Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-three - Neighbors (part five)
Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-four - Getting help (part one)

Chapter Six Hundred and Forty-three - Neighbors

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FORTY-THREE

Saturday morning — 10:10 a.m.

Noelle and Nash stood outside the Castle’s next door neighbor’s house. Noelle glanced back at Sandy, who was standing on the sidewalk with the support of two canes. Sandy waved Noelle on. Noelle visibly sighed.

The girl knocked on their next door neighbor’s door.

“I hear someone,” Nash whispered to Noelle.

Noelle nodded. The children backed up on the porch until they were about six feet from the door. The door opened a crack.

“Hi, I’m Noelle and this is Nash,” Noelle said.

“I don’t want anything,” a voice said.

Two dark eyes peered out at the children. Even though they were dismissed, the door didn’t close.

“We’re not selling anything,” Nash said.

“We wanted to check that you were doing okay,” Noelle said. “With the pandemic going on, we are going around checking on our neighbors to see if anyone needs anything.”

“That’s nice of you,” the voice said.

“You probably know Mr. Matchel,” Nash said.

“That old coot,” the voice said. “I know him enough to stay as far away as possible.”

The voice chuckled which led to a deep cough. Nash looked at Noelle, and she glanced at Sandy.

“He collapsed yesterday,” Nash continued. “So we thought we’d check on everyone in our area to see if they were okay or if they needed anything.”

“We brought some facemasks in case you don’t have any,” Noelle said.

A thin, wrinkled brown hand stretched out from behind the door. Noelle placed the masks into the hand and the hand retreated. There was another cough.

“You sound like you’re a little sick,” Noelle said.

“It’s not Covid,” the voice said. “I have some lung problems from before this wretched thing started.”

“Our uncle is an acupuncturist,” Noelle said. She gestured toward the back of the Castle. “He’s setting up his office at the house.”

“I can’t afford nothing,” the voice said. “No payments from disability lately.”

“That’s okay,” Nash said. “He’s giving away treatments to neighbors. He wants to see everyone once alone and then, if you can, do it as a group. If not, you can see him privately.”

The brown eyes blinked and then blinked again. The door opened a little wider.

“Are you for real?” the voice asked.

The children nodded.

“We’ve also been growing seedlings,” Noelle said. “Tomatoes, beans, stuff like that.”

“I noticed them greenhouses,” the voice said.

“We can help you plant your garden,” Nash said.

“Why’re you helping me?” the voice asked. “You haven’t helped before.”

“We had school and stuff before,” Noelle said. “We didn’t have time to help. Now, we don’t have school or work. Our parents thought that since we have time, we could help our neighbors instead.”

“Plus, Mr. Matchel being so sick,” Nash said with a nod of his head. “He reminded us that people might need help.”

“And this uncle of yours?” the voice asked.

“Blane?” Nash asked. “Blane Lipson.”

“Your uncle is Blane Lipson?” the voice asked. “I know him.”

“Good,” Noelle said. “Then you should come.”

Noelle held out the business card that Ivy had painstakingly written out phone numbers and the offer of free treatments.

“I’d need help getting there,” the voice said with a sigh.

“That’s okay,” Nash said. “I can come over and help you get there.”

The dark eyes blinked and blinked again.

“I seen some activity right there,” the voice said.

“Do you know Jeraine?” Noelle asked.

“The R&B singer?” the voice asked. “Dr. Bumpy’s child?”

Noelle nodded.

“What about him?” the voice asked.

“He’s going to be having concerts in the ballroom,” Noelle said.

“That old speak-easy?” the voice chuckled.

Noelle and Nash nodded in unison.

“They can’t have people, you know,” Noelle said. “But they are going to be lots of big names.”

“He said that anyone could listen to them practice,” Nash said.

“They’re broadcasting over the internet,” Noelle said.

“I’d have to feel a whole lot better to do that,” the voice said.

Nash and Noelle nodded.

“Do you have enough food?” Nash asked.

“They stopped meals,” Noelle said.

“I. . .” the voice said with a sigh.

