Out of the blue, Dr. Blum breaks his silence. “Isaac and Becky.” We all turn with mouths open, shocked at the sound of his voice, as if a rock spoke or a tree.

“Us?”

“Oh, would you?” Patience pleads. “Could you come stay here? Just help us get through the fall and winter?”

Patience goes on as if “Isaac and Becky” were a normal suggestion from a normal individual. “We have the extra room downstairs and we have Moonlight, our cow, and a few chickens, plenty of milk and eggs and vegetables. We could all live together.”

It sounds like it’s almost decided, but I inwardly cringe. There’s no way I am going to share a room with Dr. Blum!

“Please . . .” Patience pleads.

“It could work out well.” That’s Daniel, more muted.

“A commune, like Peter Kropotkin, the anarchist who advocated intentional communities in the twenties!” the midwife exclaims. She has told me a little about her radical days but I don’t even know who Peter Kropotkin is.

Daniel rolls his eyes. “Don’t get carried away, hon,” he cautions, knowing his wife’s idealistic tendencies.

I finally come out with my strongest objection. “I’m sorry. It isn’t possible. Dr. Blum and I . . . We can’t share a room.”

There’s dead silence and I notice that Isaac has wandered away past the outhouse, where he has stopped at the rail fence.

“Well then, he could bunk with Danny,” decides Daniel. “We could bring one of the iron beds over from the house on Wild Rose. It’s a big room at the top of the stairs.”

Patience is looking at Hester. Hester is looking at me. I am looking at Danny. Better Dr. Blum with the little boy than Nurse Becky, I think. It’s bad enough that I’m with Isaac almost every day, all day. I have to have some privacy, at least at night.

Across the yard the doctor leans his forearms on the cedar rail and stares out across the fields toward Spruce Mountain, where a few yellowing oak stand out against the green spruce.

“Please . . .” Patience asks again.

How can I say no? There’s a life at stake. Maybe two.

Sleepwalker

It’s a hot night and tomorrow we move from the house with the blue door that I’ve come to love to the Hesters’ farm. I toss and turn, thinking about Blum and how he has been uttering a word or phrase now and then, wondering if eventually he will talk, but fearing he will never be normal. Finally, I tiptoe downstairs in my nightdress to get some air.

No moon yet. There’s the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, and the Seven Sisters. Those are the only constellations I know in an infinite universe with stars that go on forever. The wind in the big oak rattles dry leaves, and I forget about the chiggers and lie down in the grass.

I have always been humbled when I look up at the heavens. We think our problems are so big, but the universe is so much bigger and everyone on this planet has problems; it’s part of being alive.

A few minutes later, I hear the creak of the screen door and watch as Dr. Blum, wearing only his long johns, steps out of the house. Maybe he’s come out to pee . . . but no, he’s sleepwalking and I’m only thirty feet away.

They tell you in nursing school, never wake a sleepwalker. The patient can get violent if disturbed. (David Myers, my late husband, would be a case in point. When I woke him, he nearly killed me.)

Like a ghost, the doctor shuffles right toward me, his head tilted back, looking up at the sky. Is he conscious enough to wonder about the stars, like I do? When he’s only a few feet away, I shrink into the ground, pretending to be a log, afraid he will step on me, but somehow he senses my presence. The ghost plunks down next to me, but if Dr. Blum knows I am here he shows no sign.

I’m wondering what I should do, lie still or try to creep away, when he reaches both arms straight up toward the sky and opens his hands, like he’s harvesting stars, plucking them from the black night. Stranger yet, he cups the stars and washes his face with them. Three times he splashes the starlight on his face and runs his hands through his hair. Then he takes a deep breath and, still in his sleep, holds the stars out to me. “Yours,” he says.

We lie in the dark for a long time, maybe hours, until a sliver of moon rises over the mountains. Finally, Isaac begins to snore and I make my move. I tiptoe inside, retrieve the green quilt and come back to sit on the steps in the dark, a sentry guarding a man, who seems dead . . . but may only be hiding.

20

The Midwife’s Instructions

“Just tell me,” I insist, sounding braver than I really feel, “what I’m supposed to do when I go to a birth. I’ll write it all down and memorize each step.”

We’ve been installed in the Hesters’ house for more than a week and Patience is staying in bed, as she should. Dr. Blum is downstairs at the kitchen table silently drawing pictures for Danny in a sketchbook that Daniel gave him.

“Okay, let’s get to it,” Patience says, becoming serious. “Mrs. Kelly always told me that most mothers could deliver their own babies if they had to, so try not to worry so much. The midwife is there for the two out of ten that might have trouble.”

“Two out of ten!”

“Well, roughly. So, here’s what you do. First thing, check the baby’s heartbeat. After that, make sure of the baby’s position. I always keep the woman up as long as she can stand it. The pain will be less and the contractions stronger. Do vaginal exams only if you have to. Maybe one at the beginning if you aren’t sure about the presenting part and maybe another if the labor seems stalled. Of course, all your supplies and gloves should be sterile, but you know that.”

“Okay, okay,” I interject. “Let me catch up. I’m writing as fast as I can. . . . So after I assess that everything is normal, what happens next? Do I just sit in the corner and wait? Do I boil water? Do I go to sleep?” I say this as a joke, knowing Patience would never go to sleep.

“No. You give her support. Walk with her, be sure she is well hydrated and has nourishment to keep up her strength, nothing heavy like bread or pork and beans, but fruit, broth, tea with honey, things like that. And get your instruments laid out well in advance. Sometimes women will surprise you.”

“I learned that with Dahlila.”

“And while you’re waiting, be calm, tell her she’s doing great and try to get her to laugh.”

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