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A Time To Every Purpose IX
Continuation of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter IX

Stew had had the measles as a child, he told me. He also told me the exact date and who his doctor had been. He calls that kind of recall a great mind for detail. I call it being anal. He also informed me that he was worried about, Carolyn, the wife of his department head who he thought was depressed. At that point I couldn't have cared less.
As soon as I got off the phone, Anita appeared, carrying Needles in her arms. Needles was groggy, feverish, pink-eyed, and very crabby. It made my skin itch to look at her, and really didn't want her in my car, but I didn't feel I had a choice.
"Bob," Anita ordered me, "take the cat cage out to the car. I think it will fit in the front seat. I'll sit in back with the child."
"Don't we need a kiddy seat for her?" I grumbled.
Mrs. Privett had entered the room. "There is a child's car seat at the McManus' house," she said. "I'll bring it to your car. I'm going over to feed the cats."
I was surprised, I admit, that she offered to do anything at all, and I told Anita so as we drove off.
"She's not so bad," Anita said. "I understand that she might grate on your nerves, but her heart is in the right place. Without her stability little Anita would be in a bad situation."
I winced at the cliché. Anita was usually not one for clichés. I wondered what was going on.
"Let's drop the cat carrier off at the vet's after we take Anita to the doctor," Anita said. "Just turn left here and go three blocks, and you'll see the medical building on the right. There's parking right in front."
How did she know?
"Joanna phoned the pediatrician," she informed me, unasked. "I spoke with the receptionist and got directions. Joanna would have given them to me, but she has no sense of direction."
I was startled at Anita's use of Mrs. Privett's first name. Surely they hadn't become friends. Or had they? Anita generally had better taste.
The doctor was a tall young man who looked to me as if he should just have been starting medical school. Needles didn't seem to be afraid of him, but she didn't seem to like him much either. She hung onto Anita's hand, and I followed them into the examining room feeling useless.
To no one's surprise, Dr. Kingston informed us that Needles indeed had the early symptoms of measles and would require at least a week's bed rest and close supervision by an adult. Then he peered at us for a few minutes before asking if we'd had the disease. Anita spoke up first and told him that she'd had measles as a child, but I wasn't sure. He cleared his throat and suggested that we wait out front until he could hunt up the specialist in infectious diseases to speak with me.
Needles slept curled up on Anita's lap. I'd never thought of Anita as at all maternal, but that child seemed to like her well enough. The strange thing, at least to my mind, was that she also seemed to like the child.
"Dr. Larchmont will see you, Mr. Harmon," the receptionist informed me. I stood up and she led me into a different examining room from the one where the pediatrician had examined Needles. I no sooner settled myself on a chair next to the examining table than a very attractive, young woman entered. She extended her hand. "Hello, I'm Dr. Larchmont. I understand you've been exposed to measles and don't know if you've already had them as a child."
I nodded and felt called upon to explain. "I had most childhood diseases, but doctor whom my family used when I was young has long since died. I imagine his medical records are somewhere, but I don't know where."
She smiled and nodded. "Well, I'm sure you could hunt them down, but by that time the incubation period for the disease would probably be over and you'd either have come down with it or not. What you want to watch out for is high fever if you do get it."
"And how long until I know?" I asked.
"Ten to twelve days. During that time you'll want to keep away from people who haven't had the disease and from those with weakened immune systems."
This time it was my turn to nod and smile. "Thank you very much, Doctor," I said, standing up to leave.
She shook my hand and left the room. I followed wondering if I was now really obliged to skip the pen show. Out in the hallway I saw Dr. Kingston who was on his way to another patient. I hailed him and he turned sharply, an impatient expression on his face, but he smiled when he recognized me.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Harmon?" he asked.
I could tell he was in a hurry, but I needed to know why Needles had never been vaccinated against measles.
"Her father was opposed to it," he said, looking disapproving. "He said the child had been poked and prodded and stuck enough." The doctor shook his head. "Some people…" he began, then caught himself and blushed. I thanked him and let him go on his way.
When I got out into the waiting, I saw something I'd never expected: Anita Carswell talking on a cellular phone. I approached slowly, curious, and heard her say, "Yes, Joanna, I'll have the address, and we'll run by as soon as we drop off the cat carrier. Yes, thanks, we're glad to help."
Anita saw me staring at the phone in her hand and shoved it into that capacious bag she always carried. "What's wrong, Bob?" she asked, looking slightly alarmed. "What did the doctor tell you?"
"I thought you hated cell phones, Anita," I replied accusingly.
She waved her hand in the air. "They're tools. I don't hate them. I find it annoying when people walk down the street with a cell phone plastered to their ears, and I find people who talk loudly on their cell phones in public places rude. But I have nothing against the tools; they can be useful."
"Right," I said disapprovingly. "So when did you get it? And why didn't you let me use it instead of Mrs. P.'s hippo?"
Anita chuckled. "It's Joanna's and she lent it to me this morning. Besides, the sight of you speaking into that hippo was too good to pass up. I wouldn't have missed it for anything."
I grunted. "Well, what did she want?"
"What did who want?"
"Mrs. P.," I replied impatiently. "You were talking to her, weren't you?"
Anita shook her head. Needles rolled over on her lap, and Anita's hand went down to keep her from rolling onto the floor. "What's wrong, Bob?"
"Wrong?" I said sarcastically. "What makes you think something is wrong?"
"Your behavior and that dyspeptic look on your face, to name just two things," Anita replied acerbically. "Are you already experiencing symptoms or did you eat too many of Joanna's pancakes?"
I sighed pathetically. "No, I'm perfectly content to be stuck here looking after a sick child. What more could I ask for on my vacation from my sick wife?"
Anita raised her eyebrows but didn't reply.
"Dr. Larchmont said the incubation period is ten to twelve days," I informed her.
Her reply was simply, "Uh, oh!"
"Uh, oh, indeed," I said, folding my arms over my chest as I looked down at her with the sleeping child in her lap.
"When are you going to tell Betsy?"
Her question took me by surprise. I had been nursing resentment about being put on the spot, thinking about how I'd feel if I skipped the pen show and how I'd feel if I went and someone came down with measles, but I hadn't really counted the days until my return home. Nor had I been trying to remember whether or not Betsy had had the measles or been vaccinated. Did I even know?
I didn't like feeling like an inconsiderate husband, and unfortunately I was all too ready to take out my feeling of inadequacy on Anita.
"I think you should tell Betsy," I growled at her. "After all, it's your damned fault I'm in this mess. You and your cat-loving ways."
Anita peered up at me and shook her head. "Fine, I'll speak to Betsy. But first let's go drop off the cat carrier and get this child back to bed."
She rose slowly and carefully lifted Needles to her shoulder without waking her. I could see that the child was heavy, but I didn't offer to take over. Instead I followed her out the door, feeling hard done by.

