to labor for air, there was animation in this wench and mischief twinkling in her eyes. Somewhere in that crumbling shell evil had taken root; he was sure of this now. It was there this hour, waiting to speak, waiting to act and smoldering in her gaze as two irregular points of light.
As he glanced at his wife, his doubts about this enterprise soared. Was he doing the right thing? He had been concerned about her well-being, but this activity could prove hazardous to his own health. Her silence was disturbing, and the expression on her face was difficult to read. For the first fifteen minutes of their trip, she just sat there staring into space, as if resigned to her fate. During the remainder of their journey, however, he noted Cora’s gradual collapse into slumber. Soon, the quiet was broken by the sound of her snoring—a snorting noise that normally grated at his nerves. This morning, however, he welcomed this sound as a signal that she would be docile for a while.
For several moments, he thought he detected a faint breeze in the car. Unfortunately, it blew erratically as any other draft would and there was no purpose in its thrust. Nevertheless a voice seemed to say in his head “Adam this is a bad idea. Go home!”
As they reached their destination, Cora began stirring, as if sensing what was afoot. The sound of her snoring had grown to an annoying pig-like snort. When the county hospital was directly ahead, she looked up in time to see its sign. At first, it didn’t register on her face; she just sat there with her eyes at half-mast until the information sank in. Despite her earlier compliance, her mouth dropped in amazement. As if suffering amnesia, she looked at him in disbelief as this information exploded in her mind. Adjusting the rearview mirror to avoid looking at her face, he mumbled an oft repeated prayer, “Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” It seemed she had forgotten their agreement about going to the hospital. When she saw the hospital sign, a signal had been sent to her brain. Perhaps she realized on this primal level what he had in mind: hospital = commitment and commitment = drying out.
At this inappropriate time, Adam felt a gust of air stirring his gray-flecked hair. He had begun doubting the significance of his special ambience, until his experience at church. That seemed irrefutable, proving the first breeze wasn’t a fluke. Now, as Satan wound invisibly around the automobile, it was just an annoying, capricious breeze.
Cora had begun shaking her head and stomping her foot, then began chanting, “I won’t go. You can’t make me,” a look of horror frozen on her face.
“You’ve been a fool long enough for this woman!” the devil whispered into his ear.
Adam felt Satan’s titillation but dismissed it as he had the draft in his car. What he could not dismiss so easily from his life was ‘the devil’s daughter’ sitting behind him now. It didn’t matter to him that she was barely conscious when she agreed to go to the hospital. Cora, he vowed silently to himself, is going to be committed this morning. Once and for all she’s going to be cured!
As he listened to her rant and rave, he looked sternly in his rearview mirror and tried once more to reason with his wife. “Stop this nonsense at once!” He wrung his finger at the mirror. “You’re suffering alcoholic dementia. If you don’t get help soon, you’re going to develop cirrhosis of the liver or cardiomyopathy of the heart. With a diseased liver or enlarged heart, your blood can’t circulate properly, causing damage to your lungs, kidneys, and brain!”
In order to make his case, Adam had done considerable research on the effects of alcohol on the human body. For a brief moment, his dire and inflated warnings seemed to stop Cora cold. As he turned into the parking lot, she stopped ranting, raving, and stomping her feet. As he searched for a parking space, however, and just when he thought he had made his point, she unlatched her safety belt, bent over the seat, and grabbed at the steering wheel, almost forcing him off the road. Falling back into her seat when the vehicle swerved, she rose up again, this time shouting obscenities into his ear. As if she was possessed, her eyes bulged out of their sockets, rolling around crazily in her head. Her face contorted in demonic rage, spittle gathering, as would a mad dog’s, at the corners of her mouth. Suddenly, with unbridled fury, her fists began hammering his head. With his right arm held up as a shield, he circled the parking lot until he found a space to park. By then Cora had bloodied his nose and unmercifully pounded the side of his face.
The thought of hitting a woman, even his wife, was difficult to accept. But he was in trouble now. There was only one course of action to take; he must defend himself or be beaten up by his wife. His only other option was to get out of the car and out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, she made retreat difficult for him by her unceasing attack.
“Hit this wench!” Satan’s unheard voice rang. “Knock her out! Dump her like trash on the side of the road! Abort this foolish plan!”
Cora, Adam believed, had forfeited her status as a wife—perhaps as a human being. He must disable her and, if necessary, knock her out. It almost seemed to the Tempter that it had finally broken through his last shred of faith. But it was difficult for Adam to defend himself in the position he was in. His wife had him cornered, and he couldn’t move. She kept him busy protecting his face, and he was unable to drop his arms. Before he could get out of the door, she had, in addition to bloodying his nose, fattened his lip, boxed his ears, and raked her fingernails across his neck. Satan looked impotently at this scene, smoldering with rage at the demented wife.
What was left of the Leeds’ marriage now seemed swept away, as Cora went berserk. It could never be the same for them, thought Satan, with these pictures in the reverend’s mind. Before this point, he had already felt hardened toward her. The wife had done her job almost too well. Love and then pity had changed to a grim sense of duty. This had been evident from the first. It had been Adam’s duty to save her, and it had been his duty to protect her from herself. But it was not his duty to be battered senseless by his own wife.
“Stop this Adam,” it cried. “Fight like a man!”
Against his very nature, Adam emerged from the automobile shaken but ready to do battle with his wife.
“Good, now defend yourself,” whispered Satan, wishing Adam could hear.
“You want a piece of me,” she taunted, doubling up her fists.
