Push a little, I say, trying to imitate her soothing voice, as cold sweat drips down the side of my face. Push a little . . . Blow a little . . . Push a little . . . Blow a little. Your baby is almost here, Bernice. The father comes back, holding a crocheted white baby blanket. I hate to get it bloody, but it’s apparently all he could find.
Howdy, Doc. When there’s no response, he taps again and then shrugs. You take care now, Miss Becky, and don’t be a stranger.Three blocks down Main we pull up to the curb, this time at Stenger’s Pharmacy. I repeat my instructions to my mute companion, this time shortening the command: Stay! Like he’s Three Legs the dog. Stay!
As if the six-inch gap will entice passing customers in, the front door of the pharmacy is propped open. Mr. Stenger? I call, pushing it wider and looking around. Except for a scrawny orange cat on the counter, the shop appears vacant. Mr. Stenger? I call again louder, and a short, round man with a balding head and one lazy eye comes out of the back carrying a bucket and mop. He wears a long white cloth coat with a crooked red bow tie, and the store smells like carbolic acid and something sweet, probably Lilly of the Valley Toilet Water. (I used to buy it here in better days.)Oh, hello. I didn’t hear you come in. . . . Is that Becky Myers? Nurse Becky! I heard you were back. He leans his mop against the wall, moves toward me, right arm outstretched and I shake his soft hand. My hands were soft once too, but as I look down I notice a little grime under the nails. Without hot running water, I’ve become a country girl.What can I do for you? Stenger asks. Is the doc all right? I heard he’d suffered some sort of fall.
No, not a fall. We don’t know of any injury. Some of the specialists at Johns Hopkins thought he might have had a stroke. Others say it’s catatonia, a neurological condition brought on by hysteria or maybe shock.I know about catatonia. Part of my training was at the State Asylum for the Insane in Weston. You’d see those people, the catatonics, walking around carrying a doll or dancing with a broom. It’s like they’re ghosts.
Yes, that’s what he’s like, a ghost of himself. It’s pitiful really.
The pharmacist shakes his head and leans on the counter. So what can I do for you, Miss Becky?How long does it take a person to forgive himself? Two lives lost because of my stupidity. Maybe you will say I’m too hard on myself, but I was a hard man in those days, and I set my own punishment: death for a double murder . . . and for a coward who doesn’t have the courage to kill himself, death while alive, madness.
The turnout for the burials is more than we expected and I’m glad the four of us spent some time last evening constructing makeshift benches to seat the next of kin and older folk. There were horse-drawn carts and vehicles parked all over the yard.The little Hucknell girls find Dr. Blum and cling to him, insisting he sit up front on the benches. Only the eldest, Sally, cries, and Isaac puts his arm around her and holds her close.
One by one, the coffins are lowered into the graves by the CCC men. There are eight freshly dug holes and nine dead, because we planned to bury the baby with his father, Alfred Hucknell.Boodean is here and Starvation MarFarland, and Snake and Loonie Tinkshell and a few of the others, even Rusty on his crutches because, as he told me, even though he lost his foot, he wanted to thank Dr. Blum for saving his life. The new superintendent seems a little lost, but Lou Cross takes care of everything.