Noel Gatsby's dreams take her away from the misery of her pain-wracked, disease-riddled body. The dreams become real when she awakens one morning to find herself completely cured. However, she soon learns her miraculous recovery comes at a price.
NOEL GATSBY HAD THE same dream every night. Without fail, she saw herself floating above her body, strangely weightless, just before she drifted into a group of misty clouds. She never remembered the ensuing journey or the return, but she knew she came back replenished and without pain. The awakening was a hopeful endeavor, her body teeming with a new energy that seemed to fill every pore and blood vessel. It was only when she moved her muscles that she realized it was just a fanciful dream. Within a few seconds her reality came crashing back down to earth with resolute misery, once again riddled with pain and insidious disease.
Heaving a great sigh, she moved slowly to get out of bed. Nature was calling, yet another unsavory body function she could not ignore for long. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself into a sitting position. She felt the mechanical screw in her left hip grinding and popping, in turn pulling on the muscles in her lower back. She gritted her teeth together, causing another juncture of pain by virtue of her swollen gums and their caverns of decay.
"Please make it stop," she whispered into the room.
Even in the worst depths of pain, she never considered saying "Please God, make it stop." Her belief in the almighty was shaky at best, and for a myriad of reasons. If there was a God, she reasoned, why didn't he give her a break? She long ago dismissed the pious adage that "God only gives you as much as you can handle." As far as she was concerned she had endured more than her fair share of suffering, so God must be on hiatus or maybe not exist at all. It was the reason she stopped attending mass at St. Theresa's Parish Church years ago. God didn't seem to have the time to listen to prayers made by the poor and suffering, so why bother anymore?
Noel shifted her legs sideways, an ugly grimace creating deep lines across her features. She rested her feet on the floor, giving herself a momentary respite before inviting another wave of pain.
The room was cold, like a block of ice underneath her bare feet. Her legs and back ached with a familiar surge, travelling up her spine and into her shoulders. She moved her head back and forth, feeling the pinch of awry nerves. She grabbed her robe from the end of bed, shrugging into the shabby blue cotton. There was no point in starting the day with a self-pity party, she decided. "Upward and onward," she intoned silently, refusing to give way to her plight. At least, not today. Tomorrow would likely be another story, despite her wishful-thinking dreams.
She shuffled to the bedroom window, which overlooked Wren Street. She pulled back the drab sheer curtains and peered outside. It was drizzling rain, the sky in her view as gray as her drapes and just as gloomy. She heard the bells from St. Theresa's Church in the distance, signaling the start of early morning mass. She saw people on the street, going about their daily business without giving a second thought to the painful process of walking. She glanced across the street to a twin apartment building, six stories high like her own. The tract of row houses along Wren Street had been converted into flats years ago, each with a stoop and bowed first-floor window. She knew they were all nearly identical, dark gray stone with an unwashed feel and turned to seed, which prompted another sigh from her throat.
"Noel," she heard her mother's voice calling from the next room. "Noel, are you awake?"
She brushed the hair from her face, annoyed by the stubborn gray tendrils that refused to obey. "Coming mother," she called in return.
The living room was perhaps the most depressing area of the apartment Noel shared with her elderly mother. The old walls were rippled with water damage, allowing the cold to permeate the floors. Noel drew the robe tight across her body, knowing the gesture was futile. Even scant furnishings appeared drab and desperate in the room, over-stuffed but still touched by the cold.
June Gatsby sat in her wheelchair in the center of the room. Her short hair was already combed, and the maroon-colored robe predictably matched a pair of slippers almost hidden by the hem. Her hands rested in her lap, clutching each other in an attempt to garner heat.
When she saw her daughter enter the room, she waved one hand in the air. "You must speak to the caretaker," she declared. "He simply has to fix the heater, Noel. Today. I'm freezing to death, more so than usual." She shook her head. "We're not animals living in the wild, for God's sake."
Noel regarded her mother with concealed pity. June had her own medical issues to be sure, but in the last few months she had also shown signs of memory loss. Noel wasn't certain if the forgetfulness was an early encroachment of Alzheimer's disease or dementia, or if June chose to live in denial as a way of dealing with their desperate situation.
"The heater was fixed last week," Noel reminded her mother gently.
"Then why is it so damnably cold in here?" June demanded irritably.
