I’ll say it right out, I know it was wrong, but I have no intention of stopping. It’s like looking through a window at another person’s soul, a delicate person, someone you could learn to love, if you were not a monster like myself.

Now, in the back of Danny’s sketchbook, I have started my own recordings. Words come to me, I find, in an easy way, as if all this time I’ve been thinking deep thoughts. It’s like awakening after a deep sleep. You slide into consciousness wondering where you are, who you are, and what day it is.

21

The Sergeant

I’ve been going to White Rock Camp five weeks now and have found the job pleasant and mostly routine, nothing rough or threatening, as people in Liberty had implied. My cases, for the most part, are scrapes and bruises, headaches and sprains, a bad burn from the kitchen and frequent cases of bronchitis.

At noon today a sharp-looking fellow of about thirty-five walked into the clinic, leaned on the doorframe, and took in the infirmary. It’s funny to say “sharp-looking” when all the men wear the same khaki uniform, but it’s the way he wears it, his shirt tucked in and his pants low on his slim hips, his army hat cocked to one side.

Boodean clicks his heels, salutes, and backs up against the wall to give the older man space.

“I’m sorry,” I announce. “We’re just breaking for dinner. Can you come back at one thirty?” The man has the large soulful eyes and wide grin of Fred Astaire, and I half expect him to do a slow slide across the wooden floor with his hands out and then twirl at the end, but he takes a seat in Boodean’s chair and stretches out his long legs.

“Afraid I can’t wait, miss. I’m an L-E-M.” He spells it out, as if it’s a word he doesn’t want to say in front of Boodean. “I’m in charge of the workhorses and this afternoon I have to teach the boys how to pull the fallen timber out of the ravine. It’s a real fire hazard and we’re just getting started.”

“Lem? That’s your first name?”

“No, Miss Myers. This is Sergeant Cross. He’s an L . . . E . . . M like you, locally employed man,” Boodean explains. “Lou is a foreman.” He salutes a second time.

I take a long breath, inhaling the sweet smell of freshly baked cookies across the compound. “Well, I guess I can see you now, but we really need to hurry. I don’t want to miss our meal.”

“Thank you kindly, Miss Becky. Been hearing nice things about you from the boys.” He looks me up and down.

“Sit down, Mr. Cross. Or should I say Sergeant Cross?”

“You can call me Lou.”

“Please sit down, Sergeant Cross.” (There’s no way I’m going to call this fellow “Lou.” He acts like he owns the place.) “So, what can we do for you today?” I say it like that, making it clear that the medic and I are a team and this is not a social call. Boodean pulls another chair in from the waiting room. “What’s the problem?”

“Can I talk to you alone?”

“No, I’m sorry you can’t. Private Boodean is my assistant. He records all my clinical notes and he understands that anything he hears here is strictly confidential.” The medic immediately starts scribbling something on his clipboard.

“Well, I’m worried about a wart. It sounds silly and, Boodean, if you say anything to the fellows, I’ll beat you bloody, but it’s a big wart and it’s causing me pain.”

Right here I get nervous, hoping it’s not another penile problem, some kind of venereal disease, but the sergeant goes on.

“I make a point not to limp, but sometimes at the end of the day, I can’t help it. . . . I even tried stealing an onion from the cook and rubbing it on the thing and then throwing it over my shoulder, but it’s been two weeks and nothing’s happened. I’d like you to give me some medicine. I don’t care how bad it tastes.”

“Where is the wart, Mr. Cross?”

“On my damn foot! Pardon my strong language, Miss Becky. But it hurts so bad I can hardly walk. I’m not usually a bellyacher.”

“Did you try going out in the garden at night, picking a bean leaf and rubbing it on the wart?” Boodean chimes in. “Then dig a hole with a silver spoon and bury it under a rock? My granny says that works every time.” I look at my watch. The dinner bell rang half an hour ago and I’m afraid I’ll miss my midday meal. In the mountains these old wives’ tales are as common as dandelions.

“Well, let’s have a look. Can you lie on the bed and take off your shoe and sock?” The man is wearing high regulation army work boots and it takes him a minute to untie his laces.

He lays his left foot up on the cot and I see what he’s talking about, a black, crusty lesion the size of a half dollar on the ball of his left foot. It’s a wart, I can tell, by the bumpy surface, and it looks like he’s been picking at it, because there’s blood on his sock.

“I see what you mean.” The truth is, I’m shocked, and I immediately start wondering how to treat the eruption. Debridement comes to mind, but it will be painful; still, it’s somewhere to start.

“Boodean, you go across the compound and have your dinner. You can get some for me, just whatever the cook will give you. Have you eaten, Sergeant?”

“Yes, miss. I ate before I came.” He eyes me warily as I get out a scalpel, iodine, gauze, and a small basin. I pour a little water in the bowl and have the man soak his foot.

“Just rest your foot, sir. I want to soften the wart before I operate.”

“Operate! Don’t leave me, Boodean!” But the medic is already out the door.

“Can’t you use some salve or something, Nurse? You’re scaring me now.”

“No, these warts are very stubborn, and onions, green beans, and salve are not going to do it. Here, take two Bayer while we wait. I want you to soak for ten minutes.” I nod toward the cuckoo clock. So far, it seems to run on time, but I’ve never seen the cuckoo pop out.

I turn my back, step into the closet, and tear open one of the books I brought from Dr. Blum’s box, Diagnosis and Treatment of Skin Diseases. Plantar warts. Plantar warts . . . I really don’t have time for this. . . .

Invitation

Twenty minutes later, Sergeant Cross’s foot has been scraped and is covered with gauze and Betadine.

“Tomorrow soak your foot again for ten minutes. Boodean can give you some Epson salts to take back to your cabin or you can come here. Do you have a cabin or do you bunk with the enlisted men?”

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