Chapter 1. Cold Morning
A gray October morning crept through the mountains of North Carolina. Maggie McKnight slept late. She had a nightmare in the night
that repeatedly woke her from an uneasy sleep. Max lay across the foot of the bed as usual. His golden coat reflected in a single strobe of
light from the hall. The room was still. The only sound was the flow of his breath in and out. Maggie opened her eyes then closed them
again. Her head hurt. It was Sunday and she didn't open the shop on Sundays. She laid still with her eyes closed and became aware of
the clock ticking. The sound got louder and louder until it eventually became like the pealing of church bells. Maggie sat up and swung her
legs over the side of the bed. She stood up and looked at Max. She looked at the open bedroom door and the light in the hallway that was
already switched on. This puzzled her. She looked back at Max but he didn't flinch or raise an eyelid.
She went to the window to see where the noise was coming from but she only saw lights. Red and blue lights flashing on and off moving
along the road through the trees and getting closer. She felt odd; out of sorts. None of this was making sense to her but that didn't matter
somehow. Maggie decided to make coffee in the hopes of waking up a bit more. In the kitchen she looked through the small paned
window. As she turned she noticed her front door was open. That's odd, she thought. Fallen leaves from her garden blew in but Maggie
didn't feel the cold draft that carried them. She looked on in a daze as a familiar looking woman ran in through her open door. That startled
“She's in here, hurry, hurry” the woman burst in through the bedroom door yelling back into the hall. Maggie could only watch as a troop of
men in uniform hurried into the room. She followed behind them. But wait! There's someone in the bed! Who is that! A woman about my
age, maybe older with vomit on her face. Her hair is all messy. Max is just lying there at her feet. Maggie moved in closer and raised her
hand to Max's brow. He slid off the bed and followed her to the vanity where she sat down on the stool feeling suddenly weak. She put her
hand on Max's head and he leaned in to her placing his head in her lap. Over the commotion in the room she heard her name. “Maggie
didn't open the shop today. She's never late ...I came here to see if she was okay and ...and ...I found her like this. Is she alright?” The
woman, obviously upset, cried out.
Maggie had become lost in wads of confusion that surrounded her binding her tightly. She looked down at Max. She smelled him. She felt
his touch and she felt his pure and unconditional love emanating through her. They unfurled together into one being, one soul. Nothing
else mattered. She looked back at the bed and saw the woman's face and body flopping. Loud radio voices and swift movements
abounded in the room. “Clear!” Time stopped. “Clear!” All at once a weird pulling feeling of flying and sinking at the same time engulfed
Maggie. She felt sick. Metal clanging and loud shuffling noises came rushing in with a deafening whoosh and radioed voices over an
intermittent beep ...beep. Maggie heard Max howling from far away. Her soul reached out to him. The body was taken.
Suddenly they were outside. It was very cold and Maggie thought that poor woman must be freezing in that flimsy nightgown. Wait a
minute! It looks like my favorite one; white with tiny red roses on it. But who is she? Up close she examined the face but did not recognize it
as her own. All at once Maggie floated up. High in a tree she rested on a twig. She heard vibration from inside the branch. It lulled her
senses. Droplets of water bulged out from tiny buds above her. The branch became an extension of Maggie, of her being and she lingered
there for the longest time. Suddenly she felt that weird pulling force tearing her away. She was falling and sinking again. There was hectic
action around her and a fierce burning sensation in her chest. “Quick! Let's go. We got her back.” A door slammed. Her body felt heavy
and the pain immense. She had numbness in her arms and legs. She felt cold very, very cold and shivering. Sounds became echoes as
she drifted up again. She looked back through the window and saw Max with the other woman. A fluttering sense of realization gripped
Maggie followed by feeling of dread. She was outside of the ambulance flying through the air behind it. Torn between going back to Max or
floating away, Maggie felt attached to that body in the back of the wagon. She felt compelled to be close to it; to be responsible for it
somehow. They were moving fast with lights flashing. Loud horns and sirens punctuated traffic sounds interrupted by this fast moving
vehicle. Nothing was making sense but Maggie continued to follow. Suddenly it all became a blur. There was only silence.
Chapter 2. Stillness
“Maggie! Maggie! Will you not come Maggie?” The familiar voice beckoned to her from far away then drifted back. Sounds of water
dripping and dripping echoed through her being, evoking a sense despair. Dread engulfed Maggie and the constant drip, drip, drip began
to hypnotize her. No, no I must stay alert. I must not give in to this deep darkness. It must not possess me. Not now, not yet. Silently her
senses lifted her up and took her out of that place. She drifted along a hallway following a new sound. It was the sweet sound of a lullaby. A
lullaby that she knew somehow.
