And when she had been deprived of every conscious impulse except the desire to taste her ex-husband's blood, Covenant had cared for her on Haven Farm until the end. The idea that Joan would "like" living there again nearly brought tears to Linden's eyes.
And Roger had not answered her real question.
"That isn't what I meant," she insisted thickly. "You said she told you to take her place if she failed. Now you have the resources do that."
"Did I?" His smile remained expressionless. "You must have misheard me. Now I can take your place, Dr Avery. I have enough money to care for her. We have a home. I can afford all the help I need.
"She isn't the only one who failed."
Linden frowned to conceal a wince. She herself had failed Joan: she knew that. She failed all her patients. But she also knew that her failure was beside the point. It did nothing to diminish the value or the necessity of her chosen work.
And she was sure that she had not "misheard" Roger.
Abruptly she decided not to waste any more time questioning him. For all practical purposes, he was impervious to inquiry. And he had nothing to say which might sway her.
Surely he would leave when he had seen his mother?
Without challenging his falseness, she drew him forward again, toward Joan's room.
Along the way, she explained, "This is where we keep our more disturbed patients. They aren't necessarily more damaged or in more pain than the people downstairs. But they manifest violent symptoms of one form or another. We've had to keep your mother under restraint for the past year. Before that--"
Linden temporarily spared herself more detail by pushing open Joan's door with her shoulder and leading Roger into his mother's room.
Out in the hall, the characteristic smell of hospitals was less prominent, but here it was unmistakable: an ineradicable admixture of betadyne and blood, harsh cleansers and urine, human sweat, fear, floor wax, and anesthetics, accented by an inexplicable tang of formalin. For some reason, medical care always produced the same scents.
The room was spacious by the standard of private rooms in County Hospital next door. A large window let in the kind of sunlight that sometimes helped fragile psyches recover their balance. The bed occupied the center of the floor. An unused TV set jutted from one wall near the ceiling. The only piece of advanced equipment present was a pulse monitor, its lead attached to a clip on the index finger of Joan's left hand. According to the monitor, her pulse was steady, untroubled.
On a stand by the head of the bed sat a box of cotton balls, a bottle of sterile saline, a jar of petroleum jelly, and a vase of bright flowers. The flowers had been Maxine Dubroff's idea, but Linden had adopted it immediately. For years now she had arranged for the delivery of flowers to all her patients on a regular basis, the brighter the better. In every language which she could devise or imagine, she strove to convince her patients that they were in a place of care.
Joan sat upright in the bed, staring blankly at the door. Restraints secured her arms to the rails of the bed. Her bonds were loose enough to let her scratch her nose or adjust her posture, although she never did those things.
In fact, one of the nurses or orderlies must have placed her in that position. Fortunately for her caregivers, Joan had become a compliant patient: she remained where she was put. Pulled to her feet, she stood. Stretched out on the bed, she lay still. She swallowed food placed in her mouth. Sometimes she chewed. When she was taken into the bathroom, she voided. But she did not react to words or voices, gave no indication that she was aware of the people who tended her.
Her stare never wavered: she hardly seemed to blink. Standing or reclining, her disfocused gaze regarded neither care nor hope. If she ever slept, she did so with her eyes open.
From The Runes of Earth: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Book 1 by Stephen R. Donaldson. Copyright Stephen R. Donaldson 2004. All rights reserved.
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