Commodore – A Novel

A novel portraying the extraordinary life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

After Lisa Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

Two hands slap at an overturned card, a jack. Lisa and Ritchie try to out shout each other. Michael watches quietly.

“Slapjack!”

Ritchie, now eleven, is sitting on twelve-year-old Lisa’s hospital bed.   Both want to win badly. Happy rock n’ roll plays in the background. Lisa has mastered her bubble gum, cracking it emphatically, rhythmically, repeatedly blowing small bubbles then sucking them in. With one hand behind her back, she draws the next card.

Ritchie fakes slapping the pack. Lisa, just in time, freezes her hand. He points at it.

“You moved your hand.”

She shakes her head, “No!”

“You did!”

They prepare for the next draw. Lisa sneaks a look at the covered card. Another jack! Keeping a poker face she uncovers it. She beats Ritchie’s slap, smiles triumphantly.

Ritchie is not happy.

“You cheated. You snuck a look.”

“I did not.”

“You did. I saw you.”

“Daddy!

“Leave me out of it.”

She brings the back of her hand to her chest, swallows hard with a little too much theatre. Ritchie suspects this might be a ploy, but by the second swallow it looks like she is fighting nausea. Concerned, he looks at his father for reassurance. Another tentative swallow. She gags. This is clearly not under her control. Michael, who’s been reading the sports section of the newspaper, comes to life.

“You okay?”

She smiles at him a bit tearfully but then her discomfort passes as quickly as it came. In very short time, her mischievous grin takes over, as she prepares to turn over the next card. She imitates the sound of a drum roll. Ritchie is not amused by her sound effects.

“Stop,” he orders.

Deborah noisily enters the room. Lisa doesn’t look up. For a crucial moment she tries to stay with her game. Finally she gives in.

As Deborah’s mother once did to her, Deborah moves the back of her hand across Lisa’s forehead, then puts her cheek on it, checking her temperature. “How’s the patient?” she asks cheerfully, as she deposits some bags of snacks on a chair.

“Is the food any better in the cafeteria? What they bring me here sucks.”

Deborah glares at Lisa. She doesn’t like that kind of talk. Lisa’s eyes drop. Michael tosses a bag of potato chips to her. Deborah tries to intercept it.

“Doctor said only hospital food.”

Lisa throws it back to her father, “I wasn’t hungry anyway.”

Ritchie moves off to the corner of the room. He pretends to be busy, shuffling his deck of cards, but he is watching everything.

Deborah again touches Lisa’s brow with the back of her hand.

“She definitely has a fever.”

“Again?”

“I’m pretty sure. Here, feel her brow.”

Michael ignores her and plops into a different chair by the bedside. He takes the TV remote and puts on the New York Jets.

Deborah strokes Lisa forehead.

“Are you okay?”

“The same.”

“Does anything hurt?”

“It’s the same Mom, the same. Stop asking me. That’s the hundredth time you’ve asked today.”

“When did they bring your medicine? Michael, check with the nurse.”

He reluctantly starts to get out of his chair. Lisa intervenes.

“Mom. This is a big game. Ritchie you go.”

Ritchie goes forward with his task. He leaves the room and heads towards the nursing station. The once grand hospital is showing its age. The corridors have been scrubbed and scrubbed, but the marble trim around passageways has passed the point of a pleasant ivory toned patina to simply looking brown and dingy. The high ceilings seem to amplify the cold creepy institutional feeling. Ritchie shuffles down the hall. He shoots a look in the first room he encounters. A doctor and two assistants are busy preparing for a procedure. He catches the eye of seven-year-old Billy sitting up on his bed.

“Hey Billy.”

   Billy, pale and clearly ill, points his index finger at him, pretending to shoot a gun. His thumb comes down as if it is the trigger, followed by an imitation gun recoil. Ritchie returns the gesture calling out “picccchhhhu” as he shoots back.

The door closes. Ritchie moves on down the hall happily when suddenly Billy’s scream rips through the quiet.

“OWWWWW”

   “It won’t hurt…It won’t hurt. I promise you. Stay still.”

    Then another scream is heard all over the ward, this one the result of a local being administered so that a scalpel can cut through Billy’s flesh for a cut down to start the IV again.   In her room, Lisa looks at her father. She squeezes her mother’s hand.

    Billy screams again. “You said it wouldn’t hurt. You said it wouldn’t hurt. You promised.”

  Michael closes the door to their room.

The doctor’s voice can still be heard. “Hold him still. I can’t do this if he keeps moving.”

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