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Like A Shattered Dish (PG-13)

By Valerie Bradley-Holliday


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Like A Shattered Dish

            Penny looked out of the window of her bleak apartment where her days were spent like dry leaves, each falling upon another.  Penny’s face shows a fragile beauty.  Like a withering rose, whose scent continues to linger, Penny’s frail body lays conquered beneath layers of beautiful, shimmering champagne colored satin.  

            Reaching towards the window, she looks past the pane into the world that she once enjoyed.  Instantly, her hair gleams with a vibrant, auburn glow.  The bright highlights in her hair caused the people she knew to give her the nickname, “Penny.”  And it had stuck.

            Penny did not miss her father or his meanness towards her mother.  Her mother who suffered from severe mental illness had various lovers over and at all hours of the night.  Some were mere predators, seeking her mother out only to get at their real prize, Penny.  She learned to turn her looks into an asset and begin to work for money.

            Cast out into the world early, Penny used men but she knew most of them liked being used.  But today she wanted to think about lighter matters, she was out to have fun.  She decided to throw a party for people she knew.  She often considered why the women came, probably mostly out of curiosity, no matter it was to be a grand affair and perhaps someone will come who would prove interesting to her.  Most of her customers were bores who really were only concerned for the matters of their household.  She thought why then didn’t they go home and attend to their wives and children.  Some were genuinely sweet and ashamed for their betrayals, but she had no modesty and no morals when it came to money.  She had to live, right!

            Her studio was filled with people as she milled about among her guests.  The wine flowed like water.  She personally never allowed herself to get too tipsy.  Her sobriety was a carry over from her early working days and had little to do with being morally conservative.  Then she saw him.  Although, his eyes and hair were as black as night, he stood out from her other guests like a brilliant blaze.  She could not take her eyes off of him.  For a seemingly unending moment, his was the only presence that filled the room.  The sensation was like walking upon a stag in a forest.  Penny felt like she and the creature standing before her were both frozen in the beautiful moment.  Penny held her breath while drinking in his the splendor.

            Jordan came up to her and introduced himself.  His beauty shocked her into silence.  She limply grasped his hand and set down next to him.  He did not talk much but she gathered that he was staying in the country near the city and had drove in with his friends to enjoy the sights.  Frankly, he told her, that he had never been to "this part of the city" and his face colored, showing his youthfulness.  Penny tried to put on her rough girl airs with him but she just couldn’t manage the facade.  What she did do was set her mind up against her heart, saying there is absolutely no way she could ever be attached to anyone since she enjoyed her cavalier lifestyle.  She couldn’t possibly even imagine living life like some of the wives of the oaths that visited her.  To her, from their husbands' descriptions, married women were like shadows to their husbands having no position, no understanding, and no emotional support.  Those women, whose husbands poured out their hearts to Penny, only seemed to care about their husbands' money and not their sorrows.  But, Jordan. 

            Suddenly, she lost consciousness while sitting on the couch next to him.  Jordan offered to help.   He and some friends carried her to her bed.  Jordan lingered there next to her.  He seemed glued to the spot.  He grabbed Penny’s hand and patted it until she came around.  Her bright blue eyes sparkled up at him. Looking about, she sat surprised to find herself in bed.  She grasped his hand tightly and pulled him down to sit beside her on the bed.  Before Jordan knew it, he was kissing this strange woman, totally enthralled by her unusual looks and soft-manner.  He professed that he had to see her again.

            Jordan’s request startled her.  Why on earth would she agree to this?  She had a life.  A life she imagined that was much different from his.  She had observed the fine cut of his tailored clothes, his neatly trimmed nails, and soft hands.  He probably never did any hard labor.  Maybe his father was a banker, an oilman, or owned a large computer company.  She was in love; she could never be in love.  Yet, Penny found her lips agreeing to meet him on the weekend, normally her busiest time of the week.  No matter, she cancelled all of her appointments.  She had to see him.

            Penny did not know what to expect when she did see Jordan.  Thoughts raced through her mind as she drove her car out to the country.  The air tasted sweet and the sunshine was pleasant.  Not the burning, torch-like sensation she got when she sat out for sun in the city.  She was casually dressed.  Since they had planned a picnic, she wore a nice blouse and black jeans and simple tennis shoes and brought along a sweater for later.

            The size of his country home astounded her.  It was really more a small mansion   Next to it, stretching out for what seemed like miles, was an apple orchard.  The air was fresh with the scent of crisp apples.  As she drove round the circular drive to the doors of the house, Jordan ran out to great her.  Penny was certain that he often must have innocently betrayed his eager youth.  Penny could not help grinning broadly at him.  She reached over and swung the door wide for him to climb in.  She saw his face drop a little.  “Oh, why not let him drive,” she thought to herself.  “Today was a lark anyway.”  She scooted over into the passenger seat.  Jordan hopped into the driver seat.

            Jordan lightly gunned the engine, turned and grinned at Penny.  He then sped the little sports car down one of the orchard roads.  He pulled up by a large, gnarled apple tree and stopped.  Penny got out and brushed the dust from her blouse and skirt and looked around.  The trees were gorgeous.  The sun set high in the sky providing more than enough warmth.  She set about spreading the madris tablecloth on the ground.  She had brought sandwiches and a light, wine cooler for her and a cold beer for him.

