Chapter 8C – Blue Cottage

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I made an appointment with Dr. Willowby to discuss the job offer he mentioned when we were in Toronto at the restaurant The Sloth And Spoon. At the conclusion of the meeting Dr. Willowby informed me that I might want to know more about what goes on in the control room. He gave me a “preliminary” list of books to read. He went out of his way to say that it was pretty dry reading material. When I asked why he called the material “dry” he answered  in true Willowby fashion.

“I won’t lie to you. You’ll either find the books fascinating, and you’ll crave more, or you’ll discover the cure for insomnia. They’re the kind of books you can’t get enough of, or your eyes will start to glaze over and you’ll spend forty-five minutes on the first page. These are in no way to be considered mandatory reading. If you like being a member of the Zap Squad and want to know more these are what I’d suggest as a “primer”. If you zip right through them, and want to know more just tell me and I’ll gladly pull some more copies from the staff library. But I warn you right here and now the ones from the hospital library will have a more of a medical “slant” to them so if you have any questions just write them down along with the book title and the page number and I’ll do my best to answer any and all questions.” He closed the file folder in front of him, clasped his hands together, and leaned forward on his desk.

Now may I ask you some questions. When we met with Buddha in the city he called you “Crusher” a few times. May I know ask what that’s all about?”

I told him it had to do with headlock I put the mayor in and my bad temper.

“If I were you I’d lose the nickname “Crusher”. Think of it as a leftover from a previous life. The time you spent in the city. Since you came up north and moved in with Peter I’ve seen nothing, I repeat nothing, not even the time you tried to disassemble Miss Nosy, to warrant such a nickname. Think of working here, up north,  as the start of a new life. A happier life.

I had to agree with him. Since I moved up north and since I moved in with Peter I was happier. Happier than I’d been in my entire life.

He took me up to Human resources where I had to fill out a bazillion forms. When I came to the section about who referred me I put Dr.Willowby’s name. Before he left me to fill out the first form he had some last minute comments for me. “Try to remember that you’ll be working in the control room on parole. You’re not a bona fide employee yet. The parole system allows you to check us out and for the control room staff to check you out. When you’re finished I’ll get together with the staff and we’ll talk about what happened. But from I’ve seen already I’m pretty sure you’ll like us and we’ll like you.”

***

When I was in the hospital bookstore I got the three texts Dr. Willowby recommended to me. I took them home only to discover that I knew much less than I thought I did about cancer and radiation. I think the hardest book to read was about when kids get cancer. Peter was surprised I was so fascinated by the whole subject. So was I. He picked up my copy of “When Kids Get Cancer”, read the back cover, curled up in his favorite chair and randomly read a few chapters. He started scowling at the words on the pages.

“If you can read half of this without falling asleep you’re a better man than I Gunga Din”.

“I’m going to read all of it.” I quickly replied

I just hoped I hadn’t bitten off more than I could chew. I just wish there was one all-encompassing text. A sort of Zapping For Dummies.

***

I didn’t want to be responsible for Peters car so I took my own. He was still too weak to drive himself, and he agreed that his hand-eye coordination was still not what it should be. I didn’t want to spend a small fortune every week eating at the hospital so I chose to brown bag it. Peter had prepared a roast beef sandwich for me complete with a Jello pudding cup and a can of Coke. He put everything in a small brown bag and put in the fridge. He wrote “Carter” on the bag in really large print. But nothing prepared me for my first day in the control room. I was on parole. I wasn’t an employee but I wanted to find out if this is what I really wanted to do. To be on parole a doctor in the radiation department had to recommend me. And that doctor was Dr. Willowby. I was the new kid in the control room. Everybody else was at least ten years older. I felt very out of place for the first few hours, especially when the senior members of the control room insisted on calling me “kid”. Then a ten-year-old boy with a brain tumor came in for his first radiation session. And it was obvious that he was terrified. Everyone in the control room tried to calm him down. And failed. He was simply too scared. I got down on my knees so we were eye level. I spoke in a slow, soft tones.

