When Kathy woke she decided that this was the day that what had been hers would be no longer. It was still dark outside, and cold. She crept into Eugene’s room, pulling her sweater close, and felt with her fingertips along the edge of the bureau his father had built years ago. She was surprised the sweet smell of cedar still lingered. She glanced at Eugene, sleeping there. A sliver of light from the hallway lit up his jaw clenched in sleep and the first wisps of an adolescent beard. But he’s just a boy—she felt her heart beat right through her sweater and made herself look away. She slowly inched open the top dresser drawer.
The doctor took the chart the nurse proffered him. He did not remark on the temperature outside. He clicked the tip of his ballpoint pen forward and inscribed his initials, a careful, rightward-slanting J dot P dot comma bold upright M dot D dot DOT dot… Latent brief staccato tap before he dropped the clipboard to the counter and surveyed his waiting room.
A woman seated there, with a boy. Another Nebraska farm-frau, he thought, she could be 40 or 70, graying brown hair wound into tight pin curls from monthly visits to the beauty salon. Hard, bright, blinking eyes magnified by enormous plastic-rimmed glasses sought him as she perched on the edge of the stiff plastic seat, not-reading her checkout-lane novel. Her soft sagging body would be deceptively strong, he’d seen them in their bulky knit sweaters and elastic-waist jeans pick up forty-gallon silos of raw milk, one in each hand, without wincing or taking a breath. They would load them into low-slung station wagons crawling with children and he would see them again, driving on the highway like stuffed, sagging loaves. He drove fast then, pummeling the gas pedal to appear in their twisty, detaching rear-view mirrors suddenly from behind like a conjured demonic block, riding high above in the pitched leather seat of his shiny black Hummer, himself invisible behind the tinted narrow windshield. He drove like that for a mile or so, inches from their rear bumper, bellowing with his bulk, prodding, pressing forward, faster—and the pale moon faces packed into the rear would stare up at him without wonder as he insisted on the present, now, to exorcise all that was primitive and unlovely. She would react finally with her tired flailing weight and the station wagon would churn into higher gear, exhaust pouring from its rusted tailpipe while he, with the precise, calibrated flick of his urban surgeon’s wrist tipped into the oncoming lane, winging past, taking fleeting note of the dull pumping peripheral panic. He pitched back then, just ahead of them now, forever, a view through their windshield of towering obsidian that would quickly recede in the wavering distance until flash he was gone, vanished into the limitless flat of this, their land.
And now she was here, sitting in the faded white clinic he’d been unceremoniously sent to. With her son, he guessed, who looked about 14, pale, impassive, slouched next to her, clutching his right elbow with his left hand. His right forearm draped over his stomach, and a slim hand of tapering bones dangled from a surprisingly elegant wrist. Dislocated elbow, the doctor knew instantly by its twisted cusp, and wondered what she gave him to keep him from screaming. He shrugged to himself, stifling a yawn, and nodded to the nurse behind the desk. She didn’t notice of course, lost in her dazzling daytime dreams, and he watched the fat cap of her nose nuzzle a steaming mug, its thick lip stained with a pleated crescent of pink. He leaned over the counter, into her ear:
“Put them in C.”
She jumped, startled, spilling hot drops of tea to her lap, and snatched up the clipboard. She half-stood on thick, unaccustomed ankles as he spun on black soles, smiling to himself. He strode back down the hallway, open white coat billowing behind.
Gosh darnit okay, June thought as she blotted drops of now-cold tea with the sleeve of her sweater. She repositioned herself in the chair. She felt underwater. I’m not gonna let him get to me today. He’s a sad, lonely man and I’m not. I’m not. June nodded emphatically and thought of her couch, home, where she wished she was now, on it, sunk into its cushions that were like soft moss. She’d be wrapped in her warm knit blanket, sipping hot tea from her Paris mug, and would watch the snow out her front window, falling on the endless fields of frozen, churned earth until everything was smooth and pure and glistening white. Maybe the whole world could be snowing, if she asked God and he’d say OK because they both knew it was the only way to stop all of this violence and grinding and bitterness. It would all just dissolve under the wet, white, covering snow and everything would be clean and pretty again. Yes. Snowing.
She opened her eyes and flinched because that woman that was waiting for the doctor stood in front of the counter now, her hand thrust over it, holding a Medicaid card almost in her face. Well how long had she been standing there…Fine. June plucked the card from the woman’s hand. She didn’t react, her face set. Like a box, June thought, like all of those farmers wives’ faces, there was nothing womanly or remotely feminine in any of them. They were all just set. It’s that life that does it, tied to those wordless men perennially sunk in mud, splitting it open, littering it with seed to coax the coy, resistant earth to give up its bread or those supple, reluctant udders milk, dry cracked knuckles kneading thick pink teats. There was nothing left for the wives. The men were spent. It was a hard life and June was glad she wasn’t her.