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Authors: Steve Gannon

Stepping Stones

 

Stepping Stones

 

 

 

S
teve
G
annon

 

 

 

A

KANE

publication

 

 

Stepping Stones

All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Gannon

http://stevegann
o
nauthor.com

 

 

Stepping Stones
is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, p

laces, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

“Danny Boy” lyrics by Frederic Weatherly

 

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gannon, Steve.

Kane / Steve Gannon.

p.     cm.

ISBN  978-0-9849881-2-9

 

 

Printed in the United States of America

10   9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

 

 

For Susan

 

And in loving memory of my son

Dexter Reid Gannon

 

 

A Bag of Tools

 

Isn’t it strange how princes and kings,

and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,

and common people like you and me,

are builders for eternity?

 

Each is given a list of rules;

a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.

And each must fashion, ere life is flown,

A stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.

 

                  ~ R.L. Sharpe

 

 

Stories

 

Jessie

The Green Monkey

I Can’t Sleep

Final Exam

What Goes Up . . .

The Sacrifice

There’s Always a Catch

The Crux

Daniel’s Song

Virus

Blue Skies

 

 

J
essie

 

W
e stood gazing down at the bed, watching as her chest rose and fell with each click and sigh of the respirator.  Neither of us knew what to say.  “She’s
still beautiful,” I ventured
.  It was true.  The bruises under her eyes had faded, her skin had regained its glow, and despite everything that had happened you could still see the woman
she had
once been.

“Yes, Paul,” Gordon agreed.  “She is.”

I heard a catch in his voice and glanced away, giving him time to compose himself.

Although Jessie and Gordon had been separated for nearly a year, neither had filed for divorce, and after the accident the burden of decision making had subsequently fallen on Gordon. 
I had
been in Europe when it happened.  Upon hearing the news
,
I had
dropped everything and flown home to New York, then
caught the first shuttle to Los Angeles
.  Since then
I had made the trip to the West Coast
three times in as many months.

I moved to the window and opened the drapes.  Jessie had a private room on the fourth floor of the UCLA Medical Center that afforded a view of the city of Westwood and t
he glittering Pacific beyond.  I watched as a
n onshore breeze gusted through the palms and jacarandas lining the streets below, sweeping away the brown pall that usua
lly shrouded
Los Angeles.  A rarity, the sky over the City of Angels
was
as clear as Venetian
glass, and for a dizzying instant I had the feeling I could see forever.

A moment later Dr. Robert Krasney, the neurosurgeon
who had
operated on Jessie, entered the room. 
I had
met the tall
,
gruff man after the operation and had later spoken to him on the phone.  “Paul, you know Dr. Krasney,” said Gordon.  “Dr. Krasney, Paul Westerfield.”

“Yes, of course,” said Dr. Krasney brusquely, shaking my hand.  “You’re Jessica’s brother.”

“Right.”  Not exactly true, but I didn’t feel like getting into it.

“Dr. Krasney asked me here today to discuss Jessie’s treatment,” Gordon continued uneasily.  “I thought we should both hear what he has to say.”

“Oh?”

Dr. Krasney glanced at the bed.  “There
are
things we need to discuss,” he said.  Seeing his face harden, I
knew
no false hop
e would come from him.  He had
distanced himself from our sorrow, using his medical demeanor as a mask, his professionalism as a shield.

“Has anything changed?” I asked.

Dr. Krasney hesitated.  “Nothing of significance.”

I have a degree in law, another in business, and in my line of work I often deal with people far more skilled in dissembling than Dr. Krasney. 
He was hiding something.

“Her pupillary reflex is absent, her spinal reflexes
still
unresponsive,” the doctor went on.  “As you know, she’s been in a state of vegetative coma for the past three months.  Because of the extensive neurologic damage she suffered, this was not unexpected.”

“You told us that after the surgery,” I said, wishing
he would
get to the point.

The police estimated that Jessie’s Porsche had left the pavement on Mulholland Drive doing
well
over seventy.  S
he had
just finished shooting her latest movie and was driving home from a wrap party at the director’s house in Malibu.  S
he
never made it back.  Instead, s
he
wound up at the bottom of a ravine with a section of doorpost buried in her skull.  Since then
I had learned the hard and
impersonal words
that described
her injuries:  spastic hemiplagia, brain stem dysfunction, vegetative coma.

“I think
, given the circumstances, that
it’s time to consider moving Jessica to an insti
tution better suited for long-
term care,” Dr
. Krasney continued
.

“Wait a minute,”
said
Gordon.  “You’re
saying there’s no chance she’ll
regain consciousness?”

Dr. Krasney shook his head.  “At this point, it would be extremely unlikely.  And considering the neurologic damage, it’s probably a blessing.”

“But I’ve heard of cases
in which
comatose patients recover after
years
,” Gordon persisted.

“True, but only in rare instances, and only when the neural components for consciousness are still intact.  Among other things, Jessica’s accident permanently damaged a structure in her brain called the ascending reticular formation, a tissue we believe to be absolutely essential for consciousness.”

We had
covered
this ground before.  “Perhaps now is
not the time to bring
this
up,” I said quietly, “but sooner or later someone has to.  You’re telling us Jessie has no chance of recovering, right?”

“I said it would be
extremely
unlikely.”

“Is it possible for her to survive without the machines she’s hooked to?”

“No.”

“Then—”

“Jesus, Paul!  What
are you getting at?” Gordon demanded
angrily
.