            They sat and ate in silence.  She felt uncomfortable at first with the silence but soon begin to drink in the peace of the place.  He would glance and smile at her periodically.  When they were finished, he warily moved in closer to where she sat.  She silently chuckled to herself at his coyness.

            Jordan finally opened his mouth to speak.  "You are the first person that I have brought up here that did not talk his or her head off.  Its like they have to fill the air with their words, otherwise it is too 'settled' from city life.  What makes you different?”

            Penny had planned on not sharing much of anything.  She surprised herself though.  She told him that she had spent most of her life being too busy and too full of agendas, and that the quiet was welcome.  Jordan wrapped his arm around her and with a nod prompted her to continue.  “My life is not a life of ease,” she said looking far off trying to avoid eye contact.

            “My friend who brought me to your place,” he hesitated, “told me all about how you live. . .” 

His voice trailed off in mid-sentence as she threw her icy blue glance at him, “what all?” 

“I mean to say, I mean.”  Jordan tried to begin again. 

Her face softened and she said, “I know what you mean.”  It isn’t a great life but compared from where I come from I have done fairly well for my brother and myself.

            “You have a brother?”  Jordan asked. 

"Yes, we lived a rough childhood.  My mother had schizophrenia and she used to beat, starve, and lock us in.” 

“I am sorry.” Jordan spoke sincerely, his dark eyes conveying only warmth. 

"Its alright," Penny worked her mouth and blinked her eyes trying to fight the emotion welling up in her.

            “My mom would have all types of ‘visitors,’ often they showed a more active interest in me.  I figured out early that this could be a key to my brother’s and my survival.  And I did not know shortly after I began my trade, how important it would become.  At ten-years old, my brother got beat up by a gang.  The gang cracked three of his ribs.  Somehow he had managed to get home or someone laid him up at our house, I will never know which because he never gave me much detail.  What I do know is that he was in incredible pain and could hardly breath.  “It frightened me."  Penny's eyes begin to well with tears.  Large drops fell from her face onto her jeans.  “My mom was no where to be found.  I called the hospital and the ambulance took us both to the hospital.”

           “At the hospital,” Penny continued her description, “the doctor took me aside.”   I was sixteen at the time.  He told me that he really could not operate on my brother without my mother’s permission.  I said I don’t know where she is.  The doctor smiled at me then.  I will never forget his crooked, twisted smile. 

The doctor leaned over me and said, “I know where your mother is and I also know you.  I am sure that we can work something out.”

  “I really hated myself that day but I agreed to the doctor’s arrangement.  I told him that I would do anything to help my brother.  My brother went to surgery.  The doctor never reported the incident to the police and we had our ‘deal.’”

            “When my brother was healing,” Penny sighed, “the doctor came to me again and said that my brother would need more surgery in order to fix his posture.”  Penny grasped Jordan’s hand as she looked back in time, remembering.  “There were many long days until my brother healed.  I don’t know where my mother went.  All the authorities want to do is put you in Foster Care when you are as old as we were.  Everyone wants cute babies not children or teenagers.  After he was released from the hospital, my brother couldn’t seem to stand up straight.  He kind of tilted to one side.  He didn’t seem to be in any pain—still.”  Penny seemed to be talking to someone in the distance as she went on with her story.

            “I managed to save up enough money and we went through three bus exchanges to get to the hospital where my brother had his operation after he had been beat up.  As much as I didn’t want to, I asked for the Doctor that had helped us before.  The doctor came in.   Immediately, he said that he would check my brother out if he and I could work out some kind of payment between us. 

“I agreed on payment.  My brother and I had waited a long time.  Yet, the doctor took no time to get my brother in for an x-ray and check him over.”

            “Apparently,” he said, “your brother has injury induced idiopathic scoliosis.”  “His seventh, eleventh, and twelfth rib were broken; the latter two very near the spine.”  “The seventh rib healed fine but when the latter two mended they are closer together than the ones on the other side of his body.”  The doctor demonstrated with his fingers.  “This is drawing him over to one side a bit.  Otherwise, he is breathing fine.  This may give him problems in old age or never but he is young and kids can be cruel.  I know a good surgeon who could correct it, but . . . he leaned over intimately to me.  The doctor whispered something warm and moist in my ear and I hated him and loathed myself in the same instant.”  Penny visibly shuddered.

            “I grabbed the doctor’s hand and thrust it off of my lap and I told him I couldn’t do what he asked, not even if he drugged me.  He walked off angry but returned with my brother who was really shaking and frightened. 

“Sis,” he said to me, “I don’t want another operation.”  My brother cried big crocodile tears so we got up and out of there. 

“I knew that he would have probably been better for the operation but I just couldn’t go through with what that doctor wanted, ever.  So, we returned home like we had come, transferring from bus to bus.”  Penny decided to change the subject.

            “My brother’s bright, bright as you I’d imagine and with the right opportunity he could be running one of those companies your father owns.  But we didn’t have the opportunities that you have had.”  Penny stated.

