Valley of Shadows-Chapter Thirty-Eight

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Reverend Mother, Richard, and Rachel sat in the doctor’s office waiting room. Joshua was quiet and preoccupied, unable to focus on anything but the dread of receiving bad news about his mother. Rachel seemed completely unfazed, brightly chattering away as though she had not a care in the world. She kept their mother smiling and laughing, with her funny stories.

From time to time, Rachel would toss her head back and her laughter would ring out in the small waiting area. People around them cast appreciative glances in their direction smiling at Rachel, wanting to be in on the joke.

It had been that way all their lives; people always took an instant liking to Rachel. She was like a bright little bird with her shining eyes and lively personality. No matter how desperate her situation was, Rachel could always shake off her troubles and become the life of any group.

Joshua envied that about his sister. He was the exact opposite.  People read his self-conscious behavior and guardedness as coldness. Consequently, people were cautious and suspicious, until they warmed up to Joshua. Even then, he never made much of an impression on others. When Rachel was around, people were oblivious to his presence.

That usually frustrated him. This morning, he was grateful that no one was paying any attention to him. Joshua was worried about his mother and in no mood to entertain anyone. Doctors’ offices made him nervous. His overactive imagination always conjured up worst case scenarios. He was trying desperately not to think about the bad news they might receive about his mother.

In recent years, Reverend Mother had begun to show her age in little ways. The slight softening of her hawk-like features and almost imperceptible dulling if her razor-sharp mental faculties alway frightened Joshua. For as long as he could remember, it had always been him and his mother at home, while his siblings we’re out and about making their way in the world.

The three of them would visit from time to time and ask him how he could bear living his life in her dominating presence, shaking their heads incredulously. Joshua didn’t mind. Reverend Mother wasn’t always bossy and demanding. They had passed many a pleasant evening laughing and talking. She shared with him a wealth of knowledge, born of a lifetime of hard lessons learned.  Joshua was her trusted companion.  Being the pastor of a large church was sometimes isolating; people always came to you with their hands out. Very few people came offering anything.

She tended to her flock in the church and he tended to her. Many a parishioner shook  their heads over what they perceived as the waste of Joshua’s youth. He had certainly had his share of dates, but Revered Mother always managed to run off even the most determined suitress. Richard was always urging him to put his foot down and stop her. Joshua was content to allow everyone to believe that it was Reverend Mother’s fault that his relationships never lasted very long. The truth was that Joshua never had much in common with the women he encountered.  The older he got, the more obsessed with marriage and biological clocks the women his age became.  He hated that constant pressure.

By the time Reverend Mother ran them off, Joshua was bored with the relationship.  He found their controlling ways and constant campaigning for a marriage proposal annoying. It was a relief to regain his freedom. Joshua always assumed that he never had to worry about being alone. In the past, he had his mother and best friend as companions. Now, it looked as though he was going to lose them both.

Joshua pushed that troubling thought to the back of his mind, as the nurse stepped into the waiting room to usher Reverend Mother into an examination room. She stood and exacted from the nurse a promise that Joshua would be allowed to join her, once she changed into an examination gown. Rachel was instantly jealous and opened her mouth to protest. One glare from Reverend Mother and the argument was over before it could even begin.

True to her word, the nurse went back and got Joshua, who was only too happy to escape his sister’s griping over being left out. He was taken aback when the nurse instructed him to don a disposable gown and pair of gloves before entering the examination room. Joshua was alarmed to find that Reverend Mother appeared to have aged greatly in his brief absence. Away from Rachel, she didn’t feel the need to put up a front. Fear was etched into her features. Wordlessly, Joshua crossed the room and embraced his mother.

A few moments later, the examination room doorknob turned and in walked Doctor Mohammed, in his crisp white shirt, precisely knotted tie and sharply creased slacks partially obstructed from view by a yellow disposable gown.  Joshua had always liked the man. His appearance and professional mannerisms instantly inspired confidence. Joshua retreated to a corner of the room and allowed him to conduct his exam with gloved hands.

Without looking up, Doctor Mohammed explained that he was about to debride dead tissue from the wound on her abdomen, by removing the dry dressing covering it. The dead tissue would adhere to the dressing as he pulled it away. He could then evaluate the condition of the wound.  Doctor Mohammed deftly peeled back a corner of dressing. As he continued to pull on it, Joshua saw by her expression and sharp intake that it was causing her pain. He was distressed to hear her whimper as more of the dressing came away and with it tissue from the wound. 

