“What’s the trouble? Is Patience already there?”

“No, ma’am. She’s in Delmont delivering another baby. I called her at home and the vet told me where she was and then when I tracked her down, she told me to fetch you, that you’d sit with my woman until she could get there.”

Oh, Patience! How could you do this? Even looking for work sounds more fun than sitting with a woman in labor.

“She’ll likely be back in Union County within an hour or two. We need you bad, ma’am.”

“Is this your wife’s first baby?”

“Yes and she’s not doing well. Please come. She’s crying something awful.”

“Did you leave her alone?”

“Neighbor girl’s sitting with her now, but she don’t know nothin’. Just a kid. Never saw nothin’ born before but a calf and a set of kittens.”

I let out air in a long sigh. My favorite things! Blood, goo, fear of something being wrong with the baby, and a screaming woman . . .

“Well, I’ll have to bring my charge. He’s disabled and I have no one to watch him.”

“You mean Dr. Blum? I guess I can mind him if you tend to my honey. He’s not dangerous, is he?”

“You’ve heard about him?”

“Most of Union County has by now. They say he’s not himself. Brain injury in an auto accident or something.” I don’t stop to contradict another variation of Isaac’s story. It’s as good an explanation as any, and though Blum wasn’t actually in the accident he became a victim.

“Okay, Isaac, change of plans.” I run back inside for my black leather nurse’s bag. “We’re going to a delivery. Hopefully, Patience will be there soon.”

Maybe we’ll earn a dollar, I think. Maybe Mr. Markey is one of the few farmers in the area who are still doing well. Who knows? I consider with optimism, maybe we’ll earn a whole fiver.

The anxious father-to-be takes off in his truck, spitting gravel, and I follow in the Pontiac, trying to keep up.

Dahlila

The Markey home is a surprise. It rests on a flat overlooking the Hope Valley and though his road, “Snake Hollow,” sounds forbidding, the setting is beautiful. The two-story brick dwelling, once painted white, looks out across the hills to the spruce, pine, and hemlock mountains on the other side of the river, and his fields are green and cut short by the black-and-white cattle that graze there. I’m just getting out of the car, taking in the idyllic setting, when a scream cuts the fresh air.

“Eeeeeeee! I can’t do this anymore! Simon Markey, you better get in here! I can’t take it, I tell you!”

Simon looks at me apologetically. “You go on in, Nurse. I’ll watch your mister.”

He’s not my mister, I want to tell him, but decide to let it go. God knows what the rest of Union County thinks. Simon hands me my satchel and nods toward the house. A thin, dark-haired girl with a prominent overbite runs out the door.

“Gotta go now, Mr. Markey. Ma will be needing me at home.” She doesn’t stop to say good-bye. Just runs off down the dirt road on her bare feet, her black braids flying. I can’t say I blame her. With the next scream, I feel like running myself.

“What’s your wife’s name again?”

“Dahlila.”

“Dahlila,” I whisper under my breath. Dahlila, you better stop screaming, because I can’t take it.

“Hello?” The screen door creaks behind me as I enter a well-appointed parlor with a new blue-embossed davenport, matching wing chair and rocker, oak end tables, and a whatnot shelf with a collection of glass and ceramic dogs and cats. The floor is covered with a flowered carpet too nice to walk on, and in the corner there’s a shiny coal stove with a silver ornament on top. A radio on an end table is turned up high and a blues song, “Hard Times Now,” blares throughout the house, probably Simon Markey’s attempt to drown out the screams.

“You heard about a job, now you is on your way. Twenty men after the same job, all in the same ol’ day. Hard times, hard times . . .” (It could be my theme song.)

“Dahlila? It’s Nurse Becky Myers, come to sit with you. Patience, the midwife, sent me.” My reference to Patience is supposed to give me legitimacy, though in the arena of childbirth, I’m a fish out of water.

“Dahlila?” I call softly again, pushing the door open at the top of the landing.

“Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not okay! Do you think I sound okay? I thought this was supposed to be easy.”

A woman in her midtwenties, with one long blond braid coming undone, sits in the middle of a rumpled four-poster bed. The sheets and blankets have fallen to the floor and her bottom half is naked. On top, she still wears a striped pink satin chemise.

“You thought having a baby would be easy?”

“My sister says it is. I can just hear her. ‘If the doc hadn’t checked me, I wouldn’t have known I was in labor! Forty-five minutes later my baby was born.’ ”

“Well, that isn’t usually the case. Mostly it takes a long time, at least half a day, sometimes two.”

“Two!” She begins the high-pitched wail again and I realize I’ve made a tactical error. “No. No. No! I can’t do it. I won’t. Get that man in here. Simon, I will kill you! I swear I will. This is all his fault for wanting a son.”

She starts to huff with contractions and I wonder when Patience is going to get here. She better hurry or I’ll have to do this delivery myself. My stomach grips at the thought of it, and my eyes get tight around the edges.

“Dahlila,” I say when her contraction is over, being careful not to upset her again. “Watching you, I have a feeling your baby will be here sooner rather than later. I’d like to get the bed made and things ready for Patience. Do you think you could help me? Just be a little quieter so I can think.”

The woman drops her shoulders and takes a big breath, then another. She’s has a Northern European look, lean and tall, the kind of woman you’d picture in a movie, lounging against a bar in a low-cut dress, only her flawless skin is makeup-less and her blond hair is tangled and matted. “You think so? You really think the baby might come soon?”

“Oh, yes. I’m almost sure of it. When did the pains start?”

“This morning about six when I got up to use the bathroom.”

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