Work. It was the only thing I could figure that would keep my imagination from getting out of control. That’s the last thing I needed on top of everything else going on. I had had it banged into me from infancy that an overactive imagination could be just as big of an enemy as a bully … sometimes a bigger enemy. The problem was I had that queasy, anxious feeling I would get right after they had scheduled another surgery. I had to keep myself from getting too wound up. I couldn’t have too much hope because I had to remember that there was no such things as miracles and I wasn’t going to come out of surgery completely fixed and looking like everyone else and being able to do what everyone else did. On the other hand I had to keep some hope that I wouldn’t come out worse … which is what sometimes happened. I had more experience with coming out worse than coming out all fixed but it was always a battle not to lose complete faith and just give up.
The same was true this time around. I had to have faith that things weren’t going to be bad but I had to stay realistic that this wasn’t just some kind of bad dream that I was going to wake up from. As for the rest, we’ll just have to hang on and see whether this is as good as it ever gets again. What a pill that was to swallow.
The first problem I faced was that every chore I went to do seemed to remind me of what was still left to do and what I couldn’t do at the moment. I cleaned up the kitchen the best I could but had to do it with the fact in mind that water wasn’t flowing from the kitchen tap. Sawyer had moved all but one of the five gallon water jugs down to the basement and made me promise not to go down there. Even if I hadn’t promised there’s no way I could carry up more than a teacup of water at a time and I’d likely spill half of that. I added to my chore list making sure that the reservoir on the stove stays full. I should also try and think about how to store more water upstairs. Can’t do it on the back porch because it will definitely freeze there. This is going to take some creativity.
I realized really quickly that Sawyer had been right about the wood situation. Rather than relight the stove I took some of the still hot coals in the scuttle and carried it to the front room. I was just building the fire in there when I heard a car pull up and realized it was Benedict. He carried a blanket-covered bundle to the porch and as he got closer I realized it was Jeannie and the baby.
I quickly opened the door and let them in. “You sure you don’t mind?” Benedict asked. “I been so busy fixing other people’s places that I never finished ours. We’ll stay with Dad and Mom tonight but Mom is over helping the aunts and Jeannie is just not ready to face …”
“I’m the one that asked if Jeannie could come over.”
Benedict nodded in relief and laid his obviously exhausted wife on the sofa where I pointed. “Let me run out and bring their stuff in and then I gotta go. Benny Robert decided to be a pistol around two this morning and I don’t think either one of them has had much sleep.
After Benedict left for the last time I turned to find Jeannie crying while trying to rock a fussy baby. “Jeannie?”
“Don’t mind me. Doctor says it is just baby blues or something stupid like that. Just … I wish he would sleep,” she said as she started crying a little harder but still silently. “Benedict must think I’m a failure. They all do. I know they do.”
“If any do then they don’t know as much as they think they know and it’s gonna come around and bite them on the butt one of these days which they get something worse wished on them. The way some of them looked every time you and the baby came around I might just be the one to wish it on them.” I started digging through the box of stuff Benedict brought in. “You got any extra nipples for these bottles?”
“Side pocket of the diaper bag. Why?”
“I’m gonna try something if you don’t mind.”
“Anything. I don’t care. I just can’t keep on.”
“Ok and hold on. This might take a few minutes.”
What I did was enlarge the hole on one of the nipples. I got a pan of water and sterilized the nipple in boiling water for five minutes. Then I took a large sewing needle and sterilized that using an open flame and then washing it really well. While both the nipple and needle were still hot I inserted the needle into the nipple hole. I got lucky and the needle size I picked worked just right. I didn’t say anything to Jeannie – she already felt so bad – but she’d been using newborn nipples and given that Benny Robert was a Hartford, and that most Hartford men that I’d met ate like they were inhaling it, the newborn size had been frustrating the hick out of the poor baby and making him angry and cranky and he’d sucked in more air that food.
After rewashing the nipple in soap and water then sterilizing it again I fixed up a bottle of food and then handed it to Jeannie to poke in his mouth. After nearly choking on his first couple of pulls on the milk he settled down and didn’t act like a Hartford trying to drink his first cup in the morning through a coffee stirrer.
“Oh … my … gawd,” Jeannie whispered before starting to cry once again, but this time they were tears of relief.
“You ok in here while I go check on Uncle Ned.”
“Oh I’m so stupid. I can’t believe I didn’t ask. Is he really ok?”
“He’s fine, just looking a little run over. And you aren’t stupid, just tired and figuring out how to do the mother thing.”
“You aren’t even a mother and you seem to have it figured out.”
I shook my head. “Let’s be honest Jeannie, all I did is have him poot from both ends and put a bigger hole in the nipple. I’m just doing is the same things that I watched the nurses and foster parents do. Not the big deal everyone is trying to make it by turning it into juicy family gossip. To be honest I betcha everyone was keeping an eye to make sure I didn’t drop him on his head.” Jeannie bit her lip so I knew it was true. “Look, if the baby was all mine … like mine, mine … I’d likely be feeling the same way you do. Freaking out worried that I was gonna do something to scar him for life. That’s not weird or stupid … that’s normal. You’re just tired so it all gets away from you and Benny Robert is still a new baby so it makes it kinda scary. Give yourself time, it’s not like there aren’t a gazillion other things going on right now.”
“Yeah,” she said shivering. “And that stuff … I just … I …”
Before she could start crying and I start feeding off her fear I said, “The human vacuum looks topped off. Bet if you burp General Lee he’ll sleep and then you can too.”
“You really don’t mind? I should help … do something anyway.”
“Sleep already. Think of it … here, think of it like this. You remember that day I was real toasted before we got to the library?”
“Uh … yeah.”
“Well this is paybacks. And … and you said we’re … that we’re sisters.”
Jeannie’s eyes widened and then she gave me a sweet smile. “Yeah. We are.”
“Ok. Then take a little sisterly advice and sack out with Tuba Joe.”
She gave me a watery nod and I left the room after watching her to make sure she was actually going to do it. I then turned to climb the stairs only I ran into Uncle Ned before I could get there.
“I’m ok Little Sister but I wouldn’t say no to a couple of them blue pills of yours if you’ve got ‘em to spare.”
“I do. You hungry yet?”
“Naw. I snitched me a bit soup outta the pot.”
“Oh but it’s cold and …”
“I drink it that way as often as I both warming it. Might like something a little more filling come dark but then again I might just stay outta sight upstairs if you get a bunch come over.”
“It’s just Jeannie and the baby.”
“I figured though he be a might quieter than usual.”
I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing when Uncle Ned stuck his finger in his ear and wiggled it around before saying, “So quiet I thought maybe I was going deaf. Boy usually makes more noise than a heard drunk hogs on a tear.”
“I think Jeannie is figuring things out.”
“Good,” he said before accepting the Naproxen and slowly trudging back up the stairs.
I shook my head at the contrariness of men in general and Hartford men in particular. But Uncle Ned had brought up something that I needed to think on and that was what to make for supper and how to do it without electricity or running water.