“I should’ve done this along time ago,” he said, switching into the proper stance, as she bobbed and weaved like a pugilist in an imaginary ring.
After a few lame swings, he found himself in a boxing match with his wife. A flurry of fists followed, with Cora on the attack. Unable to psyche himself up, he swung two or three times, missed, and began losing ground. It happened too quickly for him to control. Drunken debauchery was one thing and temper tantrums were quite another, but the scene unfolding now was more than he could bear. Satan understood immediately. Beaten senseless, unable, because of his scruples, to land a solid punch, Adam watched in horror as she riddled him with blows. A jab here, a poke there, was followed by a sudden uppercut to the jaw. Nothing in the past could have prepared him for what followed. For a moment, as he tried gathering his wits, she poked and pounded his stomach and arms as he protected his face and head. The Tempter removed itself completely for several moments, soaring high above the parking lot in a fitful rage.
Just when the outpouring seemed the greatest, fate—if not the Lord, Himself—stepped in to save him from destruction. A nurse and two hospital orderlies arriving to work and several visitors walking from the parking lot stopped to watch the attack. The orderlies, at the nurse’s request and to the applause of the visitors assembled close by, charged forward to stop this one-sided fight.
“Alright, that’s quite enough,” the nurse called out, as the orderlies grabbed his berserk wife. Looking around the hulks at Adam, she asked pointedly “Is this woman on drugs?”
“No,” Adam shook his head, “my wife is an alcoholic. I was going to have her committed today.”
“Don’t you be biting us missy,” warned the large, black orderly, “that’d make my partner Ulf real mad.”
“Nurse Hollis,” protested Ulf, “I don’t want rabies shot. Dis woman is foaming at mouth!”
Adam uttered a hysterical laugh. Satan hung quietly in the air, contemplating this chain of events. While the two orderlies restrained Cora, Adam stood there with the same blank expression, reflecting, in a detached manner, upon Cora’s substance abuse history, from her long period of alcoholism, until her most recent binge. According to several experts whose works he consulted, chronic alcoholics can develop a condition called alcoholic dementia or psychosis. Unless there are such things as demons, reflected Adam, Cora is at this state now. The first orderly, whose nametag identified him as Sonny, assisted his partner in bringing the woman gently to her knees and easing her onto her face to avoid being kicked in the groin and shins. This maneuver, which was standard procedure, was proving difficult given Cora’s superhuman strength. Marveling at its masterpiece, Satan zoomed down, ruffling, with a burst of air, Cora’s disheveled hair.
“Don’t overdo it daughter; I don’t want him suicidal. Ease off bitch!”
With the greatest of effort, Ulf, the blond giant, held on for dear life to Cora’s other arm, wincing with imaginary pain as he dodged her kicking feet. When Cora was incapacitated on the pavement, she wreathed, gyrated, and shuddered beneath the two men, gradually wearing down.
Adam watched, with little sympathy, as Cora’s body bucked once more and suddenly went limp. Half of him, Satan imagined, the devil-made-me-do-it side, wanted her to go into convulsions and die. His compassionate half, however, turned to the nurse and explained calmly, “My wife doesn’t have rabies, but, as you can plainly see, she’s quite sick.”
“Yes, so it appears,” observed the nurse. “Dear me, you’ve been injured.” She made a tsk tsk sound, while inspecting his wounds.
“I wouldn’t let no bitch work me over like that,” Sonny grumbled under his breath.
“I tink mebbe,” scoffed Ulf, “I would knock her out!”
As Ulf restrained her top half and Sonny immobilized her legs, Nurse Hollis stood ready to assist them in case Cora broke loose. The audience had grown by several onlookers. A young woman had called a friend on her iphone to explain the bizarre scene, but no one had thought, this close to a hospital, to call the police.
“She needs a tranquilizer shot,” the nurse concluded, looking down at the wife. “Sonny, Ulf,” she directed, taking Adam’s arm, “escort the woman to ER—stat! We’ll be right behind.”
“We need straight jacket Nurse Hollis,” Ulf grimaced, as Cora squirmed below them on the ground.
The nurse called ahead on her cell phone for a straight jacket and two more orderlies to lend them a hand. In only a few moments two large fellows, who looked like reformed drug addicts, themselves, arrived on the scene. One of them, whose name was Ike, carried an emergency kit and the other, Woody, dangled a straight jacket over his arm. Although it was legal to restrain persons in a psychotic state, Cora would have to be examined by a doctor before being given a tranquilizer shot. As Adam watched with interest, the jacket was quickly fastened to her torso by Woody and, as added precaution, a strap was wrapped around her ankles too. For good measure, in case she went into convulsions and swallowed her tongue, a special strap from Ike’s emergency kit, that reminded Adam of a horse bit, was placed in Cora’s mouth. Nurse Hollis also called ahead to request that a doctor be waiting for them, hopefully with a massive tranquilizer ready, when they arrived. Adam was impressed with their service and thanked his rescuers profusely as the orderlies carried his wife squirming, fuming but totally incapacitated across the lot. It appeared as if she might not only be admitted for alcoholism but could be committed for psychiatric reasons as well.
“Trussed up like a pig, she is!” Satan cackled with mirth, circling around the group.
Satan’s icy laughter was felt as bursts of cold air in Cora’s ear. Adam, though distracted, sensed its presence too. When they arrived at what he thought was the emergency psychiatric ward, Doctor Marwas Singhman, the on duty emergency room physician, immediately ordered her taken to a holding room and had Adam’s wound attended to by the nurse.
