Afterward I looked around and everyone was crying, even the new mother, whether for joy or for sorrow, I couldn’t tell, but I cried too. Some will say it’s a tragedy, a child giving birth to another child, but who knows what happiness this new life may bring.

I was surprised when Mrs. Goody dug in her pocketbook and gave me ten dollars, a welcome gift!

16

Threat

It has been ten weeks since I started transporting groceries for the Bittmans and during that time, the number of my customers has steadily declined. It worries me that my only source of income will dry up, and I’m sure it’s a sign of the worsening economy. If it weren’t for Peaches Goody’s delivery, we’d really be strapped.

Even Willa has stopped needing my services, probably because her husband has been laid off and is home with his truck. Daniel said he saw him coming out of Bittman’s with a big carton of groceries and another time going into the saloon in the back alley, but the vet looked away and didn’t make eye contact, trying to pretend that nothing had happened on that infamous Fourth of July.

Mrs. Stone is one of my few remaining regular customers and today as I pulled into the long green drive of her lovely farmstead I found her on her porch feeding a baby goat.

“I don’t know how this happened. One of the nannies, Bella, had her kids at the wrong time. They usually come in the spring. There were triplets and this one is the runt . . . just not getting enough food. The others push her out of the way.”

I sit down on the steps to watch. The little black-and-white goat with droopy ears nudges the bottle like it was an udder and gives a repeated cry that sounds quite human. Mrs. Stone absently runs her hands through its fur.

“The man from Oil and Gas Company came back yesterday and this time he brought reinforcements, two other fellows in dark hats. Now they’re telling me the state has a hundred-dollar tax lien on the property that never was paid.

“I’m old, but I’m not dumb. They’re just trying to intimidate me. Telling me that they’re going to get the sheriff to auction the place off for back taxes! I own this place free and clear. It’s all paid up. They think because half the farmers in Union County are in hock, I am too.”

“Did you try Mr. Linkous, the lawyer in town? Maybe he could help.”

“I guess that’s my only hope. Thanks for listening, honey.”

To cheer her, I change the subject. “I noticed your trumpet flowers have bloomed. I love the way the vines grow over the arch in the gateway. I’m partial to picket fences. They’re so homey, and the orange flowers complement your white farmhouse.

“Patience Murphy, the midwife, lets us live in her old house rent free,” I go on, “a little cottage on the side the mountain, not as nice as your place, but beautiful in its own way. There used to be a picket fence there, but a few years ago someone burned it down.”

Mrs. Stone blows air through her nose and tightens her mouth, a determined gesture. She places one hand over my hand and one over Blum’s. I know what she’s thinking. These are bad times. She loves this house and the land her husband willed her. She loves the picket fence too and what it represents, a safe haven from a rough world . . . but the Oil and Gas Company man will be back.

House of Beauty

Today, since it rained and Blum is off with the vet, I put on my second-best dress and go into Liberty to do something nice for myself. As I cross the Hope the sun breaks through, but it doesn’t matter, the garden is still too wet to work.

There’s not much doing on Main Street today. Only Bittman’s Grocery and Stenger’s Pharmacy are open. The Eagle Theater has movies on Saturday, and the Mountain Top Café and a few bars on the back street are still hanging on. Only Sam’s Barbershop and Ida May’s House of Beauty seem to be thriving. That’s where I’m headed, Ida May’s.

“Well, how you doin’, honey? I was wondering when you’d visit us. Looks like you need some help!” Ida May turns from her present client and indicates my hair with a flip of her scissors and then goes back to work.

I find a seat in the corner and prepare to wait. It’s the busiest day of the week, but that can’t be helped. Tuesday is half-price day. Fifty cents is still too much, but Mrs. Goody’s gift was an unexpected blessing and I’ve decided I’m just going to do it!

Ida May, who is around thirty, bottle-blond, plump, and pleasant, keeps up a running patter with whoever sits in her swivel chair. Across the room two women discuss the White Rock CCC camp that I’d heard about.

“I hate to see it,” the older of the two complains in a high twang. “It’s a ruination, bringing in riffraff from Pittsburgh and Baltimore, even New Jersey. My sister in Ohio said they were going to truck in African boys from Cleveland and Detroit to the camp near her, but the locals wouldn’t stand for it. I hope they don’t try that here. There will be hell to pay. The coloreds in Hazel Patch and across the tracks are one thing; they’re decent, respectable people, but outsiders? Who knows what would happen?”

“My husband says they better keep those boys out of town, even the whites,” her friend responds. “Some of them have been to prison, probably rapists and thieves.”

Finally, Ida May crooks her finger at me. “You want a bob and a finger wave?” the beautician asks.

“Sure, but keep my bangs long.” Snip. Snip. She’s already started.

“So what you been doing with yourself, Nurse Becky?”

I dread this chitchat, but it’s part of getting your hair done, and part of Ida May’s job, to spread gossip. She’s better than the Union County Gazette.

“Nothing much,” I answer, knowing that won’t be enough for the beautician. “Well, you heard, I brought the doctor back to Liberty. He’s disabled now.”

“Tch. Tch.” Ida May looks at me in the mirror, shakes her head, and makes the sound with her tongue that means how sad. “You don’t really have to take care of him, do you? You must want to. You aren’t even kin.” She hands me the mirror so I can see the back of my hair. “Short enough for you?”

“A little shorter? I guess I don’t have to, but what would you do? He has no one. His brother disowned him and the doctors at Johns Hopkins can’t figure out what’s wrong. They say maybe he’s catatonic.”

“Oh!” gasps a dishwater blonde under the next dryer. “What’s that?” (I knew she was listening.)

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