“We all know what we’re discussing,” said
Dr.
Krasney before I could respond.  He paused, gathering his thoughts.  Then, glancing at me, “I sympathize, but in Jessica’s case
the
termination of life support is not an option.”

“Why?”

Gordon glared.  “Damn it, Paul, you can’t be suggesting—”

“I’m not suggesting anything.  I just want to know why
terminating life support is
not even an option
.
”  I turned to Dr. Krasney, now more certain than ever
that
he was hiding something.

The doctor shifted uncomf
ortably, avoiding my eyes.  “I had
hoped it wouldn’t be necessary to bring this up, but Jessica failed to leave a living will that would authorize withholding medical treatment in an instance such as this.”

“Nevertheless,” I countered, “in California it’s possible to declare a patient legally dead when electrical activity ceas
es in the brain.  W
ith the family’s consent, you can
then
terminate life support.”

“Yes.  But that’s the problem.”  Dr. Krasney finally met my gaze.  “For some reason we don’t fully understand, Jessica’s EEG continues to show periods of electrical activity ranging from sleep-spindle clusters to states that almost resemble full consciousness.  She’s not aware; she can’t be.  But from a
legal
standpoint, because of this . . . aberration, she’s still legally alive.”

I felt my stomach tying in knots.  “Is there a possibility she may be conscious, but just not able to—”

“No,” Dr. Krasney interrupted.  “I didn’t mention
it
earlier because I didn’t want to give false hope.  Although we can’t explain her cortical activity, we’re convin
ced it’s not significant.  But u
nfortunately, because of it we can’t pronounce her brain-dead.”

“So aside from keeping her alive, there’s nothing you can do?”

“That’s how it stands.”  Dr. Krasney sighed, glancing again at the bed.  “As I said, I think it’s time to consider moving her to a long-term
care facility.”  With a shrug
, he started toward the door.  “If you want, I can recommend several institutions in the area.  Feel free to contact me when you’ve come to a decision.”

Gordon and I made uncomfortable small talk after Dr. Krasney departed.  Then Gordon left, too.  I promised to call.

 

Afterward I stood mulling over Dr. Krasney’s words. 
What if he was
wrong about those EEG tracings?
I
thought. 
Is it conceivable that somewhere deep i
nside her broken body, Jessie is
still aware?

She
appeared to be asleep
.  Her blond hair had grown in quickly after the operation, covering most of the scars.  I took her hand, feeling her fingers twitch as I did.  It had happened before.  Just muscular spasms, according to the doctors.  Not significant.  “Ah, hell, Jessie,” I said aloud.  “How did it ever come to this?”

I sat with her for the next hour, holding her hand and thinking back to the first time we’d met. 
I had
been nine; she a precocious fifteen. 
We had
only been six years apart
in age.  But back then
, it was a lifetime.

My parents had been killed that winter in a boating accident.  After the funeral
I had
been shipped off to live with my dad’s brother Frank, who owned a small dairy in Minnesota, seventy-five miles
north of
Duluth.  Back then the farm was
way
out in the sticks.  I’ve returned recently and all that’s changed, but at the time the nearest town
was
twenty-three miles distant and over some fairly rough road.

It was a hard time for me.  I got through it
, though,
thanks
mostly
to my aunt and uncle, who took me in and treated me like their own.  I remember Aunt Bev hugging me at the bus station when I arrived.  She told me that she and Uncle Frank loved me, and
that
although she knew
they could
never replace my parents, she hoped someday
I would
come to think of them as my new mom and dad.  And in time, I did.

Jessica, their only daughter, proved a different story.  Cousin or not, she made it clear
right off the bat
that she was
not
my sister
,
and she didn’t want a nine-year-old kid hanging around
her
.  Maybe she was jealous of the attention
given to
me by her parents; maybe it was simply our difference
in age
.  I never knew.

Of course, I immediately fell in love with her.

Despite Jessie’s being the worst tomboy in the county, it was obvious to everyone
that
she was going to be a heartbreaker.  But
there was something else about her, something special. 
I think what drew me most, for lack of a better word, was her spirit.  Even back then she had a quality about her that set her apart.  Later in her life it came across on
the silver screen,
alive and true, something you could hold in your mind long after the lights
in the theater came
on.  It won her an Academy Award; it made her a star.

Anyway, I spent that first long winter tagging after my
precocious
cousin, usually fifty yards or so behind.  All that changed one cold,
dismal
day the following spring.

We had a
three
-mile walk down a dirt road to a crossroads where the bus picked us up for school.  In winter we could shave
that
distance by taking a path through the pines and crossing the frozen river.  We were forbidden to go that way, so naturally we always did, provided the snow hadn’t d
rifted too deep.  That day after school we had ridden the bus back to the crossroads.  From there
Jessie had headed into the woods
on foot
, taking the shortcut.  By then the ice covering the river had thinned in spots, and I worried every time we crossed it.  Nonetheless, I trudged along behind, keeping my customary distance.  I figured Jessie knew what she was doing.  After all, she
was
fifteen.

The sun
was slipping
behind the mountains when we reached the river, and a chilling wind had picked up.  Eager to get home, I increased my pace.  All of a sudden I noticed a man
in the woods
following Jessie, paralleling her course along the
river
bank.  He looked like one of the pulp-mill workers
who had
drifted into town earlier that winter, hoping for work. 
He hadn’t seen me. 
I fell back, wondering what he was doing.

He stayed concealed in the trees, taking care to remain hidden until Jessie broke into a clearing by the river.  I should have done something—called out, warned her, run for help—but I didn’t.  I was too frightened.

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