While strapped to a gurney, Cora was observed from a safe distance by Doctor Singhman, who, with a male nurse’s assistance, immediately administered a shot. There was no question in the doctor’s mind that she was in a psychotic state of mind. He couldn’t smell alcohol on her breath. Without testing her, he didn’t know whether or not she had taken drugs. Doctor Singhman jotted down his thoughts on his clipboard, adding in underlined letters ‘Need drug screen and toxicology tests.’
Almost at once, as the sedative was administered, the fury that Cora expressed was replaced by the groggy twilight world Adam had often seen. The doctor smiled thoughtfully as he introduced Jim, the large Samoan nurse, and himself. The two men then waited patiently, with arms folded, as she tried saying her name.
“I tink she say Co-ra,” Jim translated, craning his ear. “Dat last name sound like Lee, but I’m not sure.”
“This is indeed awkward,” the doctor commented as the woman’s eyes fell to half-mast. “I cannot get a blood sample without her permission, which must be obtained when she is sober, which the shot has just cancelled out.”
At his signal, the nurse sat the medicine tray down and poured the woman a cup of water from a pitcher on his cart.
“I am thinking this woman doesn’t want to be here,” Doctor Singhman whispered to Jim. “There are several witnesses to this fact, but that is academic now. If it was up to me, I’d run a whole bunch of tests.”
Jim nodded his wooly head. “Now, drink this ma’am,” he murmured gently, holding a Dixie cup up to her lips.
“It’s quite academic,” the doctor explained to Jim as she gulped down a second cup. “The woman, after all, didn’t give her consent. That nincompoop husband of hers parked in the ER parking lot, instead of pulling into the mental hospital next door.
Jim looked at her with concern, his gigantic frame belying a gentle natured giant. “She be real thirsty, doctor, probably dehydrated. Too bad you can’t run dem tests.”
The doctor shrugged, reminding Jim of the state law requiring written consent from drug addicts and alcoholics being admitted to the Substance Abuse Ward. Cora, in fact, drank several cups of water, and her skin had a jaundiced color, indicating ill health, but there was no way to know her physical condition or whether or not she had been under the influence of an illegal drug without an examination and tests.
In spite of the restrictions, the doctor gave her a brief examination, as Jim hovered nearby.
“What drug have you taken?” He asked, checking the pulse in her neck.
“You...give...me...drug,” her tongue lolled thickly in her mouth.
“I know, but that was a sedative,” he explained, flashing a pen light into her eyes. “What drugs did you take today?”
“None... Just... drug...you…gave… me,” her jaws moved in slow motion.
“Of course,” he sighed, placing his stethoscope on her chest, “the only way left to prove she took drugs is a drug screen and toxicology test.”
Her heart, like her pulse, he noted with satisfaction, was beating normally for a sedated patient. If the woman had taken drugs, they had been camouflaged by the tranquilizer administered to her just now.
“Thanks to that shot,” he glanced down anxiously, “it’s a wonder she remembers her name.”
“It be Co-ra Lee,” replied Jim.
“Judging by what I’ve heard from eyewitnesses, this Miss Lee was on something powerful like PCP or crack,” he remarked, flashing his light into her mouth.
“Mebbe dis woman really don’t take drugs,” the Samoan said thoughtfully, stroking her head. “Mebbe she just plain crazy. Insane folks don’t remember much.”
“Especially,” observed the doctor, “if they’re afraid of arrest. This woman made quite a fuss. I’ve seen those symptoms too many times before, Jim. She could, I grant you, be psychotic as the nurse suggests, but this drug I gave her was formulated for drug addicts, not psychos. And for Miss Lee, it worked almost too well.” “Look at this,” he whistled under her breath. “Take a peak inside.”
“Her gums have pyorrhea, her teeth be rotting and she got bad breath,” Jim made a face.
“Correct,” Doctor Singhman nodded with approval. “Now look at this,” he said, quickly removing her straight jacket and undoing her restraints, “You see Jim,… she’s like silly putty—harmless as a fly.” “Look what happens when I raise her arm up.” He experimented whimsically. “…. Unlike mental patients, who have been given Thorazine and whose arms remain uplifted like boards until forced down, it flops right down like a dead fish.” “And look when I drop one of her legs;” he whistled under his breath, “I get the same flaccid response.”
“Dat stuff work good doctor,” Jim’s eyes twinkled with amusement. “Ten minutes ago she act like she possessed!”
“It worked too good,” the doctor said wistfully, rubbing his jaw. “She went under too deeply. That sedative worked too fast. I wished a psychiatrist or specialist could have seen her before it took effect.”
The doctor wrote another note on his clipboard pad: ‘If she’s not on drugs, this woman should have been taken to the psychiatric ward! Why wasn’t this done in the proper way?’
“I must ask you Miss Lee, even though it’s irrelevant in your frame of mind,” he searched the woman’s face. “Did you want to be committed for substance abuse? Was this your husband’s idea? Or was it yours?”
“No-o-o-o-o-o!” She screamed hoarsely, a drool escaping her lip. “I wanna go home!”
The doctor heaved a sigh and mumbled into Jim’s ear, “Keep your eye on this woman while I chat with Mister Lee. I must break the bad news to him. I would like find out from her husband if she took drugs.”
As she lie strapped to the gurney, Jim remained on guard as he exited the room, clipboard in hand, a frown fixed on his dark brown face.
In the holding room, Satan appeared briefly as a ghostly filament to Cora, as Jim looked on. The nurse, who was on the in-house phone talking to a friend, did a double take as the specter hovered over the woman a moment and then, as an ocean-going medusa, began rotating around the room.
