drove quickly and competently back to the medical building.
We were almost there when I got over my frustration enough
to venture a comment.
"I just don't get it," I began. "We took Needles
in this morning and there was no problem whatsoever with her
being seen by a doctor. And we're perfect strangers. Surely
Morris could bring her in without any problem."
I wasn't surprised when Miranda was the one to answer me.
Anita just frowned and kept driving.
"Joanna called Ellen this morning as soon as you left
with the child. Ellen called the doctor's office and told
them you'd be coming. She authorized treatment of Anita by
phone. This time she can't be reached. And Kevin, of course,
is nowhere within a thousand miles of here. So I have to try
to persuade them that as the child's nearest relative who
is accessible at the moment I should be allowed to authorize
whatever treatment is necessary." She sighed. "I
do hope Morris, who dotes on little Anita, is just being alarmist
and that there's nothing seriously wrong."
I snorted. "Well, if he's usually like that, you should
have told him to wait until Ellen gets back."
I could see Anita's frown turn into a scowl, but I didn't
"If there is something seriously wrong, it's better to
be safe than sorry," Miranda replied gently.
Between her and Joanna Privett I'd had more than my fill of
clichés, so I leaned back in my seat as Anita pulled
into the driveway in front of the medical building. She looked
back at me as she got out of the car.
"If you unload the wheelchair, I'll help Miranda into
it," she said. No "please," no "would
you?" I didn't like being ordered around, but I complied
Morris was already in the building with Needles. He had the
child in his lap. She had her grimy book clutched tightly
in her right hand and her left clenched around his thumb.
Anita walked over to him, leaving me to help Miranda get her
wheelchair up the slight incline that led from the doorway
into the waiting room.
Morris stood up as soon as Anita approached. He looked very
"We've brought Miranda," Anita said, announcing
the obvious. The statement seemed to reassure him nonetheless.
"Thank God," he said. "The child has been hallucinating,
I am afraid, and she is very feverish."
"Did you try to get them to take a look at her?"
Morris nodded. "They repeated what they told me over
the phone. They need authorization from a parent or guardian."
I noticed that the very slight accent I'd heard in his voice
earlier in the day had intensified. "Authorization"
seemed to have lost its "h."
"What is she hallucinating?" I asked.
Anita looked at me strangely, but Morris answered before she
had a chance to interrupt.
"Her father," he replied with a sigh. "She
speaks as if he is there in the room with her, asking him
to read to her and begging him not to leave."
I grunted, and Anita shook her head.
"What is Miranda doing?" I suddenly blurted out,
as the woman rose from the wheelchair and made her way unsteadily
to the barrier that separated the waiting room from the examining
rooms. She had a walking stick in her hand. I hadn't been
aware she'd even had one with her.
I started over to her, but Anita restrained me. "Let
her be," she commanded, and I stopped moving and just
"Cheryl," Miranda spoke clearly enough to be heard
halfway across the waiting room, " how are you? It's
good to see you again."
The young woman standing behind the barrier wearing blue hospital
scrubs, did a double- take. For a second I thought she was
going to jump over the counter, she was so excited to see
"Mrs. Clegg, how are you?" she squeaked. "It's
been so long since you've been a patient here. How is the
treatment at the University Hospital going? How is Ellen?"
Miranda smiled at her. "I'm doing as well as can be expected,
I suppose, Cheryl. Ellen is all right, but it's really little
Anita, my grand-daughter that I'm here about today."
Cheryl flushed slightly. "Oh, I can't believe how stupid
I'm being. I see you have your wheelchair. Please, take a
seat and I'll come out from behind here to talk with you.
It must be hard on you to stand for so long."
Cheryl looked around and saw a young man dressed in scrubs.
"Jay," she called out. "Watch the desk, will
you? I need to talk to a patient."
She grinned sheepishly at Miranda, who'd seated herself and
wheeled up quite close to the barrier. Cheryl pulled a chair
up next to her. "I know you're technically not a patient
anymore, but that's the best way to get someone to cover for
me. So what's wrong with your granddaughter?"
Miranda signaled us over. Morris handed Needles to me. "Hold
her until I can get my feet under me," he ordered, reminding
me very much of the way the grown-up Anita tended to order
me around. She'd already started towards Miranda. I returned
the child to him. Needles seemed to have fallen asleep. My
brief contact with her had affirmed what he'd said about her
being feverish, and I was worried and hoped that someone would
see to her soon.
By the time Morris and I got over to Miranda and Cheryl, Anita
had already pulled over a chair and was talking earnestly
to the young woman. I heard Cheryl say, "I know, but
it's against all the rules."
