Chapter IV

As the door swung closed behind Ann, Maxine shouted, "Who cares! Let me out of this dump." She then stood up and grimaced as the stench permeating the room registered in her mind. She looked around for a rag to clean up but the room was bare. She moved her hair behind her ears and let loose a ragged sigh. Her buzz had not lasted very long, and she could already feel the craving returning. She shook her head and mumbled, "Got to get out of here, but first let's get rid of this mess."

She opened the door and stepped into the dark corridor. Dusk had settled over the quiet convent and the corridor was dark. She looked around for a light switch and her fingers finally came in contact with a small protuberance in the wall. She flipped it and a dim yellow bulb illuminated the corridor. She quickly made her way to the bathroom, grabbed a towel from the rack and rushed back to her room. She used the towel to clean up her mess on the floor and tossed it in the trash. A slight tremor ran through her body and she felt herself breaking into a cold sweat. She leaned against the bare wall and closed her eyes, forcing her body to relax. She slowly reopened her eyes once she felt she had regained her balance, and her gaze settled on the crucifix above her bed. Her lips curved into a sarcastic frown.

"I'm sure you're enjoying watching me suffer!" she yelled at the cross. She lurched across the room, grabbed the ornament from its resting-place on the wall and threw it into the trash. "Who's laughing now?" She kicked the metal can and stormed out of her room. Her hands started to shake again and her skin had turned pale, sweat evident on her forehead. Her steps took her down the stairs and she walked mechanically down the dark corridor, her eyes fixed on a ray of light coming from under the far-left door. Her throat felt dry and she was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other when suddenly the ray of light became blurry, then faded to black.

Ann stood facing Mother Clarence, explaining with agitation why she was asking to be removed from what they called between them "the Johnston case" when she heard a thump in the corridor. They exchanged a questioning glance before Ann opened the door to peep outside. The darkness was too thick so Ann stepped out and switched the light on. As the light flickered she yelped at the sight of Maxine laying face down on the wooden floor. "Mother Clarence!"

The older nun got up as fast as her tired body would let her. "What is it?"

Ann had already made her way to Maxine and was kneeling next to her. She looked up, frightened. "I can't feel a pulse."

Mother Clarence yelled for help and knelt with difficulty next to Ann. Her old hands reached for Maxine's wrist. "There is a pulse. It's not very strong, but it's there. Sister Margaret, call the doctor. Sisters Ann, Joan, Elizabeth and Lynn, carry her back to her room." After giving out her orders, she stood up with Ann'shelp and walked back to her office. "Let me know what the doctor says. Sister Ann, we'll continue our conversation tomorrow morning after mass." The old nun stood in her doorway hidden by the half- closed door and looked at Ann with worry, wondering if giving her this case was not just a little too much too soon.

Meanwhile, the four sisters grabbed Maxine's unresponsive form and half dragged-half carried her upstairs.

"What's that smell?" asked Sister Joan when she walked into the room.

"She's trying to kick the habit, you know how it goes" said Ann without any furtherexplanation.

They dropped Maxine on her bed and Ann thanked them for their help. She felt like following the sisters out, but a part of her felt responsible for Maxine's current condition. She covered the tall actress with a blanket and followed the stench to the towel rolled up in the trash. "Obviously not used of taking care of herself," the young nun observed to herself. She grabbed the trashcan and put it outside the room to be picked up on her way out. Seeing Maxine unconscious on the bed made her feel like a failure. She looked up toward the cross to make a silent prayer, but her eyes only encountered an empty spot. She shook her head in disapproval and ran her hand where the crucifix had been a few hours ago. Her eyes fell back on Maxine and her heart tightened with guilt. "I let you down," she said aloud, tucking the blanket under Maxine's chin. A lonely tear ran down Ann's cheek and she slowly wiped it off and took a deep breath. A knock at the door broke her melancholy and she opened the door to Doctor Henry, a tall man with sandy-white hair and large warm brown eyes.

"Sister Ann," he saluted before walking toward the bed. "What happened?" he asked while kneeling next to Maxine.

"She arrived two days ago, high on drugs and alcohol. She has been in withdrawal ever since she got here. She wasn't doing too badly until this afternoon..." Ann stopped and turned around to face the door as the physician removed Maxine's sweater.

"Please keep going."

"Yes, sorry...I don't know how it got past us, but somehow she had a bag of cocaine stashed in her suitcase. She found it and used again. End of story."

"You can turn around now sister." He stood up and brought the blanket back over Maxine. "She blacked out. It happens to drug addicts during withdrawal. The most common reactions are tremors, cold sweats and vomiting...sometimes even mood swings and hallucinations. She is trying to overcome cocaine as well as alcohol...not a pretty picture. Also, she re-used after having gone through the first symptoms of withdrawal...obviously it was too much at the time. Had she eaten anything?"

