I give her the worst job. We are all so tired, can you clean up the blood? Mrs. Miller doesn’t hesitate. While the preacher tends the stock and splits more firewood, she takes my red rubber gloves and a bucket of water and goes right to work, starting in the kitchen and then the stairs and then the Hesters’ bedroom. By evening you wouldn’t know that the tidy home had been the scene of a near tragedy.
Yeah, okay, I agreed, hating the swarming kaleidoscope of butterflies that erupted in my belly at the thought.It was surprisingly easier than I’d anticipated to get through a few hours at the pub with Roddy. Seonaid made it easy by distracting him constantly with her digs at the barmaid he was dating, even though the girl wasn’t working, and therefore unable to defend herself.
However, I knew from the lack of any real emotion when talking about the barmaid that Roddy wasn’t in as deep as Seonaid feared. He was too busy exchanging mock barbs with the woman he actually cared about to give much thought to the barmaid.My friends’ funny dynamic put me at ease and I got through hanging out with Roddy, assured I could do it again. And if Roddy had been pissed off at me, he never showed it.That week I’d also had the privilege of spending more time with Sylvie, who had talked her uncle into letting her join the group again for my readings. I also introduced some games that day, and Sylvie served as my little helper. This time she and I couldn’t sit and talk because I’d agreed to have lunch again with Seonaid. At the despondent look on Sylvie’s face when I told her I had to leave, I knew I wouldn’t schedule lunch after my visits at the hospital again.
During our time with the kids, Sylvie expounded on the awesomeness of her uncle Aidan to everyone. I think some of the kids were a little tired of hearing, Well, my uncle Aidan says, but others had fallen under her spell. She’d transformed her uncle into a godlike creature, to the point where I think she had some of the younger kids believing he was an actual superhero. I let her. What was the harm? More than ever, those kids needed to believe in miracles and superheroes. Wasn’t that what was I doing there? Spinning them stories of magic and escape?The Wednesday after my Sunday drinks with Roddy and Seonaid, I found myself in the untenable position of wanting to say no to Sylvie and not being able to. Somehow, she’d gotten her hands on a Twister game board and had talked the kids into playing.
I hadn’t thought it was a great idea, and Jan wasn’t too sure, either, but Sylvie won by announcing only she and I would play, and the kids would take turns spinning the wheel. It actually turned out to be a pretty good idea because we ended up in such awkward positions, in fits of giggles, that we had all the kids laughing and trying to cheat by placing us in even more ungainly positions!
I was in the middle of begging Poppy not to cheat with the Twister spinner when a deep, masculine voice sounded from behind me at the door.A mother . . . I say to myself . . . I never saw myself as a mother. Certainly, I never wanted to be pregnant or give birth. Sometimes I envied women with children, the physical closeness they had to their little ones, but here I am with Sally in my lap and the feelings of wanting to provide and protect her are undeniable.
Mother, I think. Mother is about love. It doesn’t mean the one who gives birth. It is the one who braids your hair.The Hope River runs clean and clear again, the ash and debris from the wildfire gone. For a few weeks even the homeless abandoned it. Now, as we wind ourselves through the willows, I notice a few of the traveling people are back, but in smaller numbers; only two camps, one white and one black, constructed away from each other in ramshackle wood shelters with hobo stoves made of tin and clotheslines tied to the trees.
The men nod as we pass but the women, wearing ragged, dirty housedresses, turn away, ashamed to be seen looking so destitute. These are not vacationers camping along the river for the fun of it; they have nowhere else to go.It’s been only a few weeks since we adopted the Hucknell children and we three families have gathered on the bank of the Hope for a Sunday picnic. Even Sarah Maddock has come, wearing her braces and leaning on a walker that her husband ordered from Sears. Reverend and Mrs. Miller are here too, with a boy and a girl from Hazel Patch, to talk about their school.