“Calvin isn’t breathing,” Sarah cried into the telephone. “I think I may have killed him. I—”

“First, if he is dead, I am not sorry. Second, I will not miss his abusive, worthless ass. Third, you did not cause his death. You did not have control of the situation. You were not responsible. So get a grip on reality and be calm. It is not your fault. I’m going to call for help and then come over. If anyone comes to your house except medical help, keep them outside until I get there to take care of everything. It will not be very long. I will locate Jack and tell him what has happened and where I’m going to be. Settle down, stay calm, and I will see you in a few minutes.” Carol hung up before Sarah could respond.

Sarah slowly turned to replace the telephone, moaning when her injured hand bumped the counter. She sat down at the kitchen table and fiddled nervously with the edge of the tablecloth while thinking about the previous evening.

A perfect evening began at a local nightclub with dinner, a few drinks, and dancing. Several drinks after their meal, Calvin refused to talk anymore, or dance, and just sat across from her with his head down, mumbling to himself.

Shortly after Calvin left the table, a tall muscular man with dark hair approached Sarah and asked her to dance. She politely declined and asked him to leave before her husband returned.

He smiled and said, “Do I look like someone who is afraid of the world or all the boogers in it?”

“No. I am not questioning your courage. Nothing will be said to you and it won’t be your problem.”

“Will it be a problem for you?”

“Yes, it will. I can’t allow that to happen. Please leave. I’m begging you to listen to me. If my husband sees you talking to me, I’ll be in serious trouble. You can’t imagine how much.”

Sarah continued looking beyond the man to search for Calvin.

“If you need any help, you sing out and I’ll take care of your husband.”

She looked directly into the man’s eyes with a plea in her voice. “You might be able to do that here at the nightclub, but you can’t come home and protect me. Please leave. You have no idea what will happen.”

“I know what I can do. Nothing will happen.”

“Oh no. It’s too late. Here he comes. Please leave. Maybe he hasn’t seen you.”

“I think he has. I’ll just explain that I asked you to dance and convince him you did nothing wrong. He can’t be upset about that.”

“You have no idea. Please leave. You can’t help. You’ll only make things worse.”

He sighed and shrugged, then reluctantly returned to his table and slid his drink around to another seat, positioned with a view of Sarah.

Calvin’s eyes never left the man once he spotted him while passing the bar upon his return from the bathroom, and he squished Sarah over in the booth seat to sit next to her instead of resuming his seat across the table. He finished his drink, then the one he had ordered on his way to the bathroom, while continuing to glare at the man. After what seemed like an eternity, he slurred, “A’right. Le’s go.”

He stumbled and lurched into a leaning position over the hood of the two-year-old 1942 Dodge. He often bragged of his stealing the car by paying only $250 when the selling price of the new car was $1100. Pushing away from the car, he stumbled down the side to grasp the door handle and halt his faltering steps. Slumped forward in the car with his hands on the glove box, he rested his head on his arms and remained silent on the way home, then began drinking and mumbling to himself again. He drank until the bottle was empty, opened another, carried the second bottle back to his chair, and threw the first bottle at the waste can by the bar. The whiskey bottle struck the side of the trashcan, knocked it over, and broke against the wall.

Sarah went into the bathroom and locked the door. She removed her makeup, undressed, and took a shower. As she toweled off, she wondered if he would drink himself into a stupor and pass out as he had become prone to do. Calvin drank moderately before Sarah miscarried, when his drinking increased. He blamed Sarah for being physically too weak to carry his child. The scorn had escalated as he began to fault her for anything that was wrong, or he imagined to be wrong. The first act of physical abuse had been mild compared to the last. With the increase of his drinking over the last two months, his anger and abuse increased.

She dressed in her nightgown and sat at the dressing table to dry her long blonde hair. The splintering sound of wood filled the small room as he battered the door. Calvin put his hands through the hole in the door and pulled pieces away to make the hole wider until he could push his hand through the hole and open the door from the inside. Pushing the door open, he rushed at her. The first blow slammed into the back of her head, knocking her from the stool. He pulled her from the floor and pushed her through the broken bathroom door, into the second bedroom.

“Who were you making eyes at in the nightclub?” His spittle flew from his mouth. He hit her, splitting her lower lip, and held her arm to prevent her from falling away from his reach.

Her head reeled and vision blurred.

He released his grip and struck her with a right hand blow to the side of her head followed immediately by a glancing blow over her right eye.

She staggered and swayed, instinct fighting for her to remain standing, but she lost her balance and fell to the floor, shook her head in an attempt to clear her vision, and fought to remain conscious.

In two quick strides, he stood over her, panting and wild-eyed. The kick to her stomach sent her rolling away from him, but he moved with her, then repeatedly kicked her in the back, upper leg, and buttocks. When she no longer moved or flinched, he returned to the den and continued drinking straight bourbon. His mood became darker with each drink until he slammed the glass onto the bar top and weaved his way toward the bedroom.

