There are more women like that than one would think. At Walter Reed I knew several nurses . . . and then at Vassar, a professor or two. Even in Brattleboro, the widows Mrs. Case and Mrs. Honeycutt were a known couple for twenty years, but no one ever talked about it.
“I can’t wait to try it on. Now I will have to go to the ball for sure.”
“You weren’t thinking of getting out of it?” That’s Daniel. “And breaking the poor captain’s heart?”
I shrug sheepishly. (It had crossed my mind.)
“Come on,” Daniel says, changing the subject. “One more gift. Out in the kitchen.” We all rise, except Patience. Danny is hopping around and leads Isaac into the pantry where two rough white feed sacks cover something bulky on the floor.
“Go on, Blum,” Daniel commands. “Unwrap it.”
The doctor leans down and pulls off the cloth. Underneath is a strange metal contraption, a tool of some sort about three feet long with an electric cord.
“It’s a lathe for woodworking,” Daniel announces, all smiles. “You can make bowls and plates and spindles and canisters with it, and these are the chisels.” He holds up a flat box of six sharp-looking instruments.
“We might even be able to sell some in Torrington where people have more money or we could swap for goods around here. I got the lathe for setting a broken leg on a Morgan filly.”
“Do you really think he can handle such machinery?” I ask, nodding at the doctor. “It looks dangerous. A pocketknife is one thing, but this is massive.”
“Weighs seventy pounds,” says Daniels. “Had a hell of a time getting it in the house last night. Anyway, if he can drive, I think he can manage this.”
“But he can’t drive. Not since. . . .”
Daniel clears his throat.
“He can’t drive, can he?”
“Just the tractor so far . . . I didn’t mention it?”
December 26, 1934
Daniel spilled the beans and now Becky knows I can drive. What else does she know? Does she know about my fight with Priscilla the day she died?
It was at breakfast when Pris handed me the Petition for Dissolution of a Marriage.
“Just sign it,” she said. “ I want nothing else.”
“Priscilla, can’t we talk? What is it? Another lover?” I asked this only because I’d heard men say such words on stage, not because I had any real suspicion. Her silence gave me the answer.
“You mean it? There’s someone else. Sit. Please!” I heaved myself onto the sofa and pulled her down with me. She turned away, stared out the window.
“I met him in Charlottesville at the inn,” she says in a monotone, not looking at me. “You know I go to lunch there sometimes. He’s everything you aren’t—open, friendly, fun . . . and good in bed. You don’t have a sensual bone in your body.” (She stuck the knife in there.)
“We started having lunch once a week; just friends at first, then we went to the movies . . .” Here she trails off, letting me imagine the rest, the flirtation, the trysts in a hotel room. “He’s a traveling detailer for Eli Lilly. John Teeleman. You’ve met him. He’s been to your office.”
“The hell he has! Why did he come there? To mock me while he screwed my wife?”
“Just sign the papers. We don’t need a lawyer. I’m leaving with John for Baltimore tomorrow.”
“Priscilla. Pris. Listen to me. This isn’t right. I have to be in the operating room at Martha Jefferson in an hour. I can’t sign like this. We have to talk some more.”
“The papers will be here when you get home, but I won’t.” That’s all she said, then she locked herself in the bathroom.
Three Legs just came over to me and leaned his head against my knee. Pris said I wasn’t sensual, but it’s not true. I ruffle the dog’s yellow fur and put my face against his big lump of a head.
I touch all three dogs, and I often hold Danny on my lap at the table. I breathe in his little-boy smell, feel his blond hair under my chin.
December 29, 1934
This morning, early, I was called to the home of Zachary and Petunia Cole on Aurora Ridge. Since the weather had been bad, Daniel offered to drive me. I was much relieved by his presence, and thinking the birth might be fast, he took a nap on the sofa.
Two hours later a 7-pound, 10-ounce baby girl was born in a posterior presentation. Sunny side up, Patience calls it. Present were the father, the patient’s mother, Olivia, and her sister Daisy.
On inspection, I was distressed to find a deep vaginal laceration, and in the kitchen discussed with the father the possibility of transporting his wife to the hospital in Torrington. (Just thinking of taking Petunia out in the weather, of separating her from her baby, made me cringe.)
In the end, the vet offered to do the sewing, and though I thought it might be embarrassing for Petunia, she was actually grateful not to have to make the hard trip through the snow. Hester showed me some things about approximating the layers of the tissue and muscles, and I think maybe I could do it myself if I ever have such a tear again, which, of course, I hope I won’t.
“Can you tuck your hair behind your ear on one side?” Patience asks me. Danny is sitting on the bed leaning against his mother, enjoying the fashion show. He’s wearing a navy blue sailor hat with a daisy on top. It’s quite an outfit and I don’t know what Daniel would think, but Patience loves it.
I stare at the midwife in the mirror. “What’s wrong with my hair the way it is? Ida May did it just yesterday and said it was swell.”
“It’s fine. I just thought it might look more appealing.”
“Patience! I don’t want to look appealing. I’m a nurse and a representative of the White Rock CCC camp.” For some reason this makes us both giggle. I laugh so hard I’m afraid I might pee. It must be my nerves.
“Pretty!” Danny says, getting off the bed and stroking the long velvet skirt.
It’s a cold, windy evening, not quite dark yet, with just a sliver of sunset over the mountains. Daniel and Dr. Blum have gone out on call. Sheriff Hardman’s favorite dog is whelping, and I’m upstairs in the Hesters’ bedroom preparing for the winter ball. My heart does a flutter when I hear the sound of an auto coming up the drive.
“Oh, Patience. I don’t want to go! I haven’t been out on a date with a man for years.”
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