Mad Max: Unintended Consequences

Mad Max

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Betsy Ashton

NEW YORK

VIRGINIA

Mad Max
Unintended Consequences

by Betsy Ashton

© Copyright 2013 by Betsy Ashton

ISBN 9781938467400

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other – except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The names, incidents, dialogue, and opinions expressed are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real.

Published by

5 Penn Plaza, 23rd floor
c/o Morgan James Publishing
New York, NY 10001
212-574-7939
www.koehlerbooks.com

Publisher
John Köehler

Executive Editor
Joe Coccaro

In an effort to support local communities, raise awareness and funds, Morgan James Publishing donates a percentage of all book sales for the life of each book to Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg.

Get involved today, visit
www.MorganJamesBuilds.com

Acknowledgments

First, to my best friend and husband, Terry Naylor, who read multiple drafts and was always honest in his comments on what I wrote,
Mad Max
is dedicated to you with love.

To my novel “midwives,” I thank Sally Roseveare, Susan Coryell, and Becky Mushko for their support in reading early drafts and providing necessary critiques. John Koelsch and Keith Martin read the first fifty pages and gave important guidance. My two writing groups, Lake Writers at Smith Mountain Lake and Valley Writers, the Roanoke chapter of the Virginia Writers Club, encouraged me to read sections of the novel and provided excellent guidance in strengthening key scenes.

To Smith Mountain Arts Council, many thanks for naming an early version of this book its best unpublished novel for 2009.

At Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop, Fred Leebron's group provided critical comments that led to reshaping several main sections of the novel.

To various friends and family who read early drafts and liked the book even then, I hope you'll like it better now. To those friends and family who told me bluntly that I could write better, did I get it right?

Sincere thanks to my agent, Dawn Dowdle at Blue Ridge Literary Agency. Her guidance through multiple edits and one extensive rewrite made this book possible. And to publisher John Koehler, executive editor Joe Coccaro and my patient copy editor, Cheryl Ross, at Koehler Books for believing that
Mad Max
had legs and would appeal to a wide audience.

Had it not been for Abigail Trafford's
My Time: Making the Most of the Bonus Decades after Fifty
, I would never have dared to show what I was writing to anyone outside of a small circle of family and friends. In a sense, Trafford's book gave me permission to enter a new life at the same time as Mad Max enters her own new life.

And last to Chan Preston, whose life experiences provided the impetus to start this story. Some of what happens to Dr. Hunter came from lengthy late night conversations.

CHAPTER ONE

Raney and Eleanor, two of my dearest friends, sat at a small table in Le Bistro in SoHo, gossiping about their grandchildren. I tossed my ankle-length mink trench and fedora atop their coats and slid onto an empty chair. Henri placed a cup of coffee beside me, offered a short list of lunch specials, and vanished into the back.

“Why do we call him ‘Henri’?” Raney asked. “His name's Barney.”

“Same reason my grandkids call me Mad Max. It fits.”

We scanned the menu we all knew by heart. Henri returned, took our orders, and left. Talk returned to our grandchildren. Raney brought me up to date on what her darlings were doing: school dances, track meets, mid-year tests. All the usual stuff.

“My granddaughter's pregnancy is not going as well as it should.” Eleanor's perfect, slightly old-fashioned diction revealed her upper-crust British upbringing. “I may go to Phoenix to help.”

“Oh, dear,” said Raney. “I hope it's not like her first one.”

“We will not know for a month or two.”

I felt a familiar itch of envy for the easy relationships Eleanor and Raney enjoyed with their daughters. So normal.

“How are your grandkids, Max?” Raney asked.

“Great. Alex can't stop buzzing about his ice hockey team. They're having their first winning season. He's so psyched. Em texts about her next school break. She wants to visit.”

I talked to or texted with Alex and Emilie every day since their father, Whip, gave them cell phones for Christmas. I had more fun with my grandkids than I'd had with my own two children. Maybe it was because I had almost no responsibility except to love and spoil them. Maybe it was because I could send them back to their parents when I got tired.

“What about Merry? When was the last time you talked to her?”

“Last week. She complained about how cold January has been.”

“She should live in New York.” Raney shook her head and laughed.

My daughter and I had an off-again, on-again relationship, which started after her father's death when she was eleven. I wanted us to be more “on” than “off” and worked hard to pick my words so she wouldn't take offense. It didn't take much to set her off at times.