Sarah listened for the familiar sounds of liquor bottle against glass tumbler, then pushed up to her knees and stood on wobbly legs. She staggered, attempted to regain her balance, stood, and slowly moved toward the bathroom. Stepping into the hallway, she came face to face with Calvin.

Fingernails dug into her scalp as he gripped her hair and slammed her head into the door frame. Inches from her face, he said, “Bitch! I’ll kill you if you ever talk to another man. I’ll kill you if you ever try to leave me. You’re mine, and no bar room Romeo is ever going to have you. You’re a miserable lay and a shitty wife. Can’t give me a baby. Aren’t fit for nothing. Don’t think you’re leavin’! I’ll stop ya. May be miserable with ya, but you ain’t goin’ nowhere. You understand me, bitch?” He threw her against the opposite wall and viciously pushed her down the hall, toward the doorway of the den.

She lost her balance and fell when he struck her in the back of the head.

He staggered and lost his balance while attempting to kick her, then returned to the den, leaving her on the floor. He knocked his drinking glass to the floor and shattered it. The stench of whisky filled Sarah’s senses. He took another glass from the shelf behind the counter and threw it against the wall over Sarah’s outstretched body. The glass hit the wall, bounced, and struck Sarah in the back.

She curled her body, facing the end of the hall and the bathroom.

Calvin staggered to her and kicked her in the stomach and left side of her head. He braced himself with one hand on the wall as he bent over and threw a roundhouse punch, landing a blow over her left eye.

She did not see the blow that knocked her unconscious.

She revived, and to her amazement found she was in the process of crawling into the den. As she regained awareness, a moan of pain caught Calvin’s attention. He lurched over to her, raised her from the floor by her hair until she stood facing him, and struck her in the nose with a clenched fist. She felt the horrifying crunch as her nose broke toward the right side of her face, then she fell over the ottoman, knocked the lamp from the end table, and pretended to lose consciousness sprawled on the floor.

Calvin looked over the end of the couch. “Can’t be trusted. Twenty-six years old and still can’t be trusted. I know what you think you’re going to do, but I’ll stop you. I’ll see you dead before anyone else has you. You’re mine and nobody else’s. Where’s my drink? I need a drink, bitch.”

He staggered to the bar and poured a large portion of straight bourbon, drank part of the liquor, stumbled to the bedroom, and fell face down across the bed.

Sarah lay still, listening as Calvin’s breathing gained rhythm and became increasingly louder. She waited until she felt safe, then moved quietly past the bedroom where he slept and into the spare bathroom.

Cold water on her face gave her comfort, but also awakened the sensitivity of her broken nose and the small gash over her eye. With cupped hands, she repeatedly brought the cold water to her face until the flow of blood from her nose stopped. She continued to dowse her face with the cold water, hoping to relieve the ache in her head. She went to the kitchen and found a one-piece metal ballpoint pen, filled a bowl with ice, and slowly moved down the hallway to the spare bathroom.

A washcloth filled with ice placed over her nose gave some relief from the pounding in her head and took some of the feeling from the area around her nose. She alternately sloshed cold water on her face and rested her elbows on the basin with her face in the ice-filled washcloth until the pain of her nose lessened to a mild throbbing. She took three aspirin and held the ice-filled cloth to her nose another ten minutes.

With determination she inserted the ballpoint pen in the right nostril of her nose and, in one push, effectively moved her nose to its original position. She clenched her teeth to stifle a scream. Fresh blood flowed from her nose and tears from her eyes. She bent over the basin with the ice-filled washcloth held up to her nose again.

After a few minutes, she stood and leaned her head back with a towel draped under her nose and across her face, leaving only her still bleeding nose exposed to the icy washcloth. She could hold her head back for only a short time before the pain became unbearable. The flow of blood had lessened to a degree and she was able to wet another towel without more blood falling on the bathroom floor.

Sarah moved to the second bedroom to lie on the bed. With the towel and ice-filled washcloth still in place, she relaxed her body until the supply of ice melted and feeling returned to her nose. Careful not to make any noise, she returned to the kitchen, filled a small pan with ice, and slowly returned to the spare bedroom. She lay still until the ice melted and her nose regained feeling again.

The bleeding had subsided, giving her freedom to clean the blood from the wash basin and the bathroom floor.

Lying on the bed in the spare room, she employed the towel and ice-filled washcloth again, then drifted off to sleep until waking with a start. Satisfied when she heard no sign of Calvin coming for her again, she set the washcloth and towel aside and slept erratically until dawn.

******

Calvin courted Sarah for a year before they were married in May of 1938, when he was twenty-two years old and she was twenty. Sarah was young, athletic, and beautiful, five feet and nine inches tall with long blonde hair and blue eyes. She was on the track team in high school, specializing in the 100 and 220 yard dash.

He asked her to go with him to the senior prom. He was not a very handsome man, behaved very jealously, and seemed very insecure from the first moment she met him. Her sister Carol questioned why she accepted when it was more than a month before the event and several others would ask her to go by then.

Sarah said she felt he was misunderstood and with a loving partner he would improve.