            “As for me,” Penny went on, “I did the best I could to open doors up for my brother.  I sent him to the best grade school that I could afford.  The local parochial school was the best in our parish.  My brother excelled in every subject.  And what he could not do athletically, he made up for intellectually, learning players’ statistics and the like.  I liked that school but I was pretty old by then and I did not think it would pay for me to get any more education.  I could read, write, and do math.  I also felt a bit ashamed when I could not help my brother with his learning.”  For an instant Penny had vague thoughts of what she truly desired.  “I also tried to build myself up spiritually,” Penny added.

           “I came to church to talk with God.  I really just talked to him as a person.  I told God that I was very tired.  I tried hard to find legitimate work but it always ended the same either I was told that I was too young or someone had heard what other types of services I could provide.  I loathed myself but needed the money.  Soon though, I developed a tough skin and finally I just felt that I was manipulating them.  I became very casual about it.  But I also know it was the way for my brother to get ahead.  Sitting there in church with my brother, I felt used up, bitter, and bone tired.  I wasn’t sure where our next meal was coming from and we continually moved from place to place to stay warm.”  Penny wrung her hands together as she thought back on the desperate life she lead with her brother.  Even then, she knew she needed help.

            “While I was praying, a stout woman came and sat down by us.  It was the Priest’s housekeeper, Mrs. Milligan.  She sat there. 

Then quietly and gently, she took my hand and said what’s the matter, ‘lovey.’ 

“I couldn’t help myself, Penny said.  “I explained everything to her--My mother, my brother, and our situation.  She wasn’t even shocked.  Do you know she took my brother in right then?“ 

            “Mrs. Milligan was kind to us.”  Penny related Mrs. Milligan’s exact words to Jordan.  Mrs. Milligan said “its not more than has been done for me.  Besides your brother can help me around the rectory and church.  I can tell that he is a quick one and since I belong to the parish, I can get his schooling reduced a bit.  Mind you, you still have to pay.  I get a very small pension.  It pains me to ask that you continue to pay his tuition, cause I know how you make your money, poor child.  I have been wracking my brains for a way for you to get good decent work that would give you enough money to live on.   You might try secretary work.   You might have to bend the truth on your age though.” 

“Mrs. Milligan looked at me through tearful eyes,” Penny related.  Sounding defeated, Mrs. Milligan said “if I could I’d watch you both but there’s no way I can make up for what’s past.” 

Penny said, “I did try to keep contact with my brother after he moved in with Mrs. Milligan.  I visited my brother for a while but our lives became too different.  I always sent money though.” Penny told Jordan. 

Penny thought about Mrs. Milligan’s soft brown eyes.  Her poker straight, steel gray hair, which she kept held back in a severe bun, emphasized her round face.  Mrs. Milligan’s strong hands moved like butterflies about the kitchen making yummy, nutritious creations out of next to nothing—even potato cookies.  Penny related how her brother thrived under Mrs. Milligan’s care.

            “My brother, with a proper diet and a loving home, grew into a tall strapping guy save for his slight list to one side.  Mrs. Mulligan sent me a picture of him and he looks very tall.  The very last time I heard from her she told me that he has a commanding presence and elegant speech.  He decided to go to seminary and become a priest.  He is very good and managed to get placement in the parish he grew up in.  He works with gangs and with families and young ones.  He was responsible for the Not-in-My-Neighborhood Anti-Violence community-based youth programs, juvenile justice outreach, and intensive family treatment programs.  Every participant in that program becomes some kind of leader.  My brother told me that the hard part is keeping the talent in the neighborhood to help make a difference. 

“I love my neighborhood,” my brother wrote one time, “the faces have changed but they have the same strong wills and the same fighting spirit.  Sometimes its just hard to keep the vision alive, its like, like a few of us carry the hope and keep reminding the others of their vision for the future.  But, it works!”

  Penny looked spent after telling Jordan her tale.

  Penny dropped her hand, which she had reached out reflexively as if to touch her brother’s face.  She dropped her head and coughed spasmodically, finally catching her breath.  “I’m sorry,” she told Jordan.  “I didn’t mean to go on and on.” 

Jordan said, “that’s okay, my life is kind of boring.  Most of the dates I have brought here don’t come back after the first time.  Some of them have this grand idea that I jet set around the world, speak many languages, and can converse on any topic from weather to world relations.  That’s my dad!  I suppose I have his knack for mathematics and commerce, but when I don’t have to fly; I drive.  When I don’t have to drive; I am here.  I was born here.  My mother had me right in that house,” Jordan pointed.  “She loved this quiet, peaceful place.”  Jordan looked directly into Penny’s eyes, “why don’t you stay here with me for awhile.” Penny found herself agreeing.

            Penny had a whole month of bliss with Jordan.  He shared his feelings openly but not to raise sympathy, he just was, the way he was.  He did not ask her for anything and he did not force himself upon her.  She was happy not to feel pressed to do anything and she did not feel well.  There were days that she felt like she was coming apart inside physically but she was careful not to reveal anything to Jordan.  She kept trying to tell herself that she wasn’t in love with him.  As an act of her conviction of non-love, Penny decided to respond to an ornate party invitation.  She called her friend Janine in the city.  Janine said that she was going to have a fine party if Penny would like to come.  Penny looked out of the bay window at the beautiful countryside bathed in warm light, the breeze slightly washing over her face and said, “No, I don’t think so.” 

