The worst part is my relationship with Blum. Since I realized he’d been reading my journal, I don’t brush his teeth anymore or lay out his clothes. I cook for him, so he won’t starve, but that’s all.
What bothers me most is the suspicion that it wasn’t just once that he read my journal but many times. Thusly, I have doubled my effort to locate a good hiding spot. So far, the loose floorboard under my dresser seems the best place. I don’t think he can possibly find it, but still I keep picturing him with the little leather-bound book open over his knees.
Yesterday at breakfast, I finally came out with it.
“Blum, you are a bastard and a dickhead!” (Those were the only words I could find.) “After all I’ve done for you, you creep into my room and look in my journal. What kind of man are you?” That’s what I said. He just hung his head, didn’t answer. Not that I really expected him to.
The idea of leaving him has come to me lately. If he can drive to Pittsburgh, he’s much more functional than I imagined. But if I left, where would I go? I still have my job at Camp White Rock and I could move into town, but I don’t make enough money to afford it.
On the other hand, I have become fond of the farm at the end of Wild Rose Road, the daffodils, the brook, the oak in front just budding out. This is our second spring here and the early crops have already been sowed. And then there’s the chickens, only six of them, but they all have names, Mary, Martha, Madeline, Molly, Maria, and Minny. Minny’s the littlest, a red Bantam that lays brown eggs. What would I do with them if I left?
I suppose I could tell Blum to leave. Tell him to wrap his few clothes in a bundle, tie them to a stick, and hit the road like a hobo, but then I’d be here alone. That would not be a good idea, not with the homeless men drifting over the land.
Just yesterday two rough-looking fellows came to the door and the hair on my neck rose up like a cat’s. Bums, I thought, looking for handouts, but it turns out I was wrong.
“Would you like to buy some nice hard coal, ma’am?” the bearded one asks, taking off his dirty cap. His hands are almost black and there’s soot on his nose. They lead a jackass loaded with burlap bags of the black gold. “Two bits a bag; burns nice and hot.”
“Where’d you get it?”
“We dug it ourselves. We’re no thieves if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“You dug it? I thought all the mines had closed in Union County.”
“They did. MacIntosh Consolidated went bust five years ago. Horse Shoe barred the gates and evicted us from our mining shacks this December, but the coal is still down there. It belongs to the people, same as air or water.” (This must be what Sally was talking about when she told me her pa was working his coal mine!)
“Listen, lady,” the thin dark man holding the jackass growls. “It will be cold again this winter, and you’ll be sorry if you pass this up. If you don’t want it, someone else will. Mrs. Hester, the midwife, sent us up here. She took four bags yesterday and Mr. Maddock took three today.”
I’m suspicious . . . “Is this what they call ‘bootleg coal,’ from those diggers over in Pennsylvania? I read how out-of-work miners are digging pits on the hillsides and how the cops arrested some two hundred men, but the jury wouldn’t convict them.”
“Damn right! Pardon my French, ma’am. Some call it bootlegging, but Sheriff Hardman calls it sensible. We have wives and kids to feed. Do you want some or not?”
My mind spins like a top. The price is good, but technically the fuel is stolen. On the other hand, Mr. MacIntosh, the coal baron, died by his own hand at the beginning of the Depression and his widow, Katherine, and her little boy moved back to Baltimore, so they’ve given up on Appalachia. Now the coal is just sitting there and the miners are only scratching a living from the earth, same as Dr. Blum and I.
I make a snap decision. It’s not cold now, but it will be this winter. “I’ll take the rest of what you’ve got, all four bags and I’ll take more if you’re ever up this way.”
“Well, thank you, ma’am. Where should we put it?”
I show the men where we keep the firewood under the porch and run upstairs for a dollar. Returning, I grab two biscuits from the kitchen and wrap them in a piece of newspaper.
“Here,” I say, after turning over the money. “For your journey home, in case you get hungry.” The men look surprised.
“God bless you, lady,” the dark fellow says. “You and your man.” He looks over at the garden where Isaac is hoeing potatoes.
Here I almost choke. My man! If they only knew how close I am to getting rid of him!
April 17, 1935
I miss Becky. She has cut me off, called me a dickhead and a bastard. Not that I didn’t deserve it. The worst part is, I know reading her private journal was wrong, but I’ve never felt so close to anyone and now I’m alone again.
The problem is, I can’t say I’m sorry. Reading her most private thoughts has changed me. Something deep inside has been touched.
What if she were reading my notebook?
I think I would be glad.
I wake just as the sun is peeking over the mountains, thinking about President Roosevelt’s fireside chat last night. The Hesters had us over to dinner and just like old times we sat around the radio listening, along with all the other worried Americans. In his quiet, reassuring way, Roosevelt talked about the Public Works Project, about getting people off the dole, about a new program called Social Security. Most important, he gives us hope that these dark days will not last forever.
Outside my window, leaves in the old oak rattle so hard I get out of bed thinking it’s rain, but it’s just a strong, hot wind, coming up from the valley. Too bad; it’s been two weeks without a drop.
Blum has already made breakfast, leaving a bowl of porridge on the table for me and is out in the garden wearing a pair of cut-off blue jeans, transporting water from the spring to our delicate seedlings. It’s important because by seven A.M., it’s already eighty and the ground is bone dry. Three-quarters of the states are now experiencing drought, and West Virginia is one of them. Not enough snow this winter, they say. Not enough rain this spring.
I watch from the kitchen as the doctor carries two buckets at a time, then bends with a tin can and carefully gives each plant a drink. He’s working without a shirt and his body is lean and brown, but that only makes me hate him more.
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