Chapter 12

Doris Hackman stood in the doorway, one hand on the handle, the other quickly reaching out and flicking on the light switch. Our eyes met for just an instant and then she stepped back, shouted, “Celia, call security, now!” and before I knew it she was running at me.

She was much faster than she looked. In the matter of only seconds she had made it across the room, her teeth bared, her hands already reaching for me. It didn’t cross my mind until that instant what it had looked like from her point of view: me standing over my grandmother, my hand on her forehead, but with my back to the doorway, it could easily have appeared as if I was trying to suffocate her.

“No, listen, look,” I said, already stepping back.

Doris grabbed me, pulled me away from the bed, and right then I felt that familiar pinprick and saw everything about this woman’s life, just like I had with Dorothy, and I immediately said, “King’s death wasn’t your fault.”

The woman paused, her hands still squeezing me, her eyes now going wide.

Staring back into her ugly face, I said, “It was your mother who forgot to chain him up that day. Not you.”

Frantic footsteps headed toward us up the corridor.

“That’s how he made it out into the road. That’s how he got hit by that truck. It wasn’t your fault like your mom later told you. It was hers.”

Two orderlies appeared in the doorway at the same moment Doris loosened her grip on my arm. That physical connection was lost but as I stared back into her ugly face, into her eyes, I saw something else that hadn’t happened yet but which she was planning.

“Want us to call the cops?” one of the orderlies asked.

“Don’t you do it,” I said to her. “He may be sick, he may have no family, but you don’t have the right to let him die.”

Her eyes widened again, her normally pale face suffused with blood.

“Nurse Hackman!” the other orderly said. They had both entered the room, were slowly approaching us. “Do you want us to call the police or not?”

She was staring back at me, shaking her head almost imperceptibly, whispering, “How can you … how could you possibly …”

“I know you want to help,” I said. “But it’s wrong, and you know it.”

“John?” My grandmother’s long, drawn out voice caused me to blink, to shake the possible images out of my mind: Doris Hackman standing over a dying man on this floor, feeling pity for him, considering the idea of accelerating his death. “What’s … happening?”

“Nurse Hackman,” the same orderly said, reaching out and touching her arm.

Just like me she blinked, shook her head as if awaking from a dream, and then looked at the two orderlies. “No, don’t bother with the police. Just escort him out of the building and make sure he never comes back.”

The two orderlies looked at each other.

“You mean ban him for life?” one of them asked. “Because I don’t think we can — ”

“Just get him out of my sight,” Doris Hackman said. “I never want to see his face again.”

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