“I used most of the gas we have left to get to Patience’s house, but no one’s here. . . .”

Maddock steps closer, his eyes like black marbles inspecting Dr. Blum. “He’s gone queer, all right. Used to be a sharp fellow. Stroke, you say . . .” He pushes his black hat back a little and squints. “I didn’t hear you come up the road last night or I would have stopped you.”

“It was almost dark. Can we stay a few days? We won’t harm anything. Just until I figure out what to do next?”

“I’ll tell the missus to make you some biscuits.” I take this as a yes and am grateful.

“Have Patience and Bitsy been gone long? There’s not much in the house. Nothing in the barn, and the lawn isn’t mowed.”

“Moved out around the time you left. Whole damn country is moving like a bunch of ants hunting for food. I try to keep the weeds down when I have time.” He kicks at the grass and some pieces of the picket fence that used to surround the cottage.

“So who owns her house? Patience didn’t just leave it, did she?”

“I imagine she and her husband still own it . . . or the Mountain Federal Bank.” He never looks at me when he talks, but he can’t take his eyes off the doctor.

“Her husband?”

“The animal man. The vet.”

“You mean Dr. Hester? I didn’t even know they were courting. Did they all leave together?”

“No.”

I have to squeeze for each tiny bit of information and it’s slower than picking burrs off your socks.

“So where are they now?”

“Bitsy, the colored girl, and that colored fellow Bowlin went east to Philly, to be with her brother, Thomas Proudfoot, the one they thought killed a white man.”

“And Patience?”

“Why’s he staring like that?” Maddock indicates the doctor.

I glance back at Blum, who sits gazing without expression at the same spot one foot from his face, a man sleeping with his blue eyes open.

“I don’t know, Mr. Maddock. We don’t know. It’s like he’s not home anymore.”

“Don’t let him come down to my place. I don’t want him around my Sarah. I’ll shoot if I see him. He was right sharp the last time I saw him.” He says this last part again.

“I know. It’s a tragedy. But Patience, where did she go?”

Maddock raises his chin toward the ridge covered in spruce that rises behind the barn.

I turn to look back.

“On the other side of Spruce Mountain.”

“On the other side of the mountain?”

“Yonder,” he says again. “The midwife and her baby.”

Good Samaritan

Driving back down Wild Rose Road and around Salt Lick, I am almost gay. “Well,” I say, turning to my companion, “things are looking up. Did you hear what Mr. Maddock said? Patience isn’t gone; she just moved to the other side of the mountain. Oh, I hope they say we can live in her house for a while! It’s not bad, really. I could fix it up. Then maybe I can get a job. Probably not nursing . . . But what will I do with you? I can’t leave you alone.”

This had never occurred to me. “Oh, well, don’t get the horse before the cart. First things first . . . We need shelter . . . then warmth and firewood . . . then food.” (I can’t believe my life has been reduced to such basics.)

As we bounce down the dirt roads, still slick from last night’s rain, I glance at the gas gauge. One-quarter full. We have just enough to get to Patience’s house to ask for permission to live in her cottage and then get to town at some point for supplies.

As a physician’s daughter and a physician’s wife, then later as a single professional woman, I have never been particularly frugal, never needed to be, but with no job and no income, I will have to start now.

I glance over to check on Blum, but he is staring out the passenger window, his face impassive, a little spit on his chin, and I reach over to wipe it off with my hanky. That’s when I hit the rough place in the road and blow a tire!

“Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!” I curse, pounding on the steering wheel. With the economy busted, most states’ coffers are as empty as a robin’s nest in December and the roads have all gone to hell. I get out to look. I have never changed a tire in my life!

A jack is used, I think, to lift up the auto, and there’s a spare in the back, but how do I get the flat tire off the wheel? “Oh, Blum! Why don’t you pull yourself together and help me?”

The able-bodied Dr. Blum sits vacantly, gazing at the pussy willows just beginning to open along the road. He doesn’t even know the Pontiac’s stopped.

Irritated, I remove the gear and luggage from the trunk to get at the jack, his medical bag, two boxes of books, my art supplies, and his surgical instruments, though I don’t know why I brought them.

I’m sitting in the wet grass in the ditch with tears in my eyes, trying to figure out how the jack works, when a low hack driven by a black man wearing a yellow slicker pulls up to the side of the car.

“Ma’am.” He steps out of his vehicle and tips his broad-brimmed straw hat. “Preacher Miller of the Hazel Patch Baptist Fellowship. Can I be of some assistance?”

I catch his eyes on Blum, probably wondering why the man still sits in the car while the woman struggles with the jack.

“It’s me, Reverend, Becky Myers. I met you one time at the hospital in Liberty. The home health nurse . . . It was after the cave-in at the Wild Cat Mine. You were one of the men who brought in the bodies. And that’s Dr. Blum. You probably met him sometime too. He’s . . . He’s not well.” I leave it at that.

“Miss Myers!” The preacher tips his hat once more and gives me a big smile that lights up his dark face. His eyes are brown and soulful. “So nice to see you again. I heard you and Dr. Blum moved away to Virginia. Are you back to set up your clinic or just visiting?”

“No, we’re back. It’s a long story. Right now I’m trying to find Patience Murphy, the midwife. Mr. Maddock, on Wild Rose Road, told me she’s married to the vet. Am I headed in the right direction?”

“Not far at all.” Reverend Miller is already rolling up his sleeves and soon has us back on the road.

“Just two miles ahead on the left. You’ll see a sign that says Daniel Hester, DMV, Small and Large Animals, with a little sign below, Patience Hester, Midwife, Small and Large Women.” He chuckles at the joke. “Say hello for me.”

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