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.

CHAPTER 28

Location: Kensington Rehabilitation Hospital, 40.080045, -80.694052

Emotion: “We’ll find your group, your herd, your flock.” 

“Come on, Blondie. I can do better than that and I’m 83. You’ll never get home to your pretty husband if that’s all you’ve got.”

This “encouragement” was from Mildred, who had mysteriously lingered behind after her own round of physical therapy to supervise Allie’s. Allie wondered at that. She knew the woman was mobile enough to wheel herself back to their room, or to the dungeon or wherever it was that she disappeared to most mornings.

Allie tried to ignore the taunt and focus all her attention on staying upright. The physical therapist had her doing some standing to work on leg strength and hip and knee motion. She stood on her knee-hinged brace and used her broken-wrist arm — now also encased in a removable brace — to bat a balloon back and forth with the young man. How could something that looked so easy be so incredibly difficult? She stretched a bit for one shot and might have stumbled had the therapist not immediately reached out his hand to steady her.

Mildred harrumphed and left the room. Allie suspected the older lady would have liked it better if Allie had fallen face first onto the floor.

Fortunately, Mildred hadn’t returned to their room Allie discovered once she was also done. Allie had it all to herself for the rest of the afternoon. A bit of napping. A bit of praying. She almost felt nice again. 

Then, it was time for dinner. 

This turned out to be as bad as her first lunch hour at Fort Henry High School, back when she was 14 and brand new to Wheeling in specific and America in general. No, this was worse. The powers that be had decided that Allie must eat in the rehab center’s dining room now that she was a “veteran” resident. Her immediate concern had been how well she would be able to feed herself with only the fingertips and thumb of one hand free. Once the nurse’s aide rounded the corner into the attractive, carpeted area, however, she realized the real problem was less concrete.

She wasn’t in the cool crowd. She wasn’t even in the geeky crowd. She was a lone wolf. The other “residents” of Kensington Rehab were already assembled in tight packs around large, round tables. Allie immediately spotted Mildred in a group of white-haired women, all of whom looked similarly and inexplicably hostile. 

“And, where would we like to sit today?” the aide asked Allie in a cotton-candy voice.

We?

Allie glanced Mildred’s way again. The meanie who had mocked Allie’s efforts at physical therapy that morning now lifted the corner of her top lip in an actual snarl. Blimey. Allie breathed out a puff of air and looked vaguely elsewhere.

“You come on over here, young lady,” a tiny voice squeaked out from the corner of the room. There, an equally tiny woman who looked remarkably like a leprechaun, or at least what Allie imagined a leprechaun should look like, held court with her own group of white-haired ladies. Each of them was similarly and inexplicably cheerful. “We’ll make room.”

Thus, Allie wound up included in what might not have been the cool crowd — Mildred and her cronies probably had that sewn up — but, at least it was a nice crowd. She looked around the table. These were perhaps the kind of women who read thick books and played the clarinet while in high school. She felt immediately at home.

“I’m Rosie,” the leprechaun lady said. “Rosie Kirby.” The other ladies introduced themselves, as well.

“I’m Allie Bennett,” Allie said. “Oops, Allie Morelli actually. I got married last week.”

“Last week!” the ladies of the good-girl roundtable gasped in unison. “What happened to you?”

“We were hit by a car right after our wedding.”

Another round of gasps. “Oh, my! That was you? We saw that on the news! How terrible!” Rosie exclaimed. “Is your husband all right?”

“He has several broken bones, but he was able to go home,” Allie explained. “He’ll be here to visit later tonight.” 

That said and much sympathy being offered, the group got down to the business of eating what was allegedly Salisbury steak and scalloped potatoes. Allie tried to smile warmly while Rosie, who freely admitted to 96 years and was a permanent resident of Kensington, cut her meat into manageable bites for her. She smiled when she lost her grip on her spoon and spilled peas all over the table. She smiled when she sloshed a great deal of that meal’s quota of the milk the orthopedist insisted she have throughout the day right onto her lap.

Sigh. Her stay at Kensington Rehab was going to be a humbling one. She could already tell.

Peterson Hospital

♥♥♥

Michelle got to Allie’s room not long after Allie returned from her early-bird dinner. She was carrying a well-loved rabbit that looked like it had lost some serious stuffing over the years. “I thought you might like Mr. B to keep you company,” Michelle said, placing the bunny on Allie’s now thankfully dry lap.

Allie wasn’t sure what to say. She couldn’t imagine why her mother-in-law would bring her a lovey, particularly one whose original color was indeterminate.

“Gabriel slept with Mr. B until he was in middle school. I thought, since he can’t be with you at night, you might be lonely and Mr. B could…” Michelle trailed off, reaching for the stuffed animal. “Never mind. It was just a silly idea. I’ll take him home.”

