“You’ve given us all this! All I need now is a job with cash money. I can’t live on your charity forever. There has to be something.”
“Times are tough. . . . There aren’t many jobs, Becky.” Patience stares out the window. “Try not to worry. We’ll share what we have and you’ll share with us. That’s how people get by nowadays. The thing is, you can’t have too much pride.” For the first time, I notice how worn she looks.
Outside, there’s the swish, swish, swish of the two-man crosscut, and when I look through the window, I see the vet and the doctor, pulling back and forth equally. There’s the sheen of sweat on Isaac’s face, and when Daniel stops for a break, he takes a swig from a silver flask and then holds the same flask to my charge’s lips.
I am horrified at the offer of liquor to a catatonic, but Patience laughs, looking over my shoulder. “Boys will be boys!”
I could run out and stop them, but I hold myself back. Dr. Blum is actually working, and the pile of cut firewood grows.
“Did you hear there’s a CCC camp going up south of town?” Patience asks, dropping back into the rocking chair. “Camp White Rock. They’re going to build a state park, plant trees, clean up the forest, and build a lookout tower for wildfires.”
“A state park! That’s just what we need in times like these, a place to picnic.”
Patience seems embarrassed to have to tell me. “It’s not the park that’s important. It’s the money that it’ll bring into Union County. Also the CCC means jobs for young men all over the country. The wages are small, but they get plenty of food and a place to live. It’s part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. The fellows also get a check for twenty-five dollars a month sent home to their families, so in the end families and women benefit too.”
“What if a woman doesn’t have a husband or a son? What if all she’s got is a man too addled to pull his end of the two-person saw,” I snap, acid leaking out of a rusty car battery. Patience puts her hand to her mouth, shocked by my bitterness.
“I’m sorry,” I apologize. “I’m just worried is all. Even if I find work, I don’t know what I’ll do with Dr. Blum.”
“You could leave him with me.”
“I don’t think that would work—what if you had to go to a birth?”
The midwife adjusts her silver wire-rim glasses. “I take Danny with me sometimes.”
“Danny’s different. He’s little and cute. Anyone would want to help take care of him. Dr. Blum isn’t cute; in fact, to some people he’s downright scary.”
“Danny is cute,” she admits, then counters my negativity: “But you have to have faith. If you can’t find a job, you have us and if you do find a job, we’ll figure something out.”
Then she changes the subject. “On Saturday I have to go into Liberty to see Lilly Bittman. You remember her? She’s pregnant again and cramping. The blind girl who married the shopkeeper at Bittman’s Grocery? A sweet woman with bright red curly hair?”
“Cramping? I didn’t even know she was pregnant. I was in the store a few weeks ago, but Mr. Bittman didn’t say anything. How far along is she?”
“About five months. She’s worried she’s going to have the baby too early. I gave her husband strict orders to keep her in bed.”
“When I go in to look for work again, I can see her,” I offer, happy to have something I can do to help my patron. “Save you a trip. My money from Mrs. Bazzano isn’t going to last forever.”
“Would you? I’d be grateful. Daniel has to travel so much; the cost of gas is killing us.”
I look at Patience in her thin yellow dress. Her cheekbones are hollow and I know mine are too.
It’s time to go job hunting again. The thing is, the humiliation at Stenger’s, when the pharmacist gave me a quarter, still stings.
To prepare, I dress my mute companion in a clean white shirt and at the last minute decide to give him a tie. Dr. Blum was always a nice dresser. Snappy, you might even say, because Pricilla, his wife, bought all his clothes and liked her men to look attractive. I smile. The pretty blond flapper had a way with the fellows, but Dr. Blum was so busy he never noticed.
I use a little lipstick and dress myself up too, in a pale green blouse, plaid pleated skirt, and hose, my last pair. I want to look professional, but I must be prepared to take anything—charwoman or laborer on a road crew.
Before we leave, I adjust the back seams in my stockings, hoping I have them straight, then I get out the money jar and stuff the last ten-dollar bill Mrs. Bazzano gave me in my pocketbook. It isn’t until I’ve loaded Blum into the auto that I remember my nurse’s bag. I’d promised Patience I’d look in on Lilly. That’s where I’ll make my last stop, I decide. I’ll see the pregnant woman and pick up the few groceries we need.
We are most of the way into Liberty, just crossing the bridge over the Hope River, when the gray clouds break open and a patch of blue illuminates my heart. I promised myself that I would try to see things more positively. Look at the daisies covering that field! Look at those two bluebirds sitting on the fence!
Things aren’t so bad, really. There are many who are poorer than the two of us. I think of the people in the Midwest where nothing can grow because of the drought. I should count my blessings. The important thing is to have hope, not to give up even in the face of despair.
Why, look at Dr. Blum and me, all dressed up like any middle-class couple, driving along in our late-model auto! “Blue skies smiling at me!” I croon at the top of my lungs, but no one can hear me except the doctor, and you’d swear he was deaf. He doesn’t react, doesn’t tap his toe or cringe, either one. “Bluebirds singing a song . . . Nothing but bluebirds all day long!”
We park in front of the pharmacy, between a horse cart with two mules and a green army truck with wood sides. CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS it reads on the door.
When I enter the building, I’m surprised to see Mr. Stenger’s wife at the counter talking to a tall man in a CCC uniform. I’m glad it’s her. Mr. Stenger may still be miffed about the scene with Nick Rioli when we tried to buy the epinephrine. It makes me tense just thinking about it. Also, I don’t want him to give me another quarter.
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