“Are you a fan of Batman or Superman?” I asked Kenny.

“Batman is a lot better than Superman. He can do lots of things without superpowers and drives a neat car too.” he replied.

“What do you think of the Joker? I saw The Dark Knight with my boyfriend and I thought he was kind of creepy”.

I asked anxious to keep the dialogue going. He was still scared. For this to really work he had to want to be here. I tried comic book therapy.

“If I could get someone to paint Batman on the mask do you think you’d be as strong as Batman for me?”

“You’d be aces Cassie” and he hugged me. That hug was better than a pay check.

I lifted Kenny up and put him on the table. Afterward, I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him right in the eyes.

“The mask we’re going to using today will be temporary and by your next session, you’ll be Batman. Is that all right with you?” He nodded vigorously.

Now for the hard part. I just had to find someone to paint Batman on the mask. After the short session, the control room leader took me aside.

“Thanks for getting the kid calmed down but where are you going to find someone to paint the mask? It has to be done in less than twenty-four hours.” As soon as my shift ended I jumped in my car and sped into the city. I went to CKMT and straight to Buddha.

“Can I borrow Kenzi for a bit? I’d like to her to paint Batman on this radiation mask” I asked him. Buddha took one look at it turned green and fell backwards into his chair. Buddha glowered at the mask.

“Good God. Is that what Peter had to wear?” he asked. I explained that his mask was larger but essentially the same. “Gives me the creeps just looking at it”. I told him the one I had with me was for a ten-year-old boy with brain cancer. “What ever you need. Go for it.”

Kenzi was the webmaster behind the CKMT website. When she wasn’t working on the website she loved to doodle and paint. She also loved kids. When I went to the web site offices I found her with her nose in a comic book, playing with her hair and chewing gum. She sort of looked like Pippi Longstocking. I explained what I needed. When she saw the mask she just about drooled all over it.

“Oh, ya! Is that a texture or what? I’d love to get my mitts on that”.

Kenzi could do anything. She was also ambidextrous. I explained what it was and who it was for. When I asked her how much it would cost I broke out my cheque book. She explained that this was free on the condition I get her other masks. I thought it sounded sort of ghoulish but I was on the clock. Plus if she took all the masks that were no longer being used I’d free up a lot of space. Six hours later I had my mask. While I was waiting for the mask to dry I phoned Peter to let him know I was going to crash at my old apartment. Just as his phone began to ring I realized I had completely forgotten to tell him I was going into the city. He was sick with worry. After a well deserved talking to (Short too. Peters’ throat was still very sore so it wasn’t much of a harangue) I went to my old apartment. Batman sat in a chair while I slept. The next day I drove back to the hospital with an escort from the Ontario Provincial Police. They pulled me over for speeding. But when they saw the mask in the front passenger seat, and I explained “it’s for a kid who has cancer” they gave me an escort all the way from Barrie to Lindsay. I got back with one hour to spare. When I showed the mask to Kenny he was all smiles. And his fear was gone. If you look very carefully on the inside of the left ear you would have seen a small message from Batman to Kenny. And on the inside of the right ear was a thumbnail-sized painting of the CKMT logo.

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News about the “new kid” rapidly spread. And it was all positive. I quickly became known as “The Mask Lady”. Boys were asking for masks of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America. Girls were asking for masks of Barbie, Squirrel Girl, Wonder Woman, and, in an odd twist, The Hulk. I was more than a little curious why a little girl would want a painting of The Hulk on her mask. The answer was perfect. “When my brother goes into my room I just want to smash him.”

When I returned to the control room there was a message that Dr. Willowby wanted to see me. I picked up a copy of the message. I read it. And wondered. I asked if anybody knew what this was about.

“I really don’t know but I have a feeling someone’s been a bad girl.” said one of the more senior nurses.

