I spent the next few days, and mostly sleepless nights, tense and jittery. Whenever the phone rang, my heart leapt up in my throat in the breathless expectation of it being Claudia bawling into the receiver that she had begun bleeding profusely. The call never came though and the more time passed, the more I began to relax and cheered up considerably with my patients at the clinic.
My medical practice could not have been more ho-hum; apart from delivering the occasional baby and giving inoculations, I mostly treated the common cold and flu, constipation and haemorrhoids, hay fever and allergies, indigestion and diarrhea, period pain, warts and athlete’s foot. For any serious illness, drug overdose or injury from accident, my patients were ferried off to the city for specialized treatment. The drudgery of my working days was occasionally brightened by a deep laceration to be sewn up or a broken bone to be set. A couple of weeks after Claudia’s amniocentesis, old Bob Darling came into my office, as nonchalant as a man strolling into a tavern, with a hatchet buried almost half an inch deep in the side of his head. I spent a mesmerizing couple of hours suturing up and bandaging the gaping wound, at one end of which I had been able to catch a glimpse of the blue-gray rind of Bob’s veiny cerebral cortex. All the while, Bob prattled away bitterly about how his “good-for-nothing-son”, Joel, could not throw a hatchet accurately enough to hit a barn door. I thought about my relationship with my own father, who had ironically died of pancreatic cancer several years earlier, and wondered if Joel was far more accurate with a hatchet than his father was prepared to give him credit for.
Despite the banality of my practice, I liked my life in Herring’s Jaw. For the most part I enjoyed the company of the townspeople and hosted a big annual summer barbecue at my house, located on the outskirts of town, perched on one of the many crooked fingers of land that jutted out into Ragged Lake. However, just as I was burying away my deep apprehension over Claudia, I became freshly unraveled by the loss of my wife of 25 years.
I had been working later into the evening at the clinic on a backlog of neglected paperwork and came home after sundown. As I drew to a slow stop in the driveway, the gravel crunching lightly under the wheels of my car, I noticed uneasily that all the lights in the house were out. My black lab, Ben, came bounding from the back door and barked agitatedly at me, his fur standing slightly on end.
“What’s the matter, boy?” I asked Ben, cupping the dog’s chin with one hand and patting his head with the other. “Where’s Leah?” Turning away, he whined once and loped back to the house. As I followed him, a slight breeze picked up off the lake and the leaves in the trees rustled as if being gently stroked by a great invisible hand. I shivered, a dark sense of foreboding swelling within me, and quickened my pace.
“Leah?!” I called, throwing open the back door. “Leah!” I shouted as I ran through the kitchen and the dining room, the furniture casting long, fuzzy shadows in the twilight. “Oh, no!” I gasped, coming to an abrupt halt in the living room. She was hanging from the ceiling fan, the long yellow and red silk scarf I had recently given to her on her 50th birthday wound tightly around her neck. Her long, dark hair cascaded down the side towards which her head was bent unnaturally, and contrasted sharply against her white night dress. I could tell immediately by the pallor of her skin that she had been dead for some time. Mercifully, her eyes were closed. Her suicide could hardly be described as a shock surprise. She had been sick for long before I had even met her. I think that is why I did not experience any initial numb disbelief. A wave of black grief immediately rose up and struck me down to my knees. Her bare feet were dangling about two feet above the floor and, taking them in my trembling hands, I began to sob inconsolably. My tears flowed freely down my cheeks and over her feet which I had pressed hard against my face. “Leah… Leah…” I cried as Ben whined and paced back and forth, his nails clicking loudly on the hardwood floor. Outside the large, bay window that opened up over the expanse of dark water, a loon wailed mournfully under the rising moon.
To be continued…
Part I is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/06/30/deep-freeze-part-i/