- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The pharmacist, who was overweight and in his sixties, climbed the flight of stairs slowly, paused on the landing, and mopped his brow. It was a hot day. Dr. Kaldish's office was a flight of stairs up from the street. The pharmacist's name was Jeremiah Potts, but everyone called him Uncle Jerry—because he was one of the two pharmacists in Timmerville, just as Kaldish was one of the two doctors.
Uncle Jerry entered Kaldish's office complaining, and old, skinny, henna-haired Rita Saxon, Kaldish's nurse, regarded him sourly and without sympathy.
"I shouldn't be here. Shouldn't be doing biopsies either. Ought to be a hospital or at least a lab in a town this size. Shouldn't be climbing stairs on a day as hot as this." He wore an old, yellowed Palm Beach suit. "How about my angina?"
"How about it?" Rita Saxon said.
Dr. Kaldish came out of his office into the waiting room. "You'll live to be ninety with your angina," he said, his voice dry and nasal. He was a skinny old man, almost seventy. "Get rid of some of that fat and you'll live even longer. Come on in here. It's cooler."
He led the pharmacist into his office, Uncle Jerry complaining that he hardly knew the girl.
"Don't even remember her name," Uncle Jerry said, looking around the office and noticing suddenly how dark and dusty and old-fashioned it was. But cool enough; it certainly kept its coolness.
"Name's Sally Dillman."
"Dillman. That's right. Dillmans never traded with me. Never even wrote one a prescription." But he couldn't be absolutely sure about the patient's name or anything else Kaldish said. He suspected Kaldish of increasing senility and wondered that a girl like this Miss Dillman should trust him so completely. He took out a tiny snuffbox and sniffed.
"Filthy habit," Kaldish remarked. "I guess you're about the last man in the county takes snuff. As far as Sally Dillman is concerned, ain't much to know. Except that the way you take snuff, she takes cigarettes. Smokes too much—too much! Schoolteacher, twenty-three years old, orphan, got a house and a little money, father was a locomotive engineer. Presbyterians, I guess. I think the mother was a Unitarian."
"Can't stand Unitarians."
"That's neither here nor there, is it?" the doctor asked him. "Point is, you made the tests. You know what I got to tell that girl?"
"Don't see that you got to tell her anything."
"Maybe not if I had your ethics," the doctor told the pharmacist. "I got my own ethics. I got to tell that child that she's going to die."
"I still don't see how it helps to have me here."
"You think that's a light matter? You made the tests. You are going to bear witness."
"Bear witness," Uncle Jerry muttered, sinking into a chair at one side of the office. "Bear witness indeed."
Now Rita Saxon came to the door of the office and whispered, "Here she is now, coming up the stairs."
The doctor sat down behind his desk and composed himself. Sally Dillman entered the office. Sally Dillman had brown hair and brown eyes, and she was upset. Once she had been voted among the ten prettiest girls in her high school class, but the two old men could only observe her with curiosity and not with pleasure.
The doctor rose, went around his desk, and led her to a chair. "You two any kin?" the pharmacist asked, for want of anything better to say.
"This here's Uncle Jerry Potts, did the tests in his lab." And then Kaldish said to him, "No, we ain't kin. Could be, I suppose. Delivered her myself, when was it—forty-two?"
"April," Sally Dillman said. She had a small, soft voice. She was sturdy and upright and biting her lower lip.
"Sit down, Sally," he said.
"Yes, sir." She sat on a stool of sorts that he kept by his scale. She was like a little girl obeying her father.
"Now, Sally," he began, clearing his throat.
"Please tell me the truth," she said evenly, "and please tell it to me quickly."
"Exactly what I intend to do. There's nobody to cover for you, Sally. Us who are alone in this world have a special burden when it comes to facing the truth."
"Please tell me."
"All right. I got Uncle Jerry here, he confirms me. You're a sick girl, Sally. A very sick girl. Your liver is enlarged and your lymph nodes are enlarged. That in itself is not confirming, but Uncle Jerry here did a whole series. Nothing less than a whole series. Wasn't a test we left out. At the same time, I made my own set of slides. Maybe my eyes ain't what they used to be, Sally, but I still know what I see in a microscope. I studied the blood myself. I didn't leave that to anyone else, not even to Uncle Jerry."
"Will you please tell me what is wrong with me?" She was desperate and earnest. "I will do what I have to do. I have a good bit of money, Dr. Kaldish, so if I have to stop teaching for a while and go to the hospital, I can, you know."
"Hospital won't do you any good, Sally. I am afraid nothing will."
"Doctor, what's wrong with me?"
"That's right, Sally. Leukemia." He tried to smile and then remembered that he shouldn't smile, and he looked at Potts, who was taking snuff again.
"I got to get back to the store," Potts said miserably.