“I was in Richmond over Christmas and spent all my time with the kids. They have their own phones now, so I call them directly. I call Merry just once a week. I don't want to meddle.”

“Why do you let her get away with placing such restrictions on your relationship?” Eleanor asked.

“She reminds me grandparents have privileges, not rights. I can't lose contact, so I play by her rules.”

Truth be told, I let Merry dictate the terms of our contact with each other, even though I knew I was taking the coward's way out. I'd asked Merry more than once why she seemed distant so much of the time, but she refused to discuss it. I couldn't force her to forgive me for whatever infractions I committed while raising her. All I could do was maintain as calm a demeanor as possible.

“Hey, I scheduled my annual ski trip.” I wasn't in the mood for a discussion on something so touchy.

“Changing the subject?” Raney winked at me.

“Sure am.”

Henri brought our salads and disappeared. We ate in near silence for a few minutes.

“What do you think about this new artist? He's supposed to be all the rage in Europe.”

We always ate at Le Bistro when one of our favorite art galleries had an opening. Otherwise, SoHo was way too far off our beaten path.

“Did you see his catalog?” Raney asked.

“I did. He is too avant-garde for me. I prefer more conventional art where I can actually recognize what the artist painted.” Eleanor pulled the catalog from her handbag and flipped it open to a couple of abstract pieces. “Take this one. I do not see ‘Forest and Trees’ in this swirl of orange, yellow, and red.”

“Maybe it's a forest fire.” I didn't like the painting because the colors were too vivid. I was, however, interested in a mid-sized portrait of two sisters in more muted colors. I pointed to the painting in the catalog. “I really want this one. So peaceful.”

“Where would you hang it? You don't have much wall space left.”

Raney was right. I'd hung way too many prints and oils throughout my apartment.

“Probably in my bedroom. I'll move something.”

We lingered over lunch and gossip until half an hour after the official opening of the gallery to avoid the crush of patrons pushing to enter.

I milled around wall-to-wall people who sipped wine and talked about the new hot artist having his first New York showing at Primary Colors.

The crowd churned and whirled, groups forming and reforming near the artist holding court in a rear corner. Servers danced around patrons and offered wine and hors d'oeuvres on silver trays. Tiny napkins and toothpicks drifted to the floor in a rain of elegant litter. New guests brought welcome cold air into the room's stuffy heat. It was nearly February. Had the opening been earlier in the winter, expensive perfume would have warred with mothball-protected coats. Mothballs would have won.

Nancy Blair, owner of Primary Colors, worked her way through the crowd and gave me the requisite number of air kisses, two near each cheek. She did the same with Raney and Eleanor, who then moved off to look at the paintings and drawings hanging on matte-white walls. Nancy linked her arm through mine and led me toward the artist.

“Wait till you meet him, Mrs. Davies. He's positively the most amazing painter I've had in the gallery in years.” Nancy's breathless delivery was all gush.

As we struggled through the crowd, my cell phone buzzed. I didn't recognize the number, frowned, and flipped up the cover. I shrugged an apology at Nancy.

“Hello.”

“Maxine? Is that you?”

“Yes.” I pressed a finger against my free ear to block the ambient din.

“It's Bette.”

Bette? It took me a second. Right, Merry's mother-in-law. She rarely called.

“What's wrong?”

“It's Merry. She's been in an accident.”

Merry? Hurt?

“Come home, Maxine. She may not make it.”

I hitched my handbag up on my shoulder, my brain spinning from Bette's message.

“I've got to get out of this noise. I'll call you right back.”

I shut the phone, waved at my girlfriends, and pointed toward the coat check.

“I have an emergency,” I apologized to Nancy. “I have to leave.”

“I'll hold Two Sisters for you.”

“Maxine, you look like a ghost crossed your grave. What is wrong?”

Eleanor tipped the coat check girl, and we walked out into the New York winter cold. Crosstown wind made me pull my trench coat tighter around me. Raney stepped off the curb and flagged down a taxi. The skies had dropped since we entered the gallery, and the smell of snow was in the air.

I gave the girls a thumbnail account of Bette's call.

“Could she be overreacting?” Eleanor knew of Bette but not how she might behave in a crisis.

“I don't know. I've never seen her in an emergency.”

Before I could press the recall button, a text came through. “Mom's hurt bad. I'm scared. Please come home.”