Carol questioned if she was only rising to a challenge and continued questioning as the courtship became more chaotic and less manageable. Even then, he was unable to control himself and exhibited his jealousy and low self-esteem regularly.

After they were married, she had hoped he would mature and lose his mistrust and mental complexes and become secure in their relationship. She felt that her loving support of him would bolster his level of self-esteem and he would become supportive of her and himself. Instead, he became worse. After the miscarriage, he became even more moody and reclusive and began drinking beer, ultimately graduating to straight bourbon. The drink affected his escape from the inner pain, and whatever truly drove it, less and less as time progressed. Calvin became more frustrated, more sullen, and more abusive. He directed his anger and frustration at her, becoming more and more violent with each incident.

Despite his abuse, Sarah held fond memories of dancing with Calvin on a number of their dates before their marriage and had hoped the evening of dinner and dancing would revive their relationship. But, like so many other times, something triggered his darker mood and eventually brought more violence.

Her first broken nose happened when he hit her flush in the face with the bottom of a plate. He had come home early one afternoon when he was given notice of a reduction of work force. He spent three hours drinking at his friend’s house and was already brooding when he came in. He went straight to their bar and poured a large drink. Sullen and mumbling, he sat in the living room and drank the entire bottle. Faced with the empty bottle, his attention had fallen to Sarah and he stormed into the kitchen, demanded dinner, and began slapping her when she said it would be ready in half an hour. Not satisfied with slapping her, he snatched a dinner plate from the table and struck her in her face, breaking her nose. Leaving her to fend for herself, he took another bottle from behind the bar and eventually passed out in the recliner.

Later that evening, Sarah met her sister at the home of a doctor who had been Carol’s classmate through all of their school years. As he made the needed repair to Sarah’s nose, he described the procedure and took her through what he did, step by agonizing step.

The doctor said, “You should not stay with a man who is brutalizing you like this. Your injury could have been fatal if you had been struck at a different angle. You are in serious danger.”

“I can’t leave him. He will kill me or he will have me killed.”

“You are just saying that, aren’t you?”

“I’m as serious as this broken nose. He has threatened to do just that if I go to the police. I don’t believe I would live six months.”

Carol said, “You know I will do anything to help you, Sarah. Roger has been your doctor for a long time and known about your marital problems, and I do not feel we have violated your trust by talking about your situation. He told me about a concoction to lessen the deleterious effect of Calvin’s drinking. I had Roger write it for me as a prescription. I will help you by having it filled and give it to you with one condition. You must never tell how you got it.”

Roger said, “It must be used with caution, Sarah. Excessive dosage would be detrimental to his health over an extended period. Short term would have little, if any, effect.”

Carol said, “I planned to tell her about it and see what her reaction would be before I let her have it, Roger. I really think she should hire her own hit man and rid herself of all her problems.”

Sarah looked shocked. “I could never do that. My conscience would not allow it. And I would never risk being put in jail. He will eventually stop. Then, we will be happy again.”

Roger said, “Statistics point the other way. Once spousal abuse begins, it usually escalates instead of subsiding. In nearly ninety-seven percent of documented cases, it continued until the wife made a marital change. It will only become worse. Statistics show that you will sustain another major injury or be killed. I am required by law to report any abuse such as you have sustained.”

Sarah stiffened and Carol jumped from her chair. “You told me you wouldn’t!”

“I will not in this case, but only by technicality. The law states that anyone who comes to my office for treatment or I might treat in a hospital is to be reported. Since you came to my home and since you are my friend I will remain silent this time, but I will not see you in my home again and not report it. I will do this as a favor, this one time. I will not charge you or I am obligated to report the extent of your injuries. I also will not assist you in your suicide. I definitely feel that is what you are committing if you stay in the violent atmosphere that appears to prevail in your home. Carol said he has refused to seek professional help. If he doesn’t, Sarah, you are in grave danger. This will only get worse and become more frequent. The outcome isn’t definite, but it is predictable. Stay there and you will be hurt. To what degree you will be hurt is anyone’s guess.”

Carol said, “The concoction will slow his drunkenness so Sarah can get some food into him, and that will make him even more sober, won’t it?”

“As I told you, it will accentuate the taste of anything it is added to. It is a clear liquid with only a slight odor. When it is mixed in alcohol, it will be virtually undetectable. Mixed and measured to the proper amount, it will dilute the beverage to half or less of the beverage’s original strength. It will cause damage to vital organs if it is administered for an extended period. The liver will be affected in the same manner as sclerosis. The kidneys will atrophy and become slightly, even moderately, dysfunctional. Both of those conditions will cause excess lymph fluid and tax the heart and other organs. If it is administered without end, over the course of a number of months, it could be fatal. The liver is the only organ in the human body that lacks the ability to repair itself. Once the liver has sustained damage, it is permanent. Carol promised to keep the ingredients secret. You must also. The ingredients are detectable in an autopsy, but there is no standard test for them in this state and they are substances that may be purchased at any pharmacy. They are harmless taken separately.”

Carol turned to Sarah and said, “You promise not to tell who you got this from?”