Janine responded incredulously.  “Penny, if I did not know any better I would say that you are breaking your rules, this guy’s got you wrapped around his finger.”  Janine added, “I almost forgot, you better check with Fran, she is concerned about being paid.” 

“Okay, thanks,” Penny said as she rang off.  She almost forgot about her place in the city and her role in that place, almost as if she had been another person, but nothing had really changed.  She just had a few spare moments of happiness and contentment. 

            Penny called her apartment and the phone rang endlessly.  Fran, her housekeeper, had never been one to answer the phone but she knew that she was there.  Always punctual, at her appointed hour, cleaning.  Penny decided to drive into town.  She wrote Jordan a hasty note and dashed out the door.

            When Penny arrived at the apartment, she found Fran completely distraught. 

“So many bills,” Fran kept saying.  “Miss Penny, how will we manage?  I have to tell you truthfully, I thought you had left for good and I had to look for other work, Miss Penny.”  “What will we do?” Fran sounded frantic.

  “Calm down Fran, ‘we’ won’t do anything.”  Penny responded.  “Just give me a moment, I will come back with this months’ pay and the next.  You go on and get that job with the other family that you decided to work for.  I have always thought you deserved better than working for me anyway and it sounds like a great deal more money.” 

“But your bills, Miss,” Fran grabbed Penny’s hand.  “And you don’t look so well, would you like me to make you some soup.” 

 Penny thought, Fran reminded her of old Mrs. Milligan.  “Don’t worry Fran, I will be back with your pay and a little extra for you until you get paid at your other position.”

            Penny went back and cleared out all her drawers of jewelry.  She also found a few large bills here and there.  She pawned what she could and went around to “friends” to borrow the rest.  She came back to Fran and handed her a wad of bills without even counting.  She stood there while Fran meticulously counted out the money. 

 “Miss, this is way more than I deserve.”

“Keep it, I have to go.”  Penny sounded tired.  “Just make sure you shut up the house when you leave.”

Fran beamed, “Oh, thank you Miss.”  Feeling a little guilty, Fran added in a quieter tone, “here Miss, at least take enough for gas.”

            Penny hurried back to Jordan’s house hoping to get there before he got home.  She had just missed him but found his note.  Jordan’s note indicated that he thought he might catch her in the city.  A thought flashed across her mind that she might follow him.  Too exhausted, however, Penny changed her mind and flopped on the bed.

            Traveling into town, Jordan is in really good spirits.  His rich, baritone voice sings out with the CD.  He has always loved Jazz Music.  Especially the old greats, like Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Mel Torme.  He loves music period and if it were not for his father’s insistence to stick with business, Jordan would strike out and try singing as a profession.  Keeping the fact from his father, Jordan had been writing songs for other professional singers and a few of his songs had been widely accepted.  His father simply did not live in the same world that he did.  Even though, he loved his father, he really despised his attitude to anything that wasn’t “the business.”   Penny, quite the opposite, reveled in his love of music and had introduced him to well-known producers.  When he thought of his father though, Jordan visibly shook off the dream of singer and songwriter as if a cold draft had entered the car.  With dad, Jordan could not afford to be careless.  Especially now, since he was so worried over his sister Katrin’s marriage into a very prominent, wealthy family.  Jordan did not feel that his father had anything to be ashamed of.  He had scratched and saved and sacrificed a lot to get where he had come and he still had his wits about him.  This family Katrin was to marry into, well you could go centuries before you could identify the start of the family’s wealth and all the family’s predecessors had money through very questionable acquisitions.  But Katrin was happy and her husband was kind, warm, and generous.  He was neither pretentious nor overbearing and cared more about manners than breeding.  He also liked Saturday Night Football!  Jordan chuckled to himself with the thought.

             Jordan began to whistle as he turned into Penny’s driveway.  Fran was on her way out and locking the door.  “Hey Fran, wait is Penny here!” 

“No, Mr. Jordan, she left hours ago.” 

“Can I come in for a drink, I am a little dry from the road.” 

 “Sure, I don’t think that Penny would mind.” 

“Fran, you look a little upset are you okay?” 

“Well, no,” Fran started to stutter and become flustered at the imposition but she told Jordan that Penny had sold all that she owned to pay her and to pay this month’s rent.”  Fran told Jordan Penny had relieved her of her duties and she worried about what Miss Penny might do.  Fran remarked that Penny seemed so cavalier about the whole thing. 

 “My God!  She didn’t tell me anything.”  Jordan felt a rising anger.

 “Sir, in her favor, if I had to say,” Fran continued, “it was as if she just woke up from a dream and realized the situation herself.”

            “Sure, right,” Jordan’s face began to redden.  As he turned to leave he glanced down at the table in the entryway and saw the invitation from Janine.  He knew all about Janine’s parties and he figured that is where “Miss Penny” went.  Back to her old ways, his mind raced.  Well I am not going to any parties, Jordan considered.  I am heading back out to the cottage.  

            At the cottage, Penny woke up with a fit of coughing and pulled a handkerchief from the top drawer of her nightstand.  She coughed into it fitfully and almost fainted when she saw the blood.  She dialed 911 and passed out.  She awoke, dazed and confused, in a bright hospital room.  A nurse was giving her an IV medication through a drip line. 

