image Chapter Ten

The discovery of the first dead body happened when the second box was opened.

Taylor Wingate using a dolly moved the boxes to the furnace room. Since he was the only one likely to be able to kneel on the concrete slab and then get up again, he suggested and the Early Birds agreed in unison, that he should be the one to transfer the chicks from their boxes to the brooder.

Thelma Louise gasped when he lifted the lid of the second box. One of the tiny birds lay stone still in a corner. Taylor looked up at the foursome.

“It happens in shipping sometimes.” He quickened his movements with the 24 living residents of the box and then lifted the corpse out of the container. He held her up for all to see. Her neck lay at an odd angle, but there were no other marks on her. Taylor moved her head slightly to straighten it with the rest of her body.

“Broken neck?” Agnes remarked. Taylor nodded.

“That’s what it looks like to me. She probably got hung up somehow and broke it trying to get free.” The onlookers nodded. Thelma Louise pulled a tissue from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes.

“What do you want me to do with it?” Taylor asked. Agnes started to tell him to put it in a plastic bag and discard it, when Ruth spoke up.

“We should have a little funeral and bury the poor little thing out by the chicken coop. Reverend, would you say a few words at the burial?”

The Reverend Henry Porter cleared his throat. He had also envisioned a less formal disposal, but seeing Ruth and Thelma Louise’s faces, he matched their solemnity with a simple nod of acquiescence.

Taylor completed the transfer of chickens to the brooder under the watchful eyes of their owners. His knees complained a bit as he lifted himself to an upright position, dusted his hands and looked from one to the other.

“I will go get Frank to dig a little grave. You planning to do the burial after the animal blessing ceremony?”

“That would be fine, just fine.” The Reverend Henry Porter answered for all of them.

##

Mavis caught up with Amy Davidson in the hospice wing. Rounding the corner she saw Helen Marcum and Amy locked in a muted but heated discussion. Mavis shuddered. She had hoped to ease Amy into working with Helen, although easing anyone into working with Helen bordered on unlikely at best. No sense in worrying about it now. Better dive in and do damage control, Mavis decided.

“What seems to be the problem?” she asked as she approached the pair. Amy sighed deeply, inhaled, and prepared to speak when Helen swung on Mavis, face set tight, teeth clenched and proceeded to yell as loud as she could while maintaining a volume like a whisper though wetter. Spittle spewed forth with the words driving Mavis back a step or two.

“I will not have my patients disturbed in the name of therapy.” Helen who no one would call diplomatic did not even attempt to mask the disdain in her voice. Her eyes narrowed and she pointed toward Amy. “This young lady seems to think she can waltz right in here and set up a concert in. . .”

“Now that’s something I’d like to do—waltz.” Amy interrupted a tiny smile tugging at her mouth.

“Don’t pull that sympathy card on me, Miss Davidson!” Helen swung around, wagging her finger in Amy’s face. “You may not realize it but this is the hospice wing. These patients in here are dying. Don’t be expecting any pity from this part of Heritage Village.”

Mavis jumped in—no time like the present, she thought, “Ok, Helen. You’ve made your views clear. Now, hold it for a moment.” Mavis tried for an even but firm tone.

Helen drew back, crossed her arms and glared at her, but she did close her mouth. Observing Helen’s reaction Mavis experienced something akin to a rare moment of empowerment in the company of this woman who classified on some days as a mere pebble in her shoe and on other days as—God forgive me, Mavis thought—as the antichrist.

“Amy, you have patients to work with in the hospice unit?” The rise on the end of the statement indicated a question, but Mavis meant it as a statement.

“Yes, after reviewing some of the charts, I have found several who might benefit in a palliative way. Music eases pain and soothes the mind.” She broke off, unwilling to repeat what had already been said during her discussion with Helen.

She lifted two charts and handed them to Mavis, who accepted them looking down at the names. She winced a bit when she saw who Amy had selected and if Helen had not been looking down her nose and smirking, Mavis would have questioned the choices. Instead she thumbed through each chart. Milo Grant had been hanging by a thread for two weeks; his once tall lanky frame lay coiled in a tightening fetal position and although he was receiving IV fluids, he had not taken anything by mouth for days. He had no family other than a distant nephew. Mavis started to move to the next chart glancing up at Amy. She must have sensed Mavis’s eyes and heard her shift the charts, because she spoke.

“I chose Mr. Grant, because his case reminded me of my mother’s last days.” There wasn’t a hint of apology in Amy’s voice, as if picking a patient for therapy from personal experience was a natural even professional plan. Helen huffed but held her tongue. Mavis chose not to look at her, moving on to the next chart.

Lydia Brownfield had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. From what Mavis knew of Lydia, Amy might find her reception in that room caustic. The disease had weakened most of Lydia’s body and though her breath was shorter, her acid tongue had not faded except in volume, earning her the nickname, “Dragon Lady.”

Mavis closed the folders. Her expression disheartened. Helen scoffed, turned and walked away. Mavis heard her deriding some poor nurse down the hall. Amy sat expectantly on her scooter. Mavis sighed.

“Amy, do you really think these two will benefit? Miss Brownfield can be very difficult and Mr. Grant, well. .” She broke off as she felt Amy’s hand on her arm.

“I really do.” She said softly, “Gina, my helper, by the way thanks for her she’s great. Anyway, Gina read the charts to me. I would like to try.”

“Ok, but could you postpone until tomorrow? I’ll talk to Helen and clear the way, but I doubt she will be helpful. At least I may be able to get her out of your way. Today I really need your help at a little ceremony. Could we head back to my office?”Amy nodded so Mavis shared the concept of “Residents with Pets” even about the Early Birds with their seventy-five chickens as they traveled back through the corridors—Mavis walking and Amy driving—to the administrative wing. Amy giggled at the story and Mavis found herself laughing too—in spite of herself.

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