“I do.”

The doctor held his hand up. “That’s not enough. Do you promise not to reveal what the combination is in part or as constituted in the whole?”

“I will never reveal what it is you give me or what the ingredients are.”

He relaxed and leaned against the counter. “I trust Carol and she said I could trust you. I should never have talked to her about it and only did it when we were having a casual conversation; in a moment of weakness. I was in a study group before med school and we had discussed combining different natural substances to help or hurt in given scenarios. Assignments were made to each of the members to find components for that purpose. Pharmacy is a very interesting study for me and I went much further than the others, but kept my findings secret as some of what I learned was a help for different needs and some were lethal.

“I could be called on the carpet for ethics, but nothing would come from the reprimand. Still, I want my reputation to be unsullied. Use the ingredients to whatever happiness they may bring you, Sarah. It is only a small deterrent and isn’t an answer. His seeking professional help or your separation is the only true answer.”

Alone; back at the house, Sarah diluted the bottles of liquor in the cabinet of the bar with the mixture, but Calvin had bottles of bourbon hidden in the garage, locked in the storage shed, and locked in his car. He had the only keys to the car and the storage shed. She was afraid to make copies of the keys for fear he would find what she had done and become enraged. The risk was too great to justify the benefit. The dilution only slowed his drunkenness and did nothing over the course of any evening. He was fully as drunk as he would have normally been and refused to eat, then became mad because she had offered him food.

“Are you trying to stop me from escaping? Are you trying to take away my buzz?”

As it became more time consuming for him to reach the level of intoxication he desired, the frequency of violence accelerated. His mood swings became more acute and he suffered headaches, nausea, and physically trembled the morning after each drunken night. Attempting to counteract the ill feeling, he began drinking when he was able to locate a bottle. Depression and condemnation of Sarah reinforced his belief that she was the root of everything wrong in his life. He felt the need to punish her for that responsibility. He despised his frailties and hated her more for causing his weakness. His illogical reasoning only heightened his hatred for her and the need to physically punish her became more pronounced. Intoxication brought more depression and clouded his thought process into delusion and transference of his guilt to Sarah. He was ashamed of himself when he became sober and realized how he had harmed her, then drank to hide from acknowledgment of guilt. He considered suicide, but turned to the bottle to escape rational thought and guilt, then reasoned it was a weak person who would take his own life. In his twisted thinking he was strong. It was Sarah who weakened him.

Nine days after he broke Sarah’s nose the second time, Calvin came home after eleven in the evening, having been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol at seven thirty. He was taken to the police station and his car impounded for twenty-four hours. He called a friend to pay the fine and get him released. They stopped at a bar for a number of drinks before the friend drove him home. He’d struck Sarah on the left side of her head when she asked where he’d left his car. She fell to the floor and he’d kicked her in the chest, below her neck. She had rolled onto her stomach to avoid being struck in the front of her body. Her movement frustrated Calvin’s attack, enraging him. He kicked her in the side. When she’d jerked her hand to her side, he wrenched it out from her body and slammed his foot down on it three times. She’d reflexively screamed in pain. Pulling her knees under her, she straightened her body and rested her weight on her knees. The last three fingers of her hand hung loosely as she took her left hand in her right and screamed at the pain caused by the movement of her twisted fingers.

Calvin swore at her and moved into the den for a drink, leaving her alone to tend her wounds. She held her right hand as a cradle under her left and slowly moved to the bathroom. She forgot the pain in her side as she concentrated on holding her fingers immobile She took a plastic container of tape from the closet, being cautious to protect her fingers. A shock of pain struck her left hand when she attempted to remove the outer cover from the roll of tape. She considered wrapping the fingers separately, then decided to wrap her hand in a face towel and wrap the outside of the towel with tape to hold her fingers in a semi-rigid position.

Sarah lay sleepless in the spare bedroom, listening to Calvin rant about what he would do to avenge himself on all policemen. He drank and mumbled between his tirades against authority and screamed at Sarah. He drank until he fell asleep in his favorite drinking chair. His breathing alerted Sarah to his insentience and her safety. She spent the greater portion of the night awake and in pain, but did not leave the bed for fear of waking Calvin and suffering further abuse. She was positive three of her fingers were broken and guessed some bones in her hand were also.

The slamming of a door woke Sarah from a fitful sleep. She listened. Silence. Calvin had gone out again. She painfully dressed and ran a comb through her hair before putting a scarf over her head. She managed to tie a knot under her chin by using her right hand. Avoiding sudden movement of her injured hand, she drove slowly to Carol’s house.

Carol’s shock had turned to rage when she realized Sarah’s hand was taped inside a towel. “What’s wrong with your hand?”

“I fell,” Sarah replied.

“Fine. If that’s the way you want it, but this is the last time I will help you. If you stay with Calvin, he will eventually kill you both. Oh, hell fire. I’m sorry I said that. It just makes me so mad when he hurts you and gets away with it. Anyway, I didn’t mean it when I said I wouldn’t help anymore. I regret saying that more than you can ever know. I just wish you would make a move and get away from him. I’ll help you all I can. Any way I can. You know that.”

