37

Sing a Little. Dance a Little.

I awake to the sound of water dripping and, when I look out the window, find it’s raining. The water coming down the drainpipe is like flute music. Maybe spring really is here!

By midmorning the storm clouds pass and I’m able to drive into Liberty.

“How are the roads?” I ask Boodean when Sheriff Hardman finally gets a connection to the camp on the shortwave.

“Bad,” Boodean answers. “One of the trucks slid into the creek.”

“I guess I better not try to get there then.”

“Don’t even think of it. Nuthin’ but mud and slick as . . . well you know. You’d be foolish to try.”

“How’s everything else? How’s Drake?”

“Still the low-grade fever, chills, and the cough. I’ve been bringing him four meals a day, but he just picks at his food. Captain Wolfe agrees we need to get him to the hospital in Torrington, but he says we should wait until tomorrow. Can you meet us at Stenger’s Pharmacy at nine fifteen? Can you do that?”

I agree to the plan. We talk a little about a patient with a spider bite who came into the clinic yesterday and then, “Is the captain still mad at me?”

I hear a long indrawn breath. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, Boodean! What do I have to do to get back in his good graces?”

“Sing a little. Dance a little.”

“Boodean, I’m serious!”

“Me too. Sing a little. Dance a little. Over and out.”

Then just static.

Namesake

I arrive, as instructed, by nine fifteen and stand in the window of Stenger’s Pharmacy watching for Captain Wolfe and Boodean. Snow is already flying again, but not so it would stick, just big, lazy flakes coming down like confetti.

“How’s Patience?” Mr. Stenger asks, staring across the counter, one eye on me, one eye wandering toward the window. “I haven’t seen her for a long time.”

“She’s getting better.”

“Dr. Blum was there and did the surgery, that’s what I heard. A hemorrhage, was it?”

“Yes.” It doesn’t surprise me that the pharmacist knows some of the details of the birth. I expected it. In a small town word gets around.

“Got something that might perk her up.” Stenger holds out a small brown bottle, labeled Dr. Blaud’s Iron Pills. “This is the real McCoy! It would do Patience a lot of good.”

“I usually don’t hold with patent medicines,” I hedge. “Dr. Blum used to say that most of them are a bunch of hooey.” I don’t know why I invoke Dr. Blum’s words. He’s no longer an authority on anything.

Stenger continues like a pitchman. “Usually I agree, but I can vouch for this. It actually has iron in it. Does wonders for women with heavy monthlies too.”

I take the bottle and give it a shake. “How much?”

“It’s a gift. The midwife took care of my mother one summer when she had ulcers on her feet, the best nursing she ever had.”

“Well, thank you. We’ll give it a try. Patience is still rather weak and pale, though she’s gaining ground. . . .”

Just then the little bell on the pharmacy door rings and Willa Hucknell and her flock of little blond wrens flutter through the door. For a minute I think of hiding. I’ve been such a bad friend. I just stopped seeing her when the deliveries dried up, completely forgot she was pregnant, and almost forgot about the bruises.

On the other hand, she never contacted me either, so maybe she feels awkward too. Knowing everyone in town saw Alfred hit her at the Fourth of July picnic probably still hurts, and I have to admit that with Patience’s birth and Linus’s death, Willa never once crossed my mind.

“Miss Becky. Miss Becky!” the girls cry, coming up to me. “Where’s Dr. Blum?”

“He’s home,” I reply. “How are you, Willa?” I can tell she’s a lot stronger. Her face is pink and her yellow hair, which is now cut short in a bob, is shiny and clean.

“Never been better. Want to see something?” Apparently, she holds me no ill will because she opens the bundle that is pressed close to her chest and shows me a beautiful baby. “It’s a boy, finally! Alfred Junior.” The white-haired infant looks at me with round gray eyes.

“Do you like him?” the oldest girl, Sally, asks.

“I do. He’s beautiful, but why didn’t you call me when you went into labor, Willa? I would have come. Who delivered him, anyway? Did you go to the hospital in Torrington?”

“Oh, we didn’t go nowhere, did we, Sally? He’s three months yesterday.”

“You had the baby at home, with no help? Was Alfred there?”

“No, he was off working.”

“I helped her!” Sally Hucknell crows. “I helped her. Ma calls me her little midwife.”

“You?”

“Yeah. Ma said it was the easiest birth yet. She just lay down, told me what to do, how to check for a cord, and ease the baby out and get it to breathe. I was the first one to know he was a boy, and when Papa got back from his coal mine, he was so happy to have finally got his namesake.”

“His coal mine?”

Sally starts to tell me something, but Willa shakes her head no.

Outside there’s the blare of a horn.

“That’s my ride, Willa. I’m so happy for you. I’ll come by and see you when I have time.” I look at Alfred Jr. and all the happy, loving little girls. Have I so misjudged this family; let the bruises on the mother’s face stain the whole picture?

“Can you bring Dr. Blum too?” Sally asks and is echoed by her sisters.

Willa reaches out and touches my hand, and the little boy baby gives me a smile.

The X-ray Machine

“Good morning, everyone,” I greet the men as I climb in the front seat of the captain’s personal auto.

Wolfe doesn’t even say hello. He glances at his watch and pulls away from the curb. “The roads are bad. We’ve got to move or we’re going to be late for the appointment.” Drake, looking like death warmed over, is lying on his side in the back with Boodean. He wears his khaki CCC uniform, which is now two sizes too big.

“How’s he doing?”

“Maybe a little better.” That’s my medic trying to sound optimistic, but I can tell by his eyes that he doesn’t really think so.

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