Friday, April 18, 2014

Painting Tacoma, Chapter Fourteen: Scrubbed Clean

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That wasn’t Tacoma.
            Three words arrived with the sun. Shawn stumbled to his desk and punched in the numbers. He got her answering machine.
            He had her roommate’s number somewhere, for emergencies. He dug through his drawers, then remembered the card in his wallet, the numbers in Tacoma’s big, looping cursive. His call was answered by a bleary female voice.
            “Hi. Is this... Suzanne?”
            “If you want it to be. Is this Shawn?”
            The quick recognition surprised him. She traveled a lot – he’d only met her once.
            “She’s at the hospital.”
            “Tacoma. The hospital. I had to call the cops to take her in. Not that she was dangerous, but when she gets into one of these Jesus things, she’s...”
            “Wait a minute. Jesus things?”
            “Yeah. She gets hyper-religious. She won’t eat, says, ‘Jesus will be my food.’ Drives through red lights ‘cause Jesus will take care of her. Last time she said it was some guy in Seattle, sold her bad tea. I had to stay up with her half the night just to get her through it. I’m glad they took her in this time. She really needs to have it checked out. When was the last time you saw her? Shawn?”
            “Oh. Sorry. This is a little... weird. Where did you say they took her?”
            “Not really sure. Some sort of mental emergency ward. They gave me a number, though.”
            Shawn wrote it down and thanked Suzanne for handling things. He hung up, and the tiles clicked into place: the Seattle episode, Tacoma’s phobia about the occult, last night’s bizarre behavior. It seemed selfish to think so, but he was relieved to know it had not been a rejection after all, that perhaps they still had a future together. And something simple and serious to focus on.
            He called the number and got a woman with a slight Nordic accent, as if all her vowels had umlauts.
            “No, I’m afraid you won’t be able to see her for a couple of days. We’re keeping her under sedation until the doctors can get a clear diagnosis. Why don’t I give you the number for the release clinic in Steilacoom? She’s a pretty mild case, so they’ll probably send her there tomorrow. I want you to call this number Tuesday morning, and they’ll tell you what to do next.”
            The next two days were sheer hell. He had no idea what she was going through, if she understood that her brain had betrayed her. Fortunately, he had work. Shelly was doing her upstairs library in butterscotch yellow, with the same blood red for trim. Shawn spent the morning lugging books into the hall, enjoying the rigor, the strain and stretch of his muscles.
            Shelly had a bout of arthritis, so instead of making sandwiches she treated him to lunch at The Spar, a bricky lunchplace in the Old Town district. They stayed for two hours, resembling a man and his grandmother out for a visit, as Shawn recounted his mystifying weekend.
            After lunch, he called the clinic, and was informed that he could come by at seven the next evening.
            Steilacoom lay south of Tacoma, a comfy town centered on a waterfront green and a ferry dock. Shawn was surprised that such a place would allow a mental health clinic, but he could see how they snuck it under the radar. It sat two blocks up from the water, three modest brick buildings identified only as Steilacoom Acres. It wouldn’t surprise him if tourists occasionally stopped in to ask about a room.
            Shawn slipped tentatively through the twin glass doors of the office and approached a large black woman seated expectantly behind the reception desk.
            “Hi. Um... I’m here to see...”
            She did have a way of making an entrance: at the end of the hallway, wrapped in a white bathrobe, her face scrubbed clean, her hair hanging to either side in damp ringlets. She gave him a resigned smile, worn down by life and medication, but having spotted the light at the end of her tunnel. The light walked her way in firm strides, recording every inch of her, the most beautiful vision he had ever encountered.

Photo by MJV

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