“Yes. I do. I know you only said that it out of anger because I’m staying with Calvin. I can’t leave. He would find me and I’m absolutely certain he would kill me. Or have it done. Just be patient with me, while I figure out what I can do.”

“I’ve been patient. But, this is a promise. I’m going to shoot the son-of-a-bitch before much longer, and I mean it. I’m not going to watch him do this to you anymore. Jack is buying a large caliber pistol and I fully intend to learn how to use it. It will be a mercy killing. After I do it, I’m going to plead insanity.”

Sarah looked at Carol with the realization that her sister really intended to do away with Calvin. “You’re serious aren’t you?”

“As serious as the damage that’s been done to your hand. I’m not going to stand by and watch him kill you. You and I both know it is extremely probable, if not a complete fact of what is to come. Yes, I’m going to kill him. It is better to be tried by twelve than to be carried by six. Better he is in the grave than for you to be.”

“Carol, I love you. I’d rather be dead than free of Calvin and have you in jail, or worse. Give me some time and I promise I’ll do something to get him to stop.”

“You take all the time you need, but don’t expect me to promise not to do anything. If I could have fired a gun the last time he broke your nose, I’d have killed him. The bastard deserves to die. What do you want to do about your hand?”

“Can we see your friend at his clinic? Will you stay calm and let me get through the bones being set and not say anything?”

“What the hell are you talking about? Do you know you have broken bones? What has the son-of-a-bitch done? What the hell happened?”

“What happened isn’t important. It’s important that you allow me to see your doctor friend and convince him that I accidentally had my hand slammed in a car door and I have not suffered any abuse he would be required to report. Will you do that for me? I’m certain what the outcome would be if Calvin was ever reported as an abusive husband. I’ve got to have a reason your friend will believe. Will you help me convince him? Will you stop him if he tries to report Calvin? Will you be a love and do that for me?”

“You know I will. We can take my car, but don’t think this is the last of it unless this is the last time you come to me with an injury we both know Calvin caused. He is a pathetic, miserable excuse for a man and I am not going to continue to see him hurt you and do nothing to stop him. I’ll do it if I have to.”

Three people sat in the waiting room of the clinic when the sisters arrived. Sarah sat down, cradled her hand in her lap, and stared at the floor. Carol went to the receptionist, told her she was there with her sister, and the receptionist told her to go to room number three. A short time later, the doctor came in.

“Hello, Carol. Sarah, how did this happen?”

“I fell against the car. The car door was open and I caught my hand inside the door when I fell against the door.”

“Sit upright on the examination table and rest your arm on the tray. Hold your hand palm up. I’ll remove the tape and bandage. Is that a towel?”

“I did this last night, late, and I could only improvise.”

“Why didn’t you call me at home?”

“You said you wouldn’t see me at your home again.”

“I said I would not see you at my home again and not report obvious spousal abuse. Is this reportable spousal abuse?”

Carol smiled and put her hand on his shoulder. “No, this is not.”

“I hoped it wasn’t, but the indications I first observed lead me to believe it was. Now, let’s see what damage can be done by being mashed inside a car door.”

Sarah stifled a scream as he removed the tape and opened the towel. Her hand was different shades of purple, red, yellow, and black. Swelling made her hand take on the appearance of a balloon attached to twisted fingers, with blood clots under the nails.

“We are going to be here at least an hour. The swelling needs to be reduced before I can X-ray the hand for breaks. I can see three broken or dislocated fingers. Sarah, you must really hate yourself. From what I can see, you slammed your hand in the car door at least three times. What size is the door? I would hazard a guess at about an eleven double D. Would you say that was a fair estimation of the door size?”

Sarah stared at her swollen hand and did not bring her eyes to meet his. She hoped he would give her the benefit of the doubt and do nothing about reporting her injuries to the local authorities.

“I should have you disrobe to be certain there are no other regions of your anatomy that sustained injury from contact with the evil car door.”

Sarah’s fear was obvious as she raised her eyes to meet his.

He gestured with his hands to calm her. “It was only a passing thought. Let’s get your hand in a tub of ice and reduce the swelling. I’m going to give you a mild sedative to calm you and then slide your hand over a cradle to keep your fingers steady. The movement will hurt, but the pain cannot be avoided. It is necessary to remove the swelling. I’ll give you a local anesthetic before repairing the dislocations and setting the bones. The fingernails will require a relief of the pressure from the broken blood vessels under them or they will atrophy. Burr holes may lessen some of the damage, but I think you will more than likely lose one or more of your fingernails. The burr holes will relieve the pressure and the pain will be less. It is only a small consolation, considering the extent of damage you sustained. I think we will find fractures other than those of your fingers when the X-rays are developed. I have some other patients to see. I’ll come back to check on you in short intervals. Carol, will you come down the hall with me for a minute?”

