BY COPPER ROSE
This story first appeared in Soft Cartel, April 12, 2018. Copyright is held by the author.
I MUST have grabbed my purse after I answered the phone. I must have got in the truck and flew over Holy Hill on Laramie Road. I must have been relieved when I saw there was no squad car parked in the bushes at the bottom of the hill as the tires reconnected with the pavement. By the time I skidded to a stop Frank was standing outside. His tired eyes scanned the gravel in the driveway.
“She’s in the bedroom.”
The laces of his boots trailed across the sidewalk like night crawlers headed for the front door. I brushed past him. The front door was locked.
I hurried in the side door and weaved my way through a part of the house I’d never been in before, somehow heading in the right direction until I found the bedroom. The door was open.
Bernadette was tangled in the sheets, one foot jutting out, arms flung wide, fingers opening and closing. Her breath gurgled in her throat with each inhalation. It took a while for it to whoosh out again. She swung her head in my direction, her eyes following me, the left one sporting a red welt beneath it. I had never seen her with her hair down before, hair like frayed baling twine around her shoulders, prickly strands curling toward her throat.
The last time I saw her we’d had an argument about the oil spill in the gulf. I thought the uppity-ups should be anchored knee deep in the water — let the oil wash over them so they’d know what it was like. Bernadette told me a good Republican would never think like that. She hadn’t spoken to me since.
She looked at the wall.
“Frank called. Said I should come right away.”
I put my hand on her forehead. “You’re burning up. Where’s your thermometer?”
“Bathroom drawer. Middle left.”
I found the old-fashioned thermometer, shook it with a snap of my wrist to reset the mercury and then eased it between her lips. “Under your tongue. Don’t bite down.” I waited. “105.”
I raced through the house searching for Frank. Through the window I saw he was still outside. I unlatched the front door, took the steps two at a time. “You’ve got to call an ambulance.”
He grabbed the front of my shirt. “We don’t do that around here.”
“You’ve got to.”
He yanked me closer. I thought I would smell bourbon on his breath. “We let God handle things like this.”
“Why did you call me?”
“I wanted her to make me a piece of toast.”
My hands smacked against his chest. He staggered back, tripped on the edge of the sidewalk and went down. His head thudded on the cement.
“Frank, I’m sorry . . .”
His foot shot out, catching my ankle with the toe of his boot. A quick jerk at that vulnerable joint below my shin sent me sprawling. I was on the ground, the old man kneeling over me, his fist drawn back, aimed at my head.
I flailed my arms in front of my face. “I’m the good guy. Be mad at the cancer, not me!”
Something rustled in the corn field. A cow bawled in the barn. Storm clouds threatened overhead. The curve of his chest. The veins in his forearm. His eyes, blue, rimmed with red.
His fist connected with such force it would have put a dent in the baler. The impact must have caused my knee to jerk into the soft spot between his legs.
“Unf,” he moaned, clutching the area south of his zipper.
I rolled over, pushed up from my knees and brushed away bits of gravel. I staggered into the house. Through the window I saw Frank ease onto his elbows, and then to a sitting position. He tucked his head between his knees. He glanced toward the window and then pretended to fuss with his boot laces.
I hurried to the bedroom. “Bernadette, you need to see a doctor.”
“I’m sorry. We don’t do that here.”
I stared at her and then fetched a cool cloth to press against her forehead, under her eye, on her shoulders. All the while I kept thinking, “I am not God.”