This is an excerpt from a bit of fiction I have been working on. For anyone who has not read previous excerpts, I will identify William Ryman as the CEO of St. Sanctimonia Hospital. Dr Murray Schram is Medical Director. His wife Lois is one of the city's most storied gardeners.
Fairleigh Ashley started her affair with Dr. Scott Tesh when she learned he was friends with Tim Molinari, a vascular surgeon at Duke. Molinari was looking for a new partner for his group. Dr. Ashley, a vascular fellow at Lea University Medical Center, was looking for a job. Tesh recommended her unreservedly, but Tim Molinari was blunt.
"I don't want a woman.I don't care how good a surgeon she is. She'll get married and have a kid and then she'll want to work part time. Then she'll quit and stay home. I'd have to find someone else. I might as well find someone else now".
Initially disappointing, not to mention erotically enervating, this turned out to be fortuitous for Dr. Ashley. Within a month Saint Sanctimonia had forcibly retired Dr. Leland Byswatter, Tesh's partner, and Tesh was looking for a replacement. By then, the Tesh-Ashley affair had petered out for lack of motive. Even knowing that he would never see Dr. Ashley's sports bra again, Tesh offered her the spot. He was not regretful or angry, and Darlin' Devoe, his on and off long time ladyfriend and personal scrub nurse was forgiving. Tesh and his paunch felt more comfortable with Darlin' anyway.
In the third year of her surgical residency, Dr. Ashley, frustrated one morning by the old ring binder patient charts the Catholic hospital still used, wrote an order for the ward secretary to thin out a chart, which was over-stuffed and about to burst.
"Thin this chart ASAP", she wrote.
Kiss my ass ASAP thought the ward clerk, who left the chart for someone else to not do.
The next morning Dr. Ashley brought the chart back to the secretary's desk. She raised it over her head, then dropped it on the floor, where it exploded.
"If I can't order you to thin this cart, I'll make you do it", said Dr. Ashley.
"Snarley Ashley" the ward secretaries called her after that. The operating room nurses already called her "Fairleigh Nasty".
Midway through November, Renee gave a dinner party in honor of Dr Ashley's ascendancy to Tesh Vascular Associates. Renee hoped to snag Belle Tesh, Scott's wife, as a guest, and had more of the others who were invited thought that Belle might appear, they would not have sent their regrets. Several of them were sorry they hadn't showed up when they later heard that Tesh arrived in the same car with both Dr. Ashley and Darlin' Devoe.
The Schrams were the first guests through the door. Lois, who had traded an interest in fashion for rare flower bulbs 20 years ago was wearing an old blue Norell suit. Murray, unusually relaxed from a combination of port, nerve pills ,and beta blockers came in a sports jacket with mismatched socks inside his frayed work loafers. Lois gave Renee a hostess gift. A dozen miniature daffodil bulbs.
"Even a novice can grow these", she assured Renee.
Scott and Darlin' presented the Rymans with a $150.00 bottle of Pinot Noir from the Double Ducky Vineyard in Oregon.
Fairleigh Ashley just presented herself.
If women were bottles of wine ,thought Renee, Dr Ashley would be a Pinot. Her blond hair was free of its mandatory work ponytail. She was wearing a sleek black sheath and four inch heels. Her teeth gleamed.
Darlin Devoe, fifty, and looking it,was a $5.00 bottle of pink Zinfandel. How many years had it been since Renee saw someone wear a peasant blouse, an ankle length madras skirt, Birkenstocks, and three inch hoop earrings that looked as though they were carved out of balsa wood?. A long time.
Appalling as well was Scott Tesh. In a green jacket and pink pants, he looked like an overfed old Dartmouth alum. The kind Renee first saw under a striped tent on the Hanover Green when her first husband Jack Cravalle dragged her to his class reunion. And Tesh smelled. Like smoke.
"We were doin' a bit of burning at the house", Tesh explained. He did not think his hostess needed to know that the burning was done by Belle, who ordered their houseman Leon to burn an oil painting Tesh had brought back from Hilton Head and hung on his side of the foyer at "Just Blissful", Belle's ancestral home. The Tesh's Boulevard neighbors had called the Fire department. No one on the Boulevard would have been surprised if Belle had just decided to burn the place down- But Belle thought the painting- of golfers out on an emerald fairway surrounded by bright flags- was in poor taste. She ordered Leon to douse it with kerosene.
Since dinner was twenty minutes from ready, the men and women separated. The men went to the bar. The women went to the kitchen. Renee's culinary temple. She expected Dr. Ashley and Lois to be impressed.
But Lois Schram, with a garden full of herbs and a freezer full of frozen lasagna, saw only pricey clutter. Dr. Ashley did not notice at all. She owned one aluminum pan, though she had a set of copperware in storage. Dr. Ashley didn't need more than one pan. She lived on yoghurt.
Darlin' was studying Renee's cook books. "Oh, Elizabeth David. I love Mediterraean cooking. Have you read Patience Gray's "Honey from a Weed? She lived on Naxos, and in Provence".
Renee had never heard of her.
"I was in Provence last summer", said Lois. "Our garden tour went to Lawrence Johnston's garden in Menton-"
"We're going to France next year", said Renee, who had just decided this.
Dr. Ashley had never visited either of these places. The only country she had ever been to was medical school.
(Thus ends part one of this chapter. To be concluded on Sunday or Monday)