The nurse looked up with surprise and said in a cheery voice, “Oh, you decided to join us again.  The doctor will be in shortly to talk with you.”  Penny felt an old familiar constricted sensation.  What’s this doctor like she wondered?

The doctor was short, dark and moody looking.  He had a hurried air about him but he greeted Penny warmly. 

“I am Dr. Pizzarelli.  Yes, it is a handle and so the children that I work with just call me Dr. Pizza.”  Penny elicited a wan smile at his bedside humor.  Even that movement seemed to tire her.  “I have to tell you straight out Miss Gene that you have cancer.” 

Without changing his tone, the doctor explained her illness.   “When you came in you presented with hemoptysis and ordinary terms you were coughing up blood.  What did your regular physician say when you started showing symptoms?” 

Penny shrugged and offhandedly said that she had no “regular” physician.  “The ones I do see, which isn’t often, give me pain pills for my back and chest.  But lately, I have not gone at all.” 

“Those doctors should be horsewhipped!”  Dr. Pizzarelli blurted out.  Penny raised her eyebrows at the sudden, passionate outburst.  “Miss Gene, I really am sorry to inform you that your prognosis is poor.” 

“Please,” Penny intoned softly, “give it to me in layman’s terms, doctor.”

“Apparently you have lung cancer, how or when you arrived at getting it is not the point now.  The cancer has metastasized, which means, it has spread to other parts of your body, the bones, the brain, the liver, and the other lung.  You have to have noticed symptoms, such as:  weakness, fainting, shortness of breath, severe back pain, any blurred vision?”  Dr. Pizzarelli asked   Although it was obvious to Dr. Pizzarelli, Penny had ignored long-standing signs of her illness and the doctors that she saw occasionally must have too.  Although, Dr. Pizzarelli was skeptical whether she’d visited any doctors on a regular basis.

“What is clear to me,” Penny could see Dr. Pizzarelli bracing for the news he had to give her, “is that you should have been treated by an oncologist, a cancer specialist, long, long ago.”  Dr. Pizzarelli said gently, “you still have options but I cannot even began to say how much time you have left.  I would highly recommend that you put all of your affairs in order.  You have three options but since you have the small cell lung cancer and it has remained untreated for this long, I would highly recommend Chemotherapy, which is a standard treatment for this type of cancer.  There is also the possibility of using surgery to take out the tumor in your left lung and radiation therapy, which exposes you to high doses of x-rays to kill the cancer cells.  I suggest you take a little while to think on it and I will have someone from social services come in to help you make home arrangements and to sort things out.  Miss Gene,” he lightly touches her hand, “I am truly sorry.”  Penny could see in his dark eyes that he was.  “Is there anyone you would like to notify?” 

Penny nodded.  “Yes, my brother.”  The doctor helped her dial and then left her to speak in private.

            While Penny was talking on the phone, she noticed a scuffle was ensuing in front of her hospital room door.  She could hear the nurse’s adamant voice that the apparent intruder was not to enter the room unless he was family.  By the tone of the man’s voice no one could prevent him from barging in. 

“Wait,” the nurse said, “our patient just got hard news, please sir.”  This seemed to calm the person. 

 “Well, alright,” came from a male voice that sounded like it was used to getting its way.

            The nurse came in and said, “honey, you have a visitor.  He claims that you are dating his son and that he must speak with you.  If you want, I will call manpower and have him sent right off the floor.  I don’t like having my patient’s bullied.  If I take flack for it, so be it!” 

Penny gently grasped her hand and said, “I will see him but could you clean me up a little bit.” 

“Hey, I’ll do better than that,” the nurse said brightly.  “Would you like a little of your makeup on?”   

“Yes, you are really too kind.  I am not sure how I can manage.”  Penny was taken with another fit of intense coughing. 

“You don’t even have to try,” the nurse smoothed Penny’s hair back from her face.  “Look, just wait.  Calm down, here drink this water.” 

Penny nodded her thanks. “That’s better.” 

The nurse handed Penny a mirror.  “Here’s your mirror, you hold it and I will makeup your face.  The nurse talked as she worked.  Here is a little lipstick and blush.  Here’s a little mascara.  I think eye shadow would be overdoing it in this harsh light,” the nurse added.  Penny chuckled a little and agreed.  “You look like a doll.”  The nurse stood off a bit and adjusted Penny’s hair.”  She whispered conspiratorially, “if you want me to stay in the room, I will and at the first sign of trouble I will give Mr. Ashcroft the boot.” 

“You knew who he was and you treated him like that,” Penny could not help sounding surprised. 

“Hey girl, I figure he puts his pants on one leg at a time, same as the rest of us, and if he does not have respect for those in poor health than he does not deserve respect either.  I’ll be waiting by the door.  The nurse opened the door and nodded curtly at Mr. Ashcroft.

            “You may go in now, Mr. Ashcroft, sir.” The nurse beamed with pleasure at his reddened, slimly masked hostility.  “Oh, by the way sir, if you upset my patient in anyway, I will see to it that you are removed from the building is that clear.”

“Yes, nurse.” Ashcroft replied bluntly.

            Ashcroft walked into Penny’s room.   With a cold demeanor, Ashcroft demanded, “stay away from Jordan.  I know you or rather one of my colleagues told me how you make your money and I don’t want any part of a scandal.  Not for Jordan and not for Katrin, especially now that she is about to get married.  In my dealings with the world, I have managed to keep out of the public eye in any ignominious way; I intend to continue to do that!  I want the same from my children.  Ashcroft ground the words out of his mouth, the muscles in his jaws working.