"Well, what does that mean?" Sally Dillman wanted to know. "You say that I have leukemia. Well, just what does that mean? How long will it take me to get better?"
"That's what I been trying to tell you, Sally."
"What, for heaven's sake?"
"You can't get better."
"I just got to get back to the store," Potts said again, heaving his fat bulk out of his chair. "Like to stay—really I would. I got to get back to the store."
He left, and Kaldish did nothing to stop him. Kaldish went back behind his desk and sat down. Sally Dillman, crouched like a little girl on the stool, remained silent for a while, and then she asked rather plaintively, "Will I be an invalid? But if I am, who will take care of me?"
"Well, it's not like that. It's not that kind of a disease, Sally. There's no use of my trying to lie about it. It's just a hard thing to tell you, and that's why Uncle Jerry, he just ran out."
"You mean I am going to die?"
"That's right, Sally."
"Just so. I am going to die."
"No operation for this, Sally."
"No," he said.
"Well—when?" she whispered. She was beginning to cry and fighting to maintain her small dignity and her power of speech.
"I don't know exactly when, Sally. You may just have maybe two, three months ahead—maybe five, six months. I don't know exactly."
"But no more than six months?"
"I don't think so, Sally. That isn't the way the medical history goes. I been reading all I can on this disease, and I called up a friend of mine over at Rochester Hospital. About six months."
"Well. Well, it could be a mistake—" She looked at him apologetically. "How can you be sure you aren't mistaken?"
"I can't be sure, Sally, but you know this is not the hardest disease in the world to diagnose. I don't want you to make me hold out false hope to you. If you had a mother or a daddy to take care of things, why that would be different, wouldn't it? But you got to take care of things yourself."
"What things?" she whispered.
"All kinds of things, Sally. You got the responsibility now. You got to think about the future."
"Now this has been a big shock to you, Sally," he said, "but don't go making no big snap judgments. Thing to do is to go and talk this over with your pastor."
"Who?" she asked bewilderedly.
"Your pastor. You are churchgoers, your folks—"
"Mama was a Unitarian," she replied. "Daddy had fights with her and made me go to the Presbyterians. I stopped when he died."
"Maybe you ought to pick it up again."
"Yes, sir. Tell me—" She swallowed and gasped for breath. He got up from his desk, went to the medicine cabinet, and found smelling salts. Sally began to cough and tear from the smelling salts. Then she got her voice back and said, "What happens? How does it happen? I have to know."
"Of course, of course. Well, right away not very much happens. You have this fever of yours, and it will come and go, and most of the time you'll have a sore throat. Now that throat may get crankier. You get to feel weaker—harder to get up in the morning. Then you may get to have a little trouble with bleeding—"
"You mean when I have my period?"
"That and when you maybe cut yourself. It could be hard to stop the bleeding. That's one of the regular symptoms of leukemia. But just during these next few weeks you may never notice any difference at all—"
"I must be going," she said suddenly.
"Please. Right now. Please."
She leaped to her feet and dashed through the door and ran past Miss Saxon and out of the door into the street, where the summer sun was shining and where the barefooted kids were coming back from their day's swimming in the canal, dancing over the hot pavement and laughing and shouting, just as she had done once. Only she had never shouted very loud. She had not been that kind of a little girl.
When the weather was good Detective Frank Gonzales walked to work. He walked downtown from Harlem, most frequently on Fifth Avenue, and when he crossed over Eighty-sixth Street, he entered his own working territory, the Nineteenth Precinct.
The boundaries of the Nineteenth Precinct begin at Eighty-sixth Street and then they stretch down the park to Fifty- ninth Street. From Central Park the boundaries are eastward to the river.
Detective Gonzalez was always conscious of the boundaries and of the area of the precinct. He said to himself, often enough with resignation, "When I step over here, I'm a cop."
He had many feelings about being a cop, mixed feelings, uncertain feelings and sometimes positive feelings. Not too often, however, were the feelings positive. And whatever the feelings were uptown, they always changed when he crossed over Eighty-sixth Street walking downtown. On the south side of Eighty-sixth Street he was in business, so to speak, and he became alert in spite of himself, and he watched people. He observed their movements with professional interest. He even walked differently. In spite of himself, he walked like a cop.
Gonzalez was thirty-three years old. He weighed 182 pounds, and he was well built. His eyes were very dark, and most girls considered him good-looking. He liked to daydream. He liked to dream about being rich, about finding a girl he could really and truly fall in love with, and about doing something that would matter. It seemed to him that most of the things he did did not matter. Often enough it seemed to him that being a cop was the thing that mattered least.