"I think she ate some soup earlier during the day, but I can assure you that she threw it up."

The physician looked at his patient once more and sighed. "There really isn't much you can do if she doesn't have the will power."

"I know," whispered Ann.

He smiled knowingly at her. "I know you know." He took one last look at Maxine. "She'll be all right as long as she decides what she really wants to do with her life...where have I seen her before?" He mumbled the last part to himself, but Ann's acute hearing picked up the question.

"She used to be a big shot in I've heard."

"Of course," Doctor Henry exclaimed. "Maxine Johnston! Boy, every man on earth used to have a crush on her. She was huge at the beginning of the 90's...I always wondered what happened to her...I guess now I know. Beautiful woman," he mumbled to himself again.

"Is there anything we should do for her?" asked Ann, eager to get rid of the doctor and the memories his presence brought back.

"I can't prescribe anything, not if she is trying to get off drugs. The best is to stay with her 24 hours a day until you feel you can trust her to be left alone. It's going to be tough." His eyes softened and he came closer to Ann. "Are you sure you are up to the challenge?" he asked gently.

Ann took a deep breath and nodded. "I wasn't sure earlier, but it's as if the big man upstairs gave me another chance...a chance to make it better."

Doctor Henry nodded and passed his large hand through his hair before picking up his briefcase. "You can't change the past Ann."

Ann looked at him intensely. He had not called her Ann ever since she had taken the veil. "I know but maybe I can try to prevent someone like her from ending up with what I have on my conscience."

Doctor Henry looked at Ann. She stood in front of him with her black robe and her hair covered by a veil, her blue piercing eyes the only visible attribute in her attire. He nodded, giving up on the conversation, knowing that he would not change her mind. "You are as stubborn as your mother was," he said with a smile before walking to the door.

"Please leave the memory of my mother out of this," came a shaky reply from Ann.

For the second time in as many minutes Doctor Henry nodded. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...she'll be fine," he said one more time motioning toward Maxine. "I wouldn't leave her alone though. At least not for a while. I'll come by in a few days to check on her." He left the room and silently closed the door behind him.

Ann dragged a chair next to the bed and slumped onto it, fighting the urge to follow behind Doctor Henry and tell him that he was right, she wasn't up to the challenge, but a stronger force kept her riveted to her seat staring at Maxine. "You're like a ghost from the past. I don't know if I can deal with it." She rubbed her eyes, trying to keep the tears from falling, but eventually lost the battle. She sniffled and repressed a sob, but the pressure in her chest was too strong to ignore and she silently let the tears out.

Maxine's eyes fluttered opened and she tried to understand how she got back into her room. The last thing she remembered was going down the stairs. She let her eyes wander through the poorly lit room, and her gaze settled on Ann. She was surprised to find the young nun's face bathed in tears. She thought for a brief moment that Ann's tears were of frustration because of the situation she was putting Ann in, but the sadness on Ann's face made her change her mind. The young nun was clearly dealing with more than just frustration. Maxine couldn't tear her gaze from Ann's tear-stained face. She tried to read behind the clear blue eyes to find the meaning of those tears, but there were no answers to her questions. She suddenly found herself enveloped by the same eyes she had been spying on.

"You're awake," said Ann, quickly trying to wipe her tears away. "How are you feeling?"

"Fairly weak, but I wouldn't try eating anything...just the idea of it...."

Ann nodded her agreement. "We'll try food tomorrow morning. Now you rest."

"That's it? No, why did you do it or what were you thinking'?"

"We'll talk tomorrow. I don't need to tell you how stupid that was, your body will probably remind you of it fairly soon. Now get some rest."

Maxine nodded, too tired to argue. "Are you going to stay here all night?"

"Yes," answered Ann.

"I'll be all right. Please don't spend the night on a chair on my account."

"I've spent the night on worse things than a chair. Good Night, Miss Johnston."

"One more thing." Ann nodded. "I didn't think you would want to be anywhere near me, much less take care of me after this afternoon." Maxine's voice wasn't accusative, but almost repentant.

"Let me be the judge of that. Everyone deserves a second chance."

Maxine looked at Ann, not understanding her change of heart, but welcoming it. "Thank you. Please call me Maxine." She closed her eyes and mumbled. "I'm glad you decided to stick're much better looking than Sister Margaret."

Ann smiled slightly at the remark. "Sleep now, tomorrow we establish some ground rules and see if you're serious about kicking the habit."

"Did somebody examine me?" Maxine asked, her eyes still closed.

"Yes, we called the doctor when you passed out. Why?"

"I'm not wearing any top, and as far as I remember I left my room with a sweatshirt on." Maxine's breathing slowed, and one more thing crossed her mind before she let slumber take over. "Hey, I thought there weren't any phones in this place!"

To be continued

copyright(c)malaurie barber 2001

Feeb the bard

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