Dr. Brown's office was at the other end of the long street that constituted the town's main thoroughfare. He himself greeted me as I entered, cat cage under my arm.
"Hi there, You must be Bob Harmon."
He took the carrier from me and handed it to his office manager, a middle-aged woman with a worried expression.
"Here, Mattie, put that in the store room, will you? Arlen will disinfect it later today."
I stared at the large, heavy-set man. "I thought the cat and the kittens you sent home were okay," I said.
He looked perturbed. "They are."
"So why disinfect the carrier?" I challenged him.
He grinned at me. "We always disinfect. It's just good veterinary practice. A good habit to get into, if you know what I mean."
I shook my head. "Seems like a waste of time to me."
He raised his eyebrows. "Wouldn't you prefer that your doctor sterilize everything that comes into contact with you?" he asked in a mild tone.
I grunted. "I don't go to a vet," I replied.
He laughed, and I was surprised to find myself feeling relieved that I hadn't offended him. He seemed like a nice guy. Just a bit too conscientious.
"I have to go," I said abruptly. "Miss Carswell is in the car with little Nee…Anita McManus who has measles. We've got to get her home to bed."
Suddenly I wondered if Dr. Brown had had measles whether he could pass it from me to his canine and feline patients. I shook my head to clear it of such stupid thoughts, nodded at him and his office manager, and hurried back to the car.

Needles was awake and very grumpy. "I want my mommy! I want my mommy!" she kept howling. I wanted to drown her like an unwanted kitten, but Anita, sitting right next to her on the back seat of the car, didn't really seem to mind. She just spoke to her softly, and after a few minutes, the howling diminished to occasional sobs.
"We're not heading back to Joanna's," Anita informed me. "We're gong to leave the child with a family friend. So don't take the last right, take a left instead."
I glared into the rearview mirror. "I thought our reward for returning Needles to her keeper was that we'd be allowed to prowl around in the antique shop," I said.
"Perhaps we'll do that afterwards if you're in no hurry to be on the way to Indiana," Anita replied calmly, stroking Needles unruly hair. The child had quieted down, and I no longer wanted to drown her. I wasn't so sure about Anita and Joanna Privett, however. I felt as if there was a conspiracy and I was its target.
"Never mind," I grumbled. "Given the condition of that house, there's probably nothing in the store worth my time anyway."
"Turn here, please!" Anita said sharply, and I turned with a sharpness that almost equaled her tone.
"Third house on the left. You can pull into the driveway."
I turned into the driveway more carefully and turned off the ignition. Anita got out of the car and bent to pick up Needles, who had her arms outstretched. I don't know if it was remorse or simply a return to my right mind, but I put my hand on Anita's shoulder before she had a chance to pick up the child. "Let me carry her," I said quietly. "You've been hauling her around long enough."
To my surprise, Anita didn't object. Neither did Needles, who allowed me to hoist her onto my shoulder without a whimper.
Anita led me up a gravel path past a well-tended garden to the side door of a very small but pretty house. There was no doorbell that I could see. She lifted an old-fashioned door knocker shaped like a goblin's head and let if fall with a resounding thud.
"Just a moment, please," a heavily accented. male voice called out from behind the door. The accent sounded Eastern European but not Russian. I guessed that the speaker was Czech or Hungarian.
I heard shuffling footsteps and then the door opened. A man at least as old as Anita herself stuck out his head. He had beautiful white hair and very bright, blue eyes. He smiled when he saw Needles, and she squealed in absolute delight and reached out her arms to him.
The old man's smile broadened as he lifted the child from my arms.
"Please come in," he invited us, offering his hand first to me and then to Anita, who stood slightly behind me. "Ellen said you would be coming with Anita. I am Morris Diamant, at your service."
And with that Mr. Diamant stepped back and ushered us into his home.


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