Some of the other members of the zap squad just snickered. They weren’t helpful at all. I tucked my tail between my legs and prepared to meet my doom. By the time I got to his office I had convinced myself that my “new” job was now my old job. His secretary, Delores, looked at me like she knew something. She had known me for months. Normally she was chatty and forthcoming. Not today.

When I asked her if she knew what Dr. Willowby wanted to see me about she was silent. “Delores, can you tell me why he wants to see me?” I asked.

Delores simply shook her head. She held up a single sheet of paper and wrote a few words on it.

“Dr. Willowby and the chief administrator of the hospital are meeting to figure out what to do with you.” Just then the door to the lions den opened. There was a rather thin man with crossed arms and a most unpleasant expression standing behind Dr. Willowby. Dr. Willowby sat in his office chair, fingers steepled. He looked at me like he was looking at a menu and I was the main course. He let a breath out, sighed, and crossed his arms. He suddenly spoke.

“Cassie Carter. I had such high hopes for you. Right now I just don’t know what to do with you…” He looked down at the surface of his desk dejected and disappointed.

It was official. I’d been canned. Two jobs in less than one year. I was really hoping for a steady pay check because it’s just not fair to Peter. Then the thin man spoke.

“Well I do. I’m Dr. Wilson and I’m the chief administrator at the hospital. You, Miss Carter are to get an immediate increase in pay. You’ve come up with a solution to a problem that’s be plaguing us for years. A solution that’s been right under our noses.”

I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. With one hand on Dr. Willowby’s desk I rose from the chair I’d been sitting in.

“Dr. Wilson, you mean I’m still on parole?”

“You gave this hospital the kick in the pants it needed to get off it’s complacent backside and get with the times. A lot of our patients are children. Kids with cancer. And they’re scared. And you’ve shown us how to take some of that fear away. If radiation masks frighten the stuffing out of grown adults just imagine what they do to kids. Dr. Willowby and I have discussed this matter at length and we want you to head the new mask decoration department. We want you to start putting together a computer database of comic book characters. If they’re from Disney we want them. The gang from Peanuts, Mighty Mouse. Everyone. Comics have been around for over one hundred years. And this hospital has a lot of catch up learning to do. Now, what I need to hear is if you want the job. Do you?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. From zero to hero in mere seconds. It was too much to take in all at once. I asked if I could think about it.

“We’d like to have answer in a week if that’s not too much trouble Cassie”

“You’ll have my answer in one week.”

…much more to come!

Chapter 8A – Blue Cottage

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The last two weeks of Peters radiation treatment just flew by. I wanted to do something really special for him. As I sat in the waiting area waiting for Peter, reading dog-eared copies of Cosmo, and looking at some of the most hideous furniture in the world, my phone rang. Not wanting to disturb any patients waiting for treatment I answered it as fast as I could. It was Buddha, my ex-boss.

“What’s cookin’ Carter? Beat up anybody I might know?”

Buddha was never one for small talk. He always said what was on his mind regardless if it might hurt your feelings or if it was something you wished you’d never done. He didn’t believe in being diplomatic either. He shot from the hip.

“Well, hello to you too stranger. I haven’t put anybody in a headlock if that’s what you’re asking. I’ve sort of figured out what the problem was. Patience. Or rather, the lack of it. You did me a real favor by putting me on suspension. Let’s see. I got engaged to P.J. Christopher. And the hospital here in Lindsay wants little old me to work for them and a few other minor things.” Hey, I wasn’t going to tell him everything.

I looked to see if I was disturbing anybody. I wasn’t. When Peter came out of the treatment room I slapped my thigh a couple of times so he would know where I was and what I was doing. He pointed at his neck then the radiation clinic. He had to get a new bandage put on his neck which gave me a few more minutes for the call and before we could go home. Peter was so liked by the hospital they started giving him free samples of ProShield and gauze bandages. By the end of Peters second last week, we had so many supplies at home we could have started our own clinic. But with summer heat Peter would need  every one of them.