Roger led Carol into an empty examination room. “We have been friends since the sixth grade and I must tell you in all confidence, Sarah is juggling a time bomb. Statistics point to her sustaining major to fatal injuries in the future. The severity of actions, which I have witnessed by observation of her injuries, is increasing. The caked make-up over her eye is concealing a cut. Did you notice the swelling of her nose? It has been broken since I saw her at my house two weeks ago. She did a masterful job reforming the break, but the swelling will remain for a few days. My guess would be it happened last night. Just as you are, she is a beautiful woman. A beautiful woman who is in serious danger. Our friendship is the only reason I will turn a blind eye and not report this to the proper authorities, but she should or you should. We may both go to her funeral knowing with hindsight that we should have disregarded her wishes and done what was best and what is right. I am only playing a part you and Sarah want me to play. I will only lose a patient and the sister of a dear friend. I will lose sleep for a time and then rationalize it as my patient’s desire. Doctor-patient trust is what I am abiding by. You, on the other hand, will suffer for the rest of your life. Something needs to be done. Some course of action needs to be instituted.”

Carol said, “I know you’re right and I have a plan, but I promised to give her some time. I’m afraid she may not come to me when she needs help if I do something to betray her trust. I can’t bear the thought that she might do that. We will give her the time she wants and be good friends to her.”

“I am not sure what good friends we are being if we let her suffer further injury.”

She held her hands up in defeat. “It’s her decision. I’ll go along with her for a while and then I promise you something will be done.”

Carol returned to the small exam room where Sarah sat with her hand immersed in a small metal tub of ice. Sarah was staring off into space and Carol recognized the look of sadness and pain mixed with unrealistic hope in her sister’s eyes. She asked Sarah, “How is the hand doing?”

“I think most of the swelling is about gone. My hand is so cold and there is hardly any pain. Can’t wait until tomorrow when the feeling comes back.”

“Maybe you’ll get some medicine to keep the pain down.”

They passed the time reading old magazines until the doctor returned.

Roger strode into the room and began examining Sarah’s hand, gingerly touching and shifting it to see both sides while obviously trying to avoid hurting her. “The swelling has been reduced enough that we can do X-rays and determine if my fears are founded. I am going to give you shots to localized portions of your hand and let you continue the ice compress for another twenty minutes, then we’ll get that X-ray. You can continue the ice treatment while the film is being developed. Your hand should be reduced to approximate normal size by then, and we can start the repair process.”

She had two fractured bones and three fingers had multiple fractures and dislocations. Three fingernails were drilled in an attempt to relieve the pressure of the blood clots and avert the loss of each nail. Her bandaged fingers were taped and held straight in a metal frame, and a cast was placed over her hand, partially covering her lower arm.

When the work was finished, he moved to the counter to write a prescription. “Take this medication thirty minutes before you eat. You should limit any alcohol consumption to four hours before and four hours after taking the capsules. It would be best to refrain from drinking alcohol while taking the medication, but if you do drink, a time frame of four hours must be strictly observed without fail. Do you promise you will not consume any alcohol inside that perimeter? If you do, the medicinal value may be significantly reduced. It may also cause high blood pressure and you will experience an astronomical headache. Different people react differently, but the major portion of the population will have an adverse reaction. The only way you can know would be to consume alcohol, take the medication, and wait for the result. I don’t believe the experiment is worth the possible result. Do not take more than six capsules in any twenty-four-hour period. Do not take any other medication in conjunction with this medication. Take care to allow the medication to help you.”

Sarah smiled. “Thank you, for all your help and understanding. I will not drink while taking this medication. I promise to be very careful.”

“Good. I want to see you in ten days. There may be further complications and another method may be needed to facilitate mending of the fractures. There is not to be any extraneous car door slamming. Be as careful as you can to avert any jostling or banging of your fingers, and if there is any problem at all, come to the clinic or you can call me at home. Any time. Got me?”

“I understand. Thank you.”

******

Carol turned her head to speak to Sarah as she started the car. “Where do you want to have the prescription filled? How about going to the pharmacy at Bartleaux’s?

“I’ve always thought it would have been proper for the owners of Bartleaux’s to change the name of their store to a spelling that would be easier to read. Something on the order of Barlow or Bartlow. It would be better for the younger people.”

Carol drove to Bartleaux’s supermarket and had the prescription filled. Sarah waited in the car. Returning with the prescription bag, she gave it to Sarah and adjusted the seatbelt around her waist for the trip home. Sarah took the plastic bottle from the paper sack and two prescription labels for refills fell onto the floorboard.

Carol loosened the seat belt and bent over to get them for her, then read the dosage and other information typed on the labels. “This has instructions to take one capsule four times a day and there are forty capsules in the bottle and in each of the refills. That brings the total to one hundred and twenty tablets, which you are not supposed to take while consuming alcohol. I need to talk to a certain doctor about his intentions.”

“No. You don’t need to talk to anyone. You never saw this prescription. You never saw me today. You never left your house. By the way, did you see a rather handsome man in the grocery store while you were getting the prescription filled?”

