Doreen’s friend Kate called her a jerk who wore her bleeding heart right under the hospital volunteers’ badge. What did it matter, Doreen thought. First, she was helping others less fortunate, and second, it made her feel good to bring a smile to some patient’s face. The terminal cases and those ready to cash out were most in need of a caring soul.
Like a dog. The hospital she visited once a week for two hours had a dog. Dogs revived patients’ interest in life, if only for the duration of their visit. Doreen was prettier than a dog — at least as fetching as a Labrador with her long, silky hair. Kate called her a sexual provocateur. “You’re so tall that you’re intimidating, your breasts are too perfect, and you look like a walking baby-making machine.”
“Ha ha,” Doreen said. “There’s only one baby. I take care of her by myself as a single mother. Don’t get on my case.” Unconsciously, her hand massaged her stomach as though inviting sensation in her torso.
“I’m thinking you’re Florence Nightingale on some weird errand of mercy. Always taking care of others.”
* * *
Any doubt Doreen had about charity disappeared when she looked in on Devin McCarthy with a selection of magazines. Standing by his bedside in the private room, she asked the noncommittal question, “How’re you doing?” followed by a toothy smile.
The patient looked her up and down. “Not so good. Who’re you?”
“I’m a volunteer. My name’s Doreen Coburn. I just make the rounds to see if there’s anything I can do to help out. Anything to make time pass while patients recuperate from whatever. I’m blessed with good health, a home, family. The least I can do is pay it forward.”
“Well, I’m not doing so hot. It’s…well, it’s hard to talk about it.”
“What’s wrong?” She put her hand lightly on Devin’s arm to indicate empathy, the way she was trained.
“I collapsed at work. When I woke up the doctors had done their tests. Told me I have less than a week.”
“A week here?”
“A week to live. Or less. It’s cancer,” and he pointed to his head. “X rays show there’s nothing but scrambled eggs up there.”
“Where’s your wife? Your family?” His words made her revisit mortality, the death of her husband, the passings described each week by her minister. This was a handsome man in his prime, and to think that he was facing death.
He waved his hand. “My wife ran off with a co-worker. No children.” He laughed hollowly. “No lover. In fact, it’s been two years and I know I’ll never love again. Never know the feel of a woman’s kiss, her soft body, her benevolent spirit.”
Doreen’s empathy — the qualities she’d been coached on and her internal reservoir of caring — went into overdrive. It had been three years and six months since her husband, friend and lover had gone under the wheels of a drunk driver. If there was any good fortune, her lawyer had gotten her a quarter million dollars in damages, another reason Doreen could work part-time and volunteer a few hours. Pay it forward, she told herself. This was an opportunity to share.
“I could kiss you,” she offered tentatively. Immediately, Devin’s arm snaked around her neck and pulled her lips to his. The man smell and scratchy unshaven cheeks brought back a flood of recollections. She tried to replay the memory of what her husband had felt like. But her memories were cobwebby, just as her libido was dusty.
She pulled free, decisively, and whispered, “I’ll lock the door.” Visiting hours were over and most of the nurses were on break. If she could assuage this poor man’s final desire before passing, well, it would be her gift. Charitable, if not exactly Christian.
She dropped her skirt and shrugged her polo shirt over her head. “This is kind of an emergency, I think.” She brushed back her auburn hair and looked deeply into his brown eyes. “I need tenderness too. It’s been so long and my life’s so hectic since….”
For this too-short moment she was Earth Mother, giving succor to a needy man and realizing suddenly what the Good Samaritan felt on that lonely road. It was the rhythm of life, the force that drives people Heavenward. Just not the thing she could tell her pastor. He might forgive, but would never understand.
* * *
“It’s so sad,” she told Kate. “Devin’s a handsome man, young and vital, and by this time next week he’ll be dead. It makes me want to cry — and I’ve shed so many tears.”
The pair was in a motel bar on the highway and Kate had been working to console Doreen.
“Devin McCarthy?” Kate exclaimed. “I know Devin! He’s notorious! Tried to grope me at a cocktail party. His wife was sooo pissed when she found him in their neighbor’s bed she whacked him in the head with an ashtray. That’s why he’s in the hospital. Said she’d cut off his junk next time she caught him. Matter of fact, he’s sitting right over there.” She pointed to the bar and Doreen gasped.
The man was laughing and, when his comment ended, he punched his companion’s shoulder for emphasis. Doreen froze. She felt faint. A dead man walking and talking and drinking. Not a day earlier, Doreen had bathed and douched to remove the physical remains while retaining the spiritual epiphany.
Doreen excused herself to walk stiff-legged to the ladies room. In a stall, she took out her pad and pen. Tears dropped on her note and she had to begin again.
“Devin, I don’t care about your condition. I have needs and right now I need your body. Get a room here at the Bright Light Motel. I’ll be there in half an hour.” She signed it, “Your Angel of Mercy.”
Taking the long way back to the table where Kate was checking her cell phone, Doreen dropped the folded note in front of Devin and walked away.
“So you’re still trying to raise Lazarus from the dead?” Kate asked. “Good job, girl. Yessir, it’s a medical miracle.”
Doreen excused herself with a little smile. “One thing I forgot. I have to go, but we’ll have a long talk later.” She went to the lobby, checked the telephone directory and put in her call.
“Mrs. McCarthy, this is a friend. I don’t want to disturb you, but Devin’s in trouble. Girl trouble. He’s at the Bright Light Motel waiting for some bimbo.”
Then she went to her car. Soon, she watched Devin rush out of the bar and stride to the motel office. Ten minutes later, a minivan pulled up and a handsome woman got out. The lady went into the lobby, returning a moment later heading straight for Devin’s motel room.
A piercing scream suddenly penetrated the quiet afternoon. Kate sighed, “Oh, it’s so difficult being charitable to some people. Thanks for the memories, Devin.” Then she started the engine and drove home to her child. Perhaps she’d run into Devin at the hospital tomorrow minus some body parts. It was so hard for some people to accept charity in the spirit in which it’s given.
# # #
Bio: Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, spec fic to romance. His work has appeared in print and online in over a score of publication. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online booksellers. He's also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and a couple of Asian countries.