"I've told you before," Noel replied. "It's too expensive to run the heater night and day. We have to make do with spurts here and there."
June looked confused. "What do you mean, it's too expensive? What are you doing with my social security check every month, Noel?"
Noel walked into the small galley kitchen that abutted the living room. She plugged in the drip coffee pot, which gurgled on its last leg. She kept her voice even as she spoke. "I don't even see your social security checks. They are deposited directly into your bank account, which pays for your medications and helps contribute to the rent and food."
"It's bad enough we don't have a telephone," June snapped. "We have to live without heat as well? It's only November, Noel. We have months of winter yet to go."
"What do you want for breakfast, mother?" Noel asked, ignoring June's remarks in hopes she would forget them.
"Spaghettios," June responded without hesitation. "I want the kind with little hotdogs this time."
"Coming up," Noel said, accustomed to her mother's requests for anything related to spaghetti. It was June's favorite meal, and despite her daily doses never seemed to tire of it.
After she settled her mother with a bowl of Spaghettios, Noel returned to her bedroom to dress. It was a chore just to lift her legs into a pair of pants. She sat on the bed, wincing as she pulled faded black jeans over her hips. She donned a worn but clean blue sweater-shirt, decorated with a lopsided group of reindeer. Her clothes had seen better days. However, at the moment, fashion was on the bottom of her priority list.
She brushed her long hair quickly, gathering the thin ends in a pony tail. She went back into the living room, her cane making a thumping noise on the floor. June was still enjoying her bowl of Spaghettios, so Noel continued to the kitchen. She poured herself a cup of coffee and sipped the hot brew tentatively. She would make-do without breakfast today, which seemed a moot point as she wasn't hungry.
"I have to go out this morning," Noel said over the rim of her coffee cup. "Will you be okay alone for a few hours?"
June snorted, taking another spoonful of Spaghettios. "Of course I will, Noel. I've been fending for myself longer than you have." She dabbed a torn strip of paper towel to her mouth. "Where are you going?"
"I have an appointment with the welfare office," Noel replied. "Remember? I applied for assistance after Carl died. I need some sort of health coverage in order to get my hip fixed, and to find out what else is wrong with me."
June stared at her daughter, a blank look in her eyes. "Carl died? Noel, why didn't you tell me?"
"I did tell you, mother. He had a stroke and . . ."
June shook her head vigorously. "You most certainly did not tell me. Don't you think I'd remember if my own son-in-law died?"
Noel tried to remain patient. "Okay, mother. Calm down. I'm telling you now. Carl died almost six months ago. He was having chemotherapy treatment for cancer and suddenly went into cardiac arrest. He died just minutes before I could make it to the hospital to see him."
June appeared stricken. "Oh my God. Carl was such a kind and decent man. Tell me, did you go to his funeral? If so, why wasn't I invited?"
"There was no funeral, mother. Carl was cremated. His brother George has the ashes."
"Why don't you have them? You were Carl's wife."
"We stopped living together years ago. Our marriage was basically in name only, even though we were good friends."
June nodded. "That's right, now I remember." She glanced at her daughter. "No great romance there, huh?"
"Never was, but I have no regrets. Carl was like a brother to me, my best friend in good times and bad."
June's face darkened. "My husband wasn't my best friend. Or was he?"
"Your husband was a bastard," Noel snapped, eyes flashing.
June's hand went to her throat, startled by her daughter's words. "Noel, please. You know I don't like that sort of language."
"Then let's not discuss your dead husband," Noel replied shortly.
"Whatever you say," June murmured vaguely.
Noel turned to face the kitchen sink, rinsing her coffee cup with quick, jerky motions. Mention of her father always made her irrational and beyond irritable. Burning hatred of Samuel Gatsby was a constant in her life, even though he had been dead for more than a decade.
Her lips curled in disgust every time she thought about him. He had been a miserable, sour bastard who hid his true self from outsiders, and was a voracious drunk to boot. He verbally abused her mother for years, driving June to an emotional instability that endured to the present day. It was only after his death that Noel realized her father possessed multiple sociopathic traits, living under the radar for the most part because of his deceptive persona in front of others. It still angered her that he never answered for his despicable behavior while on earth.
BLOODFROST ©Deidre Dalton. All rights reserved.
"Bloodfrost" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Bloodfrost" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.