Sunday, June 7, 2020

If the Face is Pale, Raise the Tail


Excerpt from INAPPROPRIATE
by Sherry Morris

I kicked off my sneakers and sat Indian style on the sofa. Andy shook a thin white synthetic blanket out and tossed it on me. I sat there like a ghost. He clattered plates, cleaning up the hors d’oeuvres remnants and then said, “Hey you.”

“Hey what?”

“If you need something, Big Marc will be walking the train every half hour. I’m going to bed.”

“Night-night!” I waved under the blanket.

The room became darker. He must’ve switched the lights off. The train seemed to pick up speed as it jarred from side to side more rapidly. I could see flashes of light every now and then through the thin blanket. It smelled pretty good. Like fabric softener. I checked Tinker Bell but I couldn’t see her. I shook the pixie dust anyhow. I decided it was close to midnight.

So the dead sailor was allegedly murdered. Poor guy. Or did he have it coming to him? Did the murderer do it in self-defense? Was it a woman? Or another guy?

His poor grieving sister, Mini Mary Agnes. I should have been nicer to her. But she was kooky and judgmental. Wanting to save my heathen soul. How dare her. My soul was not heathen.

I was a good girl. More or less. More than less.

I attended church for weddings and funerals and Christmas Eve and Palm Sunday. I loved passing the light through the congregation from candle to candle and I had fun with the palm fronds.

I did not lie or…well, except for fibbing a little bit to Mom sometimes but you know, that’s allowed.

I did not cheat. I did not steal. I did not drink…technically. Those blue Jell-O shooters during the hurricane didn’t count. I did not drink them. I slurped and chewed them, pretty much.

I had never smoked. Well those few times behind the skating rink with Dina and Al Dente didn’t count. I couldn’t figure out how to inhale anyhow.

And I did not fornicate. I had never done so, thanks to Lieutenant Hottie and darned old Hurricane Alfredo.

Just great. I was wide awake now with my meaningless life flashing before my eyes. All on account of the holier than thou little person who commandeered my room. My nice soft bunk. My tooth brush. My polka dot pajamas. My cuddly little stuffed wolf I always slept with.

I yanked the blanket off of me and tossed it on top of the center of the sofa.

I plodded over to the credenza to make a cup of tea in the dark. Not a good idea. I stubbed my toe. I jumped around holding it and repeating “Oww! Oww! Oww! That hurts!”

When the pain subsided, I fumbled on the wall until the lights came on. “Cookies!” Andy had set out cookies. And fruit. Oranges, apples and bananas. “I love you, Andy.” I stuffed a hard mass-produced sugar cookie in my mouth and dispensed hot water into a foam cup. I dunked in a tea bag, threw the wrapper out and grabbed a handful of cookies.

I sat at the nearest table and arranged the five cookies neatly on a large floral cloth napkin. Two chocolate chip cookies, two sugar cookies and I bit the odd one. Oatmeal, yum.

The door squealed opened and in stumbled Big Marc. He was a member of the National Railway Historic Society. And a Pearl Harbor survivor. Nearly seven feet tall and close to four hundred pounds, he was dressed in a navy blue conductor’s uniform like Andy’s. Big Marc’s liver-spotted hand grasped onto the credenza as he bent close to survey.

Using the rag he pulled from his rear pocket, he wiped crumbs into his hand and then shook them into the trash can in the cabinet below.

“Hi,” I said.

He whirled around. “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Sandra Faire. Andy’s sister.”

“Oh, hi-dee-ho there, Miss Faire. What are you doing up so late making messes?”

I frowned and tried to hide the four remaining cookies with my arm. “I was kicked out of my room so I have to sleep in here tonight.”

“Why?”

What could I say? Big Marc wasn’t a cop. I couldn’t very well divulge any details because who knows why and, oh my goodness, the dog tags I found must be the dead guy’s so, oh my gosh, maybe the killer is on the train! Why didn’t I think of that before?

My head was spinning.

“You look pale.” He adjusted his Coke-bottle thick cataract eyeglasses and doddered closer, peering into my face.

I tried to sit up straighter to make some personal bubble space. He smelled like root beer.

“Why were you kicked out of your room? Did you mess it?”

“No. I did not mess it. Reverend Donaldson is ministering to my roommate.”

“Oh, yeah. They’ll probably be a lot of that going on. Those evangelists pray at all hours.”

Good. I had told the truth. Enough and not too much. I could tell Lieutenant Hottie about the dog tags in the morning. I hoped they did not rust in the cooler. Surely they were stainless steel.

Shoot! Any finger prints will be compromised in the water. He’ll be disappointed in me again. As usual.

“Me, I’m Jewish. We don’t do that entire hubbub. But back when I was in the service we had to put up with it. I retired from the Navy in 1960.”

