“I did it,” the young mother cries proudly. “I made you a baby.”
The father doesn’t say a word. His eyes are on the wonder of this new life and the beautiful woman before him. He just sits on the chair and sobs.
There’s movement in the hall and when I turn, Dr. Blum is leaning against the doorframe. It’s then that I see something I’ve not seen before, not even when he was in his right mind. His eyes are wet too.
May 16, 1934
7-pound, 3-ounce infant boy born to Dahlila and Simon Markey of Snake Hollow. (Baby was weighed on an extra old-fashioned hanging scale that the midwife had given me.) I was supposed to just be there just for support until the midwife could get there, but the baby arrived before she did. Patience made it for the placenta and she repaired two tiny tears.
The six chickens I received were not payment enough for the dozens of gray hairs I got, but I did learn a few things. The warm water compresses were something even the midwife had not tried and seemed to offer the mother some comfort. Also, getting the woman out of bed apparently lessens the pain (I did not know this), and the baby often comes quicker. Dahlila delivered her baby boy on the floor and we both laughed our heads off.
Healing for Money
“Hello,” a man calls from out in the yard just as I’m cleaning Dr. Blum’s face, readying him for the trip into Liberty we’d abandoned when Mr. Markey sped up the road and begged for my assistance.
We both go out on the porch to find another stranger standing in the road, a handsome guy, clean-shaven, with shoulders as broad as a truck and a low voice that comes out like gravel running along a stream bed. “Hello,” he says again.
Surely he has the wrong house. He’s standing next to the shiny red Packard I’d seen in town last week, the one with the silver winged goddess on the front of the hood, and he wears a black uniform with a little chauffeur’s cap.
“Are you the nurse, Rebecca Myers?”
“Stay!” I hiss as I push Dr. Blum back inside and take the steps down into the yard. “Yes, I am.”
“There’s a medical emergency at the Barnett Boardinghouse. Mrs. Bazzano asked me to bring you. It’s her son . . . her eight-year-old son.”
“A child? What sort of an emergency?” (At least it’s not a woman in labor!)
“It’s his breathing. He’s having an air attack. Old lady Barnett recommended you.”
“I’m not a physician, you understand? Can’t you take him to the hospital in Torrington? There are specialists there.”
“No, we can’t go into Torrington.” From the corner of my eye I catch sight of Isaac as he takes this moment to come back outside and stand at the rail to piss.
“Dr. Blum!” I shout, but it’s too late. He’s already taken his pecker out and is spraying a long one right toward the driver. The man steps back a few feet and stares in amazement.
“He’s a doctor? If he’s a doctor, you can both come.”
“Sir, your name?”
“Nick Rioli. I’m the driver for Mrs. John Bazzano and her children. Mrs. John Bazzano of Pittsburgh.” He says this last part as if it’s significant and I take it that they come from money or fame.
“Well, listen, Mr. Rioli. I think you can see that the doctor is not right, clearly not able to help anyone, and you’ve caught us at an inopportune time. We’re on our way to town for an employment interview.”
This is a fabrication, but I need something more impressive than I have to go out and look for a job. “You really should get the boy in the auto and head for Torrington right now.” The fellow just stands there, his arms folded in front of his body, making it clear he’s not leaving.
“Mrs. Bazzano is prepared to pay.” Here he pulls out a black leather wallet and holds a crisp ten-dollar bill between his fingers, an attractive bribe. I haven’t seen that kind of cash for months and my eyes are glued on the green. It doesn’t take long to make a decision.
“Okay, Mr. Rioli. You’ve convinced me.” I hold out my hand for the tenner. “We were going into Liberty anyway. I’ll follow in our own vehicle and go to the job interview later, but I have to make myself clear: If the boy is seriously ill, I may not be able to help him.
“On the other hand, if I am able to help him, it will be another ten dollars.” I’m shocked by my boldness. Healing for money. What would Florence Nightingale say?
Twenty minutes later, the doctor and I are sitting in the back of the opulent Packard with springs so flexible I can hardly feel the bumps in the road. The silver winged replica of the goddess of speed propels us toward Liberty and I regret that the driver wouldn’t let me bring my own vehicle, but then I wouldn’t get the smooth ride.
“So.” I speak loudly, to be heard over the roar of the motor. “Can you tell me more about the child, Mr. Rioli?” Dr. Blum sits next to me, our medical bag in his lap, riding along in his usual silence. “Has the boy had breathing attacks before? Does he have any medical history? Any recent exposure to TB or anything like that? And why can’t you go into Torrington?”
The driver clears his throat and watches me through his rearview mirror. “The boy goes to an asthma specialist in Pittsburgh, but he’s never been this bad before. He’s having one attack after another.”
“Any recent colds or croup?”
“Yes. It started with a cough. We were on our way to White Sulfur Springs to take the cure, but had to stop for a few days when he became ill, and now he’s started getting short of breath.”
“You mentioned the family name, John Bazzano, but I don’t know anything about them.”
“In this case,” says the driver, “that’s just as well.”
A few minutes later, as we cruise past the soup kitchen at the Saved by Faith Baptist Church, I shrink down, embarrassed to be seen riding in the limo while the hungry men stand in line for free food. They cannot know by looking at us that until an hour ago, the doctor and I were close to destitute ourselves.
“Why is it better that I don’t know the family?” I turn back to the driver.
“Don’t you read the papers?”
“Not lately, no.”
We pull up into the drive of Mrs. Barnett’s Boardinghouse, a two-story white clapboard building with porches on both the upper and lower levels and around two sides. A neat white picket fence encloses the yard, and there are twelve-foot-tall white snowball bushes out front.
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