“Hector, hold on a moment,” he gasped, muffling the receiver of the phone.
Cora lie there blinking up at the ceiling, a vacant expression on her face. After seeing all manner of creeping and crawling things in her deliriums, she was unimpressed with this lackluster specter yet followed it momentarily with her eyes.
“You see dat, don’t you ma’am?” Jim said, reaching out as if to capture it in mid-air. “It looks like smoke wit eyes.” “You be hexed,” he added, making a sign. “My mama tell me about island spirits, but I don’t b’lieve dat stuff. Mebbe I been in ER too long. Mebbe I be seeing hallucinations myself!”
“Dee Tees,” Cora’s said breathlessly, trying to raise up.
“No,” he said, shaking his head, “dat no hallucination, missy. I be seeing the same ting as you. In horrified reverence, he exclaimed, “O ia o le aitu!” (She’s a witch!), as the specter circled the room.
Walking in no hurry down the well-polished hall, his attention splintered by a cacophony of ER’s ills, Doctor Singhman approached the husband with a jaundiced eye. It seemed to be an open-and-shut case to him, but his hands were tied by state laws and hospital rules. There was not much he could really do.
“I understand that your wife is an alcoholic but she is behaving as if she might be on crack or PCP,” his singsong accent grated immediately upon Adam’s nerves.
“She’s been an alcoholic for three years,” Adam frowned. “I was going to commit her to the Alcoholic Treatment Center here at the county hospital. She agreed—”
“What sort of drugs has Misses Lee taken in the past?” interrupted the doctor. “I must determine the facts.”
“Excuse me,” Adam winced as Nurse Hollis continued to dab the scratches on his face with medication, “not you ma’am.” “Doctor, my wife, whose name is Cora Leeds—not Lee, is an al-co-hol-ic,” he emphasized each syllable irritably. “That is the fact. The only drugs she has taken in the past are prescription drugs to help her sleep. She must be committed for alcoholism, not drugs.”
“She cannot be committed unless she gives her consent,” the doctor rejected this suggestion outright. “Now sir,” he continued brusquely, “what kind of prescription drug did she take. Do you know its name?”
“I don’t know what it’s called,” Adam looked at him in disbelief. “You’re not listening to me, doctor. My wife needs serious help. She needs to dry out and get clean. Her addiction is alcohol, not drugs, so it’s not important what drug she took. The only reason she took the pills awhile back was to help her sleep. She’s addicted to booze!”
Doctor Singhman hummed off-key to himself as he wrote into his log ‘Call family physician as soon as possible to find out woman’s condition.’ Humming under his breath or whistling off key meant he was losing his patience. Although Marwas seldom lost his temper, his closest colleagues and subordinates understood this as a signal to back off. By his eccentric actions, he struck Adam as a caricature, not a real doctor at all, when, in fact, he had Cora’s best interest at heart.
“The problem is Mister Leeds,” he looked up from his notes, tapping his finger in rhythm and whistling and humming under his breath, “she must be examined thoroughly, but in order to commit her we need her consent.”
“Her consent?” Objected Adam. “Her brains are scrambled. Why do you need her consent?”
“Since it was necessary to sedate her,” Doctor Singhman explained edgily, “that is a moot point. Nevertheless, I must make sure she’s all right before letting her go home.”
“You’re letting her go home? I don’t believe this!” Adam uttered a wounded cry. “You can’t tell she’s a raving lunatic? You saw her a moment ago. Your nurse and orderlies saw her foaming at the mouth. Ulf thought she had rabies, for Christ’s sake!”
“There’s not been a case of rabies in Los Angeles for many years,” Doctor Singhman replied dismissively, looking back at his notes. “You are not cooperating Mister Leeds,” his voice sounded condescending. “You must realize that your wife was in an agitated state when she arrived in ER. When she gives her written consent, we might have a psychiatrist give her a look-see. If she’s still acting strange—”
“Wait a minute! What did you say?” Adam clasped his forehead with despair. “You’re not a psychiatrist? This isn’t a mental hospital? I thought this was the emergency psychiatric ward. Why am I talking to you?”
“This is the emergency room, period,” the doctor appraised him incredulously. “I am an ER doctor, not a shrink. You were injured on our property, so you were brought here. The county psychiatric and substance abuse wings are also in this hospital, but your wife is merely in a holding room, where the police and authorities place suspects high on drugs. Though it makes no difference, you turned into the wrong parking lot.” “This is ER of the county hospital,” he repeated, as Adam grew apoplectic, “not the psychiatric wing.”
Adam was beside himself with anger. After watching the bespectacled Indian doctor look up nervously over his bifocals and then scribble something else on his pad, he flew into a tantrum. “You pompous, overbearing, medical bureaucratic! I want to commit my wife; I have that right. I know the law. I’ve seen it often enough on TV. Someone goes berserk—out of control—and his spouse or relatives commits him. I thought that’s how it worked. Now I have to wait for her consent?”
“That’s not the law,” said the nurse, applying the finishing touches to the dressings on his face, “that’s television. These are shallow scratches, so let the air get to them, but that scratch on your neck is deep. Keep the bandage on until a scab forms. The cuts on your knuckles are minor too.”
“Do you have an insurance card?” Asked the doctor, this time in a deadpan voice.
Adam was too upset to speak. His gray eyes smoldered with rage. Doctor Singhman had been ready to call hospital security until Adam sat down light-headedly in a nearby chair. Reaching into his back pocket, Adam pulled out his wallet and handed his card to an administrative assistant, who appeared suddenly in the room.