“Look Mr. Stone” I could never quite get the hang of calling Buddha by his given name. It was either “sir” or “Mr. Stone”. “I hate to do this but I’m going to have to call you back. I’m a little pressed for time and Peter needs me-”

“OK, I’ll make it quick. Do you remember that greasy spoon/restaurant that is near the station, The Sloth and Spoon?”

“Sure do. Great milkshakes. Not so good for a girl watching her waistline but the milkshakes are sinfully good” It’s a well-known fact that a woman’s career in broadcasting depends largely on how good she sounds and how good she looks. It’s unfair, sexist, and the wage gap between men and women is abysmal but that’s the way the business is. It’s changing, but far too slowly.

“Great. Can we meet for lunch sometime next week? It sort of concerns your future.”

“Oh,” I said more than a little puzzled. “OK, how does next Thursday, the 15th at 3 PM sound?” not having a clue about the true meaning of the call.

“And if that man of yours is up to it feel free to bring him along. I’d like to meet the man that could tame Cassie “Crusher” Carter. I hope to have good news for you both. I’m buying” Now I was really intrigued. Buddha has never paid for anybody’s lunch in all the time I’ve known him. Next Thursday was also Peters first day without any treatment in almost two months. A day I’m sure he really looked forward to.

***

Peter finished his treatments on Wednesday, August 14. When persons finishes they’re supposed to ring a the cancer bell. When Peter was finished he rang the bell so vigorously I’m pretty sure it could be heard it the next time zone, as well as all over the hospital. Dr. Willowby texted a congratulatory message to him. The zap squad pulled out carefully hidden copies of his first two books, and Dr. Willowby appeared with copies of all three books for Peter to sign. Peter was grinning from ear to ear. You could tell a great weight was off his shoulders.

I decided to tell Peter I had a luncheon date with Buddha in the city . I didn’t tell him what it was about because I simply didn’t know. Buddha liked meetings to have a little mystery. He was of the opinion that if you knew ninety percent of what a meeting was all about before you arrived there was a ninety percent chance you’ll be bored to tears before one word was said. I don’t know how he formed this philosophy but most of the time he was right . But he liked to have “a zinger” ready just in case. A “zinger” was something you didn’t know about prior to the meeting. Most of the time it was salacious gossip which was almost always groundless, but it sure was memorable and got chins wagging. One time it was about an Elvis Presley sighting in the town of Tweed. People at the station were tripping over themselves trying to get an interview with The King. Turned out the whole thing was bogus but Buddha liked to see the staff in a mild panic every once in a while.

I told Peter that Buddha wanted to meet him. Peter is a very private person and was a little uneasy attending a meeting just one day into his recovery. But he wanted to rejoin to the human race. I just didn’t want Buddha to monopolize the meeting and freeze Peter out. So I called Buddha up and laid down the law. Any freezing, even the slightest bit of frost and Peter and I are out of there.

***

Peter and I were the first to arrive. The Sloth and Spoon was a grungy excuse for a restaurant. It tried really hard to have a British theme. I think the owners wanted to re-create a British pub in downtown Toronto. The idea was great, the execution, however, hovered somewhere between miserable and terrible. This mom and pop run restaurant has somehow managed to survive six years. After I said who we were and would be having lunch with Mr. Stone all we got in the way of a response were blank stares. Not a good sign at all.

“You know, the chubby guy from station CKMT”.

That’s when they clued in.”Oh, you mean Buddha! Why didn’t you say so, dearie? Order anything you want. Everything goes on his tab”.

I was in a state of shock. Buddha actually had a tab in a restaurant! Peter almost had to catch me when I started to sway. I ordered French fries and a vanilla milkshake. And to my astonishment, they were really, really good. The first and only other time I ordered them they were far too greasy. And you know what that can lead too. Well, I got it in spades. I didn’t feel right for about a week. Buddha even put me on desk duty. You know, for those “just in case” times. I even got Peter to try the fries. He had to forego the vinegar because of his throat but he couldn’t get enough of them. I had to ask what had changed. The curiosity was killing me.

