How The Other Half Lives: Episode 21

Virginia has a rare out-of-town visitor today. She's trying hard to be sociable, but yesterday's events, coming on top of an even more eventful previous night's doings, have not left her feeling in a mood to enjoy Nanette's visit.

Virginia pours lemon-chamomile tea, and pushes the plate of scones closer to her guest.

Virginia: Do try these. I put cranberries in them.

Nanette: Thanks. They're delicious.

Nanette is watching Virginia closely. They've known each other for many years, and she can tell something is wrong.

Nanette: Ginny... what's wrong?

Nanette has never believed in beating around the bush.

Virginia's smile is a bit forced.

Virginia: I never could fool you, could I?

Nanette shakes her head.

Nanette: Not even when we were kids in nursing school.

Virginia: I should have picked Betsy for my roommate -- she'll still believe anything you tell her.

Nanette: So what's wrong?

Nanette is not going to be deflected from the question.

Virginia: You know I was working part time for the doctor here in Hannard's Ford?

Nanette nods.

Virginia: Well, I'm not any more. And there goes the new coat I was going to buy, and the boots, and my Saturday morning trip to the bakery. Not that I can't make do, but it was nice to have the money for a few luxuries.

Nanette: What happened?

Virginia: I poked my nose into Dr. Tavis's personal business, for the best of reasons, and he didn't take it well. Frankly, I can't entirely blame him, but it's still hard.

Nanette takes another bite of cranberry scone and looks inquisitive.

Virginia sighs, takes a sip of tea, and prepares to 'fess up.

Virginia: Dr. Tavis's son-in-law was killed by a berserker a few months ago. His daughter and granddaughter moved back to Hannard's Ford to live with him. The girl's twelve.

Nanette: Uh-oh. That age.

Virginia: Yes. And as hysterical about it as they all are.

Virginia: Night before last, the girl arrived on my doorstep, long after her bedtime, complaining about an upset stomach and sore arms.

Nanette nods and takes a sip of lemon-chamomile.

Virginia: She wanted my opinion on what was wrong with her. Mostly, she didn't want to go to her grandfather.

Nanette: He wouldn't have waited to double-check?

Virginia: With his own granddaughter? I'm pretty sure he would have. He's got a secure room he could have put her in, to make sure she didn't escape.

Nanette: So you said... or implied... she's still alive? What did you do that's so bad, then?

Virginia: Well -- I just wasn't sure about the diagnosis. She said she'd eaten some questionable food, and spent the day kneading bread. So, I, er, got a second opinion from a knowledgeable source.

Nanette: Knowledgeable source?

Virginia blushes.

Virginia: I've made a friend, here. An exercise partner. A young man who goes jogging with me, several days a week.

Nanette raises an eyebrow.

Nanette: A... friend. Just a friend?

Virginia sighs.

Virginia: Alas, yes. He's rather obtuse, in some ways. I guess he's waiting for a girl from back home.

Nanette raises an eyebrow. This is getting more complicated.

Nanette: Just how young is "young"?

Virginia: He's in his twenties. And he views me as something of a curiosity: he's not used to old ladies. Or gentlemen.

Nanette reaches for another scone and settles in for a long listen.

Virginia: He grew up in Simeland, you see.

Nanette: Ah. A refugee. So he was your second opinion?

Virginia: No. Not a refugee. He works at the Sime Center here.

Nanette: Ginny! You're not dating a snake?!

Virginia: No, no. He's as Gen as you or me. He's the channel's Donor.

Nanette: One of those pitiful slaves? So this is some kind of rescue mission you're on?

Virginia: Rescue mission? No, he seems content enough with his life. Mostly, I'm on a mission to stay in shape.

Nanette realizes she has dropped her scone and bends to pick up the pieces from the rug, thus also avoiding her friend's eyes.

Virginia: Anyway, he seemed like a logical person to ask for a second opinion, since the girl categorically refused to let her own grandfather look after her. You know that if I'd turned her over to the night patrol, they wouldn't have had the time to wait and see.

Nanette nods, still picking crumbs from the rug.

Virginia: It took some convincing, but I got the girl to go with me to the Sime Center.

Nanette: Where your... obtuse young friend... works.

Virginia: Yes. It's an old farm house that got swallowed by the town. Over by the slaughterhouse.

