The first night I heard that song was the night I saw my first birth . . .
These are the midwives for Union County now. All heads turn to look. If there was anything you ever planned to do for Grace Potts someday, then do it for them. If you owed anything to her, you can pay back the girls. I’m sure Mrs. Potts would approve. I almost laugh at the reference to us as girls. My companion may be young, but I’ll be thirty-seven by the end of the year. Bitsy pulls me back down, and I plunk into my seat, feeling my face beet red. Still, it’s a generous and unexpected thing for the Millers to do.When the service is over and Mrs. Potts is laid to rest, the church ladies arrange food on wooden picnic tables under the trees. I prepare my plate of greens, fried chicken, potato salad, and baked beans and plan to sit next to Bitsy or maybe at the table with Becky Myers and the Stengers, but when I look around Bitsy is sitting with Byrd Bowlin on a blanket under the trees and the table with Becky and the others is full. I’m wondering where to go when Mr. Maddock beckons me over to a green wooden table where he’s already served both himself and his wife. I sit down on the bench across from him, expecting one of them to say hello, but they’re mum. Maybe I’m supposed to start the conversation.
I’m Patience Murphy, I announce, turning to Mrs. Maddock.I know. She smiles. She has a nice voice like a motion picture star. I’m Sarah Rose Maddock. You should come for tea someday.And your friend. That surprises me. Bitsy has slowly been accepted in the bedrooms of white women, as my birth assistant, but no one has ever asked us for tea.
We’d be delighted, I accept formally.Maddock is already standing. Enough of the pleasantries, his rangy body says. He adjusts his suspenders and pushes his Sunday farmer’s hat down firmly over his thinning dark hair, then takes both their plates and places them in their woven picnic basket. I have to get home to milk, he announces, though we both know it’s way too early. Do you need a ride?
No, thank you. I have my horse.
Mrs. Maddock nods good-bye as he bumps her wheelchair across the grass and out to their truck on the dirt road. I look around again for Bitsy. She’s still sitting with Byrd, their thighs touching, her hand on her cheek, listening carefully to something he’s saying.He opened his car door for me and I got in, murmuring thanks as he gently closed it. When he got in on the driver’s side, however, he slammed his.
He cut me an impatient look and I felt a little gleeful that it had taken me less than a minute to wipe out his blank countenance. You tell me.O’Dea, I’m not mad at you. Why would I be mad at you?
Because I’ve been busy with work lately.Well, how sane of me to be mad at you for working hard.