Just to show you all I’m serious about this next book…Before I pack it away for a rest, I thought I’d release a little morsel of it. This is chapter 9, sort of a third of the way in, but it’s a good standalone chapter and really represents the tone of the whole book. The title is Wives of the Saints, and is about two long-time married couples, told in alternating chapters. Now to my writer-friends: Not looking for critiques, please, just wanted to share a bit of my writing. But if you like it, do let me know!
It had been a long day in the Memorial Hospital emergency room: Three fractured bones, an accidental poisoning, two car crashes, a stroke victim, a man with chest pains, another with vertigo, and finally, a bodega stabbing involving both the clerk and his customer. Miranda was exhausted, and stumbled to her bedroom, without even stopping in the kitchen for food or sustenance. She wanted only her bed, her side of it, with the big comfy Swedish foam mattress to ease her aching bones, the giant TV at the foot turned on to a soothingly dopey movie channel. It was eleven pm: Maybe she would just listen to the news and then fall asleep. But as she was stripping her flowered scrubs off—they felt almost welded to her skin, soaked with sweat–she was dismayed to see her husband, lying diagonally across the bed, grinning up at her.
“Helloooo gorgeous!” He crooned.
“Oh, God, no! Sal, not tonight! Of all nights!”
He was dressed only in a pair of red skimpy briefs, something she had bought him on a whim years ago. His generous belly hung over the waistband. But there was something odd about his face; in fact, it was as scarlet as his underpants..
“What’s wrong with your face? It’s all flushed! Are you sick?”
He jumped off the bed and stared at himself in the bedroom mirror. “What the hell…!” He clapped his hands to his face in horror. “I’m hot! Not in a good way! Jesus, what was in that shit?”
“This stuff I got, from Fulton’s drugstore—“
“Fulton gave you something to take?”
“No, no…He just weighed me and took my blood pressure, told me to see a doctor if I wanted…you know, the blue pills. Pain in the ass friend of mine! But I saw this stuff at the counter, and thought I’d try it. It’s herbal, and if they sell it at TriTowne it can’t be anything bad. Can it?”
“Oh for God’s sake, Sal! What the hell is wrong with you!” She grabbed the small, empty plastic bottle he handed her. “This is CRAP! Guys show up at the ER after taking this stuff! You don’t even know what’s in it!”
“I just wanted to try it!” Sal gave her an anguished look. An anguished, deep-scarlet look. “I didn’t think it could hurt. Am I gonna have a heart attack?”
“I hope not! How do you feel, otherwise? Except for the hot face?”
He rubbed his hand around his chest, as if trying to pluck out his heart. “Okay, I guess. A little jumpy, but…”
“Do you feel horny?” She grabbed the waistband of his underpants, pulled, then peered inside. “Not seeing much progress in there.” She let the elastic snap back.
He scowled. “I just feel really, really warm. And a little shaky.”
“Well, give it a few hours. It should wear off. I’m going to sleep. Don’t disturb me, or I swear, I’ll kill you.” She flopped onto her side of the bed, face-down.
“But what if I….what if it kicks in…you know, later?”
“Then wake me up,” she muttered into her pillow. “I’d like to see that.”
And several hours later, she was awakened. But not by Sal, who, amazingly, was sound asleep beside her atop the bedspread, snoring, still in his carmine underpants. She realized her cellphone was chirping on the night stand.
Work. She glanced at the clock: It was just after four am.
“Miranda? Sorry to bother you at home, but you need to get in here, stat.”
“Big emergency?” Miranda was already out of bed, pulling on her scrubs.
“Well, it could be,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “For you.”
“What–?” But the clerk had hung up. Miranda stared at the phone for a moment—was this a prank? Her fellow nurses wouldn’t be that cruel. But catastrophes did happen, even in their sleepy city. She finished dressing and hurried out of the house and into her car, heading right back to the hospital she had just left hours before.
She walked into the ER waiting room, feeling a bit confused. It was almost completely empty, a rather somnolent summer night. The admitting clerk was playing solitaire on her computer.
“What’s going on?!” Miranda demanded, holding out her arms in protest. “I thought there was some kind of crisis going on here?”
