“Drake, that’s a common misconception about X-rays, but I’ll consult with the captain and the supervisor to see what they think. . . . If you don’t mind, why don’t you sit in the reception area while we fix up your bed.” I open the door to tell Mrs. Ross, but find the room empty.
The mechanic slowly pulls his uniform shirt on and then slowly buttons it.
“What was that roll of the eyes you gave me when I told Trustler he might need an X-ray? Do you disagree?” (The medic and I are readying the room for Drake’s overnight stay.)
“You’re the doc.”
“Come clean, Boodean.” My little rhyme makes us both laugh.
“Okay, the truth is, it cost White Rock Camp plenty when they had to send those four boys down to the hospital, the ones that were in the truck accident. If you’d been in the camp, it might have been avoided. The supervisor and captain won’t take kindly to another medical expense, especially if it’s really not necessary. Trustler looks like shit, pardon my language, but it’s probably just the croup.”
“You didn’t listen to his lungs. I’ve heard sounds like that before.”
“Like pleural effusion.”
He stares at me blankly.
“Fluid outside the lungs.”
I step to the door of the waiting room. “Hey, Drake, do you want to go back to the bunkhouse to get your pajamas and whatever else you need?”
The man has fainted and is slumped over in his chair.
“I may have to make a trip to Torrington on Monday,” I tell Patience as I set the table for our noon meal. “I had a corpsman faint in the clinic yesterday.” She sits nursing the baby on one of the wooden kitchen chairs. “It’s Drake Trustler . . . Nick Rioli, the driver for the mob crew from Pittsburgh. . . . Remember, I told you about him, how he’s turned his life around and is now one of the lead mechanics in the camp motor pool.” Patience shifts the baby to the other breast and touches her little girl’s cheek.
“She’s really growing isn’t she?” I observe.
“Four pounds now. Pretty good, huh? And I’m not giving her the Borden’s anymore.”
“You look like you’re feeling stronger too.”
She gives me a little smile. “Did I ever thank you for saving my life . . . and Mira’s? You’re such a blessing to us.”
“Me? It was Daniel and Isaac who did the c-section.”
“Daniel told me it was you who said, ‘Let’s go. We have to go now!’ It was you who resuscitated the baby.”
“You do what you have to do when someone you love is in danger.” This surprises me and I blush. I had never said that before, not even to myself, that I love Patience Hester. She doesn’t blush. She just looks at me steady and then changes the subject.
“So you might go to Torrington?”
“I might have to, but it won’t be easy. Drake is convinced X-rays cause cancer.”
“I’ve heard that too.”
“Heard what?” Hester kicks his rubber boots off, returning from the barn, along with Blum and little Danny.
“X-rays causing cancer . . .”
“Where do people come up with this stuff? That was twenty years ago,” Daniel scoffs.
“Mrs. Kelly thought they were dangerous too,” Patience puts in. “She told me that Thomas Edison wouldn’t have an X-ray machine in his lab after one of his scientists got radiation burns and had to have both arms amputated.”
“Well, that’s a true story, but they’re safer now. Why are we talking about X-rays, anyhow?” He runs his hand along the back of Patience’s neck and leans in to kiss his baby. Blum plunks Danny in his wooden high chair and sits down beside him.
“What ray?” the little boy asks, but no one answers him.
I put the corn bread and beans on the table and bring fresh milk and butter from the Frigidaire. “I was explaining, I have a sick man at the camp and we may have to take him to Torrington for a chest X-ray.”
Here Blum looks as if he’s interested, and a familiar light flickers in his blue eyes, but he doesn’t ask questions or offer an opinion. It’s as if the night of the surgery, when he returned for a few hours to his old self, never really happened, or it was a dream.
“So what’s the big deal? They do X-rays all the time.” That’s the vet.
“The young man doesn’t want one. Thinks they cause cancer. It’s going to be a fight.”
“Well, good luck with that one. The captain’s a military man. I’m sure he can issue an order.”
The Hesters bow their heads and close their eyes preparing to say the blessing and Blum and I do too. Since Mira’s birth it’s become a familiar ritual for us.
Daniel starts out and Patience and I join in, but Blum is mum. God, we thank you for this food. For rest and home and all things good. . . . I open my eyes to see what Blum’s doing and find him looking at me. It’s a curious moment, unsettling, and then it is over.
For two days a spring storm, rain and then ice, breaks the limbs off the trees in the yard and higher up in the mountains. I try to call Sheriff Hardman to have him radio Camp White Rock that I can’t get in, but the phone lines are down and the thought of meeting Captain Wolfe’s ire if I don’t show up for clinic tomorrow makes my stomach hollow.
Outside, nothing moves but the tinkling branches. It’s late afternoon and we’re cut off from the world, and I’m just thinking of doing a watercolor of the crystalline trees when the distant sound of a vehicle alerts me. Who would be out on an evening like this?
Running to the window, I look down the road and see a tractor with two people on it, both bundled in rubber coats, knit caps, and scarves around their faces. Looking closer it appears there’s also a child. The tractor stops at the Hesters’ drive and bumps over the wooden bridge.
“What in heaven’s name?” That’s Patience, who was awakened by the motor’s sound and has come down the stairs to stand next to me.
“Come in! Come in!” she calls from the porch. “Watch the ice. It’s a bad day to be out on the road. Is there some way we can help you?”
“Well, I hope so!” a young woman answers. “It’s us! Hannah and John Dyer.” She whips down her scarf and pulls off her cap to reveal two long black braids and a cheerful pink face.
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