Through doorways, and hallways she deftly moved in forward motion to the rhythm. She felt calm and light caressed by each note and by
each breath between the notes. Orbs of light passed her in silent rhapsody. Some flickered and paused, others flashed and quickly
dimmed. She felt small, she felt safe, shielded almost by a lullaby she barely remembered. Untapped energy abounded in that place of deep
sorrow. An overwhelming sense of disconnection permeated through the discord, as though it were searching for lost souls who had
surrendered to it. Trapped in bewildered disbelief some treaded circles trying to find the way back, but for some, there was no way back and
no way forward. Confident there was no one there she knew, Maggie's soul took flight.
Swirling high in the darkness over trees and mountains Maggie made her way home. All at once, she recognized a branch she had studied
before in the cold morning and the twig where she had briefly sat. She rested there. From that vantage point, the McKnight House appeared
dwarfed by magnificent oak and dogwood trees, but that special dogwood reached out its arms to her. It was different from all the other
trees; it protected her. Slowly, gently time unfurled its rich secrets and Maggie, free of worry and remorse, was able to easily absorb them.
She moved inside the entryway of the empty home. Again she heard the lullaby. It was coming from upstairs. Time began to unwind as
Maggie approached the bedroom door, but the door did not open to her. “Maggie! Maggie! Will you not come Maggie,” again the distant
voice beckoned from behind. Maggie turned her face away from the door.
“Maggie! Maggie! Can you hear me Maggie?”
This time the voice seemed much closer. It startled her and reverberated inside her head. Panic exploded in her veins. Maggie struggled to
get away to climb up and out of there, but she could not move. Anxiety gripped her, choking her. She felt dizzy. The back of her throat felt
tight and her body heavy. Her head hurt with banging and clatter noises. Suddenly, every sound became too loud and a gaudy brightness
broke in. All at once that same weird pulling feeling of flying and sinking at the same time engulfed Maggie. She felt sick. Clanging and loud
shuffling noises came rushing in with a deafening whoosh.
“Maggie! Maggie! Good morning. Can you hear me Maggie? My name is Kendra and I am your nurse. Open your eyes Maggie. Open your
eyes if you can hear me. Come on Maggie, open your eyes for me. Squeeze my hand. Can you squeeze my hand Maggie. Do you know
where you are? Do you know what happened to you...you...you...you?“
Echoes of that last word continued on into oblivion.
“She isn't waking up, but she did open her eyes briefly and squeeze my hand a little.”
The other nurse rolled Maggie onto her side saying,
“Do you ever wonder if patients dream when they are sedated?” No answer came as the two nurses tucked pillows around Maggie and
straightened the top sheet. The Intern watched from the foot of the bed as the Diprivan was titrated up again to the sedation level ordered
by the physician. At the sink they washed their hands. “Remind me to send a message to maintenance and have them fix this faucet today;
it's been dripping all night.”
In absolute silence, Maggie floated up and away once more. Soon the old McKnight house wrapped around her in tender revelry as if it were
protecting her like it had when she was a child. Quietly she crept into a corner in the ceiling above the stairwell and waited. The stairs
creaked but nobody came up. Max! Where is Max? That thought bludgeoned its way in and took her entire being in ransom.
Suddenly she was flying through the air very fast but down low over Mirror Lake. Her beloved swans cackled and ruffled their feathers as
she passed. A stiff breeze rushed her along and furrowed a path for her beyond the stack of motionless canoes at the south shore of the
lake. Red and yellow leaves broke lose and fell into the lake as Maggie took the bank. Nearing the bookstore, she sensed Max. Suddenly
she was inside immersed in the warmth and smells of books new and old. Tara sat on a stool at the desk wrapping a customer purchase
and talking on the phone.
“Maggie won't be back for a few weeks, if at all. She's had a heart attack. She's in the hospital, in intensive care. I'm waiting for her sister to
come down to help out. Just send the order and I will get the check issued to you at the end of the billing cycle as usual.”
Suddenly, Max jumped up from his blanket and came trotting out of the back shop with his tail wagging. Maggie immediately went to him and
put her hand on his head ruffling his soft golden hair. She followed him to the back shop where he stood by the door and barked. “What's
got into you Max?” Tara said as she came hurrying through and unlocked the back door. Max went out to his favorite spot in the yard but
kept one eye on the door. The old brass door knob caught Maggie's attention and she reached out for it. Carefully she wrapped her palm
around it and closed her eyes. The image of her grandmother appeared in her mind bringing the memory of a day from her childhood.
Maggie was about three or four years old and had gathered up bunches of ferns from the woods and took them to her grandmother.
Astounded by the sight of the child carrying a thick mass of bright green leaves into her kitchen, old Maggie laughed like she hadn't laughed
for a long time. “Granny! ...I love you.” The words formed in Maggie's head and wrapped around her old Celtic soul.