The bunny wasn’t going anywhere, Allie decided instantly. “No!” She tucked Mr. B into the space between her hip and the side of her wheelchair. “I would love to have him. Thank you.”

Michelle smiled. “I’m new to this mother-in-law business. You’ll have to tell me if I do anything too dorky.”

“I guess we can figure it out together,” Allie laughed. “I don’t know anything about being a daughter-in-law, or a wife for that matter.”

Then, Gabe was there again, looking rather worn at the edges, Allie noticed. He bent to kiss her, but plucked the bunny from her side as he rose up. “Mr. B! I thought he was long gone.”

“I kept him in the attic,” Michelle admitted with a shy smile. “I brought him to Allie to keep her company.”

“That’s a great idea. I have to admit I’ve been letting Marmalade sleep in our bed. I had no idea I’d enjoy having a cat in the house so much,” Gabe laughed, returning the bunny to his wife’s lap. “Mr. B’s even better, though. You’ll definitely have sweet dreams.”

Michelle left them then and Allie looked her husband over more carefully. “You’re tired.”

“Not really,” Gabe said. “My head and my nose are pretty much OK now. But, the concussion is making it almost impossible to use my computer. The glare gives me a headache. My boss sent me home at 2 and told me to take a nap in a dark room. I didn’t plan on actually listening, but by the time I drove home from Moundsville I was ready to conk out. I didn’t wake up until just a few minutes ago, so I’m good. How are you feeling?”

It was a long statement, probably suggesting that the day had been even longer and more difficult than Gabe’s words revealed. Allie decided to be equally frank.

“The physical therapy was more tiring than I thought it would be,” she admitted. “I think I would have been sleeping well tonight, even without Mr. B.”

They chatted a few minutes longer, but Allie could tell Gabe really wasn’t feeling all that well. “Go home and get some more rest,” she finally said. “They’ll be coming sooner or later to help me into bed anyway. Mildred will be back at any rate, unless she’s plotting a coup or some other evil thing with her cronies.”

“Mildred has cronies, huh?” He smiled a weary smile, brushed Mr. B’s nose against her cheek and then kissed her himself. “I never thought I’d be jealous of a stuffed bunny.”

“Oh, no you don’t. You can’t have him,” Allie grinned, clutching the bunny to her side. “Your mom said I could keep him the whole time I’m here.”

“I’m not jealous for him. I’m jealous of him. I want to be the one snuggled against you, African Queen.”

Mildred walkered herself into the room in the middle of their most-delightful goodnight kiss, managing to both clomp the aluminum frame against the floor and make a squeaking sound with the wheels on its front legs. She was practically a one-woman band, Allie thought, feeling unusually unkind at the moment.

“Have you two ever heard of Black Lives Matter?” Mildred said, rather pointedly. “There is nothing remotely African about Blondie here.”

Allie was speechless. Was Mildred actually accusing them of racism over a nickname gleaned from a movie title?

Gabe paused only a heartbeat before answering for them both. “Yes, black lives absolutely do matter. Allie is from Africa. That and an old Katharine Hepburn movie is where the nickname comes from, but I’m sorry we offended you. We’ll stop using it.”

Allie was startled at the love in his words. Gabe, her repentant wild thing of a husband, was suddenly the Apostle Paul’s Romans 14 in the flesh. And she, the good girl to end all good girls, was feeling rather peeved in contrast. She liked her nickname. She loved her nickname. She pondered possible nicknames for her roomie from a certain hot place.

Old bat.

Rotter.

Bad hat.

“Hmmph,” Mildred muttered as if she’d heard Allie’s thoughts.

Allie thought some more.

If the shoe fits, Mildred!

Later, when Gabe was gone, the two women were both in their beds and the lights were out, there came an actual question. “So, how long have you love birds been married anyway?”

Allie, surprised Mildred had anything civil to say, did a quick count and decided she was calm enough to answer without any name calling.  “Ten days.”

Mildred didn’t respond, but Allie heard a soft gasp of surprise. Well, well. Maybe Mildred wasn’t quite as much of a battle ax as she appeared to be. Simultaneously  contemplating that happy thought, praying that it might actually be true and still feeling a bit of “bad hat” anger, Allie squeezed Mr. B as firmly as she dared given his delicate condition and fell asleep.

INSIDE THE STORY:

While working on a journalistic, race-relations story for Weelunk magazine, publisher of Suspended Aggravation, I began to wonder about using the nickname “African Queen” for a white character in this book. The name is introduced in early chapters because of a movie connection. Rather than offend, I opted to remove the nickname from the rest of the book. But, because I can, I also opted to work its removal into the plotline in a way that makes sense in 2020.  

A special thanks to Tori Bayer, former faculty member at what was then Wheeling Jesuit University, for creating a physical therapy plan for a fictional character. It takes a village to keep a storyline real.

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• 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.

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