In response, the clerk pointed across the room, without taking her eyes off her computer screen. And now Miranda saw a man. At least she thought it was a man: He had long white hair grazing his shoulders, tussled and well-mussed, as if he had just come through a wind tunnel. He was wearing an odd outfit, all white, baggy trousers and a strange, white-cowled sort of top with long sleeves. He looked as if he had been in a pretty bad brawl: His face was bruised and he had a huge shiner under his left eye; his white outfit seemed to be streaked with both dirt and dried blood.
And under his arm, was a long, old-fashioned mountain dulcimer, that seemed to have a few strings missing.
He gazed up at her, his green eyes shining. “Murrr-anda!” he murmured, with a strange kind of joy. “I found you, at last!”
She stared into those green eyes. “Oh. God. Kenny? Is that you?” Her mouth dropped open.
“Why sure it’s me, honey child, can you imagine, after all these years? Come give Papa big ol’ hug—“ He rose to embrace her, but she backed away.
“Says he’s your husband,” the clerk offered. “They were thinking of putting him in Psych.”
Miranda turned to him. “You’re not my husband! Not anymore! How did you find me?”
“Well, I remembered you was from this little city in Connect-ti-cut. And this here’s the only hospital, and when I asked for Nurse Miranda…well, here you are!” He grinned, and even though he seemed to be missing a few of his bottom teeth, his smile retained a good deal of its old boyish charm.
Miranda blinked, still struggling to emerge from her initial shock. “I have a million questions to ask you, but…You seem to need some medical attention. Come on back with me, to the clinic.”
“Doesn’t have any insurance,” the clerk snapped, crisply.
“Just going to wash him up and put on a few bandaids,” Miranda snapped back, pushing her former husband through the waiting room doors.
Once inside, Kenny sat on a gurney, wincing as Miranda applied antiseptic cream to various little cuts about his face. “What the hell happened to you?” she asked, giving his blackened eye a good look.
“Well, I got beat up, is what. By a cruel and vicious man. By the name of Athanasius.”
“So you had a fight. Not surprised to hear that. Where at, some bar?”
“No, it was in the kitchen.”
“The monastery kitchen. Back in Pennsylvania. Oh, I didn’t tell you. I’m a monk now. Well, a novice. That’s why I don’t have the full robes yet. But I don’t know if it’s gonna work out now. This monastic business.”
She stared at him, incredulous.
“You know, I got this chigger bite on my back—Think you could look at it and make sure it’s not infected?” He took off his shirt, and she was startled to see he was quite fit, his shoulders still broad and the butt sitting on the gurney—still tight. There was no sign of any chigger bite on his back, but she found herself stroking a shoulder blade with her finger tips.
“Yeah, once I turned the big five-oh, I had what you’d call a religious experience. True that. I was working in western Pennsylvania for the highway system cleaning up road kill, and I saw God. In the eyes of this big dead stag I had to drag off I-78. And it was then I realized, I was done with this world. Done with women. Done with working my ass off and not being able to do my music. But I didn’t want to kill myself or die. So… I entered this monastery that was nearby.”
“What in the world ever made you think you’d be a good monk? You’re not even Catholic!”
“Oh I am. I converted, when I was with Rosalita from Santa Fe.”
“Was she the one you left me for?”
“Oh, no that was Sally Geraldine. That didn’t last very long, either. I truly loved you, Miranda. You were the best of the lot. But I wasn’t made to be a family type man. So I figured I was probably meant to be celibate. But that ain’t working so good, neither.” He winced, and glanced down at his crotch.
“Oh, God. The other monks must just love you.” Miranda muttered.
“Well, it’s not such a bad gig, really. It’s food, really good food, and lodging and honest work. And most of the other men, they’s okay. And I don’t mind the praying and singing every few hours, but the bells did get to me, after a while. But my real problem was that jerk Athanasius, who I had to work with in the kitchen. He was a real pain in the butt. He was the one that give me this black eye.”
“Let me get this straight. You were beaten up by another monk?”
“Yeah, that’s about the size of it.”
“What were you fighting over? A woman?”
“Well there ain’t no women at Mount Benedetto, Miranda.”
“Was it a man?”
“Hell, no. It was…You know, when you’re at a place like a monastery, where you’re supposed to be quiet most of the time, and secluded from society in general, the littlest things…Well, you’d be surprised what we fight over.”
“And you fought with this Athanasius about…?”