The first unobstructed sight of his mother’s wound in the stark, bright light of the examination room was shocking. Joshua was glad that his mother was focused on the doctor and consequently unable to see the horrified look on his face, before he could compose himself. The sight of the raw, open, festering wound brought home to Joshua the seriousness of her condition. He had somehow convinced himself that she was exaggerating, as she sometimes did, for attention.

Reverend Mother’s eyes suddenly met his and he read in them, her conviction that what they were seeing was proof of her claim that Nicole had used the dark arts against her. Joshua shook his head. Her eyes flashed with anger. Joshua was beginning to worry that his mother was obsessing over that woman. If she really believed that Nicole had the power to impact her health, then she might stop trying to get better. Joshua resolved himself to consult the doctor privately.

A sudden commotion in the hall outside the examination room drew Joshua’s attention. One of the nurses was speaking in frantic tones.  He heard his sister’s voice cut across the woman’s and a moment later, she came barging into the examination room.  Joshua wasn’t surprised.  Being left behind in the waiting room hadn’t sat well with Rachel.  He was actually surprised that it had taken her that long to force her way in.  She came through the door talking.

“How long are you two planning on leaving me sitting out there?  I didn’t come all the way down here to sit out there and twiddle my thumbs.  I’m tired of being treated like a child.  What’s going on in here anyway?”

Rachel caught sight of Reverend Mother’s wound and the color drained from her face.  Joshua saw her knees begin to buckle and caught her before she fell.  He apologized to Dr. Mohammad and dragged Rachel from the room.  She revived almost instantly.

“I…I’m sorry Josh.  You can let go.  I’m fine now.  It’s just that I wasn’t expecting…I didn’t know it was that bad.”

“Neither did I.”

“I can’t believe that woman did that to her!”

“Oh, come on Rachel.  Not you too.  Mom has an infection.”

“Yeah, thanks to that…”

“Listen to me Rachel, you’ve got to get a hold of yourself.  Don’t talk like that around mom.  She’s already deluded enough without you validating her and making the delusions worse.”

“Stop talking like she’s crazy.  It’s not all in our heads.  I believe mama, when she says Nicole injected her with something.  Let us not forget that she stuck a needle in me too.”

“You don’t have an open wound Rachel.”

“I’m still in the beginning stages.”

“What are you talking about?”

Rachel showed him the blemish on her forehead.  Joshua laughed, “That’s just a zit.”

“No it’s not.  Look how big it is.  It hurts and it’s full of pus.”

“Okay, so you have cystic acne.  What does that have to do with Nicole drawing blood from you?  She didn’t stick the needle in your face.  You need to stop being such a drama queen Rachel.  You’re upsetting mom.  Stay out here and be quiet.”

Rachel stopped short of telling Joshua about her exchange with Nicole, remembering her orders to keep their conversation a secret.  Besides, Joshua was so cynical that it would do no good to tell him about it anyway.  He would either be dismissive or feel compelled to confront Nicole himself.  Either scenario didn’t bode well for Rachel.  Still, she felt the need to have someone to help her reason it out.

Rachel couldn’t seem to settle on the right course of action.  She wasn’t normally so indecisive, but she had come to treasure the growing closeness with her family.  The last thing Rachel wanted to do was betray them.  She had made up her mind to tell Nicole off and deal with the consequences, when she walked into that examination room and saw her mother’s open, festering wound.  An unbidden image of that wound on her face had sent her mind reeling.

Joshua decided not to disturb the doctor again by returning to the examination room, opting instead to wait outside.  Joshua paced, as he waited in the hallway for the doctor to emerge. Doctor Mohammed eventually came out, almost colliding with Joshua. The doctor had overbooked his appointments and was consequently preoccupied and in a hurry. Joshua apologized and requested a moment of his time. It was validating to see the doctor’s preoccupation quickly replaced with concern, when he heard about Reverend Mother’s unwavering belief that Nicole had used voodoo to launch some sort of magical attack against her and produce the festering wound on her stomach.

Joshua asked Doctor Mohammed for a medical opinion and was somewhat relieved to hear that his mother’s sudden superstitiousness was likely due to the spread of infection into her system from the bacteria from her wound. As her power of attorney, he had the option of having her hospitalized, if he felt she was a danger to herself or others. Joshua went out to the waiting room to consult with Rachel. She agreed so readily that he suspected that spite, more so than genuine concern was motivating her. What better way to get back at their mother for trusting him over her than for Joshua to have her sent back to the very hospital where she believed the problems with Nicole had begun?