“The prescription that I never saw? Yes. I believe I didn’t see the man you also didn’t see while I wasn’t in the grocery store, helping you get the prescription I never saw.”

“That’s enough confusion about what was or was not. He is the man who asked me to dance at the nightclub. He is also the manager of the store and his last name is the same as the store chain.”

“How did you glean all this information?”

“I saw him go in the store and asked one of the guys who carried out groceries. He is taller than I remembered from the nightclub. All of the times I have been here before, I had not seen him. I asked the boy if he was married and he told me he was not. He became very talkative and told me the store manager just came here from New Orleans.”

“So. What is his name?”

“Jon is his first name. I didn’t remember him being so nice looking at the nightclub. Absolutely dreamy.”

Carol opened her door and stood outside the car. “Come on. I want to get a good look at Mister Jon Bartleaux.”

“What are you going to do, ask him for a date?”

“Only as a stand in for you. You should be ready in about three months; sooner if you dump the loser who has been using you as a punching bag. You never allowed anything like that to happen before you were married. You were strong and self-reliant. What changed you?”

“You know I will do anything to save my marriage. I hate failure, and I’ll do what I can and, yes, it is about to change. I am at my wits end and realize the truth in what was just said by your doctor friend: I am in a dangerous position. Something has to change. It has become a harsh habit and if the concoction doesn’t work, I will do something. I’m not sure what, but something.” Sarah exited the car. “I’m going in with you, only if you promise you won’t do anything to embarrass either one of us.”

Carol smiled. “I’ll ask very discrete questions and learn more about him than you would if you interviewed him for the six o’clock news. You just stay off to the side and observe.”

Jon Bartleaux was stocking canned goods when they found him. “Mister Bartleaux, I bought a chicken here last week, which was tainted. Who do you get your chicken from and how is it processed and cared for after it is packaged?”

“I’m sorry. You didn’t tell me your name.”

“I’m Carol Howell.”

He looked at Sarah. “And your name?”

“Sarah Barnes.”

“And your husband’s name?”

“Calvin.”

“His last name? Is it Barnes? I talked to you at the nightclub. Was there trouble after you left?” He looked at Sarah for a response and when none came, he said, “There was, wasn’t there? If looks could kill, I would be pushing up daisies. What happened after you left the nightclub? Is that the reason for the cast?”

“You won’t make trouble for me, will you?”

“Not in the least. There is an office upstairs. See that mirror? It is two-way glass, and the office is behind it. Go through the double doors, turn to the right, and the office door is at the top of the stairs.” He shoved his hand into his pocket and produced a key ring with a single key. “Here is the key. You two go up and I’ll join you as soon as I get someone to take over stocking this aisle. You can take your medication on the way to the office; the water fountain is near the bottom of the stairs.”

Sarah smiled at Jon. “How do you know about my medicine?”

“It pays me to know all I can about the customers of this store. Also, you and I have mutual friends.”

Jon moved to the front of the store while Sarah and Carol went to the office. He arranged for his relief and joined the two sisters moments later.

“Were you able to take the medication and are you comfortable in these chairs?”

“Yes, I did, and I believe we are both comfortable. Thank you. You said we have mutual friends?”

“I have a degree in Pharmacy and I know most of the doctors who have offices in town.”

Smiling, he turned to Carol. “About the chicken that wasn’t fresh; it was only a ploy to talk to me, wasn’t it?”

Carol laughed. “Why, Jon, we are both married women. It isn’t socially acceptable for us to make obvious advances toward a member of the opposite sex.”

He smiled, then turned his attention to Sarah. “I’d hoped you might need dance lessons or you could give me a few.”

Sarah relaxed with Jon’s comment, realizing he was no longer a threat to her safety if he was interested in her health and not aggressive in his attitude toward Calvin like he had been at the nightclub. She was not usually at ease around a person until they were well acquainted and she knew their motives, but suddenly trusted Jon as she would an old friend as she observed the tenderness in his eyes. She felt he would protect her and guard his actions from causing her harm. He was an unusual man in her estimation. “I didn’t have the opportunity to observe your dancing skills. So I’m not sure if I am able to help you with lessons or if the opposite is true. At any rate, I will never know. My husband is jealous and the scene that would have evolved would have been detrimental, to say the least.”

“In my estimation, the least said about your husband is the best way to keep my mind on more pleasant things, such as his wife. Did you ever see someone and feel as though you have known that person in another time? The feeling that there isn’t anything could be said between you that would be misconstrued or found offensive to the other person? I felt that when I first met you. I also felt you have a deep sorrow. I had the strongest desire to protect you from further sorrow, though no idea how to do that or if you would accept. I will do anything that is allowed or acceptable within the realm of good taste. I mean acceptable to you and not what society might dictate. Anything, anytime, anywhere, and without reservation. I am at your disposal. Merely a word and I’ll be there. No strings attached; nothing expected in return. Both of you should know my intentions are purely honorable toward any marriage. I value the sanctity of the marriage bond, but I value the person even higher. I admire loyalty, but what value does a marriage have if one of the partners is mentally or physically ill, or if that person’s infirmity is causing the other partner physical harm?”

