“We LEMs have our own quarters. I share a place with the head carpenter, the first log cabin up the creek. Come over anytime, or maybe you could do my treatments there? You know, make a house call?” He says this last part with a wink and a leer that curls up one side of his handsome face. I’m shocked by the proposal and truly can’t tell if he’s flirting or serious. Knowing his type, I decide he probably treats all women this way, but this is the kind of thing people in town warned me about.

“That would hardly be appropriate, Mr. Cross.”

“Sergeant . . .” he says again, tying his boots.

Just then someone bangs on the infirmary door. “Can I come in?” It’s the medic.

“Yes, of course. We’re finished.” Boodean enters with a basket of food from the cook, followed by Captain Wolfe.

“Hello,” Wolfe says, removing his hat. “I hate to interrupt, but I need to know if Sergeant Cross is free to work. The men are waiting at the stables, the horses all rigged and ready.” He consults his wristwatch, which I note is a gold Elgin, just like my father’s.

“Keep your shirt on, Wolfe. I’ll be right there. They can’t start without me,” my patient growls. “It’s too dangerous. I told you before, I’ll get there when I damn well can. . . . Pardon my language, ma’am.”

“I’m not inviting you, Sergeant, I’m ordering you.” It’s obvious there’s tension between the two. Sergeant Cross lurches up, steps into his boot, almost kicking the washbowl over, limps across the room, and slams out the door without another word.

“Sorry, Nurse,” Captain Wolfe says, looking directly at me with his green eyes.

The rest of the afternoon is slow and I have a chance to read about plantar warts. The illustrations are appalling, but none so bad as the wart I just saw. Debridement is the treatment of choice, but toward the end, salicylic acid is cited as an experimental cure.

“Salicylic acid,” I say out loud to the four walls. Boodean has gone out to the waiting room to beg Mrs. Ross for two cups of coffee. Salicylic acid. Maybe Stenger could make me some in a Vaseline base at the pharmacy.

As I leave, the sun is just setting and the camp is now full of overgrown boys, playing basketball, throwing horseshoes, smoking cigarettes, and shooting the bull. Even though there’s a chill in the air and they have to wear jackets, when the work is over, the fun begins.

“Miss Myers?” Captain Wolfe approaches from the side as I’m putting my nurse’s bag in the backseat, and he salutes me as if I’m in the service. “I want to apologize about the conflict in the infirmary earlier. It shouldn’t have happened. Cross is a good worker, but a bit of a hothead.”

“I figured that out,” I say pleasantly, eager to get back to the farm to make sure Patience is okay.

“I have a favor to ask. I know I just met you, but I’ve been ordered to represent the White Rock Camp at a fundraiser for Eleanor Roosevelt’s community experiment, Arthurdale. It won’t happen for a few months and it’s at the Hotel Torrington, but I’m supposed to bring a wife or lady friend, and I don’t have one. Mrs. Roosevelt will actually be there. I wonder if you’d be my guest.” He flushes in embarrassment.

“Arthurdale is the rural village that Mrs. Roosevelt is building in Preston County for the unemployed miners from Scotts Run, isn’t it? I worked at Scotts Run as a public health nurse when I first came to West Virginia. What’s the date again?” I ask this as if my social calendar is so full, I might be overbooked.

“New Year’s Eve. It’s a banquet and a dance. All the other CCC senior officers, Dr. Crane from Laurel Camp, and Major Milliken have wives.”

I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no dancing clothes, haven’t danced since I was at Walter Reed and one of the doctors took me out. It’s probably Wolfe’s shyness that makes me say yes . . . that and the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady and tireless social reformer, might be there.

“Well, I guess I could. I don’t usually go out with colleagues.” (I don’t usually go out at all.) “But under the circumstances, I could make an exception.”

“Thank you so much, Nurse Myers! I haven’t asked a woman out since my wife died four years ago.” He straightens and salutes as I get in the Pontiac. When I look back he is grinning from ear to ear.

October 10, 1934

Salicylic acid is made from willow bark and is the main ingredient in aspirin. Hippocrates, a physician in 5 BC used it as a treatment for fever and pain. Funny how such thoughts come to me. . . . Just because I’m mute, doesn’t mean my brain isn’t working. On the other hand, I’m not sure I like it, this new affinity with words.

For so long there was comfort in silence.


Domestic Life

Though I’m not really good at it, or particularly enjoy it like some women do, since we’ve moved to the Hesters’, I’ve put on an apron and become the chief cook. Patience gives me instructions and sometimes writes down recipes, which I keep on stiff cards in a little green box.

In the morning after the men water the stock and milk the cows, the Hesters eat upstairs in their bedroom and Blum and I in the kitchen. I am amazed at the progress the doc’s made since we moved here. Except for his silence, he could be Daniel’s hired hand.

All day, Daniel and Isaac are silently digging up the carrots and beets and storing them in the root cellar out back, or getting in hay, or insulating the barn for winter. Most of the time, they take Danny with them and let him play in the dirt, but sometimes he stays with Patience and plays on her bed. I know she feels isolated, so I try to visit often and bring her little jobs to do, like slicing apples or peeling potatoes.

In the evening, around eight, we gather in the Hesters’ bedroom to eat popcorn made in a wire basket on the wood cookstove and listen to Patience read to us from her big book of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales.

The family sprawls on the bed, Danny between his father and mother. I sit on the hard-backed chair and Blum stands next to the closet. When Danny begins to fade, Hester carries him to his room and I lead Dr. Blum to bed.

“Fly’s in the buttermilk. Shoo, fly, shoo. Fly’s in the buttermilk. Shoo, fly, shoo,” Daniel sings to Danny as if it’s a lullaby. “Fly’s in the buttermilk. Shoo, fly, shoo . . .”


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