“We read about it in the newspaper, Daniel, right here at this table. Bazzano was stabbed some twenty times in the chest with an ice pick and discovered a few days later in a trash bin. It was big news.”
“That John Bazzano?” Daniel now recalls the story, but I draw a dead blank. Most likely it happened around the time I was dealing with Dr. Blum’s illness and had stopped reading the paper.
“The ritual murder was in retaliation for Bazzano wiping out three brothers in a rival Pennsylvania gang. All three. Can you imagine?”
I swallow hard. “Those people were mobsters?”
In the end Patience holds out her hand and takes the ten-dollar bill. When times are hard, it doesn’t matter if the money is dirty or the money is clean.
“Old MacDonald had a farm. E-I-E-I-O,” I sing to Dr. Blum as I scrub our linens on the washboard in the big galvanized metal washtub. It lightens my load to have a little money in the money jar. “And on his farm he had a chicken. E-I-E-I-O.” The sound of a motor interrupts my song as a battered green pickup truck loaded with wood pulls into the yard.
What now? It’s Reverend Miller from Hazel Patch, the Negro pastor who changed our flat when we first returned to Union County. A tall, young black fellow sits in the front beside him.
I hurry outside, pulling Blum along. “Why, Reverend, how nice of you to stop by. Won’t you come in?” I inwardly cringe, knowing I have nothing to serve them, no biscuits, no apple butter, not even coffee.
“No need for that, ma’am, though I thank you kindly.” He tips his straw hat and wipes sheen from his wide handsome brown face. “We brought you some wood. A tornado touched down in Hazel Patch in April and wreaked havoc. We’re trying to get the hillside cleaned off. I just dropped off a load to the Hesters, and Patience said you could use some too.”
“I thought tornados didn’t happen in the mountains.”
“Oh, they happen, but only every ten years or so. Where do you want us to stack it?”
I survey the bed of the truck. That’s a lot of wood! Some of the trunks are six inches, some only four, but still good for the cookstove. “To the side of the house I guess.”
“This is Nate Bowlin.” He indicates the young man with him, a tall fellow of about eighteen who’s eyeing Dr. Blum as if he were a ghost. The physician still stands next to me and I note that his pants are ripped and hitched up too high, like an unkempt scarecrow or one of the homeless men down by the river, and I’m suddenly embarrassed. I hadn’t given any recent thought to how we’re dressed when we’re out on the farm because we don’t usually get company.
“Be right back,” I say to cover my discomfort, then I lead Blum into the house and sit him on the davenport. “Stay.”
Returning, I find the wood almost all stacked in a pile taller than I am. The Reverend and Nate finish up. “Could I offer you a few dollars? I just got paid for a nursing job. That’s a lot of firewood.”
“No. No.” The Reverend puts up his hand. “You need what you have.”
He opens the truck door and I think he is going to leave, but he stops, takes off his hat, and looks toward the blue door. “We’ve been praying for the doctor. Any change?”
I shrug, surprised. “Not much. Maybe a little. One day he got up and dressed himself.”
Reverend Miller shoots me a big smile and his very white teeth illuminate his dark face. “Well now. That’s something!” he says as if dressing yourself was a real accomplishment. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
“Okay, Blum. Time to get to work.” I’m dressed for the outdoors in old slacks and a plaid cotton shirt that Patience gave me.
Her old six-foot-long crosscut saw hangs on spikes under the porch and I carefully carry it out to where I’ve lined up two sawhorses I found in the barn. Sometimes I think the doctor is making progress and other times he seems like a little boat bobbing along without rudder or sail. I plunk a straw hat on his head and once again my loneliness hits me like a locomotive loaded with coal.
Get a grip, Becky, and quit feeling sorry for yourself. If you expect to have cooked food this summer and heat in the fall, you have to cut up this wood. I lay the first log, about eight feet long and the width of my forearm, up on the sawhorses then give Isaac one of the handles.
Just then, I hear another car whining up Wild Rose Road. Two cars in one day! We’re getting to be Grand Central Station!
“How ya doing?” the vet asks, jumping out of his Model T and going straight toward Dr. Blum. He reaches out to shake hands, and when Isaac ignores him, he picks up the doc’s right mitt and pumps it. “Glad to see you. Here let me give you some help.” Blum is still standing with his left hand on the saw handle and Daniel Hester takes my place and begins to pull and push.
“Bitsy and I used to store our firewood under the porch,” Patience tells me, gathering little Danny up and climbing out of the passenger-side door. She plops her little fair-haired boy on the steps and gives me a hug. “It stays nice and dry there. . . . I’m so sorry we don’t get over more. . . . Our life is crazier than the Pittsburgh Zoo. Are you doing okay?” She studies my face.
I shrug and smile to show that I’m game, just the good old outdoorsy girl living the good old farm life with the good old catatonic boy. My act doesn’t fool her and she nods toward Isaac. “Pretty hard, huh?”
I turn away. If she only knew the tears that I’m hiding. “We’re making it. Pastor Miller brought the wood and I found the two-person saw under the porch. Thanks for thinking of us. Do you want to come in? I don’t have any coffee or anything.”
“That’s okay. Put on the water. I brought you a jar of peppermint leaves I dried last fall. We can have tea.”
Patience follows me through the blue door with her little boy and gives him his red metal fire truck to play with.
“Oh, the house looks so pretty. Do you have everything you need? Is there anything more I could lend you?”
“No, Patience.” I smile, looking around the room at the white walls, the shining windows, at the sofa covered with a blue-and-green quilt, at the white curtains I made of muslin that Patience donated, at the bookcase that now holds our books, mostly medical. I have even set out my paints and brushes in a clear quart jar, and on the back wall hung one of my paintings, Purple Iris on a Hillside.
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