“Oh goodie,” she piped pertly, “this provider covers emergency. I’ll be back in a jiff!”
“Let met see that a moment,” demanded the doctor, clipping it to his board and quickly copying down information from the card.
Doctor Marwas Singhman exited the room directly behind the clerk, who scurried ahead to Hospital Admissions with the card held daintily in her hand. Nurse Hollis, whose first name, Penelope, Adam noted blankly, was inscribed on her nametag, smiled at him, a trace of compassion in her brown eyes, but she too exited without a word.
It seemed as though God had forsaken him. He couldn’t even muster up a prayer. Moving numbly out of the ER examination room into the hall, he stood there wondering what else might befall him today. Perhaps there might be an earthquake, he thought giddily, or maybe the building might catch on fire.
The first to return to the room was the administrative assistant with a clipboard and pen. The attractive little brunette, whose name tag identified her simply as Lisa - Hospital Admissions, had large blue eyes and a crinkly voice, but she reminded him too much of his wife. As she stood there waiting for him to sign insurance forms for Cora and himself, he could not help, even in his overwrought state of mind, to marvel at her remarkable resemblance to Cora, his fallen wife. When she handed him back his medical card, her lovely fingers brushed the knuckles of his hand. He listened with mounting irritation to her explain hospital policy about a patient’s consent if admitted by a spouse or relative, wondering what hidden costs might be entailed if Cora’s “holding costs” were tallied in. All these bastards care about is money; they don’t care about people, he thought petulantly, glancing at the form.
“You’re stamp tells me that this is all paid for,” he acknowledged begrudgingly, “but my insurance covers my wife’s alcoholism too. It’s a new government requirement. Why can’t I just commit the bitch and be done with it. Why do I need her consent?”
“It’s hospital rules. It’s also the law,” parroted Lisa, with a perfunctory smile.
At just that moment Doctor Singhman and Jim, the huge Samoan orderly, returned with a wheelchair, in which, to Adam’s grief, sat Cora, his wife. Though her hair was still mussed, she appeared to have been cleaned up. A placid look on her face belied the rage that had boiled inside her brain. Adam was so upset with this scene he almost broke down in tears. Cora actually smiled at him, which made him hate her that much more.
“What is the meaning of this?” He shouted at the top of his lungs. “That’s not the snarling thing strapped into a straight jacket moments ago. What did you do to her, doctor—give her more drugs?”
“Of course, she was psychotic,” Doctor Singhman frowned.
“Please keep your voice down,” the orderly cautioned, placing a monstrous finger on his lips.
Adam pushed angrily passed him to confront the doctor and his wife. “Doctor Marwas Singhman,” he admonished him bitterly, “shame on you for copping out. What kind of doctor are you? You examined her. She was demented. Her drinking’s pickled her brain. I want her cured, not sent back home!”
“But you wife has calmed down,” the doctor explained delicately at first, nudging the wheelchair forward gently with his palm. “More importantly,” he suppressed a smile, “she does not want to be committed. She wants to go home. What’s more I called doctor Bledsoe, the primary physician on your card and he said ‘she’s as healthy as a horse.’” “This is most peculiar,” he heaved a sigh, “but he agrees with you that she is addicted to alcohol and not drugs. I also talked to Nurse Hollis a moment ago. She tells me that your wife beat you up.”
“Go wan, Cora,” he called out with mirth, “apologize to your husband. You don’t want him to press charges and have you put in jail.”
“Sorry,” she murmured in a hoarse voice.
Adam was aghast at this turn of events. Doctor Singhman felt he had wasted enough time on this pair. He would record this episode in his medical diary as “one for the books.”
“Sorry?... She’s sorry?” Adam muttered in desolation. “After ruining my life, my career and peace of mind, everything’s just peachy now, because my drugged wife says she’s sorry!”
“Now-now, Cora,” the doctor chided with a chuckle, “you can certainly do better than that! I am thinking more on the lines of a hug and a kiss.”
At that point the doctor, who half-heartedly sought their reconciliation, broke into giggles at this charade. The nurses and the administrative clerk, to their credit, merely smiled.
“This isn’t happening,” Adam looked around with amazement at the group assembled in the room. “Doctor Singhman, who examined this raving lunatic, is sending her home. Why are you laughing doctor? This isn’t funny!” “I don’t believe you called Doctor Bledsoe,” he wrung his finger at him accusingly, “our doctor’s never in his office. A nurse or medical assistant answers his phone. Doesn’t anyone remember this woman entering ER? This is disgraceful. Cora needs help. You all saw how she behaved. Are you all deaf as well as blind?”
“I think she’s a witch!” The big Samoan pointed accusingly at his wife.
“We’re governed by hospital rules,” Lisa chimed.
“To tell you the truth, I thought she was insane,” Nurse Hollis declared with a shrug, “but Lisa’s right; it’s a hospital rule.”
“It’s also the law!” Lisa stepped forward dutifully again.
“Oh yeah—the rules and the law, that’s what Betty Boop says,” Adam eyed the administrative assistant and doctor with disdain. “Your orderly thinks she’s a witch, Ulf thought she had rabies, now Nurse Hollis thinks she’s insane, but you think she’s okay, right doc?” “Why? Because she’s drugged. I guess I should just let her stay high all the time!” He glared at the doctor. “You’re just going to play it by the book, aren’t you Doctor Singhman? You didn’t talk to Bledsoe; he knows she’s a drunk. What if she sticks a knife into me tonight while I’m sleeping? Are you going to commit her then?”
