At this point I hung up. I did! I know it was unprofessional, but I just couldn’t stand it! What will I do now?

March 14, 1935

I have been thinking about this compulsion to share Becky’s thoughts. Why do I do it? Why can’t I stop?

The thing is, I’m not sharing her thoughts. It’s more like stealing and I don’t understand it; I never had a need for intimacy before.

I had a wife and I have had lovers, but not many friends and even those I had, like Dr. Robinson, the colored physician, have never shared their inner life with me. Not that Becky shares willingly. As I said, I am a thief.

Daniel Hester is my friend, I must not forget, but ours is a bond based on work. We work in silence and enjoy each other’s company. I know his next move and am ready to assist him. We laugh together and I’ve patted his back a few times when an animal he was trying valiantly to save didn’t make it, but we never communicate about anything personal.

And another thing, this Dr. Raymond, what an asshole, refusing to give the results of the X-ray to Becky, saying he can only give them to a physician. I have half a mind to go up there and knock his block off.

Missing

“So where could he be? You think he just got in your Olds and drove away?” I ask.

Hester, Patience, Danny, and I are sitting down to supper and have said our brief grace.

“How long has he been gone?”

“All day, I guess.” That’s Patience.

Daniel interrupts. “I was tuberculin-testing two herds in Grant County. Patience thought Blum was with me.”

“Yes, I just assumed he was with Daniel, until Daniel got home and asked where my Oldsmobile was. All day I’d been puttering around the house and hadn’t been out to the driveway to notice.”

I’m worried about Isaac, of course, but also angry. I’ve been at work and assumed all was well. He’s never wandered off before, not since that time when he joined the soup line in Liberty. Certainly he’s never taken a vehicle, although at Christmas the vet divulged that Blum could drive a tractor. I let out a heavy breath. If a man previously thought to be catatonic can do a cesarean section, who knows what else he is capable of.

“Honey, drink your milk.” That’s Patience speaking to Danny, who grins, takes up his tin cup, and dribbles white down his chin.

“He’ll come back,” Daniel reassures. “Can you pass me the butter?”

It’s the stillest part of the night and I am still awake, thinking about what could have happened to Isaac. Did he run off the road? He might be injured and trapped behind the wheel, though Daniel and I drove to Liberty and back looking in all the ditches. We even drove up Wild Rose Road to check the house with the blue door. No Oldsmobile. No Dr. Blum.

The irony is that, even though I’ve felt burdened by having to care for him for so long, now it seems I’ve grown to care about him. I think of his kindly ways with children, of his beautiful woodworking, of his companionship with Daniel, of his surgical skill when Patience was hemorrhaging. He is Isaac Blum, but a new Isaac Blum. Even his body is different; muscular and brown, a farmer. But where is he now?

Unexpected

At dawn, I wake to the sound of Danny laughing up in his bedroom. “Uncle Isaac. Uncle Isaac is home!”

Then Hester, “Dammit, man! You gave us a scare! Where the hell did you go? Becky and I drove around half the night looking for you.” (This is an exaggeration. We only drove into Liberty and back, then up Wild Rose Road.)

There’s no answer, of course, but what is Blum playing at? Stealing a car, leaving us for twenty-four hours, and then sneaking home like a teenager and crawling in bed! I throw on my bathrobe, ready to stomp upstairs and confront him, give him a piece of my mind for making me worry all night, but as I rush through the kitchen a file folder on the table catches my eye.

WEST PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL is stamped on the front. It takes me a moment to realize what I’m looking at. It’s Drake Trustler’s X-ray report.

Did Dr. Blum drive to Pittsburgh? No, it’s not possible! How could he find the way? How did he communicate with the hospital personnel? He can barely talk, unless he’s been faking the whole time. I pace the cold kitchen floor. Did he pretend to be a physician from the Civilian Conservation Corps? I’m still riding the wave of my anger and am unsure how to react, but before I can go off the deep end, I take a big breath and I flip open the folder.

Dear Doctor (The name of the unknown camp physician is left blank.)

Thank you for sending me the roentgen images of Drake Trustler’s lungs. The chest X-ray confirms the presence of multiple small (<10 mm) nodules in the upper lobes. Using the ILO classification system, these are of profusion 1/0 or greater. . . .”

I skip to the bottom of the report with a sinking heart, looking for the summary.

. . . producing so-called classic “eggshell” calcifications. I believe this is a clear case of silicosis and not the tuberculin bacillus.

Thanks again for this consultation,

Respectfully yours,

H. A. Raymond, MD

Silicosis. I whip through the report a second time and am stunned. Not TB? Silicosis! But how could Drake have contracted silicosis? He’s only twenty-four. Usually, it’s a chronic disease of old men or miners like those at the Hawk’s Nest disaster. Then I remember that Drake once told me he worked alongside his father and grandfather at a brick factory in Ohio before he ran away. Could the lungs of a young boy be more susceptible to the disease than a man’s? Is this good news for Drake or another death sentence? I really don’t know.

“Becky! Isaac’s back,” Daniel calls down to me. “He just went up to Pittsburgh to West Penn Hospital and had a hard time getting back.”

I tighten my jaw and don’t answer. What can I say? I am shocked and I’m furious. I am also happy. Drake doesn’t have TB and Isaac is safe. The S.O.B.!

March 19, 1935

Becky was mad as hell when I returned from Pittsburgh, though the Hesters took it in stride. What did I imagine? That she would be grateful? But no . . . (and I guess I can’t blame her) she was steamed. For nearly 24 hours she had no idea what had happened to me.

The thing is, when I read in Becky’s journal about the radiologist’s ridiculous refusal to give her a diagnosis for the boy Drake Trustler just because she was a nurse and not a physician, I was ready to punch his lights out. If a patient is ill you need to take care of him, and this bit about having to give the report to an MD is pure bullshit.

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