“Excuse me. When I first came here I ordered these. And they were…different. What did you do to the recipe?”

“That’s an easy one dearie. An Englishman came to Toronto for a convention. And he wanted some real English food. When we served him what we thought was right he gagged and almost walked out the door. We wanted to know the secret. We pleaded with him to return. Turns out he was a chef and after a good chin wag showed us what we had been doing wrong for so long. You’re eating his recipe. And sorry about your tummy. To make it up to you this one’s on the house.”

I had a great time feeding Peter. I felt like the mama bird feeding the baby bird. Only this was one very big baby bird. I had to do it one fry at a time because the inside of his throat was so swollen and narrow. After a really good chew, all he had to do was swallow. Peter liked them so much he went behind the counter, hugged the woman who served us and whispered “Yum…people food”. She looked at me and asked me what Peter meant.

“Peter just finished treatments for throat cancer. He can barely speak or swallow. He’s been on a largely liquid diet for the better part of two months. It’s been really hard on him” I replied.

“The poor dearie. That’s why he’s all skin and bones.”

The woman serving us brought Peter his own plate of fries which pleased him to no end. I just hoped he wasn’t expecting fries at home that night. He was surprised at all the attention but certainly didn’t mind the fries. The woman who served us put a bib on him and gave me a generous supply of serviettes so I could dab the ketchup from the corners of his mouth. These were not the fries you might get at McDonald’s. First of all, each fry was about five to six inches long and about a quarter inch wide. That was an English fry.

Just then Buddha flew in the door. Did he say hello, hi, or how are you? No, no, and no. He picked me up and hugged me! When Peter saw what was going on he gently but firmly put a hand on his shoulder. And Buddha clearly felt its weight. When Buddha turned and when he saw the size of Peter he went white as a ghost. Buddha is not the tallest of men, but Peter is a foot taller than me. So that makes Peters height at six foot four inches. He croaked out one word. “Down”. I’ve never seen anyone obey an order as fast as Buddha. Buddha put me back on the floor as gently as he could. He did not want to incur the wrath of the gentle giant.

“You must be Peter” he then looked at Peter from head to toe. “My, they sure do grow ‘em big up north”. I explained that Peter was from Toronto too and that he moved because the city was getting too expensive.

As Buddha was hanging his hat and coat my curiosity got the better of me. I wasn’t ladylike or mousy. I immediately went on the offensive. I leaned against a booth and took a page from my old reporter’s playbook. I employed a sudden verbal jab which almost always throws people off.

“Now what’s so blasted important that you couldn’t tell me over the phone. C’mon, spit it out!”

Buddha took his time in responding. He took a comb out of a pant pocket and proceeded to comb his greasy hair and straightened his suit out. After taking another look at Peter he cleared his throat.

“When last we met I think we both knew your career in journalism was pretty well over. As it turns out I was wrong. Dead wrong.”

Just hearing Buddha admit he was wrong was worth the cost of the gas it took to get to the city. He never ever admitted he was wrong. Ever. The word simply didn’t exist in his vocabulary.

“Turns out your voice got the attention of a lot of people. You, Miss Carter, have a voice that a lot of people could listen to all day long.”

Peter piped up and said, “I already knew that.” Without knowing it my wonderful Peter stole Buddha’s thunder which was pretty hard to do.

The door behind me opened and the bell above it rang. You could hear footsteps and the sound of someone getting out of an overcoat. Wooden hangers banged together as another coat was put on the rack. A voice came from behind me. It sounded familiar.

“I agree. The lead tech of treatment room 5 made a recording of your voice without your knowledge. Then he edited out the personal comments meant for Peter. Then he played it for very nervous patients. Your voice got them to relax, calm down, and their blood pressure to drop five points. Your voice is very soothing. Buddha sent a recording you made shortly before you moved up north and I compared the two. It was clipped and aggressive. Something changed you and your voice. And I think you know what changed you.”

