Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode XXVI

Previously: Dolly peddled pecan buns to the Arms’ inhabitants but found no takers. Laura’s mysterious telephone call finally bore fruit, when another nurse shows up at the Arms demanding to be taken to Beverly’s sick bed, while a distraught Lois brings Pam to the Arms for aid.

Audley

Beverly was drowsing fitfully, balanced on the border between sleep and wakefulness, an unpleasant no-man’s land filled with reptitious dreams that were more like reprises of the dreariest bits of daily life: Buses that didn’t come, doors stuck shut, the supply closet out of PPE.

Then the door opened and a nurse robed in white protctive gear surged into the room. For an instant Beverly felt a jolt of irritation. How did this nurse rate PPE when Beverly had none? Then the feverish woman woke up fully, and realized with horrified dismay that her carefully guarded sickroom had been breached!

“Get out!” she croaked, pushing herself into a sitting position.

“Lie down,” countered the nurse. “I’m going to take your temperature.” She’d already pulled out a thermometer from the black leather bag she’d set on a table covered with a layer of newspaper. She shook down the mercury with a few forceful flicks of her wrist and stuck it in Beverly’s mouth. 

“Audley?” Beverly tried to talk around the thermometer. “What are you—”

“Hush,” said the nurse. Beverly noticed that she wore blue beneath the transparent white of the protective gear, the uniform of the visiting nurses. It must be Audley, disguised as she was by mask, goggles, and hood. And now she was out of view, clattering in the tiny kitchen, putting the kettle on by the sound of it. She reappeared, but only to whisk away the remains of Beverly’s last meal, a bowl of swiss muesli she hadn’t been able to finish. Then she was back again, and with a vigorous tug or two straightened the coverlet and sheets, then plucked the thermometer from Beverly’s mouth. “Hmmm.” She picked up the fever chart, and told Beverly, “Still 104. Maybe we can bring that down a bit.”

Beverly lay back on her pillow and coughed, grabbing a tissue to cover her mouth. “I wasn’t going to see you anymore,” she said weakly.

“I know, Bev,” said her ex. “But you don’t have a choice.”

**********

“It’s not that I doubted your medical expertise Lon,” Laura said earnestly. “But I know how stubborn Beverly is, and she needed someone—” the civil servant hunted for a tactful way to phrase what the new nurse had that Lon didn’t and settled on, “someone who’s a nurse like her. And of course Audley projects a certain, well, authority, if you know what I mean.”

Dolly grumbled, “She’s pretty pushy, that’s for sure!”

She, Lon, and Laura were standing in the entrance hallway, conferring. The visiting nurse had insisted that Dolly use her master key to let her into Beverly’s studio after she’d explained who she was and that she’d been called by Laura.

Now Lon said, “You did the right thing, phoning her. Anyway, it looks like we have another patient.” She gestured at Angel’s Hair, where Ramona had stowed Lois and Pamela while Dolly dealt with the demanding nurse in blue. 

As if on cue, the door opened and Ramona emerged. “Acute melancholia,” she pronounced. “That’s all that’s wrong with Pam! And she hasn’t been eating. Won’t eat, Lois says. I told Lois to try feeding her one of your pecan buns. So you broke down Beverly’s door? I like that new nurse. She’s a go-getter!”

“She’s more than that,” interjected a voice from above. They all looked up, except for Lon, who had silently slipped away to check on his new charges. It Maxie, leaning over the first floor balustrade. “I’ve seen this nurse Audley before, in Beverly’s company. Last fall I spotted them sitting  in a Dockside cafeteria. They were looking pretty cozy, I must say!”

“Yes,” Laura admitted. “Audley and Beverly were involved. They fell out late last year—over politics. You see, although Audley’s profession is visiting nurse, her passion is organizing. I met her when she came to the Housing Department with a delegation of docksiders demanding that something be done about the plumbing problems at the Truman Homes, the public housing project there. And then I introduced her to Beverly, at last year’s halloween party—”

“She was at the party?” Dolly furrowed her brow. “I don’t remember her seeing her.”

“She was dressed as the grim reaper,” Laura told her. “She had a skull mask and a big cloak and carried a scythe.”

“I remember her!” Maxie exclaimed. “And Beverly came as Louis Pasteur. Not a very promising pairing!”

“They were made for each other,” Laura contradicted her. “They both fell hard. Then came the nurses’ strike right before Christmas…”

“Beverly was part of that strike,” Ramona remembered. “What, this other nurse was a scab?” she scowled.

“Just the opposite!” cried Laura. “Audley was part of a cadre of hard-core, anti-establishment types who hoped to use the nurse’s strike as a springboard for a general strike! She was furious at Beverly for voting to settle after the hospital offered them a pay raise. She saw it as a personal betrayal, Beverly said. But I couldn’t believe…I mean, I thought with Beverly sick…”

“So you played Cupid, you sly thing!” said Dolly, with admiration. “You and Covid-19 of course.”

**********

Upstairs Audley spoonfed Beverly from a bowl of steaming broth. The stricken nurse has a clean napkin spread over her chest and tucked uner her chin, and a neatly folded cold, damp rag draped over her forehead. Audley had changed her pillowcase, and the sensation of fresh, uncreased linen under her head was heaven to the feverish woman. For the first time Beverly felt like she might recover from this virus. It made her realize how despairing she’d been, barricading the door against Lon and the rest of the world, her only ambition to prevent the disease from spreading to the rest of the Magdalena Arms’s inhabitants. At the thought, she gripped Audley’s arm. 

“You’ll have to quarantine here too,” she told her urgently. “No two ways about it.”

“Did you think I don’t know that?” Audley poured another spoonful into her. “I brought supplies.”

Beverly swallowed the soup, remembering the last time she’d seen Audley, and their lacerating quarrel. They’d gone round and round getting angrier and angrier until Audley called her a ‘reformist tool’ and Beverly had walked out.

“I’m still a reformist tool,” she said now.

“I know,” said Audley, in the low, sweet tone she saved for late nights in bed. “Drink your soup.”

A tear slid down Beverly’s cheek, and Audley swabbed it with the napkin.

“That’s just fever,” said Beverly. “I may be reformist, but I’m not sentimental.” And she slurped another spoonful of soup.

Next: Will this Covid crisis fueled reunion last? Or will politics pull the two nurses apart again? And can Pam’s problems be fixed by a pecan bun?

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