Life blood, p.3
It took only a few minutes for Hannah Klein's assistant, Lori, to runthe pregnancy test that confirmed my suspicions and settled my future.Steve's and my final attempt, another intrauterine insemination (IUI,med-speak for an expensive "turkey baster") with the last of hisdeposit, had failed. The end. The bitter end.
"Morgan," Hannah declared, staring over her desk, her raspy New Yorkvoice boring through me like a drill, "given how this has all turnedout, maybe you ought to just start considering adoption--if having achild still means that much to you."
Hannah Klein was pushing seventy, a chain smoker who should have beendead a decade ago, and she unfailingly spoke the truth. Her gazecarried only synthetic solace, but I was probably her fifteenth patientof the day and maybe she was running low on empathy. Oddly, though,sitting there in her office, miserable, I felt strangely liberated. Iadored the woman, a child of the Holocaust, with layers of steel like asamurai sword, but I also loved the thought of never again having to gothrough the humiliation of cowering in her straight-backed officechair, like a so-so student on probation waiting to receive my failinggrade.
It was now time to come to grips with what I'd known in my heart for along time. God had made me a theoretically functional reproductivemachine that just wouldn't kick over. Translation: no cysts, fibroids,polyps, no ovulatory abnormalities. My uterus and Fallopian tubes werejust fine, Steve's sperm counts were okay, but no baby was swimminginto life inside me.
Sometimes, however, reality asks too much. It's not easy getting yourmind around the idea that some part of your life is over, finally over.The baby part. To admit that it's time to move on to Plan B, whateverthat is. Such realizations can take a while, especially if you've beenliving with high-level hope, no matter how irrational.
"I frankly don't know what else we can do," she went on, projectingthrough my abyss of gloom. She was shuffling papers on her ash-strewndesk, white hair in a bun, fine-tuned grit in her voice. Upper WestSide, a fifty-year fixture. She never wore perfume, but to me shealways smelled faintly of roses mixed with smoke. Earthy. "Aside fromtrying in vitro."
We'd already discussed that, but it was definitely the bottom level ofHell. Besides, I was running out of money, and spirit. And now, withSteve gone, the whole idea seemed moot anyway.
"So," she concluded, "barring that, we've done everything possible, runevery test there is, both on you and on your . . ."
"Steve," I inserted into her pause. She seemed to deliberately blockhis name at crucial moments. Maybe she thought I could have donebetter. Maybe a nice solid dentist who owned a suit instead of somefreelance photo jock who showed up for his sperm counts wearing khakisafari shirts. Well, let her deal with it.
". . . and I can't find anything. Sometimes, the body just won'tcooperate. We may never know why. You've got to face that. But still,adoption is always an option."
Adoption. All along I'd told myself I didn't have the courage, or theheart. Making movies is a full-time job, not leaving time to go fillingout forms and jumping through hoops for years and years. And to cap itoff, I was just two years short of the big four-oh and financiallystruggling--hardly an adoption agency's profile of "ideal."
But now, now I'd just discovered Carly Grove and the miracle ofChildren of Light. So maybe there really could be a way to adopt abeautiful child with no hassles. Maybe it would simplify everything tothe point I could actually pull it off. Could this be my Plan B? Thenwhat if Steve came back? Could we be a family finally?
I wasn't used to being that lucky. And I still wanted Hannah Klein'sthoughts, a reality test, which was why I pressed her on the point.
"Truthfully, do you think adopting is really a workable idea forsomebody like me? Would I--?"
"Morgan, I know you're making a film about the realities of theadoption process. We both realize it's not easy." She must have seensomething needful in my eyes, because she continued on, adding detail,letting the well-known facts convey the bad news. "As you're wellaware, finding a young, healthy, American baby nowadays is all butimpossible. At the very least it can take years." She was fiddling withsome papers on her desk, avoiding my eyes. Then she stubbed out hercigarette in a gesture that seemed intended to gain time. "And even ifyou're willing to take a baby that's foreign-born, there still can beplenty of heartbreak. That's just how it is."
