by John Edward Gill
Before he phoned California, Morris called Abe Zevnik in Manhattan. "Is it supper time?" he asked Zevnik's wife, who answered.
"We said you could call any time, Jack," she said. "I'll get Abe."
Morris tried not to think about Kimi in hospitals, or funeral homes.
"Jack, where are you?" Abe Zevnik's heavy voice came on.
"Sunflower State. Bible Belt."
"I won't keep you on long distance, then. There were positives on the LE cell and immunoglobulin tests. I'd like skin biopsies or a special immunoflurorescent exam."
"Systemic Lupus Erythematosus often mimics heart disease or rheumatic fever. But Kim had slight rashes, fatigue, low-grade fever, some swelling of her hands and feet."
"We can't predict which symptoms a patient will develop, Jack. About twenty-five to fifty percent of our people have major internal organs involved."
"Can she survive?"
"With treatment, yes. We'd have to keep testing, though. Steroids for now, since she has swelling."
"County might give felony warrants if Kimi's life is in danger."
"I can only give you a letter on what I know now. In three months, six months it might be different."
"Jack, I've treated Lupus for fifteen years. It's not just a skin disease. But the more I study it, the more I realize how complex it is. Doctors can mistake if for rheumatoid arthritis. Twenty years ago mothers who complained of fatigue, joint aches and chest pains were sent to psychiatrists. Others were told it was postpartum depression."
"The District Attorney wanted second opinions."
"But how can we change get them if we can't find her?" Morris wanted to throw his bottle against the wall, but didn't.
"Systemic Lupus is more common than muscular dystrophy and leukemia. There are about 200,000 Americans who have it, with approximately 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Some go into
remission with those drugs and lead normal lives."
"The National Center for Health Statistics attributes about seven hundred deaths a year to SLE. The American Lupus Society estimates it's more like five thousand annually."
"How much time does she have?"
"One year, Jack. At the most."
Morris looked at a pocket calendar from his wallet. "Next July."
"Yes. But she needs a physician's care immediately."
"Don't scare me, Abe."
"Look, I'll send copies of our tests to that assistant district attorney you told me about."
Morris paced his room again. "We can also get felony warrants if we prove Kimi's out of state. But how can we prove that if we don't know where she is?" He thought again about throwing his bottle against that wall.
"I understand, Jack. Evelyn took Kimi before we got all the tests back. God bless."
"Thought you didn't believe in Him, Abe."
"We will for you, Jack Morris. Only we call him 'Murray'."
Morris thanked him and hung up. He got himself ready to call California. He earned sixty-eight thousand dollars a year as a History professor at Peconic College on Long Island and hated acting. But since Evelyn took Kimi he'd learned tricks he didn't like, making up stories, pretending he was someone else, threatening people, spying on them, traveling under different names, wearing disguises. All he wanted was for her to grow up among friends and be healthy. Do well in school. Eat enough fruits and vegetables. Not have cavities. Respect herself and others. Enjoy life. Learn. Love.
But he couldn't think of love now. He had to pretend he was Ron Parker and mimic a Midwestern accent.
Taking deep breaths, he dialed Information in Berkeley. When he got the number of Picus Gifts, he called them and a woman answered.
"Hello," Morris began. "This is Ronald Parker calling from Kansas."
"Yes, Mister Parker."
"Hope I'm not bothering you."
"Not at all. Just closing up."
Morris wanted to flatter her. "You have a nice shop, we understand."
"Thank you. We've never gotten compliments from, where did you say ...?"
"Kansas, Ma'am. Upton, Kansas. You deserve to be complimented, but evidently the post office isn't." There was a pause and Morris hoped she didn't suspect anything. "My wife is upset. Her sister mailed a package from your store and it got broken."
"Oh, I'm sorry. We can't replace items, though."
"We just wanted to know the nearest post office. It's their fault, not yours."
"Off-hand, I don't know, Mister, Mister...."
"Parker. We don't want to call my wife's sister. Do you know if she insured it?"
"We just wrap packages. Did you say Kansas? Now I seem to recall a bud vase that a woman came in for."
"She's about five-three, dark hair. Has a little girl with orange hair."
There was another pause. Morris knew he was fishing and suddenly felt a tug from California. He didn't want to pull too hard for fear of losing his bait, and catch.
"Yes," the woman said. "I remember because she worried if it could be shipped. We wrapped it carefully. But she didn't live in Berkeley."
"Just got your package the other day."
"The woman who bought it lives in San Francisco. I know because we cautioned her not to mail anything from the East Bay. Too many hippies in post offices here. She lived in the Sunset District and said she would mail it from there."
"Thank you. I'll call San Francisco then."
"You've been very helpful." He paused. "Her daughter's quite the charmer, isn't she?"
"Blue eyes and orange hair make rare combinations, Mister Parker."
"We know. Thank you."
Morris hung up and walked his floor again. He'd miscounted the first time, or taken longer steps. It was fourteen paces from the front door to the bathroom. Must be slowing down, he thought.