The door swung open. Nash and Noelle saw a small elderly woman on the other side. She wore a brown housecoat with blue roses on it. The house was dark. Even though it was cold outside, they could feel the chill coming from inside the house. She had a scarf tied tight around her head.

“I could very much use some help,” the voice said. “I don’t know why but they turned off my power. I haven’t been getting meals. I. . .”

A fat tear ran down the woman’s face.

“I’m Virginia Sage,” the woman said. “Folks have always called me ‘Ginny.’”

The woman nodded.

“Would you mind very much if I went with you now?” Ginny asked. “I’m very cold.”

“Of course,” Nash said. “But you have to wear a facemask.”

With Noelle’s help, the woman tied on a face mask. Nash held out his elbow. Together, Nash, Noelle, and Ginny made slow progress down Ginny’s walk and to the sidewalk.

“Is anyone else in your house?” Noelle asked.

“Not anymore,” Ginny said. “My grankids used to come over every afternoon, but since this thing, I. . .”

Ginny sighed.

“I haven’t seen anyone in at least a month,” Ginny said. She patted Nash’s hand. “I really appreciate the help.”

Nash stood a little taller. Noelle ran ahead to open the metal gate. Sandy led them along the sidewalk, past the paparazzi, and into the Castle grounds.

“Why are they always here?” Ginny asked.

“Valerie Lipson lives with us,” Noelle said.

“Of course she does,” Ginny said.

They got halfway down the driveway when Sam came out of the house.

“Ginny?” Sam asked.

Seeing Sam, Ginny seemed to brighten a bit.

“Sam,” Ginny said. “These kids said it would be okay if I came over.”

“She doesn’t have heat or food,” Noelle said.

“Please,” Sam said, taking Ginny’s other side.

“We’re going around the back because she said she’d like to see Blane,” Noelle said.

“He’ll be delighted,” Sam said. “Now, I had the Covid, so we have to go slow.”

“That’s okay, Big Sam,” Ginny said. “I can’t go very fast anymore either.”

They shuffled along until they got around the house.

“Can I really listen to music in the old speakeasy?” Ginny asked.

“Absolutely,” Sam said. “But let’s get you warm, fed, and stuck with needles first.”

Ginny gave Nash and Noelle a genuine smile.

“Thank you, children,” Ginny said.

Nash and Noelle left Ginny at the edge of the deck. They watched while Sam and Ginny headed up to Blane’s new offices in the medical suite. Sandy caught up with Nash and Noelle.

“Ready to visit someone else?” Sandy asked.

“How did Charlie and Tink do?” Noelle asked.

“Ivy and Teddy?” Nash asked.

“They are still out there,” Sandy said. “Let’s grab another stack of masks and try another door.”

Nodding, Noelle and Nash followed Sandy to the stack of masks and back out to the neighborhood.

“That was really good,” Noelle said with a smile.

“Ginny?” Sandy asked.

Noelle nodded.

“It was good,” Sandy said.

Grinning, they continued down the sidewalk to check on the next neighbor.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 11:47 a.m.

Marlowe School

“Hey!” Jacob yelled.

He waved his arms and the equipment truck stopped.

“We want to dig up this yard,” Jacob said.

“For raised beds,” Florence, the equipment driver, said from the passenger side of the vehicle.

“Right,” Jacob said.

“Any infrastructure?” Florence asked.

“We did ‘Call before you dig.’ There’s nothing here.” Jacob pointed behind the truck. “Plumbing is right behind you.”

An SUV full of Lipson Construction employees went around the truck.

“Where do you want us?” the SUV driver asked.

“The boundary is marked with wooden stakes,” Jacob pointed.

The SUV sped off. They reached the edge of the road, went over the curb, and drove to a wooden stake in the road.

“You have to go around,” Jacob said. “Through the fast food restaurants parking lots and then onto the dirt.”

“You sure we have permission to be on that lot?” the truck driver asked.

“Val owns it,” Jacob said. “Mom bought this entire lot when it came available. She thought we might need it for new offices.”