"I'd always thought so too," I said. "It's actually the underlyingmotif of my picture. But today I had an incredible experience. I filmedan interview of a single woman, early forties, who just adopted a babyboy. It took less than three months and he's blond and blue-eyed andperfect. I saw him, I held him, and I can assure you he's as Americanas peach cobbler. The way she tells it, the whole adoption process wasa snap. Zero hassles and red tape."
"That's most exceptional." She peered at me dubiously. "Actually morelike impossible. Frankly, I don't believe it. This child must have beenkidnapped or something. How old, exactly, was he when she got him?"
"I don't know. Just a few weeks, I think."
Her eyes bored in. "This woman, whoever she is, was very, very lucky.If what she says is true."
"The organization that got the baby for her is called Children ofLight," I went on. "That's all I know, really. I think it's up theHudson somewhere, past the Cloisters. Have you ever heard of them?"
Dr. Hannah Klein, I knew, was pushing three score and ten, had traveledthe world, seen virtually everything worth seeing. In younger years shewas reputed to have had torrid liaisons with every notable Europeanwriter on the West Side. Her list of conquests read like an old NewYorker masthead. If only I looked half that great at her age. Butwhatever else, she was unflappable. Good news or bad, she took it andgave it with grace. Until this moment. Her eyes registered undisguiseddismay.
"You can't mean it. Not that place. All that so-called New Age . . .are you really sure you want to get involved in something like that?"
I found myself deeply confused. Were we talking about the same thing?Then I remembered Carly had said something about an infertility clinic.
"Frankly, nobody knows the first thing about that man," Hannah ragedon. "All you get is hearsay. He's supposedly one of thosealternative-medicine types, and a few people claim he's had somesuccess, but it's all anecdotal. My own opinion is, it's what realphysicians call the 'placebo effect.' If a patient believes hard enoughsomething will happen, some of the time it actually might. For God'ssake, I'm not even sure he's board-certified. Do yourself a favor andstay away. Oftentimes, people like that do more harm than good." Thenher look turned inquisitive. "Did you say he's providing children foradoption now? That's peculiar. When did he start that?"
Was I hearing some kind of professional jealousy slipping out? HannahKlein was definitely Old School to the core.
"He who?" I was trying to remember the name of the doctor Carly hadmentioned. "You mean--"
"He says his name is . . . what? Goddard? Yes, Alex Goddard. He's--"
My pager chirped, interrupting her, and she paused, clearly annoyed. Ilooked down to see a number I knew well. It had to be Lou Crenshaw, ouraforementioned security guard. He'd been off today, but there was onlyone reason he would page me: some kind of news from Lenox Hill.
Maybe it was good news about Sarah! My hopes soared.
Or maybe it was bad. Please, dear God.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Klein. I've got to go. Right now. It could be a medicalemergency."
She nodded, then slid open the top drawer of her desk and handed me alist of adoption agencies. "All right, here, take this and look itover. I've dealt with some of them, letters of reference for patientslike you." She must have realized the insensitivity of that last quip,because she took my hand and squeezed it, the closest we'd ever come tointimacy. "Let me know if I can help you, Morgan. Really."
Grasping the lifeless paper, I ached for Steve all over again. Timeslike this, you need some support. I finally glanced down at the list asI headed out. Sure enough, Children of Light was nowhere to be seen.
sounded like miracle-makers, and if there was ever a moment formiracles, this was it. Shouldn't they at least have been given afootnote?
I wanted to stalk right back and demand to know the real reason she wasso upset, but I truly didn't want to waste a moment.
Lou had paged me from a pay phone--he didn't actually have a cell phoneof his own--and I recognized the number as belonging to the phone nextto the Lenox Hill Hospital's third-floor nurses' station. When I triedit, however, it was busy, so I decided to just get in my car and drivethere as fast as I could.
And as I battled the traffic down Broadway, I realized that bydiverting my mind from my own trivial misery to the genuine tragedy ofSarah, I was actually getting my perspective back. That was one of themany things Sarah had done for me over the years.