His friend and mentor, Allan Perez, who was a lawyer, sixty years old and dedicated to numerous causes, had made a great point of the fact that being a Puerto Rican cop did matter. Perez would tell Gonzalez that he was doing something important, necessary, and in a sense, civilizing. As to the last, Frank Gonzalez had his doubts. He could sometimes connect importance with what he did and the way he behaved. But to be able to tie his own role into a theme of civilization was not so simple. It was easier to think about waste. He had been born in a slum, matured in a jungle, graduated from high school by one miracle and subsequently from City College by another. He had a degree, and he read books, and he accepted very little as it was given to him. This, he thought, should account for something more than a cop. He was studying for the bar, but he was not working at it. He was in a hole; he was depressed and, right at this moment, he was not working at anything in particular.
He walked downtown early on this April morning, along the wall of the park from Eighty-sixth Street past the Metropolitan Museum of Art, past the Seventy-ninth Street transverse, and his thoughts roved here and there.
He was lying in the sun on a beach in Puerto Rico; he made it specific, the beach of the Hilton Hotel, paying in good solid currency for his room, lying there with all the pasty white bodies of rich Americanos around him. And then that particular and familiar daydream washed out, and he thought of himself as quit of this whole place and making a new career in France or Italy; and then he pushed that thought out of his mind and he tried to study himself as Commissioner of Police. He dallied with that, and then he became disgusted with his own thoughts and he saw the girl.
Then he became a cop. If he had not been a cop, he would not have looked at her twice, because, to an offhand glance, she was not a very attractive girl. It was only when you looked at her a second time that you saw that she was decently built, that she had good features, and that she was healthy and, with a little hope and excitement on her face, might be very pretty. He looked at her a second time precisely for that reason—because her face was dull and flat and frightened. She was walking in the same direction as he was and, with his long stride, he passed her by and then paused and turned around to look at her. Then he stood there watching her obliquely while she walked by him. He remained standing there watching her, and she walked on about thirty yards and sat down on a bench. She seemed aware of him, of everyone. And because she was frightened she was like an animal, and her fear communicated itself to Gonzalez.
Gonzalez watched her. Her eyes darted here, there, and around. Her eyes searched, found nothing, and then fixed on him, and as he took a step toward her, she leaped to her feet and ran.
He ran after her with long strides, and when he caught her about a block from where the incident began, she stiffened against the stone wall of the park, opened her mouth to scream, and yet was able to make no sound. As far as Gonzalez could see, she was more frightened than anyone who did not face death or something comparable to death had any right to be.
Then the voice came. "What are you going to do to me?"
"Are you in trouble?" he said. "Look, don't be frightened. I'm a cop. Now what's wrong?"
She was still afraid. As she tried to drive her back into the stone wall, she arched away from him, and he said gently, "Look, just take it easy. Cool it a little, huh? What's your name? My name is Frank Gonzalez." He reached into his pocket and took out his identification, and he held up his shield in front of her. "Look."
She looked at his shield and she nodded. He put the wallet away again.
"You understand? I'm a detective. What's the matter? Are you in trouble?"
Now she nodded. She worked for words, and when she spoke, the voice came out hoarsely and slowly.
"I'm in trouble," she said. "And I'm afraid."
"I know. But don't be afraid. You're all right. You understand. Did you hear me when I said before, 'I'm a detective'? Detective Frank Gonzalez, the Nineteenth Precinct. The precinct's over here on Sixty-seventh Street, a few blocks from here. Now you understand that?"
She nodded. "Yes, I understand it."
He realized now that his first quick impression was right. She could possibly be very pretty. No one who is afraid is very pretty. Her voice was from outside. To Frank Gonzalez that meant she was not of the city or of any place around the city that he knew about. He was practiced at being a detective and he made many quick observations. Her clothes were not expensive, but they were not cheap. Her purse was expensive; it must have cost her at least $50. The shoes were good too. Her eyes squinted just a trifle. She would be nearsighted. Yet she would not wear her glasses, and even in danger she would preserve her vanity. That was the pathos about her.
"You're really a detective?" she asked. "You're not lying to me?"
"I'm really a detective." He smiled at her. His smile was warm and open, and when he smiled he stopped thinking about himself and what he was. He became only a man, and he smiled at her, and she reacted to his smile.
"Oh, my God," she said. "Oh, my God!" But it was emptying and relaxing. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He took her arm then and led her over to a bench.
"Sit down," he said.
It was about half-past nine in the morning now. The sidewalk along the wall of the park was almost empty of people. Gonzalez gave her time. This was his professional attitude. He sat and watched her and waited, and she took several deep breaths and visibly pulled herself together. From a frightened animal she became a woman. She opened her purse and took out mirror, powder, and lipstick.
Excerpted from Sally by Howard Fast. Copyright © 1967 William Morrow and Company, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 30, 2013
An Interesting Suspense Yarn... with unanticipated twists and turns. I originally read this as a Reader's Digest Condensed Story years ago. I never had the chance to read the whole book until recently. It is just as interesting now as it was then. Howard Fast keeps the action going and before you know it, the story is over. An enjoyable read.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.