Jacob shrugged. The truck driver nodded, rolled up his window, and started the journey through the fast food restaurant parking lot. Another equipment moving tractor trailer arrived and followed the other truck. A truck carrying wooden planks took the rear.

Valerie and Sam drove up. They waved at Jacob and followed the tractor trailers to park on the edge of the lot. Jacob walked to where Valerie and Sam parked. Everyone was greeting each other with waves and elbow bumps. Some of the people here hadn’t worked in a while. Even with the facemasks and social distancing, they were happy to be able to work.

“Okay,” Jacob said. “The city came out and marked the boundary of this lot.”

Jacob pointed to the wooden stakes along the property lines. Sam took a ball of twine from his pocket and began linking the stakes with the twine.

“We want to fit as many raised beds as possible in this space,” Jacob said. “Anyone built a raised bed before?”

Jacob’s hand went up but no one else’s did.

“Okay,” Jacob said. “They’re not that hard. I’ll show you how and you can build them at home.”

Someone cheered and everyone laughed.

“I have a team of carpenters working at the school,” Jacob said. “If I’m not here and you get stuck, any of them can help. I have my phone so you can call or text me. We’re trying to get the school ready to re-open so I’d prefer if they stayed working. But this is important too.”

Everyone nodded.

“We expect that we may have a few non-Lipson people wander over,” Jacob said. “Dad has money to pay people if they want to work. Does anyone have a problem with that?”

Jacob grinned when, to a person, everyone shook their heads.

“Thanks,” Jacob said. “When we can, we like to give people work.”

“Wha-ter-you doin’ wid dis lot?” Trevor, one of the equipment drivers, asked.

Trevor had a long career as an alcoholic. He’d lost all of his teeth by the time he had cleaned up enough to get a job at Lipson Construction. In the years he’d worked there, he’d never replaced his front teeth. He said it reminded him of where he didn’t want to go back to.

“Glad you asked,” Val said. “We’re going to build an infant care facility. We just submitted a set of plans to build the infant care facility and expand the school through the city. Due to Covid, they are understandably behind. So, we’ll see what we need to do.”

“Why do we need more space at the school?” a woman’s voice came from the back.

“We need to manage Covid social distancing,” Valerie said. “Plus, we’re growing so fast that we will need more space soon anyway. While the kids aren’t here, we thought we’d get something going.”

Everyone nodded. The Marlowe School was daycare and school for all Lipson Employees. It was a perk that led to employee loyalty. Lately, the Marlowe School had been winning awards for excellence in education. People who had had their kids in private school had moved them into the Marlowe School.

“Until we’re able to get the school sorted out, we can’t let kids back,” Jacob said.

“Are we close?” the same woman asked.

“Yes,” Jacob said. “The HVAC guys started work last week. They’ve got another week. We’re building out new classrooms and working on plans for the new addition for classrooms.”

“Basically, all of this land will either be school or gardens,” Valerie said.

Everyone nodded.

“Remember, Dad had Covid,” Jacob said. “If Big Sam can get it, any of us can. So keep your distance. The plumbers will be here in a few minutes. They’ll set up a mobile handwashing station. We have extra masks if anyone needs them.”

When no one said anything, Jacob looked at his father.

“Let’s get to work,” Sam croaked.

Everyone cheered and got to work. They unloaded the large equipment. The drivers turned on the machines and went out to join the other workers who were listening to Valerie lay out the field. Valerie had a map of what they thought might give them the most gardening space.

The rest was almost anticlimactic. The large equipment cleared the field. The Lipson Construction employees got to work with their shovels. Two of the women began building the frame for the raised beds. Within a half hour, a crowd began to grow. Lipson Construction employees passed out facemasks and shovels. Soon, raised beds were popping up all over the once empty field.

Then the plumbers arrived. They took two employees and some of the neighbors to dig trenches. Water pipes were laid across the field from the Marlowe school. By the time the water was flowing, all of the raised beds were built.

In order to comply with the city, Jacob’s team of carpenters made quick work of building a fence around the new gardens.

“Tomorrow, we plant,” Valerie said with a grin.