She looked up at Morris and then her eyes fell on Needles,
who chose that moment to wake up and start calling, "Daddy,
daddy!" very loudly and in a slightly hoarse voice. Then
she began to cough.
Cheryl reached over and touched Needles' face. After less
than a second she jumped up. "I'll call her pediatrician,"
she said. "He's at home, but I think this is an emergency.
She returned to her position behind the barrier and reached
for the phone.
"Did you try cooling the child down?" I asked Morris,
who nodded and then answered, "Yes, cold cloths on her
forehead. I was afraid to immerse her in a cold bathtub, though
I remember my mother did that to me once. His face fell. "I
am not so accustomed to sick children."
Anita glared at me for a second and shook her head, which
I took as a signal to shut up. So I did.
When Cheryl got off the phone, she returned and told us that
the pediatrician was on his way and that we could take Needles
back into one of the examining room. "He told me to check
her temperature and then cool her down with cold towels,"
she said. "I'll get some towels and be right with you."
She led us to the same examining room where Anita, Needles,
and I had been in the morning. It felt as though weeks had
past since then. Morris put the child gently on the examining
table and stood next to her, holding her small hand. She wrapped
her fingers around his thumb and sighed deeply. "My head
hurts and my throat hurts," she said. "I must be
Miranda rolled her wheelchair up next to the child and put
her hand on Needles' forehead. The child grunted and mumbled,
"That feels like grammy's hand, but it can't be. Grammy's
too sick to be with Needles. Mommy said so. I miss grammy."
"It is grammy," Miranda said very gently. "I'm
here with you."
Needles let go of Morris' thumb and reached out her arms,
and Miranda struggled for a moment from her seated position
to pick up the child. Morris quickly stepped in, lifted Needles,
and placed her on Miranda's lap just as Cheryl came into the
"You'll need to put her back on the table, Mrs. Clegg,
so I can wrap her in these towels."
Morris had no sooner taken little Needles from her grandmother
and placed her back on the examining table, when there was
the sound of a loud argument out in the hallway.
"I don't give a rat's ass," I heard a loud, angry
voice say. "I want to see my daughter, and I want to
see her now."
I looked at Anita who was looking at Miranda. Miranda shook
her head in exasperation. A look of mingled revulsion and
impatience settled on her face. "I'd know that voice
anywhere," she announced in flat tones. "Kevin is
back in town."
came bursting into the examining room with Ellen in tow. "What
are you doing to my daughter?" he barked at Cheryl, who
had just taken Needles' temperature. Pushing past his mother-in-law
he grabbed the child up in to his arms. "Jeez, she's
burning up," he complained. "What the hell is the
matter with you people? She's burning up."
"Mr. McManus," Anita said calmly. "You daughter
has a severe case of measles."
"You don't get a fever like this from measles,"
Kevin snarled. "Anyway, who the hell are you? I've never
seen you before. You're too f---ing old to be a doctor. And
"Mr. McManus," Anita continued, ignoring his insult,
"please put Anita back down on the examining table so
Cheryl can continue to try to bring her temperature down."
Her request was polite enough, but she said it in what I thought
of as her teacher voice. Kevin grumbled, but he put the child
back down on the table.
"How high is her temperature?" Kevin demanded. I
hoped that Cheryl would have the good sense to ignore him.
She tried, I'll give her that, but when he repeated his question
in a louder and angrier tone, she said softly, "A hundred
and four and four tenths. It's very high."
"I know it's very high, you moron," Kevin snapped.
"Why isn't her damned doctor here?"
"He's on his way," Cheryl replied. "Today is
his day off, so I had to call him at home."
Kevin glared at her for a moment, then stared at each of us,
Miranda Anita, Morris, and me, in that order. "So what
the f-k are all of you doing here? Get out and leave me and
my wife with our daughter."
"Ellen," Miranda began, but Kevin cut her off. "You
heard me. Out!"
I never met anyone I so much wanted to punch out as Kevin
McManus, and I might have, had not Anita put her hand on my
arm. "Let's go, Bob," she said firmly. "This
is a family matter."
"Damned right," Kevin barked.
I leaned over Miranda's chair. "Do you want some help
getting back out to the waiting room?" I asked gently.
She shook her head. "All of you go ahead. I need to talk
to my daughter and son-in-law, and I need to do it now."
"Miranda!" Morris called out, his voice sounding
"Well, your daughter and son-in-law don't need to talk
to you," Kevin sneered at Miranda. "So just leave
with your friends!"
Miranda looked at Ellen, who didn't make eye contact with
her when she said, "You heard him, mother. Please go."
Morris came over to Miranda and began to push her chair. Anita
and I followed in their slow, unhappy wake.