Satan’s essence fell suddenly over Adam, but the ER examining room was already frigid, and he had experienced this too many times before. Jim noticed the sudden drop, however. He would apologize to his aging mother for doubting her all these years. Doctor Singhman and Nurse Hollis exchanged dubious looks, themselves, as the administrative assistant backed away toward the door.
Adam shivered as the cold air fell over him, aware of the Tempter in the room. Something evil had anchored itself in his life. It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to believe it was God. Doctor Singhman had begun walking out of the room, a troubled expression on his face, but was stung by Adam’s latest insult.
“Working in a downtown ER has obviously hardened you, Adam was saying indignantly. “You laughed at my misfortune and mocked me in front of your cohorts and my wife. Perhaps all the drunks, drug addicts, criminals, and misfits entering through ER’s doors have shaken your Hippocratic oat…. But that doesn’t excuse your behavior Doctor Singhman. You’re still a doctor. This is still a hospital!”
Doctor Singhman’s jaws tightened. Satan, who thought he showed remarkable control, nevertheless taunted him with gusts of air as it listened to its protégé’s rage. Miss Hollis, its time to call security, the doctor signaled by holding an imaginary telephone to his ear. Obediently, but in slow motion, the nurse reached down into a pocket for her cell phone. She didn’t want to cause Adam anymore pain.
“If my wife gets worse and things turn out badly for us as I suspect they will, I’ll sue you for incompetence Doctor Singhman!” Adam vowed shrilly. “You can bank on that!”
“Nurse Hollis,” the doctor said from the corner of his mouth, “make that Goddamn call!”
“You must gather up your wife and leave immediately Mister Leeds,” Nurse Hollis declared, “or I’ll call Hospital Security.” “Please,” she made scooting motions with her hands, “this has been a trying time for all of us. Remember to change the dressing on your wounds and keep them clean. Who knows, maybe your wife will come in on her own. She has to want to be helped. She must give her consent.”
“Oh, I do appreciate your efforts at patching me and your unsolicited advise,” he gave Nurse Hollis a bitter smile, “but she won’t do that. She’s on a path of destruction, and she’s taking me with her.” “As for my wounds,” he pointed to his chest, motioning with the other hand to Cora’s head, “it’s broken in here and in there—inside her thick skull…. You can’t fix the human spirit with bandages and medicine, not when it’s already dead…. All I wanted was a little peace…. All I wanted was sanity in my life.”
His voice trailed off to sob, which he held back with the back of his hand. Jim, the Samoan nurse, after a signal from the doctor, and Lisa, the administrative assistant, after a nod from the nurse, quietly left the room. Like a rag doll, Cora collapsed as she sat in the wheelchair, her head wobbling comically on her neck as the tranquilizer’s effect worsened in her brain.
“In spite of everything I’ve had to put up,” he studied the doctor’s stony expression, “I’ve treated this woman with far more decency than she deserves, but all I get is sarcasm and mocking insincerity from you. You think I don’t want to wring her neck after what she did to me? I’m a minister of God, for Christ’s sake. I can’t do that!” “…. Come on bitch, let’s go home,” he then called back abruptly to his wife.
A young nurse’s aid appeared out of nowhere to begin pushing Cora’s wheelchair to the emergency entrance of the building. Doctor Singhman’s whistling and humming didn’t work this time. He was very upset about Adam’s attitude and his mentally unbalanced wife. The reverend kept his back to him as he departed, for tears had begun rolling down his cheeks. The doctor stood there, with folded arms, shaking his swarthy head. “Let me tell you something Mister Leeds,” he called out belatedly as the doors to the visitor’s lobby suddenly opened and Adam waited for the Cora’s wheelchair to catch up. “You cannot dump your problems off like unwanted trash. It is your fault that you take abuse from her, if she’s not right in the head. If my wife treated me like that I would punch her in the nose!”
“But Doctor Singhman,” Adam could hear Nurse Hollis’ voice fade in the distance, “you don’t have a wife. I think you underestimate that woman. Two of our best orderlies could barely contain her. She acted as if she was possessed!”
Before departing the waiting room, itself, Satan lowered the temperature further, so that the doctor and nurse noticed the change. Doctor Singhman, who was used to the air conditioner running full blast in the emergency room, had merely shuddered at first, fastening the last buttons on his coat. Nurse Hollis checked the thermostat on the wall. As Satan wound around them as a tiny weather front, however, they grew increasingly alarmed. This freak air current was more than mere air conditioning. Perhaps, the doctor told himself, he had caught one of the many viruses lurking in ER. He laughed nervously to himself as Nurse Hollis voiced her concerns.
“I don’t care what you write in your report,” she said to the doctor, “something’s not right about this. I just checked the thermostat on the hall, and it hasn’t changed from the sixty-five degrees normally set for ER. But this room is frigid now. There was something evil about that woman, doctor Singhman. No drug can hide it; I saw it in her eyes!”
“Did you hear that Cora?” Adam called back light-headedly as the nurses aid remained in the emergency zone with his wife, “It’s on the record and from the mouth of a nurse: you’re possessed. She saw it in your eyes. Maybe I should get us a priest!”
Cora laughed, without comprehension, at her husband’s joke. The nurse’s aid stood protectively behind the wheelchair, both hands clenched firmly around its grips. As she waited for transportation to arrive, she chatted patiently with her charge. Cora was slack-jawed, sleepy-eyed and had trouble holding up her head. This didn’t surprise the nurse’s aid, however, since she had assisted mentally handicapped patients many times before. When a drool escaped Cora’s lip, she removed a Kleenex from her pocket and wiped her mouth. In her Christian mind, Cora was to be pitied. Her mind was obviously defective or burned out on alcohol or drugs.