“Well, it’s gonna sound stupid but…it was because I gave a reading, at Compline, from Lives of the Saints, and he didn’t like the way I was pronouncing the name of Saint John Chrysostom…mum…um. I guess I kept adding an extra ‘-mum’ and the end, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. And don’t get me started on Saint Charles Borrom-m-m-meo. He said I was showing disrespect by not pronouncing it correctly, but I was trying to say it rightly! Well, maybe I was trying to rile him up a bit.So one thing led to another, and then he knocked me down, and I grabbed him, and we went right at it, there in the kitchen—“
Miranda sank into a nearby chair. “Oh, Kenny. When are you ever going to grow up?”
“Never, I suppose,” he said, with some contriteness.
“How did you get here?”
“Well, I just left the monastery. I grabbed the money I’d saved, ‘cause they do give us a little bit now and then, and just started walking. Didn’t know where I’d end up, just knew I had to go. I walked to town and took the bus to Pittsburgh, and then I had the idea to come East and try and find you. I remembered you, Miranda, all these years. I felt terrible for ditching you like I did. And I knew you’d be remarried and all, but I figured you’d take pity on me, and take me in a while, so I could get back on my feet…”
“Oh, Kenny,” Miranda murmured. “I can’t take you home. My husband would kill me!”
“I understand. It would be awkward. Well don’t tell him I’m your old husband, just say I’m this monk friend of yours that needs some shelter for a while.”
“He knows I don’t have any ‘monk friends’ ! ”
“He’s kind of a bastard, huh?”
“No! He’s—Put your shirt back on!—He’s a good man. A very good man. But he’s…jealous. And things are a little strained right now with us. And we already have our son’s girlfriend living with us—“
“Please sweet Miranda? Just for a night or so, just till I get my bearings? I just don’t know what I’m going to do next…”
Miranda buried her face in her hands. “Oh! I wish Grace were here! I wish she’d answer her phone…I can’t do this, I just can’t! I shouldn’t do this but…” She sighed, in defeat. “I suppose I can put you in my younger daughter’s room, since she’s moved to Nepal…” She rose. “But here’s the story: You’re just…an old friend, from my Cincinnati days—“
“Your monk friend!” he said, with a big grin.
“Do not, under any circumstance, tell my husband, Sal, that you were married to me! He’s Sicilian, and I swear, he’ll rip the balls right off of you.”
“Sounds a bit like Brother Athanasius.”
“I mean it, Kenny! Just keep quiet, and start looking for some other line of work, preferably out of state.”
“I gather you ain’t so happy to see me again,” he said, mournfully. “I’m sorry, Miranda.”
“Oh, don’t do the puppy eyes with me! I’m not the sweet young thang you seduced back in Cincinnati anymore. Some of us have grown up.”
“But you sure have aged well, missy. I do love that extra weight on you! Makes you even more of a woman. You’re fierce, sweetheart! Sure do envy that husband of yours.”
“Yeah, well, don’t provoke the beast, and everyone should be all right.”
She led him out of the hospital, and to her car, just as dawn was starting to break. And once home, snuck into the house with him, gingerly pushing him up the stairs and into Jennie’s rose-pink room, while Sal’s snores bounced off the hallway.
“Just stay in here and lay low for a while, before I introduce you to the family. But first I need a couple hours sleep. You too. Good night.”
“Well I’m sure all these stuffed animals will keep me company!” He chortled, and she shushed him.
At about ten in the morning, Miranda awoke groggily on her side of the bed, still dressed in her scrubs. Gradually, she recalled the events of the early morning, slowly filling with panic. Sal was up and about already, and she heard clinking noises from the kitchen below. Stealthily, she walked by Jennie’s door, and heard only silence. She tiptoed downstairs. She thought Sal had a summer staff meeting that morning, so she was stunned to see him sitting at the kitchen table—
Right next to Kenny, who was holding forth about his life in the monastery. He seemed to be retelling the tale of his beating over John Chrysostom-mum-mum. Tobias sat to his left, looking bewildered and a little fearful, while Mika leaned forward eagerly, vastly entertained by the whole spectacle. But Sal was simply sitting there, seeming in shock, his face almost as red as it had been the previous evening, but for a completely different reason. His eyes, dark and steely, focused on Miranda as she gingerly entered the kitchen.
“And since when,” he demanded, in a voice of tightly controlled fury, “do you have ‘monk friends’?!!!”