Nanette is developing an increasing amount of sympathy for Dr. Tavis.

Virginia: I was hoping to just get Cristal to look at her, then do whatever seemed appropriate.

Nanette: Cristal's your friend?

Virginia: Yes.

Virginia: But he wasn't sure, so we waited for the channel to get back and give the girl a look. Apparently they can tell better than any Gen.

Nanette dumps the last of the crumbs on her saucer, wipes her fingers on a napkin, then starts to reach for another scone before changing her mind. She seems to have lost her appetite.

Nanette: So he... the channel...?

Virginia: She. A pretty little thing with dimples, very polite; speaks good English, too.

Nanette: She, then. Came back and...?

Virginia: She said the girl wasn't turning Sime at all, but was sick with some disease. Quite sick -- she'd fainted.

Nanette nods, and takes a sip of tea. Maybe the chamomile will settle her stomach.

Virginia: She was taking another look at the girl, to see what was wrong, when Dr. Tavis burst in. My nosy neighbor had tattled.

Nanette: So he finds his granddaughter in the same room with a snake... and you're fired?

Virginia: Pretty much. Although he was glad enough to know for sure that she wasn't turning Sime.

Nanette: You can hardly blame him.

Virginia: No, I can't. I'm not sure I wouldn't have done exactly the same thing, in his place.

Nanette: I'm half surprised he didn't use the gun on you.

Virginia: He doesn't use a gun. When he's brought a changeover, he uses the pill. Much easier on everyone concerned.

Nanette: Ah.

Nanette reflects that far too few doctors are as compassionate as this Dr. Tavis.

Virginia: He said that he'd let me put it out that I wanted more time for my hobbies -- after all, I am retired. And he doesn't want what happened to get out any more than I do.

Nanette: That hardly leaves you in a position to look for another job.

Virginia: No, it doesn't. Not that I could -- he's the only doctor in town.

Nanette: What happened with everyone else? The kid, the Sime, your... friend?

Virginia: It was all very civilized.

Nanette wonders, irrelevantly, why the word "civilized" is so often used to gloss over so much subtle savagery.

Virginia: Rona is prone to hysterics at the best of times, you see, and this definitely wasn't it.

Nanette: The kid?

Virginia: Yes. No one wanted to set her off -- again -- so Dr. Tavis just had some tea and cookies, and took the girl home. He waited until yesterday to give me the bad news.

Nanette nods, and decides to go for that new scone after all.

Virginia: He didn't blame the girl, which I suppose is a good thing, under the circumstances. But he said that I was old enough to know better.

Nanette notices, for the first time, just how much cranberries look like dried blood.

Nanette: Uh-huh. And...?

Virginia: Well, I am. I was counting on Dr. Tavis accepting my solution if the girl was turning Sime, or not finding out about my part of it, if she wasn't.

Nanette: You were counting on an awful lot.

Virginia: I was. Too much, realistically. But I didn't want the girl's blood on my hands. She's not my child: it wasn't my responsibility to take care of her.

Nanette: You were also counting on a lot from your friend. And the Sime.

Virginia: Oh, they were safe enough. The only people here who will talk to them, are those who wouldn't mind.

Nanette: Safe?

Nanette isn't sure she and Ginny were thinking about the same kind of safety.

Virginia: Yes. There was no way they were going to blab to Dr. Tavis, no matter what happened.

Nanette: That's not what... never mind.

Nanette has gotten very good, over the years, at working within the boundaries of a patient's beliefs without necessarily sharing them.

Virginia: Oh, Nanette. Please. You may not like Simes, but the Tecton's channels hardly go around hurting people.

Nanette: I'll have to take your word on that. So what happened between Dr. Tavis and the Simes?

Virginia: Sime. There's only the one channel here.

Nanette: Still here? He didn't run her out of town, then? Or try to?

Virginia smiles.

Virginia: Not in this town. He doesn't want to cross Miz Brown, for which I don't blame him.

Nanette: Miz... oh, right. Now I remember. "The lady who really runs things", you called her?

Virginia: Yes. She's twenty years older than I am, and half the town is related to her, at least by marriage.

Nanette: And she likes Simes.

Virginia: She single-handedly got the Sime Center put in here -- she says she got tired of seeing her descendents die. Or wish they were dead, for the parents. Argued down the Town Council, the Mayor, and the Tecton, none of whom thought it was a good idea.