Adam, a liberal Protestant, who disapproved of conservative Roman Catholicism, laughed hysterically to himself, too. A priest performing an exorcism on my wife, he rolled the notion around in his thoughts. What a novel idea! Why didn’t I think of this before?
Disoriented by his emotions, he wandered around several moments before locating his car. He was half-weeping, half-cursing when he finally spotted his automobile in the lot. A hospital rule had forbidden him from committing his wife. Another hospital rule was forcing him to pick her up and take her home. As he pulled up to the pickup zone, the nurse’s aid stood there in back of Cora’s wheelchair, a bright eyed expression on her freckly face. As she brought the wheelchair up to the curb, he had the urge to tip her but remembered this was done only for valets.
The name on her nametag identified her as Nancy Jessup - Nurse’s Aid, but he knew she was much more. A silver cross around her neck and the tiny “Jesus Loves You” sticker below her name identified her as a Christian—the born again variety judging by the saying. Her hands were gentle and she had warm hazel eyes. The golden curls beneath her nurse’s cap made it seem as if a halo surrounded her head. In spite of her lilting voice and angelic smile, however, he was annoyed by her pious “Mother Teresa” airs. She was, as an instrument of the hospital, giving him back his wife. He watched, with irritation, as she opened the back door of the automobile and lovingly helped Cora to her feet. Then, as she helped his wife into the backseat, he yielded to temptation, shoving Cora rudely into his car. Nancy frowned but said nothing as Cora plopped down heavily onto the seat.
Without thanking or tipping the woman, he climbed into the front seat and began pulling away from the curb. Out of malicious pleasure now, he reached back with a free hand, before he was out of visual range, and thumped Cora’s head. The nurse’s aid stood in front of ER, as he drove away, a concerned look on her freckled face. He watched in his rearview mirror as the white-uniformed and golden-headed shape in front of the building raised her celestial hand in parting then disappeared as a mirage from his sight. The yearning inside him for the nurse’s aid was replaced by a longing for Nancy Jessup’s simple faith.
The doctor had done him a favor, he thought giddily. The powerful tranquilizer he gave Cora would make her behave. From a psychotic state, she had become, thanks to the ER doctor, docile again, almost catatonic, a familiar expression settling over her face. She would be in a twilight world for several hours. In this zombie-like trance, which differed little from drunken comportment, she slouched in the back seat, the complete opposite of what she had been this morning. In his rear view mirror, the transition seemed laughable: she was slack jawed now, her features frozen in complete lethargy, her vacant blue eyes staring fixedly into space. Once again a drool escaped her lower lip. He watched her long lashes droop to half-mast again. Soon, after slumping onto her side, she was displaying her favorite state of mind: unconsciousness.
“Perfect!” He flashed a crooked smile into the mirror.
As his wife slept, Adam drove quietly home. Only moments ago he had wept quietly to himself, but now he felt an inexplicable relief. He was glad to have the front seat to himself. Cora was manageable again, but he couldn’t stomach her presence. He didn’t have to see her leering at him in his rearview mirror as she had done this morning when they left the house. Now that she had collapsed in the backseat, he wouldn’t have to see her at all. But her Lilac of the Fields perfume, still strong in the car, belied the normal odors of cigarette smoke and booze, and her snoring was especially loud. Reaching back as he stopped at a light, he gave her another thump.
A power he dare not contemplate rode with him now. The mischievous air circulating in the car blew warmly as if in approval, but it went unnoticed by Adam this time. Rolling the window down several centimeters, he welcomed fresh air into the car. He was reminded now of the earlier ambience and the excitement he felt. It had been odorless and, for most of the time, cold as the morning air. Now, as the noon hour approached, the air blowing into the car was warm, but it carried gas fumes and traces of smog. He remembered that special point when the temperature in his study had mysteriously risen. Unlike his breeze, which had also gone from cold to warm, this air moved aimlessly through his car, as airstreams do. Sensing his mood, Satan toyed with the idea of giving him a real display, but instead gradually lowered the temperature in the car, until Adam was aware once again of the change.
“Lord,” he began praying “if that was you before, send me a sign I understand: a sight or sound in broad daylight, not this ominous wind, to light the darkness in my soul.”
As Adam prayed, God remained silent. But Satan was gaining a foothold in his soul. The faint ambience he felt yesterday was swallowed up in the air gushing into his car. He had almost sensed it this morning, but he had been too distracted by his wife. In the frigid atmosphere of ER he had felt abandoned even by God. On the long way home, he tried shaking the terrible images from the hospital and doubt in his mind by filling his head with prayer. He prayed for patience and for guidance in his life. He also prayed for deliverance from his wife. He wasn’t sure how this would be achieved. He just wanted to be delivered soon. He would better off, he thought glancing into his mirror, if Cora remained unconscious and never awakened.
He was aware again, without comprehending fully, of its presence in his car. Once more, to contrast the ambient temperature outside his car, it grew frigid. It became, he concluded, far too cold to be God. To cancel out this evil omen, he turned on the heater full blast, aiming the vents at himself. The hot air blowing into his automobile cancelled out the effect, except for a small gust of air blowing around his ear. It was the Tempter. For the first time since he felt its physical presence, he could not shake with logic or prayer this possibility…. The devil was afoot!