All right. Sarah and Lou, who figure so largely in this, deserve afull-dress introduction, so obviously I should start by admitting I'dknown them all my life. Lou was my mother's half brother, three yearsyounger than she was, who came along after my grandfather widowed mygrandmother in a freak tractor rollover and she remarried a lifelongbachelor neighbor. (I have old snapshots of them, and I can tell youthey all were cheerless, beady-eyed American Gothics.) I'd arranged forDavid to hire Lou eight months earlier, not too long after I came toApplecore. At that time he'd just taken early retirement from the FBI,because of an event that shook us all up pretty seriously.
For some time now, Lou's been a rumpled, Willy Loman figure, like atraveling salesman on the skids, shirts frayed at the collars, facetinted from a truckload of Early Times. Over the past fifteen years I'dwatched his waist size travel from about thirty-three inches tothirty-seven, and I'd guess it's been at least a decade since a barberasked him if he needed any off the top. Natalie Rose, his spirited,wiry wife of thirty-seven years, succumbed to ovarian cancer sevenyears ago last September, and I know for a fact she was the one whobought his shirts, provided him with general maintenance.
My first memories of him were when he was a county sheriff in a littleburg called Coleman, smack in the middle of Texas, some fifty-fivelong, dusty miles from the ranch where I grew up. When I was aboutfourteen, I remember he gave up on that and moved to Dallas, there toenter training for the FBI. He eventually ended up in New Orleans, andthen, after Natalie Rose passed away and he more or less fell apart, hegot transferred to New York, considered the elephant graveyard of anFBI career.
Probably the reason I saw him as much as I did as a kid was because ofmy cousin Sarah, his and Rose's only child. She was six years youngerthan me, a lot when you're kids, but we were very special to eachother, had a kind of bonding that I've never really known with anybodysince. We spent a lot of time staying at each other's house, me thealmost-grown-up, and truthfully, I loved her helplessly, like a littlesister. I always wanted to think she needed me, which can be the mostaffirming feeling in the world. I do know I needed her.
She was now lying in a coma, and the way she got there was the tragedyof my life, and Lou's. To begin with, though, let me say Sarah was apretty blonde from the start, with sunshiny hair that defined her asperpetually optimistic--and who wouldn't be, given the heads she alwaysturned. (I was--am--blond too, though with eyes more gray than herturquoise blues, but for me blond's always been, on balance, anaffliction: Sexist film producers assume, dammit, that you're a failedshowgirl, or worse. I've actually dyed it brunette from time to time inhopes of being taken more seriously.) Sarah and I had always had ourown special chemistry, like a composite of opposites to make acomplete, whole human being. Whereas I was the rational, left-brainedslave of the concrete, she was a right-brained dweller in a world ofwhat-might-be. For years and years, she seemed to live in a dreamuniverse of her own making, one of imagination and fanciful states.
Once, when she was five, Lou hid in his woodworking shop for a monthand made an elaborate cutaway dollhouse to give her at Christmas. Butwhen I offered to help her find little dolls that would fit into it,she declared she only wanted angels to live there. So we spent the restof the winter--I dropped everything--hunting down Christmas treeornaments that looked like heavenly creatures. She'd swathe them intinsel and sit them in balls of cotton she said were little clouds.
I always felt that just being around her opened my life to newdimensions, but her dream existence constantly drove Lou and Rose todistraction. I think it was one of the reasons he never got as close toher as he wanted, and his feelings about that were deep frustration,and hurt. He loved her so much, but he could never really find a commonwavelength.
Finally she came down to earth enough to start college, and eventuallyshe graduated from SMU in biology, then enrolled at Columbia forpremed. By then she was interested in the workings of the brain, inaltered states. I didn't know if it was just more pursuit of fantasy,but at least she was going about it professionally.
Anyway, when Lou got transferred to New York, he was actuallydelighted, since it gave him a chance to be closer to her. We allmanaged to get together for family reunions pretty often, though Louand Sarah were talking past each other half the time.