            Penny, taken with a rattling cough, tried to answer his accusations.  Putting up her hand weakly, she said, “stop.”  Ashcroft’s face softened a bit.  “Stop, I will do what you want.”  Penny seemed almost transparent, barely there and her speech although clear was just barely within range of hearing.  Ashcroft turned pale and backed up a bit as if he might catch something. 

He again took on a grave air.  “Well, I can understand your condition but you must understand mine, the situation that you and Jordan have lived in won’t be tolerated further.” Unapologetically, he did an abrupt about face and slammed out the door accidentally bumping into the attending nurse.

            Reentering, the nurse sat Penny up in bed.  “He is a mean!”  Penny could only shake her head.  She still was trying to catch snatches of breath between coughing.  The nurse said, “I will get you something to ease that cough a little.”  She left and came back with an oxygen tank and medication. 

As she began to place the mask over Penny’s face, Penny grabbed her hand, “Please, I don’t want Jordan to see me like this, I want to go home, please.” 

The nurse said, “I will get the doctor.  I am sure that he can make an arrangement.”  Penny told the doctor that she would return but she had to talk to Jordan in her own space.  Dr. Pizzarelli was intent on convincing her to stay in the hospital and that there were numerous meeting rooms and that the trip would be quite costly for her to go home in an ambulance.  Since, he saw she was determined, he had her sign a release with the intent promise that she would be back after her talk.  Just then Penny’s brother entered the room.

            “Frank.”  Penny bends back her head to look up at him.  Penny’s brother, Frank, towers over Dr. Pizzarelli but he has a very gentle demeanor.  “Hello Dr. Pizzarelli, I am Frank Milligan. 

 “Father Frank,” Penny smiled warmly and held her arms out to give him a hug.  He hugged her.

Frank turned to the doctor.  “I would like to talk to you for a minute while Penny rests for a bit,“ he turned and winked out her.  “Please doctor.”

            Dr. Pizzarelli stepped out of the room with Frank and told him about Penny’s insistence to go home.  He argued against it stating why her health may not let her make the trip.  Frank agreed with the doctor but he also said that when Penny makes up her mind there is nothing to stop her.  To appease the doctor, Frank said, “I can take full responsibility for her if you would like and she is able to walk.  I will bring her right back.  I promise.”

            Frank looked more like a linebacker, than a priest.  He was wearing his street clothes and Dr. Pizzarelli could not help wondering how Frank ever got clothes to fit.  He stood well over six and a half feet tall and seemed just as broad.  But he had a soft, gentle face and the same color hair as his sister although it was cut short and was a little disheveled.  The doctor consented to release Penny to this large man with the gentle face and big, soft brown eyes. 

            Penny found herself riding with her brother.  To Frank, the oxygen mask strapped on her face made her look ancient and unreal.  Frank asked, “Penny do you really think this is wise?  I mean going back to the cottage.” 

Tears began to well in her eyes.  “I can’t go home, no home to go to, I couldn’t pay the rent.  What I had is all lost Frank.” She started coughing again and couldn’t say anything further. 

            “Okay, Pen,” Frank patted her hand.  They arrived at the cottage and she let herself in with the key.  No one was there.  Penny half expected for Jordan to come running towards her like he had in previous days.

            Penny walked as far as the couch and couldn’t go any further.  Frank was leaning over her and adjusting her clothing when Jordan came in.  Jordan’s face became flush with anger.  He couldn’t believe she was considering going to Janine’s party and probably with this guy. 

Jordan yelled.  “Who the hell are you?  No, better question, why don’t you both get out of my house?” 

Frank turned and put up both his hands.  “Wait. Calm down.”  Jordan took Frank’s size alone to be menacing and stepped back tripping over his own feet.  Frank stooped and picked him up like a rag doll, “I’m Penny’s brother, Frank.  Please, may I talk to you in private.”  Frank turned to let Penny know that they would be back and found that she had fallen asleep on the couch  “Please,” Frank whispered to Jordan.” 

Jordan looked down at Frank’s hand still grasping his arm and said, “I guess that I do not have much of a choice.”  Frank pulled his hand away, “sorry.”

            “Where do you want to talk?” Jordan said softly.  “I would really like to be out of Penny’s earshot,” Frank said. 

Jordan said, “let’s go out in the dayroom, I could use some sun.”  He regained his manners and offered a drink.    He came back with a beer for himself and a lemon soda for Frank.  Although he was polite about it, Frank must have been thirsty, because he finished the soda in about three swallows. 

Jordan thought to himself bemusedly, “boy, I am glad I brought an extra can.”

            Frank turned to him and said, “I am sorry to have to meet under these circumstances Jordan but my sister is very ill.  She asked to be released from the hospital against doctor’s orders so that she could talk to you here and I don’t know what she plans to tell you.  She did tell me that she has nowhere else to go. “Is that true?” 

Jordan shook his head, “yes, apparently she has not paid on the rent in months and had to let her maid go.  I didn’t know, I guess I did not want to know, because she has been staying with me all this time.”

