Monday, November 29, 2004

Chapter 14: Routines II

Checking her clipboard before her morning rounds, Nurse’s assistant Mary Kelly kept her head down—hoping to avoid eye contact with the on-call nurse’s coordinator. This morning Kelly wasn’t late, but that wouldn’t matter to Ms. Chapen, who had decided to dislike Kelly from their first meeting. Even as returned the clipboard to it’s stand, Kelly noticed out of the corner of her eye that Ms. Chapen was pulling the watch strapped tightly at her wrist around to check the time. There seemed to be nothing that delighted Ms. Chapen more than starting the day by writing Kelly up; and, on mornings like today, when that was denied her—a sour look quickly appeared on her face and stayed there most of the morning until Chapen found some miniscule, irrelevant detail on which she could satisfy that urge. Kelly nodded politely to coordinator, collected several sponge bathing kits, loaded them onto the lower shelf of candy striper’s cart, and turned toward the first room on her list.
“Ms. Kelly, you will need to make an appointment this afternoon with my secretary for your performance review.”
Kelly did not need to turn to recognize the sarcastic smile dripping off Chapen’s lips as she spoke. Chapen had intentionally waited until Kelly’s supervisor left to attend a conference—knowing that without her supervisor’s rebuttal Kelly could be fired on the basis of Chapen’s third, staged-negative review. Nodding to the inevitable, Kelly turned back to the first door tapping lightly.
After Martha and Jonathon assured Clark that they thought Lex’s offer for Clark to stay at the Luthor Castle while he recuperated was for best, he quickly turned to thank Lex; but was interrupted. Pulling a candy striper’s cart behind her as she backed through the door, a petite, dwarf-like nurse in an ill-fitting, oddly-angled uniform entered the room.
“Mr. & Mrs. Kent, they should be serving lunch in the cafeteria right now. Why don’t you take Mr. Kent’s visitors to get a snack, while I clean up some of these cuts and scratches.” Kelly’s broad gesture included Lana, Lex, and the recently arrived Chloe, who immediately started to protest.
“But, I haven’t had a chance to talk to him, yet.” She had barely finished her comment when Lex noticed Clark’s clenching his fist in vexation at Chloe’s relentless curiosity. Catching her attention with a quick shake of his chin, Lex inclined his head to indicate the second shelf of the cart and smothered a laugh at Chloe’s quick blush as she noticed the sponge bath kits.
“But, I haven’t had lunch either, so it’s hard to choose.”
Clark studied their faces torn between relief from the pressure of their unasked questions and confusion at the blushes or smothered chuckles of his friends and the knowing glances of his parents as they filed out. Lex was last to leave, pausing to to give Clark some advice.
“Just relax and imagine that you’re at a spa,” Lex suggested patting Clark’s shoulder, as he crossed around behind the gurney. Blotchy plum circles rose on Clark’s cheeks as he understood Lex’s allusion.
“I don’t need that,” he protested, “really, I can do…” Kelly’s soft, tolerant smile interrupted Clark as she shook her head.
“I’m sorry. It’s hospital policy when for patients staying over-night. But your friend, Mr. Luthor, is absolutely right.” She favored Lex with a rich, warm smile that stopped him in his exit. “Just close your eyes and relax. It’s not any different or more personal than getting a shave and a haircut at the barber’s.”
Pushing her hands out toward Lex, Kelly waved him off with another warm smile, “Go on, now. We’ll be done in a few minutes.”
Nodding, Lex stepped out the door closing it behind him. But, instead of following the Kents, Lana, and Chloe to the cafeteria—Lex stood at the door contemplating Kelly’s smile. It was completely innocuous, warm, and generous; without even the slightest the traces of coyness, self-interest, or greed. He had rarely received this rare type of smile after his mother died… even from Martha whose smiles were often tinged with concern - and though she tried to mute it – distrust. Glancing back through the window, Lex watched Kelly fill basin and return. True to her suggestion of a shave and a haircut, Kelly started with a shampoo, working his hair exactly as if he were in the hospital solely to have a shampoo. As Clark slowly relaxed under her ministrations, Lex looked past the details of her oddly cantilevered uniform to study her face. His eyes traced the minute direction changes of her eyes as she paid close attention to her task—stroking his forehead with a damp washcloth. Reading the compassion in her eyes, he noted how her glance continually moved between Clark’s face and his breathing, checking for any signs of discomfort as she went.
Folding the washcloth over her fingertips, Kelly squeezed the antiseptic soap into the cloth and gently dabbed it at the corner of the scrape on his forehead. While her fingers glided in slow-careful circles over the torn skin, Lex watched her eyes map the patches of raw, open skin – wincing as her fingers ran across the patches – even though Clark showed no outward signs of pain. As she drew the washcloth down to Clark’s eyebrows and the bridge of his nose, Lex noticed their glances meet and Clark quickly shut his eyes turning his head slightly away. Although her eyes widened in concern; Lex was surprised to note that Kelly didn’t press Clark to respond or explain what was wrong—even when a steady stream of slow, quiet tears welled at the corner of his eye and rolled down his cheek.
Lex wanted to go in and check on his friend, but hesitated because it would be obvious that he had been watching. Instead, he studied her as she quickly and gently continued, moving over Clark’s shoulders and limbs with quiet dispatch. Then, after emptying the basin, she simply sat by Clark’s side. Taking his palm in one hand, she stroked his arm with the other until Clark finally turned back, opened his eyes, and stared at her forcing on an almost numb, half-smile of thanks.
After nodding in response, Kelly patted his forearm, retrieved the washcloth, and wiped away the last traces of tears from his cheeks. Then, she tucked the bathing kit away on the third shelf of the rolling cart, favored him the same warm, genuine smile she had afforded Lex, and moved the cart toward the door. Lex moved away as she reached for the door, but could still hear Clark’s request as she opened the door.
“Please don’t tell my mom or dad.”
“Don’t worry, Clark… I won’t, everyone gets embarrassed the first time.” She answered—intentionally misinterpreting his worry—then closed the door behind her and walked straight to Lex.
“You saw?” Kelly asked without accusation, but assuring him that she was aware of his observation. Bemused by her bluntness, Lex simply nodded.
“He looks to be a strong boy, but…” she paused, lowering her voice, “Right now, he seems very fragile… down deep.”
She paused to study Lex—trying to decide whether the many rumors about him were true. The force of her candid, probing gaze startled him when they locked eyes: rarely if ever, did anyone look him directly in his eyes to size him up. More often than not, their first glance went to his car, clothes, or baldness- and their eyes never really strayed to look him directly in the eye. Only the Kents looked at him differently; and, on that comparison, Lex immediately knew that he had to find out more about this nurse. At the same time, perhaps reading his surprise and interest, she made a decision. Pulling something from the cart, she pressed it into his hand, and continued cryptically—“I don’t think you should leave him alone very long until you’re certain that he’s better.”
Recognizing the thrust of her concern, Lex looked back through the window at Clark, whose eyes had closed again. Something had happened to suppress Clark’s natural resilience; Lex was certain of that, but wondered how Kelly had discerned the fact in a single glance. When he turned back to acknowledge her comment, she was already moving on to the next hospital room and turning to back her cart through the door. But, catching his eye before the door closed, she nodded and waved him into Clark’s room. Looking down at the roll that she had pressed into his hand, Lex smiled when he saw that it was a hand-quilted, cloth chessboard bound by a thin, tasseled, kitchen curtain-tie cloth a small, cloth, draw-string bag hanging from one tasseled end.

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