“I told your brother, today, November 17. I was clear on that.”
“Well, no matter.” The older brother tries to smooth things out. “You’re here now. Let’s round them back up and get to work.”
“Who’s the skirt?” Beef jerks his head my way.
Daniel tightens his jaw. “Miss Myers. Nurse Becky Myers. She’s going to write down the numbers while I do the testing. Dr. Blum can hold the cattles’ heads.”
“Yeah, and I get the butt-end where I can get kicked. Sounds fair.”
Isaac steps forward and folds his arms across his chest. I almost laugh, wondering if he makes the tough pose on purpose or if it’s just by accident.
Thirty minutes of drinking coffee in silence on the porch with Aran’s common-law wife and I spy the men and dogs across the field driving a stream of cattle toward the barn. Dr. Blum is walking along with them, waving his arms back and forth like a windmill.
“Thanks,” I say to my quiet companion. “It was very neighborly of you to keep me company.” She must be in late thirties, a tough-looking lady with a lined face and dishwater hair that she keeps twisting in ropes. She responds with a stiff smile, but still doesn’t speak.
It’s quite an operation going on down at the barnyard. The men are driving the livestock into a pen. There’s shouting and swearing as the big animals occasionally step on someone’s foot. Once, a cow forces Daniel up against the fence, almost crushing him, but Aran pulls it away.
“Cocksucker!” says the vet, shocking the pants off me. My woman companion laughs. The man called Beef herds the cows into a long chute, three at a time, using a whip, and he smiles when the leather hits the animals’ backs.
“Must be time for me to get to work.” I set my heavy blue-and-white mug on the porch. “Thanks again. . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Thanks again, Cora.”
One by one, Daniel injects each animal with a small amount of purified tuberculin antigen just under the skin. He reads the cow’s number from a clip behind its ear and I write it down. In three days we will return. If the animal has TB, a welt will appear where the needle went in, and the cow will have to be slaughtered.
We work together, becoming more efficient as time goes on, and finally the yard clears and the animals run off. The whole thing takes about two hours, and by the time we’re done, the men are exhausted so I offer to drive home.
“So we’ll see you in three days? What time? We’ll try to have the animals rounded up,” Aran offers.
“About nine,” the vet answers.
“Better be here when you say you will,” threatens Beef.
Or what? You’ll beat us all up?
I take another sip of spearmint tea, made from Patience’s dried herbs, and stare out the kitchen window. There’s a wind coming in from the north and it’s cold. The sky is pale blue and the trees are all bare, all except the spruce on the mountain.
The experience at the Bishop brothers’ farm yesterday intrigues me, and I can’t help thinking about how functional Dr. Blum seemed, almost like one of the guys. I must remember to keep on challenging him, to not let him get away with being an invalid. Like a child, he needs new activities to build up his skills. That’s why I asked Daniel for a pocketknife.
Now, Dr. Blum sits in the rocker near the Hesters’ wood heater stove, whittling a stick. There’s a pile of shavings in a basket at his feet that I plan to keep for starting fires. At Walter Reed they called it “occupational therapy,” and it seemed to do the disabled vets good.
The sound of a motor whining down Salt Lick Road pulls me out of my reverie and a truck bumps across the bridge. It’s Mr. Maddock, and all I can think is it must be some emergency. He starts out the minute I open the door. “Ma’am,” he blurts out. “Ma’am, I wonder if I could trouble you . . .”
“Come in. Come in. Please.” The frigid air explodes through the doorway and I watch as he pulls off his black hat, then steps out of his work boots. I have never seen him without his hat before, and his hair is thick and peppered gray. “Can I offer you some tea?”
The farmer stares at Blum. “No. No, thanks. Is he okay with that knife?”
I smile. “Yes. He’s not cut himself once or done anything inappropriate. Dr. Blum used to be a surgeon, you know, and was handy with scalpels.” I say this last part with a smile, but Maddock doesn’t get the humor. “How can I help you?”
“It’s Mrs. Maddock. She’s in the family way . . . and I’m worried.” Here he looks down at his wool socks, green with brown toes, probably knitted by his disabled wife. Patience knits too, but I’ve never learned.
I picture his wife, a polio victim of about fifty, who’s been paralyzed from the waist down since she was in her early thirties. “Are you sure? Some women miss their monthlies when they’re close to the change.” I can see he’s embarrassed.
“Yes, Sarah thought the same thing, but yesterday we both felt it move. I wonder if you could make a home visit. Mr. Stenger at the pharmacy said you’d be the one, since the midwife had to take to bed.”
“How old is your wife?”
“Certainly, I’ll come. Do you want me right now?”
“If you’re not too busy . . . I could drive you and bring you back.”
“I need to get a coat and hat, and I guess I have to bring Dr. Blum. Dr. Hester is away.”
“You have to bring the doctor?”
“Yes, I can’t leave him here alone,” I explain. “There’s no one to watch him. Mrs. Hester must stay upstairs resting.”
“Well, I guess . . .” Maddock hedges and I remember how protective he is of his wife. He steps back in his boots, but he stops and turns before he goes outside.
“I know you aren’t a fortune-teller, Miss Myers. You can’t predict the future, but I can’t lose Sarah. Childbirth can be hard on an older woman, and we both know there can be trouble with the baby. Just tell us what you think. That’s all we want.”
The man looks at me for a long time, and I can’t be sure, but I think there are tears in his watery blue eyes.
“Sarah,” Maddock yells at the door of the two-story white clapboard farmhouse on Wild Rose Road. “Are you in the bedroom? I’m bringing Miss Myers in to see you. Dr. Blum is here too.” He stands blocking Isaac, as if the sight of him would cause his wife to faint.
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