When I turned around it was Dr. Willowby! I was so glad to see a friendly face. I’d been up north for only a few months and already I felt more at home there than in the city. Peter was already shaking his hand. Dr. Willowby looked at Peter and remarked that he glad that Peters upper body strength was starting to return. Peter croaked out two words “chopping wood”.

Buddha took charge of the meeting again.

“The upshot Cassie is that you have a voice a radio station would kill for. It also seems your voice could relax a lot of people getting cancer treatment. I sent a recording of your voice to a number of stations. Some are really interested in you. But not as a reporter. But as a person who could do some voice work in commercials. Radio doesn’t want Cassie Carter the reporter, but it does want Cassie Carter’s voice. There’s a small station near you in Kinmount. You could record commercials there. If you do really well in commercials you could do voice work in animated films. And when you’re not doing that you could work at the hospital in Lindsay.”

I was flabbergasted. I thought my life in radio was over. When Buddha finished talking Dr. Willowby made his final pitch.

“And we need you, Cassie. The head tech in the radiation lab was very impressed with your voice. So much so we want to offer you a job talking to patients before, during, and after they get zapped. Some of the people we already employ have the skills but not the voice. You already have the voice and we can teach you the skills. Doing exactly what you did for Peter.”

***

That evening Peter and I discussed the idea of my working at the hospital and maybe doing some voice work on the side. We were on the couch talking after dinner and once again Peter surprised me. But first I put my head in his lap (it’s very comfy there). He was using the iPad. He typed out the word “Confession”. I asked what he meant. Via the iPad, he said that he had been in an email conversation with Buddha. That just about knocked my socks off. Peter related to Buddha something I didn’t think he had noticed.

“Cassie misses radio. Her reporting days are probably over but isn’t there something she still could do? I think she still wants to make a contribution. She won’t admit it to me that she’s unhappy but I think she is.”

I was surprised and embarrassed. Was I that transparent? Peter elaborated. In a flash, the answer was on the iPad.

“Every time you entered a room, and a radio was playing, you quickly turned it off. Sometimes you even swore at it,”

Yup, it was official. I was embarrassed. I got up and started to walk around the living room while trying to regain my composure. The guy with the croaky voice had made an intense study of his bride-to-be. I had no idea I did those things, but I guess my subconscious was in charge when the radio was on. I sat back down beside Peter.

I leaned against the pillow behind me, tried to look as sultry and seductive as I could and asked him what he thought.

“OK, scribe of the north. What do you think I should do?”

Peter reached for the iPad. This meant his answer was either long or his throat was bothering him. Either way, it meant a one or two-word answer would be inadequate and a long answer would be coming my way.

“I know nothing of the radio industry. If I were you I’d go where the environment felt familiar and you already knew what was expected of you. If you feel at ease and the income is alright you should try branching out into voice work – commercials. Baby steps first.”

The last words caught me totally by surprise. So much so I totally misunderstood what he was trying to say.

“What!, you want me to have a baby first?”

“Nonononononononononono!”

He stood up and started stomping around the living room, angry he couldn’t make himself clear. I know what that must of felt like. One day in junior school I was to make a speech and I had my wisdom teeth out one week before.

“Then what do you mean? I feel like we’re back at Gelert Gardens.”

Peter took a big breath, knelt on a small area rug while he placed the iPad on a table. He tried again.

“Try the hospital first, and then branch out into voice work. Start small first, then branch out.”

I read what he wrote slowly. “You want me to try the hospital first?” Peter did a gigantic fist pump it the air indicating I understood what he said. For emphasis, he croaked out a few words.

“Hospital..first…commercials second”.

I hugged and kissed him for his advice. “Do you want to text Dr. Willowby or shall I?” I asked. His answer was quick in coming.

“You were offered the job. You should text him.”

“I’ll wait till morning. I need your help with something.” I unbuttoned the top of my jeans and squeezed the fingers of his other hand. He immediately understood and carried me into the bedroom.

…more to come