From a shadowy room in which his drunken wife had crawled last week to the hospital parking lot in which she had gone berserk today, he had suffered mental and now physical abuse. Measured along with the years in which he had watched her decline, the cuts and bruises he received today were merely the climax of a problem beginning a long time ago. Far worse than the past, moreover, were the worsening years ahead: the unknown horrors of a demented alcoholic wife and the uncertain future it would bring. Somewhere in that future he must find a niche; whether or not Cora would be in it was the question now. She had her chance. She had a million chances. Now it was too late; she was beyond reach.
With Satan’s presence, Adam’s mood shifted from light to dark. A bitterness welled up in him now so deep and pervasive it eclipsed God. Cora, he concluded finally must be destroyed! It was like a thunderclap in his thoughts. Although he had felt this desire before, he had never defined it so clearly in his mind. For the first time in his ministry, he was at odds with God. This realization frightened him much more than his wife. He had let his ordeal with Cora push him close and closer to the edge. As he entered the freeway, his lips trembled with prayer, this time mixing scripture with his own tormented thoughts: “Lord, give me back the faith I had. Send me a sign, anything but this cold wind. Let me know that you’re here!” The prayer, which was really a demand for proof, became a mantra as his thoughts remained centered upon himself instead of God.
The traffic grew increasingly heavy during their journey home. Adam grew anxious to get Cora safely home as quickly as possible, so he could dump her into the master bedroom without incident and retire to his study to prepare for the meeting at Dwight Higgins home tomorrow evening. He had been able to stew quietly in his own troubled thoughts without interruption as she slept, but now she had begun mumbling in her sleep and her snoring had grown intolerably loud. Occasionally, upon hearing her pig-like snore, he wished she would choke to death in her sleep. The years of heavy smoking, as had the years of heavy drinking, he chose to believe, had taken its toll. He couldn’t believe Doctor Bledsoe’s report to Doctor Singhman that “she was as healthy as a horse.” What justice was there be in that? By the time they reached home, he could hear those characteristic sounds. As she inhaled, a wheeze sounded in her lungs. As she exhaled, a gurgle followed up her throat. Hacking occasionally but remaining asleep, she broke up the phlegm gathered in her lungs. She stirred momentarily as a paroxysm tore from her chest, yet remained in torpor, crumpled on the seat. Once again Adam’s jaded interpretation clouded the fact that his wife was actually congested with the flu.
For a moment, as she lie there on the back seat of the car, his great loathing subsided, but only for a moment. She was, at the unconscious stage, a harmless, pitiful wretch. After dragging her rudely from the car, however, the urge to harm her in some way as quickly returned. He had suffered much for this woman. He had prayed for her and cursed her but he had never raised his hand to her as he could have done, and as she had done to him today. The temptation gnawed at him now though: just one poke in the nose, as Doctor Singhman suggested…. Or perhaps, as Ulf, the big Swede, boasted, knock her out. If nothing else, there was sympathy out there for his plight.
“What would it feel like?” He wondered aloud. “Just one slap in the mouth… or kick in the head.” “Maybe she would shut up… forever,” he thrilled. “…. Beast! Scarlet Woman!” He snarled under his breath. “Stinking, worthless, drunken sot!”
Picking her up rudely by her lapels, her turned her around, took hold of her collar and gripped the seat of her pants. Aiming her at the porch, he heard her curse and spit like a cat then relapse into a torpor, crumpling on the steps as his energy momentarily gave out. The remainder of his strength was spent quickly as he literally dragged her by her collar through the house. She began to thrash and kick her legs, as her bent down to pull her by her arms. She was half awake as they reached the bed, probably with a rug burn on her rear. When he hefted her up by her armpits and flopped her down on her face, however, she fell quickly asleep.
As he stood over Cora, he was tempted to let her suffocate as she lie flat on her face. For a moment, after rolling her onto her back, he fought the urge to work her over soundly, until her mouth fell open, her wheeze returned and a snore rumbled deep in her throat. With both fists clenched, he backed away from the bed.
“Get thee behind me Satan!” He quoted Christ’s famous rebuke. There was, as he quoted scripture, murder in his eyes. The Tempter laughed softly at this charade.
Swept with revulsion then but also ashamed, the reverend retreated to his study and shut the door. Hate emptied his spirit. Darkness filled the void. As if on cue now, Satan wound surreptitiously around his desk. Adam’s gray eyes smoldered with hatred. The sudden drop in temperature coincided with his darkening mood. Quietly, yet pervasively, the draftsman of deceit and architect of evil watched its protégé with confidence now. Not yet able to control his thoughts, it had relied upon ambience to nudge the reverend. Already it had total control of his wife. Fortunately for Satan, Adam occasionally mumbled his thoughts aloud, in an effort to sort things out.
“Is it true?” He heard him ask. “Do I hate my wife? Do I want her dead?…. What kind of minister am I to be thinking such thoughts?”
These questions seemed reasonable to Satan, as they poured from Adam’s lips. “Do you hate her?” It spoke rhetorically. “Of course you hate her! Do you want her dead? Of course you want her dead! And yes you are a man of God who should not be filled with hateful things. But you are also human, are you not—a man of flesh and blood who is at the end of his wits? Could even God blame you for your thoughts now?…. How much is a man of flesh and blood supposed to take from such a wench before he breaks?”
Watching his every move and expression now, Satan could see conviction in Adam’s eyes. Looking through his window and beyond, the reverend decided, without a doubt, that he could take no more. Something divine or something disastrous would happen to Cora if she didn’t change. It was up to God!