Home . . . I’m going home. My auto has been tuned up and filled with petrol by the motor pool guys. I have twenty-five dollars cash money in my pocket, my vacation pay, and two new army-issue nurse uniforms.
It isn’t until I pass the Hucknell place that I roll down the window and slow the Pontiac. It’s a sight from a CCC poster.
All across the scorched earth, CCC corpsmen march in a line, planting tiny jack pines. The boys have their shirts off, with burlap bags of seedlings tied to their belts. They take a few steps, slash a hole with their ax, kneel down, put the seedling in, stand and stomp the soil around it, then take a few more steps and do the same thing again. Someday, fifty-foot pine trees will grow here, reaching up to the sun, a memorial to the Forest Army.
Forty minutes later, I wind up Wild Rose Road, looking forward to taking a walk and lying on the grass down by the stream, but something looks different.
I can’t make it out until I pass the Maddocks’, but as I get closer I see that there’s a new picket fence around our front yard. I love picket fences, but who put it up? Surely Patience and Hester don’t have time for such fancies.
Jumping out to inspect, I find that each picket is handmade, painted white, and not only that, on the pointed end of each staff, someone has carved a delicate daisy. Our house is encircled with flowers!
There’s only one person who could do this and I run inside, prepared to thank him, but the parlor is empty, the bedrooms are too. “Isaac!” I call. No answer. Just to be sure I poke my head in the kitchen and am shocked to find a mason jar filled with lilacs on the table. It just about floors me and I plunk down in one of the wooden chairs to take it all in.
What’s gotten into the man? You’d swear we were courting. It’s then I notice a child’s sketchbook. Confessions of a Silent Man it says on the cover in Blum’s neat print. Has the doctor been keeping a journal too? Did he leave it here for me? It seems obviously a gift, along with the flowers and the beautiful fence, but what if I’m wrong? What if he left it on the table by mistake? If it’s not meant for me and I read it, I’d be as rotten as he was. . . . I lift up the cover and glance at the first lines.
“Syndactyly! The word erupts out of my mind like hot lava out of a volcano. Syndactyly is the medical term for webbed toes. I would tell Becky, but then she would realize I’ve been reading her journal.”
All afternoon I hold back and then about four I open the doctor’s journal and begin to read. By eight o’clock, it’s too dark to see and I wonder vaguely what’s happened to Isaac. Probably off with Daniel helping with lambing; it’s a busy time of year. I get up to light the kerosene lamp and start a fire in the cookstove. I have no intention of cooking, but the house is getting a little cold. So far, I’ve read up to: I miss Becky. She has cut me off, called me a dickhead and a bastard!
I take a big breath and tighten my mouth, remembering when I said those words. I really should stop reading, not because I’m doing something wrong. I’m sure now that Isaac wanted me to read his journal, but I fear hearing his thoughts will have unintended consequences. The words are drawing me in, drawing me closer to a man I never really knew. Still I go on, wanting to hear what he will say next.
Outside the night grows dark and the spring frogs sing. Where could Isaac be? For so long I resented his presence, even tried to think how I could get rid of him. What if he just packed his stuff and hit the road, and the sketchbook is his parting gift?
I continue to read, but leave the last few pages because I don’t want it to end. What will I do then? And how will I talk to this new Isaac when he comes back. (If he comes back, the old worried Becky thinks.)
I lay the sketchbook aside. Somehow, I now want Isaac to read my journal, read all I’ve written since I found a new hiding place, so before retiring, I hang a lantern on the porch and leave him a present, my journal, next to the flowers. . . .
Upstairs at my bedside, I stand for a moment in my nightdress and then do something I haven’t done in a long time, kneel down on the floor.
The prayer is one word. “Thank you. Thank you for repairing what was broken, what was torn, what was bleeding.
May 16, 1935
Early this morning, as soon as Becky left for the CCC camp, I began installing the picket fence that I’d been working on in the loft of the barn for the last month. It only took a few hours because the staves were finished last week; all I had to do was put in the posts, screw on the crosspieces, and nail up the wood. While I was working, I tried to decide if I should leave my notebook for Becky. In a way, I felt she deserved to know who I am, a broken man, trying to knit the bones of my life back together.
Finally, I did it. I left my journal on the kitchen table, and to be sure she noticed, went out in the field and picked her some flowers. I had never picked flowers for a woman before.
Just as I finished, Daniel Hester sped up Wild Rose in his beat-up Ford. “Can you clean up, Blum? We got trouble. Judge Wade just called from Liberty. Social services out of Charleston are coming into town this afternoon to take the Hucknell girls away. They’re going to split them up. Dump them into four foster homes in four separate counties.”
“The hell they are.”
“Well, we’d better get going if we want to stop them. I already alerted Maddock and he’s putting on his Sunday best. You talk with Becky about adopting Sally?”
Here there’s a pause. “Not yet. I was mulling it over. You know me, I’m not much of a talker.”
“Dammit, Blum. We discussed it with Maddock for a couple of hours after the burial. You said you’d talk. Can you call her? Adoption is a big commitment.”
“There’s no phone at the camp, remember . . .”
“Well, hell! We have to act fast. Patience thinks it’s a great idea, and she said Becky would too. If we take the twins and Maddock takes Sonya, Sally could live with you.”
I recall how Sally clung to me at the burial service, how I wiped her tears. “No, we have to do it. I’ll just hope for the best. If Becky doesn’t agree, I’ll be a solo father like the widower, Walter Schmidt. He does okay with little Petey.” Hester turns the Ford around and I run for the house for a clean shirt and tie.
“So, fellas, what can I do you for?” Linkous asks when we’re seated around his desk. He’s trying to talk like a good ol’ boy, but everyone knows he went to law school at Yale.
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