It was good to see you again. I gave her a quick hug.
How did she know you were standing with me? I ask when we’re back in the kitchen.Smell, the patient’s mother answers. She says my distinct smell is like bread baking. Will she need a birth bath?
That takes me aback. Then I remember Prudy’s wild labor and how I invented the birth bath just to get Mrs. Wade, Priscilla Blum, and my nervous friend Becky out of the way. Apparently, she now thinks a bath is the latest thing for women before they deliver.Just a little one. Nothing like the Ott home.Well, we’ll see. It couldn’t hurt, but she might not need it. Prudy was awfully tense. Lilly is loose as a goose, which is what you want . . . until pushing. Then you hope the woman can bear down like she means it.
By the sounds in the bedroom, I can tell that the contractions are coming one after the other. Can you boil the water? It might be soon. Mrs. Wade stands up and bustles around, glad to be put into action, and I slide back into the bedroom.Oh, Patience, I don’t know if I can do this! Lilly complains when she hears me approach. It hurts like the dickens!
It won’t be much longer. If it helps, you can lean on the baby a little, nothing too forceful. No holding your breath. I picture just a rim of the cervix left, and I’ve found that at this stage, between letting go and bearing down, it helps to give the patient something to do. Any time now, I expect her voice will drop and we will know that the baby is coming.
Bitsy stands back and puts one arm around my waist. We both find pleasure in watching a woman who’s comfortable with her body. Each time a contraction comes, Lilly’s blind eyes get big and she takes a few breaths, then holds on to her husband and rocks back and forth.Delfina Cabrini, with her baby tied around her under her wrap, brings Mrs. Potts and me two blue-speckled tin cups of coffee. Hester wanders over to talk to Sheriff Hardman, who’s just arrived with a posse from town. I duck my head when I notice the two city slickers from the courthouse. Are they some kind of feds investigating moonshiners or marshals looking for me? It’s been years since the riot at Blair Mountain, but I feel sure my mug’s displayed on a yellowing wanted poster somewhere. When you’ve been a radical, lived with radicals, marched in the streets, and spent time in jail, you are, forevermore, wary of coppers.
Dark pours into the hollow, and lanterns appear. I find another empty dynamite box and drag it over next to Mrs. Potts, all the while keeping my back to the lawmen. So many times I have waited like this, stiff with worry outside a mine, waiting for Ruben while he confronted the bosses. I could always tell, by watching, when he was angry. He’d stuff his hands deep in his pockets to keep his big fists from flying into someone’s face.Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, the old lady begins in a deep contralto, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see. Mildred, Emma, and a few of the other Hazel Patch ladies join in and then three white ladies and then the vet and me. It’s funny how music can soothe, can heal, can give us courage, especially singing together.
Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come. ’Twas Grace that brought us safe thus far . . . and Grace will lead us home.There’s movement at the opening of the mine, then a rending cry from the waiting assembly. Hester grabs his bag, grips my arm, and leads me forward, but the new victim, carried by Izzie Cabrini like a rag doll over his shoulder, has no use for our medical services. He’s a broken man, his face gray and covered in mud and his eyes wide open. I look away, and the vet steps forward to check his pulse with his stethoscope. He shakes his head to confirm that it’s hopeless . . . and Izzie moves on. The immobile victim is the second man crushed under the slide.