Then tragedy struck. She was just finishing her master's, and had beenaccepted by Cornell Medical--Lou was bursting with pride--when hesuggested they use her Christmas break to drive back down to Texastogether, there to visit Rose's grave. (I think he really wanted toshow off his budding doctor-to-be to the family.) Sarah was drivingwhen they crossed the state line into Louisiana and were side-swiped bya huge Mack eighteen-wheeler, which was in the process of jackknifingacross a frozen patch of interstate. They were thrown into the path ofan oncoming car, and when the blood and snow were cleared, asix-year-old girl in the other vehicle was dead.
The result was Sarah decided she'd taken a human life. Her own minorfacial cuts--which Lou immediately had repaired with plasticsurgery--somehow evolved into a major disfigurement of her soul. Allher mental eccentricities, which had been locked up somewhere when shestarted college, came back like a rush of demons loosed from somePandora's box deep in her psyche. She dropped out of school, and beforelong she was in the throes of a full-scale mental meltdown. Shedisappeared, and in the following two years Lou got exactly one cardfrom her, postmarked in San Francisco with no return address. Hecarried it with him at all times and we both studied it often, puzzlingover the New Age astrological symbol on the front. The brief noteannounced she'd acquired "Divine Energy" and was living on a new planeof consciousness.
Then eight months ago, the State Department notified Lou she wasmissing in Guatemala. She'd overstayed her visa and nobody knew whereshe was.
So how did her "new plane of consciousness" land her in CentralAmerica? Was that part of the fantasy world she'd now returned to? Loustill worked downtown at 26 Federal Plaza, but he immediately took aleave of absence and, though he spoke not a syllable of Spanish,plunged down there to look for her.
He was there a month, following false leads, till he finally
ran into a Reverend Ben Jackson, late of a self-styled Protestantministry in Mississippi, who was one of the ardent new Evangelicalsswarming over Central America. The man mentioned that some chicleharvesters in the northwest Peten Department of Guatemala had found ayoung woman in an old dugout canoe on the Guatemala side of the wideUsumacinta River, near a tributary called the Rio Tigre, lodged inamongst overhanging trees. She'd been struck on the head and presumablyset adrift somewhere upriver, left for dead. She was now in a coma,resting at Jackson's "Jesus es el Hombre" clinic, also located deep inthe northwest Peten rain forest. He had no idea who she was.
Lou rented a car and drove there, almost a day on unpaved roads. It wasSarah.
Thus she was no longer missing; she was now the apparent victim of anattempted murder. However, rather than being helpful, the local_policia_ appeared annoyed she'd been found, thereby reopening thematter. A blond _gringa _was out hiking somewhere she had no businessbeing in the first place and
Lou brought her back to New York, using a medevac plane supplied by theState Department, which, wanting no more CIA-type scandals of Americannationals being murdered in Guatemala, cooperated with great dispatch.
After that, he needed a job that would afford him time flexibility, sohe could be at her bedside as much as possible. David was looking for asecurity head, and I realized it would be a perfect match. Since wedidn't really need a full-time person, Lou could spend a lot of hoursat Lenox Hill, watching over Sarah.
She was just lying there now, no sign of consciousness, her body beingkept alive with IV I'd go by to visit her as much as I could, andalmost as bad as seeing the comatose Sarah was seeing the grief inLou's eyes. He would sit there at the hospital every day, sometimesseveral hours a day, fingering an old engraved locket that carried herhigh-school graduation picture, just rubbing it through his fingerslike a rosary. We always made allowances when he wanted to take timeoff during one of our shooting schedules, figuring maybe he was helpingher. . . .
As I turned east, to go crosstown, I thought again about Sarah'scondition. She and I looked a lot alike, dense blond hair for onething, but to see her now you'd scarcely know it, since hers had beenclipped down to nothing by the hospital. Her cheekbones, however, werestill strong, a quality now exaggerated by her emaciated state, and hereyes, which I had not seen in years, were a deep languid, turquoiseblue. But seeing her lying there inert, being kept alive with tubes andliquids, wearing pressure pants to help circulate blood through herlegs, you'd scarcely realize she'd been a strikingly beautiful womanbefore the accident.