Sarah took Carol’s hand and faced Jon. “It is hard to talk about, but you are entitled to an explanation after what our first conversation involved. Evidently, from what I told you at the nightclub and what you have learned from other sources, you already know my husband is abusive. It started slowly and has evolved to the point that I am afraid I’m in danger of being seriously hurt to a greater extent than has already happened. My fear is substantial and it is predictable that the way he has become is going to become worse. Unless there is a radical change. I don’t believe I would be alive six months after I left him. Leaving isn’t the answer to my dilemma. It will only extricate me from him and his warped thinking for a short time. It will not give me safety.”

Jon stood and assisted Sarah from her chair. “Come here tomorrow, if you are able. I have to talk to some people. Business; you know. I would like to talk to you further, but other appointments have already been made. Do you think you may be able to see me tomorrow?”

“I think I will be able to come, if Calvin is working. Do you want both of us to come?”

“No. Just you. I would enjoy seeing Carol, but I need to see you alone. Is that acceptable, Carol?”

“No problem, either way. I want my sister well and no sacrifice will be too great. Not that I am making any sacrifice. I’ll drive her if she wants. I can do whatever she needs.”

He said, “Unless the pain is such that you feel it is impossible to refrain from having more of the prescription, take as few as you can. Aspirin will give you some relief; the rub is that aspirin and the prescription taken inside the period of an hour will put you to sleep in a snap. Alcohol will reduce the effect of the aspirin and medication taken together, but it will still put you to sleep. If you can refrain and substitute another pain reliever, it would serve you better. I’ll see you tomorrow, at whatever time you can. I’ll be available all day from eight in the morning until eight at night.”

Sarah and Carol left the store, went to Carol’s house, and Sarah drove home.

Calvin sat in his favorite chair with a large glass of bourbon in his hand. Sarah moved into the room cautiously. “Can I get you something, turn on the television or the stereo?”

“No. I have a headache. My ears have been ringing all day. Where the hell have you been? I needed to eat. Where were you?”

He did not acknowledge the cast on her hand.

“Carol and I were shopping. I didn’t spend any money.”

“You better be glad that you didn’t because I am going to be laid off in two weeks. We are only going to have unemployment insurance to live on for just twelve weeks, then it ends. Get me something to eat. Get me some aspirin first. My head is about to split open.” He gulped down a large drink, put his head on the back of the chair, and closed his eyes.

“Why don’t you go into the bedroom and lie down? I’ll bring some medicine for your headache.”

Sarah went to the bathroom and opened a new bottle of aspirin using her teeth. She put the few older aspirin into the newly opened bottle, poured the contents of her prescription into the empty bottle, shook a pill from each bottle, and carried them into the bedroom for Calvin.

“Oh, I forgot to bring any water for you to take the medicine.”

“Never mind. I have a drink. Water would only hurt my buzz.”

He drank from the glass each time he took a pill and fell back on the pillow. Sarah waited fifteen minutes and took another aspirin and a pill from her medication to Calvin. After shaking him and pulling him into a sitting position, she placed the pills in his mouth. He merely looked at her as she poured a small amount of water over his lips. She pushed his head back until he was forced to swallow. A small amount of water went into his trachea and he coughed as she laid him back on the bed. He turned on his side, coughed again, and fell back asleep.

Sarah managed to prepare a small dinner, watched television in the den, and did crossword puzzles for three hours, only complicated by the need to carefully protect her injured hand. After taking a shower, she brushed her hair and dressed before taking two pills to Calvin. His eyes opened and closed, then remained closed and he offered no resistance, falling back on the bed when Sarah released her support. His head turned at an odd angle and she pulled it into a position would be comfortable for him. It was her intent to keep him as sedated as possible to induce sleep.

He was even more depressed after being told about the dismissal. It was a certainty in her mind that he would drink and become violent if he woke. She would do anything to avert another incident. Bending, she turned the alarm to the on position and went into the spare bedroom for the night, hoping to avoid waking him and to be out of his reach should he wake of his own volition and become violent.

Sarah was awakened in the morning by the clock radio beeping in the master bedroom. Moving into the bedroom, she turned the alarm off, shook Calvin, and called his name. His eyes remained closed and she shook him again. “Come on, Calvin. You’re going to be late for work. That would be a fine ending to an unpleasant situation. They might let you go even earlier.”

He lay still when she let her grip relax. His head fell to the side in the same odd angle as it had the night before. When she moved it to an upright position on the pillow, she gasped as she felt coldness in the touch. She put her hand over his chest, with the blanket and comforter between him and her hand. He wasn’t breathing. “Calvin!” She frantically moved her hand under the blanket and felt only stillness in his chest.

Jumping back from the bed, she covered her mouth with her hand, tears streamed down her face. “I’ve killed him. He’s dead and I’ve killed him. She sank to her knees in the floor and sobbed into her hand. “I’ve killed him and they will put me in jail. They will put me in jail and then kill me. What have I done? Oh, God, what have I done?”