But, at least, I might find Kimi.
Yet where's this Sunset District? And which name should I try? Parker? Cosgrove, her father? Not Morris. She'd be too smart to list phones under those names. Maybe he should try "Jefferson".
Morris walked around in circles and tried to think. He dialed Information in San Francisco. "Could I please have the number of Doctor Wainwright L. Jefferson?"
There was a pause. "It's unlisted, Sir."
"Lives in the Sunset District, I think."
"We can't give addresses, either."
Morris hung up and waited a few minutes, still pacing his little room and looking at its brown wooden walls and red curtains and those pictures of his daughter. Then he called Customer Service at Pacific Telephone and Telegraph.
It was a long shot, he knew. An operator answered.
"This is Wainwright Jefferson," Morris said. "We live in the Sunset."
"Yes, Mister Wainwright."
"'Jefferson', please." He wanted to sound confident.
"What can we do for you?"
"I'm calling from a neighbor's house. Our phone is out of order."
"What is the number?"
"What difference does it make? It doesn't work."
"We have to pass it on to our business office."
"But we need it fixed tonight."
"Our normal working hours are eight-thirty to four, Sir. Can we have someone there tomorrow? Will you be home in the morning?"
"Listen, I'm sorry. My wife is pregnant. She could give birth any day, any minute perhaps."
"You have an emergency, then."
"You could call it that, yes."
"Our crews are out now, but we'll get to it."
"Anytime this evening will do. Do you have our address?"
Morris held his breath and counted to ten. He wished the phone cord was long enough so he could walk outside. Maybe he'd count thirteen steps this time.
"Here it is," the Operator said.
Morris almost dropped the receiver. "Good."
"Wainwright L. Jefferson, 921 Lincoln Way," she said.
Morris took out a pen and notebook. "Yes. And thanks."
He hung up and dialed Information again. "I'd like Pacific Gas and Electric, please. Their Emergency Service." He trembled while the Operator told him to "Hold". She gave him their number, which he dialed quickly.
"P.G. and E., can we help you?"
"Yes, this is Mister Jefferson on Lincoln Way. Our power just went off."
"Do you have electric heat?"
"What the Hell would I need heat for in August?" Then he remembered San Francisco has the same foggy, chilly weather all year.
"We're trying to know if it's gas or electric, Sir."
"We don't have lights."
"Our business office opens tomorrow morning at...."
"Please. My wife is pregnant. We also have a two-year-old boy who's afraid of the dark."
"We'll try for tonight, then."
"Okay. But could you call first? We may have to go to the hospital and someone else will be here."
"We'll do our best and have someone there as soon as possible."
"Just call. Do you have our correct number? It's Wainwright L. Jefferson, 921 Lincoln Way."
"I'll look." There was another pause. "Yes. It's 473-8152."
Morris began writing again. "Fine," he said.
"We'll let you know."
Morris hung up and dialed the phone company again. He gave Jefferson's name and phone number. "I called a few minutes ago about our service."
"Was there a problem?"
"We thought there was," Morris said. "One of the wires was loose from the plug on the wall. Our cat played with the cord and I fixed it. You were going to send someone out."
"Tonight, on an emergency. But it won't be necessary. Please cancel the work order. That was for Jefferson, on Lincoln Way. 473-8152."
There was silence and he figured she was writing down his number. "All right, Sir. I'll notify our crews."
"Thank you. Have a good evening."
Morris then dialed the power company again. He said the lights just went on. A fuse had blown in the basement and they'd replaced it. Morris was polite and made sure no one would call or stop by 921 Lincoln Way.
Then he poured more kerosene on his gloves, put back trash in Parker's cans, flushed out his bathtub, loaded his car, and drove to Upton. He waited by the Vi-Queen motel as before and saw Harrison Street was empty. There were no lights in the Parker house and he switched garbage cans, trying to place Parker's in the same spot where he'd found them and not make any noise.
Morris took his time on the way home, driving a different route. He went to the end of Harrison Street and passed that Upton water plant. There was a small church halfway to Marquette, with a white steeple and large windows. Inside a choir sang "Faith Of Our Fathers" and he stopped by its opened doors, rolling down his car windows. People stood up and overhead lights were bright. There was a casket beneath the altar. Black bunting hung over the church's entrance. Everyone was still. A minister led them in prayer when the singing ended.
"We must remember those who have departed...."
Morris turned off his engine and bowed his head and thought about that crepe he'd thrown away and Kimi's pictures. He listened to crickets and smelled dry prairie grasses and felt quiet summer breezes and heard parishioners sit down as that minister continued.
"...yet never forget life is precious...."
He wished they would pray for his daughter.
But he didn't wait for that service to end and tried to think how long it would take to reach California.
Returning to the motel, he showered and put on fresh clothes, a new arm band, and packed his suitcases. Then he dialed area code 415 and 473-8152.
Evelyn answered on the first ring.
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Copyright © 2003 John Gill. All rights reserved.