#52weeks52stories: Week 15
Word prompt: decor
Word Count: 1462
Sally sat on the edge of the hospital recliner, her back ramrod straight.
The nurse was nearby completing Sally’s discharge orders.
Joanie, Carolyn, and Darrin stood by in silence, each casting worried looks at their mother.
Carolyn knelt at Sally’s side.
“Mom, please reconsider. The doctor said your vitals are stable, but you still need to be careful. He’d signed off on one more night’s stay in the hospital.”
She reached out and caressed her daughter’s cheek.
“And what good would that do, Caro? Laying in that bed for another night would change nothing, including me. The police have questions and so do I.”
The nurse walked over with a clipboard of documents and went over the doctor’s discharge instructions. Sally signed the forms, and the nurse left to retrieve a wheelchair.
“At least let us take you home, ma. There’s no need for you to go to the morgue…” Darrin’s voice was pained and broke on the last word.
“Yes, there is.”
She knew her children were dealing with lesser degrees of shock of their own, but she had to be firm.
“If my losing consciousness from the sight of your father dead on the floor of Graciela Ramirez’ bedroom floor isn’t enough of a positive identification, then I will walk into the morgue and make it official.”
Joanie stood at Sally’s other side.
“Any of us can do that, mommy. It doesn’t have to be you.”
“It does, baby. For this… it does.”
“Your chariot has arrived, Mrs. Bennett.”
Sally smiled at the young aide and moved to the wheelchair. She glanced at her children giving them a smile full of confidence she did not feel.
“Let’s get this over with.”
The entrance and waiting area of the county morgue could have been mistaken for a lounge in an upscale hotel bar.
The modular black and chrome sofas had a European flavor. Sally sat down, surprised by the sofa’s comfort.
Carolyn walked around inspecting the room. “This is nicer than what I have at home and Dave almost keeled over when he saw the cost.” She caught herself at her choice of words, but her mother gave her a knowing smile.
“Definitely expensive,” Joanie added while trying to lift a chrome floor lamp. “This thing must weigh a hundred pounds.”
Sally stroked the arm of the sofa. “I tend to tune out politicians, but the next time Commissioner Yancey is on the evening news whining about the county going broke I’ll believe him… and know why.”
“Nothing but the best when taxpayers are paying for it,” Carolyn quipped.
Sally smiled, taking in the rest of the room.
The area was beautiful. But, despite an attempt to marry trendy and upscale with comfort, the nasal-stinging scent of disinfectant and the sickly sweet smell of death still joined together and broke through the haute decor facade, refusing to be masked.
Darrin returned from the check-in window carrying a clipboard.
“They’re preparing the body for viewing, mom, and you don’t have to go into the actual room. There’s a camera setup and you can view from a monitor across the hall.”
“I’ll go into the room.”
She cut him off. “What’s the clipboard for?”
Frustrated, Darrin exhaled roughly.
“They need… d-dad’s information. The only thing they have is his name and your name.”
Sally held out her hand. “I’ll fill the papers out.”
“You don’t have to do- “
“Yes, I do.” Her words came out harsher than she intended.
“Listen. I am thankful to have you all here. My world has been turned upside down and I don’t know why. But my children cannot shield and protect me from this. You can’t babysit and coddle me when you have families who need you.”
Her eyes filled with tears.
“I’m not superwoman or made of steel. This thing has shaken me to my soul, but it’s not going away…ever. I need to deal with it to find some answers… some understanding. Or, maybe one day, some peace.”
Darrin gave his mother the clipboard and planted a kiss on her temple. “You always were the strongest woman I know.”
Sally smirked. “I had to be strong. You were no walk in the park growing up. And military school was a real option during your teen years.”
Carolyn and Joanie covered their mouths to hide grins as Darrin hung his head, embarrassed.
“Go, all of you. Check-in with your families while I handle this.”
Pulling out their phones, the Bennett children separated, each claiming an isolated seat. Within seconds, they were all involved in conversations. Sally was relieved for the normalcy.
She looked over the intake documents. Date of birth. Place of birth. Military service. Surgeries. Injuries. Body marking/tattoos. Daily medications.
Sally entered the information that spanned a lifetime.
A wave of emotion threatened to surface, but Sally took several quick breaths to calm herself and stay in control.
She didn’t know what to believe anymore. What part of her life with Frankie was true? Was any of it?
Sally returned the finished papers to the receptionist. Carolyn and Joanie both had ended their calls when she reached her seat. Darrin rejoined the group sitting on the sofa’s arm next to his mother.
“Merri sends her love and support, mom, and she said just say the word and she’ll pack the kids up and be here in a couple of hours.”
Joanie nodded. “Rick said the same thing.”
“Dave said you could come stay with us for as long as you want… move in even,” Carolyn added.
Sally Bennett closed her eyes, so overcome with emotion. When she opened her eyes, Sally looked at each of her children.
“I am a blessed woman to be surrounded by so much love. I’m not saying I won’t visit with each of your families, just not now, but soon.”
Just as Sally finished speaking a middle-aged man dressed in surgical scrubs exited a door next to the reception booth. He looked over the stacked clipboards, chose one, and walked toward the waiting area.
Sally almost bolted from her seat. “I’m Sally Bennett.”
“I’m Pax Lacey, Mrs. Bennett, the county coroner. I appreciate you being here to do this. I know you’ve not only suffered a loss but the circumstances which led to it.”
Sally couldn’t imagine the number of the times this man had said those same words to another grieving family, but the warmth in his dark brown eyes proved his sincerity.
“This has to be done, Dr. Lacey… by me.”
Her children gathered around her and Sally reached out and squeezed Joanie’s hand.
“But I have the best support on the planet to help me get through this.”
She introduced her children to the coroner, then he led them all through the door and across the hall.
Remembering Darrin’s words about the monitor, Sally turned to the coroner.
“Dr. Lacey, this won’t be necessary. I’ll go into the viewing room.”
He didn’t respond, distracted by what he was reading on the clipboard.
“Hm? Oh, excuse me, I’m sorry, Mrs. Bennett.”
Turning abruptly, he walked down the hall and opened a door several feet away.
“Could I speak with you and your family in here?”
Sally and her children followed, exchanging curious looks.
The decor of the room matched the modular furniture in reception area except for an over-large, walnut desk. Several framed diplomas covering the wall behind the desk announced Paxton William Lacey had met or exceeded school requirements to receive a degree.
Dr. Lacey motioned toward a small sectional couch and two upright Victorian chairs in the corner.
Sally sat in one of the chairs, and Darrin, Carolyn, and Joanie all gathered around her, as though to shield or absorb bad news.
Pax Lacey sat on the edge of the couch, leaning toward Sally. The clipboard lay on a low table in front of him and the coroner held a file folder in one hand.
“Mrs. Bennett, the coroner’s office, like any business entity, is far from perfect and has made its share of mistakes.” He gestured to the clipboard. “But there are serious discrepancies between the information you provided,” he held up the folder, “and the findings of my autopsy examination.”
Sally frowned, holding his gaze. “Serious discrepancies? Like what?”
“I knew our meeting this afternoon would be difficult, but for very different reasons.”
Frustrated, Sally chuffed. Darrin gripped her shoulder firmly and glared at the coroner.
“Dr., is something wrong? Please just say it. My mom can’t take much more.”
Pax picked up the clipboard.
“You’ve listed a tattoo under body markings and a bypass procedure under surgeries.”
He looked at each of the Bennett children then focused on Sally.
“The body I autopsied had neither.”
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