            “Jordan, let me tell you a story.  I want to soften things for you a little, so will you indulge me.  Yes, good,” Frank said with a broad smile.  “My story is called apples and chocolate chip cookies.  Up at the head table in the cafeteria, one of the nuns had placed a big bowl of bright red, fresh, juicy apples.  Beside the bowl, the nun placed a note that read, Take only one. Remember, God is watching.  At the other end of the table was a bowl full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still warm from the oven.  Beside the bowl a little note scrawled in a child's handwriting read, Take all you want - God's watching the apples.”  Frank gave an easy smile.  “Jordan, you see, Penny’s felt about life the way that kid felt about those chocolate chip cookies.  She has been like that with everyone, except you.  Do you understand what I am trying to say?”

“You don’t know a lot about Penny.   I imagine that she isn’t particularly proud of her life, and probably is ashamed compared to what you have.  She likes the illusion living here has created.  Do you know that Penny tried getting out of the life she is in several times?”  Jordan feebly shook his head that he did.  “Did you know that she went to college to learn accounting?” 

“No.”  Jordan wondered why she hadn’t shared that.

 “Well, Jordan she did and she was doing well until she came across one professor.”  

“The professor threatened to flunk her if she didn’t do exactly what he asked,” Frank’s face colored as he related the story to Jordan.  “Penny met with him at his office thinking that she could reason with him and he raped her.  She tried to report the incident and ended up suspended from school.  The situation was a nightmare and I could not help her because I was cloistered, but I saw every bit of it played out in the newspapers and on the news afterward.  When I saw Penny, she did not have the same fight that she used to.  That man had killed her spirit.  She seemed so cavalier about everything it frightened me for her.  She became very reckless with her life.  She also lost her gentleness.  Are you a fisherman?  I fish.  Trying to reason with Penny was like trying to pick up a spiny catfish, you could not talk with her about what she was doing.  You could not hold onto her because she was so evasive and if you pressed to hard you could get seriously hurt.  Finding it no use, I turn to God with prayer.  Then you came along.  When she met you she brightened.”  Frank smiled with the thought.

            “She wrote me a couple times and she genuinely seemed happy.  I thought perhaps now she can get on with the rest of her life.  She can be free to finally love herself and change for the better.  Then, I got her phone call from the hospital.  Jordan, I must admit, being a part of my sister’s life has been quite the roller coaster ride with many ups and downs.  “Jordan, whatever she tells you,” Frank placed a comforting arm across his shoulder, “she really does love you.  After she talks to you, I must take her back to the hospital. Okay?”  Jordan nodded.

            After talking, Frank and Jordan entered the living room to find Penny awake.  She had taken off the mask and it looks like the color had come back to her face. 

“Jordan,” she spoke while motioning for him to sit down next to her.  “Jordan, I am not going to mince words with you because I do not have time.  I can’t see you anymore Jordan.”

Jordan picked up the crumbled invitation from Janine, “Is it because of this?” 

Penny, clearly insulted, wanted to hurt back and said, “yes, that’s right, I want to rave.  What did you expect Jordan a saint?”

  Jordan’s face began to color with anger again, “Get out.  You Bitch!  Frank’s decent but you’re a monster.  Frank,” Jordan’s voice became strident, “get her out of here!  I can’t stand to look at her.”

            Frank scooped up his sister and took her back to the hospital.  After two weeks, the doctor declared that she was well enough to be released with palliative measures.  Frank offered to share a small apartment with her until she could get back on her feet but she knew that he was needed elsewhere and agreed to stay with her friend Janine.  Frank begged, “Penny, don’t do this.  You can’t go back to living like that and the doctor tells me you barely have life left period.  Why, can’t you tell Jordan what is really going on?  At least tell me, Penny, I’m your brother, please.” 

Penny became very flippant.  “If you want to know what I do, why not follow me around at night.  Hey pull up a chair and sit in the corner if that’s your thing.” 

Frank, looking disgusted, said “Penny, I don’t want to leave you like this but you make it hard to stay when you treat me like this.  I will keep the apartment I was staying at for a while longer in case you change your mind you are welcome stay there as long as you like.  I have to return to my parish, here’s the keys.”

            Frank swept away his tears with a stroke of his broad hand.  Penny felt a pinch of despair has her brother turned and walked away.  She briefly reached out to call him back but stopped herself.  Why, did she have to be so nasty?

            Janine’s apartment was dark and smoky.  Penny began coughing immediately.  She hacked almost every breath she took.  Janine did manage to get her room clean and free of carpeting and the white panels made the room light and airy.  Janine even purchased an air conditioner for her.  In her room, Penny did fairly well, but as soon as she entered the rest of the apartment, for her it was like crossing a dense, close, hot forest with no air.  Penny felt her throat constrict and her lungs burned for air.  Penny did not want to decline her friend’s fresh entreaty to join her party for fear of being rude but it was a life of death struggle to participate.  She found that drinking made her feel a little easier even if it did not stop her cough and she was not about to go out there with an oxygen mask on, her vanity simply wouldn’t allow it.

            Penny saw a lot of new faces at the party.  But one old one, James Neison, he had brought Jordan there, for his first time.  Penny struck up a conversation with James in the close room.  Sitting on the couch, they began reminiscing about different times.  When the door, flew open.