What's worse, from what I knew, the horrific brain traumas that bringon a coma don't automatically go away when you regain consciousness. Ifthe coma is the result of a head injury, and if it lasts more than afew days, the chances of regaining all your mental functions are up forgrabs. Lou once said there's a scale of eight stages to full recovery.People who have short comas can sometimes come out of them and gothrough those stages quickly--from initial eye movement to full mentalfaculties. Others, who've been under for months or longer can requireyears to come back. Sometimes they can only blink their eyes to answerquestions; sometimes they babble on incessantly. They can talk sense,or they can talk nonsense, incoherent fantasies, even strings ofnumbers. The brain is a complex, unpredictable thing. . .
I always thought about this as I took the elevator up to Lenox Hill'sthird floor. The room where they kept Sarah was painted a pale, sterileblue, and made even more depressing by stark fluorescent lights.Everything was chrome and baked-on enamel, including the instrumentswhose CRT screens reported her bodily functions. None of theinstruments, however, had ever shown the brain activity associated withconsciousness.
Lou was there when I walked in. He had a kind of wildness in his eyes,maybe what you get when you mix hope with despair. We hugged each otherand he said, "She had a moment, Morgy. She knew me. I'm sure she did."
Then he told me in detail what had happened. A nurse passing Sarah'sroom had happened to notice an unexpected flickering on one of hermonitors. She'd immediately informed the nurses' station, whereinstructions included Lou's home number.
He'd grabbed a cab and raced there. When he got to her room, he pushedhis way past the Caribbean nurses and bent over her, the first time hehad hoped a conversation with her would be anything but a monologue.
"Honey, can you hear me?"
There was no sign, save the faint flicker of an eyelid.
It was enough. His own pulse rocketed.
"Where's the damned doctor?"
While the physician was being summoned, he had a chance to study her.Yes, there definitely was some movement behind her eyelids. And herregular breathing had become less measured, as though she were fightingto overcome her autonomic nervous system and challenge life on her own.
Finally an overworked Pakistani intern arrived. He proceeded to fiddlewith the monitors, doing something Lou did not understand. Then withoutwarning--and certainly attributable to nothing the physician did--Sarahopened her eyes.
Lou, who had not seen those eyes for several years, caught himselffeasting on their rich, aquatic blue. He looked into them, but they didnot look back. They were focused on infinity, adrift in a lost sea oftheir own making. They stared at him a moment, then vanished againbehind her eyelids.
He told me all this and then his voice trailed off, his despairreturning. . . .
"Lou, it's a start. Whatever happens is bound to be slow. But thiscould be the beginning. . . ."
We both knew what I was saying was perilously close to wishfulthinking, but nobody in the room was under oath. For the moment,though, she was back in her coma, as though nothing had changed.
I waited around until eight o'clock, when I finally convinced myselfthat being there was not doing anybody any good. Lou, I later learned,stayed on till well past eleven, when they finally had to send securityto evict him.
Okay, I've been holding out on the most important detail. The truth is,I hardly knew what to make of it. At one point when I was bending overSarah's seemingly unconscious face, her eyes had clicked open for justa fleeting moment, startling me the way those horror movies do when the"un-dead" suddenly come alive. Lou was in his chair and didn't see it,didn't notice me jump.
The last thing I wanted to do was tell him about it, and I was stillshivering as I shoved my key into the Toyota's ignition and headed forhome. She'd looked directly into my eyes, a flicker of recognition, andthen came the fear. She sort of moved her mouth, trying to speak, butall that came was a silent scream, after which her eyes went blank asdeath and closed again.
She knew me, I was sure of it, but she had looked through me and seen areminder of some horror now locked deep in her soul.
Life Blood by Thomas Hoover / Horror have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on16 votes