“And run a lottery for half of these spots,” Jacob said.

“Did you put up the flyers?” Valerie asked.

Jacob gestured to Charlie and Tink who were running toward them.

“Good,” Valerie said with a grin.

With that, they packed up and left the site.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 12:07 p.m.

Nelson was standing in the middle of the medical offices looking at all of the people sitting there. The teens and tweens had gone through their street and checked in on other elderly people that Delphie knew. When there was a swarm, Blane had called Nelson to ask if he’d be willing to assist him with assessing everyone’s medical needs. Nelson had dressed in scrubs and headed over.

He heard a woman clear her throat behind him.

“If you can take a seat, we’ll get to you as soon as possible,” Nelson said.

He turned around to see an oddly familiar small dark skinned woman wearing scrubs and a lab coat. The woman looked embarrassed.

“My dad sent me over,” she said in a soft voice. “I brought the supplies you requested, and. . . um. . .”

Nelson gave her a long look.

“I’m Jeraine’s sister,” she said. “La Tonya La. . . uh. . . Smith. I. . . um. . .”

“You’re a medical doctor,” Nelson said.

She nodded.

“I haven’t worked since. . .” La Tonya said.

Nelson nodded that he knew what had happened. She looked relieved at not having to explain herself.

“I brought my kids,” La Tonya said. “The elderly white lady in the back said that she’d be happy to take care of them. I recognized her as a friend of my mom’s but I’m. . .”

La Tonya waved her hand around her head to indicate that she was a little spacey now.

“Flowery skirt?” Nelson said. “Red hair?”

La Tonya nodded.

“That’s Delphie,” Nelson said. His eyes sparkled. “Mask up, doctor. We can really use your help.”

He gestured toward a sink with a shelf of N95 masks, hand sanitizer, and supplies in the corner. La Tonya went to the supply. She washed her hands, put on a mask, and grabbed a handful of latex gloves, which she stuffed into her pocket. She put on a pair of purple latex gloves.

“Who are these people?” La Tonya asked.

“Neighbors,” Nelson said. “Blane’s doing acupuncture in that room. You and I are checking for the obvious signs of Covid — you know the symptoms to check for?”

“Dad said that you’d help me,” La Tonya said. Looking terrified, she shook her head “no.” “You’re an ER doc?”

“I have been,” Nelson said. “I do mostly forensic science at the Denver Crime Lab now. But I still have admitting privileges at Denver Health. If we need to get these dears to the hospital, we can admit together.”

La Tonya nodded. Nelson pulled a laminated sheet out of his pocket.

“Memorize these,” Nelson said. “The biggest one is temperature. As far as we can tell, nearly everyone who has this crappy disease eventually gets a temperature over 100 degrees.”

“Oh, temperature,” La Tonya said. She gave him a shy smile. “That makes sense.”

“Would you mind checking everyone’s temperature?” Nelson asked. “We only have one so you have to disinfect it after everyone.”

He set a handful of alcohol swabs into her hand.

“I can do that.” La Tonya nodded.

“Tanesha and Fin will be here after their shift,” Nelson said.

“Miss T will be here?” La Tonya visibly brightened.

“Around three,” Nelson said. “We’ll have fun.”

La Tonya gave him what he thought was a real smile. He was struck by how beautiful she was and how deeply sad.

“Hey, everyone!” Nelson said, loudly.

The chatting neighbors fell silent.

“This is Dr. Bumpy’s daughter,” Nelson said. “She is also a medical doctor and the daughter of the amazing Nurse Dionne. She is also Jeraine’s sister which makes her family to me. So be nice. You may call her, Dr. Smith. We are lucky to have her.”

The elderly women sitting six feet apart along the wall clapped for La Tonya. Nelson shrugged.

“There you go,” Nelson said.

La Tonya chuckled. Nelson put a forehead thermometer in her hand and she got to work. Nelson watched her for a moment and then dug into the supplies La Tonya had brought. Finding an IV kit and a bag of saline, he said a quick prayer for Dr. Bumpy and went to put it into Ginny Sage.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

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