Emilie.

I sent my granddaughter a text and called Bette. “What happened?”

“The police called this morning. Her car ran off the road last night. She's hurt real bad.” There was fear in Bette's voice. “The Colonel is at the hospital, but he doesn't know much more than I do. All the police could tell us was that they found her car this morning.”

“I don't understand.”

“I'll tell you more later. She's in surgery. A herd of specialists are working on her.”

“But—”

“Just hurry, please.”

“I'll be there as soon as I can.” I clamped down on my emotions and tried not to panic. “Where's Whip?”

“He's been in the Middle East for several weeks. He's due home today. We've tried reaching him, but no luck. He's probably in the air. We had the kids overnight and got the call this morning when the Colonel and I were driving them home.”

“How did they find you?”

“I don't know. Anyway, the Colonel dropped the children and me at their house and went straight to the hospital. Call me here. Oh, here's the Colonel's cell number.”

Bette rattled off a series of numbers. Before I could fumble for a piece of paper, Eleanor held up a small notebook and a silver pen. I repeated the number to be certain I heard it right. Eleanor jotted it down.

“One more thing. The EMTs airlifted Merry to Virginia Commonwealth Medical Center, not County.”

“Why?”

“VCU has a better trauma center.”

“I see. I'll be in touch. Thanks.” I shut the phone.

Eleanor and Raney talked over each other in their efforts to find out what happened. I told them what little I knew. Our cab hit every possible red light as we made our way uptown where shoppers and tourists thronged the sidewalks in spite of the cold wind. Our driver stomped on the brake when a couple stepped into traffic without looking. When we stopped in front of my building on the Upper East Side, my doorman hurried to help. Eleanor asked him to call my car service.

Raney took charge of getting my bag packed. “You find a flight. We'll do the rest.”

I worked my phone until I found the last seat on a US Airways flight to Richmond through Washington National. I had just over two hours to pack and get to LaGuardia. I glanced out the window. Oh great. Snow.

“How long do you think you will be gone?” Eleanor moved through my bedroom, selected clothes, folded them, and put them into my roll-aboard suitcase.

“No idea. A week, probably.”

I stood helpless near the window and looked across Park Avenue into the snowy park.
Please don't let Merry die.

With all that was on my mind, I forgot to change out of my standard gallery attire—cashmere sweater, matching wool trousers, scarf, and boots. I'd been channeling Ingrid Bergman, elegant and understated.

I called the hospital but got the runaround. An emergency room nurse told me she couldn't give out patient information; it was against regulations. I wanted to shout “Regulations, my ass! I'm her mother!” but I knew it would do no good.

I called the Colonel. He hadn't seen Merry. When he arrived, a half-dozen doctors were in a curtained-off area at the back of the emergency room. He used his colonel's voice, but the ER nurse was adamant.

“Should've been a drill sergeant.”

The Colonel's words made me smile for the first time since Bette called.

I called Emilie next. She was scared and worried about her mother.

“I feel Mom's dying.”

“I'm on my way. My flight leaves in a couple of hours. If you find out anything, text. Okay?”

“Okay.”

My phone buzzed again with a text from Alex. “I beat Em at Clue last night. Mom wrecked her car.”

I held out the phone to Eleanor and Raney. “Trust a ten-year-old to have his priorities straight.”

I walked toward my apartment door then stopped and took a detour into a guest bedroom. I rummaged through a drawer until I found a battered toy, which I tucked into my shoulder bag.

Raney opened the door, and we left my apartment. The ten seconds we waited for the elevator seemed like an hour.

“Try and keep things on the ‘on’ side with Merry.” Raney put her arm around my waist. I heard “before it's too late” even though Raney was too diplomatic to say so.

“Make this a wake-up call.”

I hugged my friends, promised to call, and stepped into my car. “I'll do my best. Just hope it's good enough.”

Raney blocked the door. “Did you ever think we'd see Maxine Davies have a Mommy two-dot-oh moment, Eleanor?”

“Certainly not.”

“Merry'll tell you I wasn't good at Mommy one dot oh.”

“Well, now you have a second opportunity.”

“Life is giving you a…,” Eleanor fumbled for a word, “doo-wop.”

“Do over.” Raney laughed.

“You guys are giving me a do over?”

“Don't blow it.” Raney shut the car door and stepped back. Both women waved goodbye.

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