Abruptly the door opened and Max came rushing in. Maggie stepped back and sat down on a box in a stack of boxes. Max went to her and
leaned in, placing his head in her lap.
“What's got into you today Max” Tara said, washing her hands at the sink. She reached for a paper towel with “be a good boy and settle
down” Tara hesitated as she headed for the front shop looking back,“come on over here and lie on your warm blanket Max, next to your
toys. It's more comfortable than that cold hard floor. Good boy, come on. Come on it's cold back here.” Max did not move.
Maggie led Max to his blanket and laid down beside him there. She petted him and he soon fell asleep next to her. She smelled him, she felt
his unselfish love all around her. The two entwined into one and melted together in repose. Maggie breathed long slow breaths in that
moment as though she were taking it all in and storing it somewhere. She looked around the back room and smiled as she thought about
the day her grandmother had asked her to come and work at the bookstore with her. I was about the same age as Tara is now, she thought.
Maggie met Tara, a local girl, when she responded to an ad in the Highland's Courier. She reminds me of my wee Maggie. She would be the
same age now and I love Tara as I do my own daughter. I wonder if my wee Maggie still looks like me, if she loves the mountains and the
woods. If she loves books and history like I do. I wonder if she knows about me; if she loves me. Suddenly Maggie felt like she was floating
up again. She clung to Max to his body heat. In her mind, the memory of following behind Tara and the paramedics into her bedroom played
out. Panic surged up in her as she saw the image of that woman in her bed. But who was she?
Without any warning, Max shook his paws and emitted repressed barking sounds like he was dreaming. The unexpected movement brought
Maggie back to the floor. She remembered how she used to laugh when he did that in the evenings, after a walk in the woods, like he was
dreaming of running after a rabbit or something. Maggie thought of the ducks that busied about on the lake every day and three elegant
swans that came by every evening. She regularly fed them with old bread broken into small pieces while Max chased after them playfully.
He was such an odd ball, Maggie thought. He looked so ungainly in the water up to his shoulders trying to run and jump. She laughed at the
image of that as it crossed her mind. Soon other thoughts began to circle around her. Unable to link her random thoughts together to make
sense, confusion reigned once more. Maggie struggled. Overcome with a strong sense of longing and concern, she sensed that something
was not right there. Something kept gnawing at her emotions; something deep. She looked back through time to find it. All at once, a
smudged impression of a letter came into her mind and a fierce pain stung her in the heart. But what could it mean?
Suddenly, Maggie was in the old house again. Wood carvings clung to the wall of the parlor but she had scarcely seen the beauty in them
before that moment. They smelled of lemon polish that dulled their life and their memories. Once they had been magnificent pines that grew
tall and lived in the forest. Now they served to furnish floors and walls in this hundred year old home in Highlands County. A highly polished
mantle above the main fireplace stood proud against the east wall. Family portraits looked down on all those who entered this place. Cold
ashes lay in the hearth the only evidence of flames that had flickered and breathed life sustaining heat into the four story building.
Some time passed before Maggie moved into her own disheveled bedroom. Confusion collided with her again in that room. It gripped her.
Torn pieces of paper and remnants of plastic packaging lay strewn on the bed and around the floor. Echoes of loud voices and rapid
movements bounced off the walls filling the room. She saw a red stain on the rug by her bed and an empty wine glass lying next to it. A torn
envelope and a letter lay on the bedroom floor.
“Maggie! Maggie! Can you hear me Maggie! Do you have any pain?” The young Intern stood by the bed as the nurse reduced the rate on
the drip. “Miss. McKnight, squeeze my hand if you have pain. Open your eyes. Can you open your eyes for me.”
Maggie moved in closer to the letter. She could barely see the smudged words on the page.
“Miss McKnight can you hear me. Can you open your eyes for me?”
Maggie opened her eyes and suddenly, the words came into view,
“Please forgive my boldness, but you see, I have had the idea that we could meet ...I want to know you...”
Suddenly she felt that weird pulling force tearing her away. She was falling and sinking again. Her body felt heavy and the pain immense.
She had numbness in her arms and legs. She felt cold very, very cold. Fierce pain welled up and stung Maggie in the heart. She tried to
scream but tubes in her throat gagged her.
“Okay that's enough! Lets take the rate back up but not all the way up. Keep her sedation level below six, about five for now. Let's go ahead
with the vent changes now and repeat arterial blood gases in fifteen minutes.”
Sounds became echoes as Maggie drifted up and away again.
|Dogwood book content copyright © by Kathleen Sullivan McDonald 2015
Music by Skully - 'It Rained That Morning'
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