Boom! Red, white, and blue bits of burning confetti float down through the air.
Danny is crying.
Boom! White turns into red.
Boom! Boom! Boom! BOOM!
Then in the distance a siren goes off. The sheriff, alerted to the disturbance, is coming this way.
“Hester!” Patience yells.
“Isaac!” I try, but the men pay no attention.
The siren gets closer, the rotating red and blue lights of the squad car adding to the fireworks as the crowd rapidly scatters.
“Later!” growls one of the men moving off. The vet kicks him in the butt and I swear Isaac laughs.
“I can’t believe you did that!” Patience berates her husband in the backseat of the Pontiac as we drive toward home. I’m at the wheel with Blum at my side. “You could’ve been arrested and locked in jail or, worse yet, had to pay a big fine for disorderly conduct.”
Daniel grins his lopsided grin, and Patience, I notice in the rearview mirror, is smiling too.
“You think paying a fine would be worse than me behind bars?”
“Daddy was bad.”
“You’re right, my little man. Dr. Blum and Daddy should have controlled themselves. We’re lucky no one got hurt. But goddamn that Alfred Hucknell! I can’t stand to see a man hit a woman, then he called me a quack! The final straw was when the Bishop brothers got into it!”
“I’ll admit when that slob stepped in my potato salad, I saw red,” Patience adds.
“Boom!” says Dr. Blum, and shocks the pants off all of us.
Dark night and the wind slams into our little house from the west. I’ve been awake in bed for hours, my mind skittering from one worry to another. It’s not like we’re starving. We get tomatoes, carrots, new potatoes, and greens from the garden. Daniel brings us eggs and milk twice a week in exchange for Isaac’s help with the vet work, and the fish have been a great addition to our diet, but we have so little cash money for kerosene, gasoline, sugar, cornmeal, and beans. I am really worried about what we will do this winter.
The delivery job is keeping us going, but just barely. There’s got to be something else. I come full circle to the one place I haven’t tried yet, the CCC camp.
I try to remember the name of the officer I met in Stenger’s Pharmacy? Mr. Wolfe? No, Captain Wolfe. I was reluctant at first to go out to the camp, because of the distance and because it sounded like he wanted volunteers, but now it seems only sensible to at least see if I can get another paying job. Really, it isn’t that far, just three or four miles past Mrs. Stone’s place.
Across the hall, Blum snores lightly, the sound of a two-man saw cutting pine.
I picture his body, changed with the physical work. Poverty and the mountain air must agree with him. . . . Some might even find him attractive.
The wind slams the house again. Then thunder and lightning shake the window glass. The storm must be close. I pull the sheet up under my chin, remembering Mr. Hucknell and the fight, picturing the bruises I observed on Willa’s neck. I’m a public health nurse, for god’s sake, or used to be! Shouldn’t I go to Sheriff Hardman? Would he do anything?
I run my hands over my own neck, feeling bruises long gone. It stays with me still, like a lump of black coal. The shame of it. I never told anyone.
The year was 1918 and soldiers were beginning to straggle back from the war. First came my brother Darwin, who returned from Europe without a scratch, but was struck down by the Spanish flu and died at a naval base in Boston a few months later. Twenty-five million died from the epidemic worldwide; twenty-five million in just a few years!
Then, before the grass even sprouted on Darwin’s grave, my other brother, William, was killed in the Second Battle of the Marne. It broke Father’s heart, the loss of his sons. He closed his practice, drank himself into oblivion, and passed of a stroke three months later.
I wore black, and it almost undid me, my whole family gone, but then David came home and I wore bright yellow. He was my family now and, like a daffodil, I wanted to make him happy.
We sold Father’s house and moved back into our little place on High Street. We were young and in love, so I thought it would be fun, but David had changed. He wasn’t the man who had left me. The first thing I noted was that he delegated all the decisions about our home to me.
“Sure, babe, whatever color you want. A red door, a green door. It doesn’t matter.”
“Fine, buy a new coal heater. We can afford it. Whatever you think.”
He didn’t shave, grew a thick, dark beard, refused to go out, and unless I purposely made a lot of noise in the kitchen, he didn’t get up until noon. When I talked about restarting his medical practice his answer was always the same: “Couple of weeks. Couple of months, but not just yet. I need to rest.” He shook his head and I wondered if he still heard the sound of gunshots and grenades, tanks and wounded men screaming.
Gone was the laughter I remembered, the dancing, and the joy in all things beautiful in the Vermont countryside. Secretly I was hoping for a child, something to heal us, but my husband was withdrawn and didn’t care to be intimate, a big change for him.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I’d ask as we lay on our backs in our bed in the dark, not touching.
“The war. What you did. What you saw.”
“It’s over now.” He would kiss me gently on the cheek, almost like a sister, but he never wanted to be touched himself, and he never tried to enter me. In the night, I would wake and see him at the window, staring out into the street, smoking a Lucky Strike, a sentry on guard.
After three months, I decided I should move ahead with the practice. If David could just get started seeing patients, I was sure it would take his mind off the war. In a bold move, I leased a three-room office a block off Main.
The summer before, wanting to contribute to the cause, I’d gone to Vassar for the wartime intensive-nursing course, but the conflict ended before I could enlist. Now, I reasoned, I could be David’s nurse.
I signed the lease for the office in December, but by February nothing had happened. First, David needed to renew his medical license. Then he had to reapply for privileges at the hospital. These were his excuses for inaction.
Finally, one evening in front of the fire, I decided to have it out. “What’s going on?” I asked, confronting him.
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