Editor’s note: Suspended Aggravation is an original, Wheeling-centric novel by Nora Edinger and is published exclusively through Weelunk. While some of the places mentioned in Suspended Aggravation are real (or nearly real), the storyline and most characters (with the exception of a few cameo appearances by actual city residents) exist only in the author’s imagination. For the backstory, read our Q&A with the author.
Emotion: “You’re my guiding light. Day or night, I’m always there.”
Goodbye would have been way easier if she hadn’t been trying so hard not to cry.
She didn’t mean to cry, but when Gabe kissed her goodnight that first evening at Kensington Rehab, she was overwhelmed. As soon as the door closed behind him, all the emotions of the last couple of weeks broke forth and Allie was blubbering — crying so hard and fast she had to gasp for air.
At least when she was at the hospital, they were together. Now, she wouldn’t spend another night with her husband for who knew how long. She was in literal pain and she was alone, well sort of alone. Her roommate, an octogenarian named Mildred Taylor — crusty enough to have practically put an “unwelcome” sign on the door for Allie’s arrival — was just two vinyl-upholstered arm chairs and a rolling bed stand away.
The honeymoon, even such a one as it was, was truly over. Allie added a sad moan to her tears.
“Cut the crap, Blondie,” Mildred suddenly growled from across the room. “You’re probably the only woman in this wing who even still has a husband. Being alone for the night isn’t going to kill you. My husband’s been sleeping in the family crypt at Greenwood Cemetery for almost 20 years and you don’t hear me going on.”
Well. Allie didn’t know what to say to that. She ventured a quiet, “So sorry,” although she wasn’t sure what part of all that Mildred would want her to be sorry about. Maybe just for breathing.
“Yeah, yeah. Go to sleep already.”
“Oh,” Allie whimpered. “Are there any tissues here?”
“Well, don’t look at me,” Mildred hissed. “I’m in for a hip replacement. When I’m down for the night, I’m down for the night.”
Allie looked around futilely for a moment, before she tugged on the sheet, which was surprisingly rough to the touch compared to any other linens she’d seen in America. She pulled it all the way up to her nose with her casted hand and dabbed as gently as she could.
Lovely. Just, lovely.
She cried some more, silently this time.
Her stay at Kensington Rehab was going to be a long, horrid one. She could already tell.
Gabe popped his head in the door at 7:30 a.m., his hair still wet from the shower.
Allie, who had just been “freshened up,” as she had taken to calling her episodes of intense personal assistance, was thrilled to see him again. Mildred was less enthusiastic.
“You’re back already? For Pete’s sake…” the older woman snarled before disappearing behind her morning newspaper with the angriest rustling of newsprint that Allie could imagine was possible. Short of swatting a fly at least.
Gabe, apparently undaunted, peeked over the top of Mildred’s paper and gave the woman a stunning smile. “Good morning, Miss Millie.” He then closed the curtain between their two beds and settled, next to Allie’s wheelchair, in the sad chair that remained on Allie’s side of the room. It hissed when he sat down, not unlike a whoopee cushion. Gabe rolled his eyes.
“I didn’t think I’d see you until after work,” Allie said, opting to ignore the hiss altogether.
“I thought we could do a devotional together each morning while you’re here since it will be pretty hard for you to read the Bible on your own,” he explained. “I can only stay about a half hour, though. Is that OK?”
“It’s more than OK.” Allie hadn’t even seen a Bible since Friday morning. She was pretty desperate for one at the moment. “Thank you so much.”
“I only have my King James Version.”
“That’s fine,” Allie said. “That’s what I grew up with. I kind of miss it.”
“I thought we could start with the psalms,” Gabe said. “I found one last night that I thought really fit our circumstances. It’s Psalm 116.”
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Allie snuggled into the pillow at her back as he read the lyrical words to her. He might not be able to sing in tune, but Gabe had a beautiful voice for poetry as it happened. She listened happily as he read about God hearing the prayers of His people.
How ridiculous that I was worried about his work for the government. What a wonderful man. He couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong.
“Here’s the part that I really liked, verses 8 and 9,” Gabe said, rallying her thoughts back to the biblical. “For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.”
Gabe looked at Allie. “I believe God will do all of that for us. Don’t you?”
Allie nodded, too close to tears to speak. She needn’t have held back. When Gabe grasped as much of her casted hand as he could and began to pray for the both of them, she grew nearly as weepy as she had been the night before.
“Lord Jesus, we’re so thankful for you and for each other,” he prayed, squeezing her fingers a bit. “We’re thankful for these beautiful promises from your word. I ask you to be with Allie and with me today, that you’ll make our bodies strong, that you’ll knit our bones back together. Help us to be a blessing to you, to each other and to all those around us. We ask this in your name. Amen.”
He managed to find the tissues that had remained so elusive last night and gently dabbed at Allie’s face until she was done. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“It doesn’t take much these days. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s like I have PMS 24/7 — one mood swing after another.”
Gabe’s fluency with women was apparently enough that he knew to not offer a follow-up comment to that. He just looked at his watch and frowned. “I won’t be able to get back here until 6:30 at the earliest on the days that I’m working. That’s going to be too late to have dinner with you, I’m afraid.”
“Will you have time to cook dinner for yourself?”
He laughed. “We may never need to cook again. Your church ladies have sent more casseroles than we could possibly eat if we had a family of 10. It took me more than an hour last night to divide them up into single portions and put them in the freezer given the cast thing. I foresee a lot of microwaving in the coming weeks.”
“Church ladies rock.”
“Yes, they do.” He kissed her quickly and rose up to leave. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
They smiled blissfully at each other until an annoyed groan came from the other side of the curtain.
“We love you, too, Miss Millie,” Gabe said as he swished the fabric back against the wall. “So does Jesus.”
“Oh, crap,” Mildred said before he was completely out the door. “Six weeks in this place and I get stuck with a Bible thumper, her holier-than-thou husband and cops at my door.”
Gabe froze for a moment, eyes full-on deer in the headlights and his hand still on the knob. Then he turned to wink at his wife before he left. Allie, who had never once considered “holier than thou” as a possible description of Gabe, clamped her lips together with her teeth to stop the laugh that suddenly wanted to explode. It felt way better than crying.
Her stay at Kensington Rehab was going to be one wild ride. She could already tell.
INSIDE THE STORY:
•Greenwood Cemetery is a real, very beautiful place. Its park-like grounds are thickly shaded with trees, and its tiny, winding roads thread through elaborate gravestones and small family crypts. It’s not the oldest cemetery in town, but early graves are from the mid-1800s and are stunning. It’s non-denominational, unlike the massive Mt. Calvary Cemetery, which is reserved for Roman Catholic burials. The two grounds are effectively across the street from each other, their residents kept separate by wrought iron fences and the historic National Road.
• For 75 years, a Greenwood Cemetery grave belonging to one of Wheeling’s glass industrialists was marked by the 5-foot-tall Sweeney Punch Bowl — a cut crystal vessel large enough to hold 16 gallons. Signage credited the bowl solely to grave resident Michael Sweeney, although it was actually designed by his brother, Thomas Sweeney. Michael apparently died angry, purportedly over money. Two similar bowls, also made by their North Wheeling Glass Company, were destroyed in a shipwreck and a house fire. The remaining bowl was moved a few miles away to Oglebay Institute Glass Museum in 1949 for safekeeping.
• A long-time journalist, Nora Edinger also blogs at noraedinger.com and Facebook and writes books. Her Christian chick lit and faith-related non-fiction are available on Amazon. She lives in Wheeling, where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household.