Wow, he retired before my mom was even born. What a geezer. I found him fascinating. I loved old WWII movies. I wanted to write a mystery set in the White House during Roosevelt’s administration. Franklin’s. FDR’s son Elliott had penned a very enjoyable series casting his mother, Eleanor, as sleuth. I was so disappointed when I found out Elliott had passed on. There would never be anymore Eleanor Roosevelt mysteries…unless I wrote one…

“I was only at sea for the first three years while I was still a bachelor. Every ship I was assigned to sunk. I traveled the world. Loved Australia and Brazil the most. My kids were all born in different countries…”

Poor guy, blown up on every ship. He must have nightmares. Traumatic Stress Disorder or whatever they call it. Australia? I wondered if he thought the women there were cold, too. Wait a minute. What was the Navy doing in Brazil? “Why were you in Brazil?”

“After the war we got rid of a lot of our vessels by selling them to Brazil and we had to keep a small contingent there to oversee. I was a petty officer. I did secretarial work.” Big Marc peered out the back door and then shuffled toward the vestibule. He returned to me and whispered, “That was just my cover. I was really in Rio de Janeiro to refuel our submarines…enroute to the Bermuda Triangle…”

I got a creepy feeling. One of those scary women’s intuition thingys. Every nerve in my body prickled. Actually, it was about time.

The train pitched hard to the left, sending Big Marc running across to the other side of the car. I jumped up and lunged for him as he hit his head hard against the window breaking the pane of glass out. Wind and rain whooshed in.

I grabbed under his arms and hoisted him into a chair. I pulled a muscle in my side.

His mouth gaped open and his green eyes looked huge in those glasses. He had a big gash on his cheek.

“Are you all right? Big Marc?”

He slumped over the side of the chair.

“Big Marc! Big Marc! Are you all right?”

His eyes rolled back in his head. I thought I was going to faint.

I could hear my Advanced First-Aid instructor’s Yiddish voice in my head. “Lay the victim down. Check for airway obstructions, respirations and pulse. ABC. Airway – Breathing – Circulation.”

I threw him onto the floor and he hit his head hard again.

“Sorry!”

I unbuttoned his vest, placed my cheek next to his nose and watched his chest. No puffs. No rises. I felt his wrist. Good. He had a pulse. I should start rescue breathing.

“Help!” I hollered.

“Good girl,” said my instructor’s conjured voice.

I maneuvered Big Marc’s head into position, lifted his chin to open the airway and detected a breath of root beer. What a relief.

“If the face is pale raise the tail. If the face is red raise the head,” prompted my instructor.

Hmm…His complexion always looked like the mottled walking dead. Not really red though. I stuffed a throw pillow under his head. No. Wrong. His cheek was bleeding. I yanked the pillow out and he clunked his head again.

“Sorry!” First cause no harm… That was the Hippocratic Oath.

I stuffed the pillow under his feet, yanked the napkin from under my cookies and pressed it on Big Marc’s wound, applying steady pressure. I felt the crumbs under my fingers. Shoot! I hope he doesn’t get an infection.

“Elevate the wound higher than the heart,” said the little voice.

Wait a minute! I had it right the first time. I yanked the pillow out from under his feet and gently placed it beneath his head and shoulders. No, that raises his heart. I dragged him over to the sofa and propped his head and shoulders up against the seat cushion.

“Yell loudly for help,” my instructor urged.

“Help! Somebody help me! We have a medical emergency!”

Wendy was a nurse! Which room was Weepy Wendy in? “Wendy! Wendy! Help! I need medical help! Is there a doctor in the house?”

“Keep reassessing the victim’s condition and administer aid,” said the little man who wasn’t there.

Broken bones! I needed to check for broken bones. I placed one hand under and one over each limb and slid them down their lengths. Other than Big Marc’s bow legs, I was pretty sure everything else was kosher. I pressed hard and felt his ribs. They weren’t broken yet. They would be if I had to perform C.P.R..

“Cover the victim to prevent shock,” said my invisible professor.

Darn it. I couldn’t remember exactly what shock was. I probably got a C on that quiz. I stumbled across the train, grabbed my blanket and threw it on him. Now what? I placed two fingers on Big Marc’s wrist. I couldn’t feel a pulse. I began panting in panic.

“If no one responds try yelling ‘Fire!’ That might bring someone curious,” suggested the guy from back in the day.

“Help! Fire!” I screeched. “Fire!” “Fire on the train!” “Fire in the hole!”

“If absolutely necessary leave the victim and go for help,” the voice told me.

I couldn’t leave Big Marc. I needed to start C.P.R.. I grabbed his feet and pulled him back down onto the floor. Boy did he hit his noggin hard that time. I tilted his head back, pinched his nose, gave him two quick breaths and tried yelling one last time. “Help! Police! Help! Free chocolate!” Nothing. Wait, I know! “Glory be to God! Jesus Christ our savior has risen!”

Come on all ready, somebody has to hear me. “Help! Random House Editor taking appointments! Help! Please help me!” Why wouldn’t anyone come to my aid? “Mommy!” Somebody help me. Anybody. Please. Don’t let Big Marc die.

Oh, the heck with it. I ran to the end of the car and pulled the emergency brake.

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