 “Oh no,” Penny thought, “Jordan.”  He looked really wasted and had a nasty cut on the side of his face.  His eyes looked bright and feverish with hate when he laid eyes on James.

            Jordan came over to the couch and scooped Penny off roughly to the floor as if she were a dirty rag.  He sat down next to James and looked him squarely in the eyes.  “I’ve got something for you he said and he pulled out a knife.”  Someone screamed.  The music stopped and people started to file out the door.  Penny was still trying to get up off the floor.

            When a person pushed through the door from the other side, Ashcroft. 

 “Jordan,” Ashcroft pleaded, “Jordan please come with me.  You are not going to solve anything this way.  Please son.”  James and Jordan stood up simultaneously then Jordan moved in towards James with the knife.  James slumped to the floor.  Janine offered to call an ambulance but James told everyone present that he did not want to go to the hospital.  Holding his side where Jordan stabbed him, James called for his limo on his cell phone.  James assured Janine that he could get his stab wound taken care of much quicker. Anyway, he liked to avoid policeinvolvement.  James’ bodyguard got him out the door without hesitating.

            With James no longer as a target for his anger, Jordan turned on Penny.  Penny slowly struggled to her feet to face Jordan.  Jordan spat careless accusations into Penny’s face about her and James being lovers, wounding Penny to the heart. 

Rather than deny anything, Penny transformed into her former self.  She haughtily challenged Jordan, “What of it.  Who are you, my pimp?  If you are, you happen to be pretty careless with you money.  Wait here a minute.  Penny pulls out money that she had been saving in her bureau and comes out and throws it in Jordan’s face. “Here, we’re even.”  Penny said flatly.

            Jordan, visibly crushed, whimpers.  Like a small boy, he wipes the tears forming in his eyes with the back of his arm.  He helplessly turns to his father.  Ashcroft says, “come on son, I’ll take you home.” Jordan bends over under the weight of his own grief.

            Ashcroft turns to Penny.  “I am truly sorry for the trouble we have caused here tonight, truly, truly sorry.  If I,” when his eyes meet Penny’s, he can’t seem to continue and shuffles out the door holding onto his son, Jordan.

            When the door closes, Penny collapses.  Janine frantically calls for the doctor Penny told her to call if she had one of her attacks.  Janine didn’t know how to act when Dr. Pizzarelli arrived.

            Janine, flirted with Dr. Pizzarelli, “I didn’t know that doctors still made house calls.” 

“Only in my special cases, when they have been requested by priests, Dr. Pizzarelli turned to Penny’s brother Frank.”  The doctor motioned for Janine and Frank to leave the room while he examined Penny with his nurse.  After an excruciatingly long amount of time, both the nurse and doctor emerged.  Dr. Pizzarelli looked very grim and seemed to be struggling with his own emotions when he motioned for Frank to sit down.  Janine, not wanting to get involved in a serious discussion, got up to go to the kitchen.

            “Frank,” the doctor began, “she is not going to make it through the night.”  Frank, despite his strong visage starts crying like a baby.  “Frank, you asked me to give it too you straight.  I had asked your sister to go back to her clean, country house, and she did not heed my advice.”  

Frank looked at the doctor.  “She couldn’t doctor, the cottage was Jordan’s place.”

“Oh,” said Dr. Pizzarelli wistfully, “I am sorry.  We have given her medication to keep her comfortable and I can call hospice in if you want.           Frank shook his head resolutely. 

“Okay,” Dr. Pizzarelli patted Frank’s knee, “if I can help you please let me know.” He motioned to the nurse and they quietly left.  Frank went in to talk with his sister.  Her face looked unreal like it was made of wax.  She talked in low whispers about things they did as kids, such as putting chocolate pudding in old, Mrs. Fitz’s chair back in school.  He remembered how he howled with laughter then.  Lord forgive me, Frank thought, I’m smiling now.  He clutched desperately at his sister’s hand as if trying to will the life back into her but he could tell her light was becoming very dim.  Frank felt helpless standing in Penny’s bedroom.

            The bedroom door opened and Jordan walked in.  “Why didn’t you tell me?  Frank, may I talk with her alone?”  Frank couldn’t say anything but got up and clutched Jordan’s hand in a tight up and down hand shake, gave him a quick pat on the back, and walked out balling into his fists.             

            Jordan quietly walked over to Penny and sat beside her on the bed.  “Penny.”  Penny’s eyes suddenly flash with recognition that brings her into the present.  Penny reaches out and lightly grasps Jordan’s hand.   Her face is full of love and understanding. 

“Remember our plans Jordan to live in that cottage away from the bustle of the city surrounded by apple trees.  In her sickness, Penny sweeps her head around as if she can actually see them.  “Inhale the sweet scent, Jordan.  Isn’t the sunshine wonderful.” 

For a moment, Jordan slips back to that first day at the cottage when Penny slipped off her sunglasses sitting under that huge, old tree in the orchard.  “You are beautiful Penny, I never told you that but I was sure you heard it a bunch of times; I don’t want you to leave me Penny.”  The words burned his heart with desperation, “I love you Penny.”  Penny reached out her hand as if plucking a blossom from the bough of the old tree.  She turned Jordan’s hand over and placed the blossom that only she could see in his hand and then she breathed her last.





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