Nanette: So Dr. Tavis can't do anything else. Then your only real problem is that you're without a job, and without an income.

Virginia: Yes. And while I can make my own scones for Saturday morning, I do have to get a new coat and boots.

Nanette's mind is racing, trying to work with unfamiliar ideas and put them into patterns.

Nanette: Ginny... just how much do you like this obtuse young man? Cristal?

Virginia: He's pleasant enough, although a bit stiff at times.

Nanette: And you're not bothered by what he does for a living?

Virginia: I can't say I'm wholly comfortable with it, but he seems happy enough with it, and that's what's really important.

Virginia tries to forget the sight of Bibi bending over Rona.

Nanette: And you trust his boss? Enough to take her a kid who just might be Gen already?

Virginia: Well, I admit that I was hoping that Cristal could tell me what was happening to her.

Nanette: But you were willing to be in the same room with a Sime.

Virginia: With a channel who knows she'd be lynched if she harmed a hair on my head? Yes.

Nanette: Then I can see two alternatives if you want that winter coat.

Virginia: Oh?

Nanette: Get that young man horizontal on a soft hearth rug and live off the avails of his career.

Virginia is ~~ scandalized ~~.

Nanette: Or.

Virginia: Nanette! He's young enough to be my grandson, almost!

Nanette: Then what was he missing when you said he was "obtuse"?

Virginia: I just meant that he isn't very socially aware. He's one of those awkward young men who are always blurting out something they shouldn't.

Nanette nods as if she really believed that's all there is to it.

Nanette: In that case...

Nanette thinks hard, then decided to abandon her "or". She hadn't really liked the idea, anyway.

Nanette: Wait a few weeks, give it time to make it seem plausible that you've gotten bored with having so much free time, then find some other job.

Virginia sighs.

Virginia: It was so convenient, moving here and stepping right into Dr. Tavis's office.

Nanette: You could move again. I hear there's a doctor in Danton looking for some help.

Virginia: I like Hannard's Ford. And frankly, I couldn't afford to buy this nice a house in a city.

Nanette: Then take up babysitting. Or seamstressing. Tutoring schoolkids. Housecleaning.

Virginia winces.

Virginia: After thirty years as a surgical nurse in a top hospital, cleaning houses would be quite a comedown.

Nanette: Or be blunt enough to get past "obtuse". Those are your choices.

Virginia: Maybe I should write the union rep, and see if they can get the pension raised?

Nanette: Don't hold your breath.

Virginia: Well, I'll manage somehow, I suppose.

Nanette is a bit disappointed. She'd rather fancied the idea of someone her own age taking up with a nice young man.

Virginia: There are certainly plenty of people who have less to live on than I do.

Nanette: There's got to be something else you could do for a bit of income. You just haven't thought of it yet.

Virginia: Probably. I've just been so upset over the whole fiasco, I'm not thinking clearly.

Nanette: Give yourself time. It's only been... what, a couple of days?

Virginia: It was yesterday.

Nanette: Then give yourself time.

Virginia: I do have enough savings to give me a little time, at least for food and suchlike.

Nanette: I've got a spare winter coat.

Virginia looks at her much larger, much wider friend, and is pretty sure that the coat would make her a decent tent.

Virginia: Now, Nanette, that's very sweet of you, but it's a bit soon to borrow trouble.

Nanette had just bought it for herself, and was rather looking forward to wearing it, but there are more important things than vanity.

Nanette: No, really. I'll put it in the mail as soon as I get home.

Virginia: I'm sure something will come up. For that matter, if there's a surgical emergency, Dr. Tavis might just call me back. He's not one to let his pride get in the way of a patient's survival. So really, it's not all that bad.

Virginia is looking more confident as she remembers that she's the only trained surgical nurse in town.

Nanette: Don't sit waiting for that, though. Look for other options.

Virginia: Oh, I will. I can't let him see me waiting around for his call, can I?

Nanette: But you're right, it's not all that bad. You're a survivor, girl.

Virginia: Of course. I'm a nurse, aren't I?

Virginia lifts her tea glass in a toast.

Nanette grins conspiratorially and raises her own glass of cold tea.

Virginia: To our profession -- no one's better at making do.

Nanette drains the glass.

Nanette: To nurses!

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