Leslie’s internal alarm went off at six. She became aware, but did not open her eyes. She turned on her side, dragging the pillows over her head. That was good for about thirty extra minutes. Then she started to feel that little urge to pee. She turned again, and couldn’t suppress it.
“Damn.” She flung back the sheets and blanket, crawled out of bed and satisfied the urge. She flushed the toilet without hesitation. The habit of not flushing at hotels in order not to wake her husband was one of the first to go. No need to tippy toe back to the bed, and slide quietly in between the sheets. Even when she used to extend that courtesy, she could tell by the change in Chris’ breathing, he was awake. Sometimes when she heard that telltale sound, she would stop, face the bed, and leap over on the mattress, causing a startled, slightly put out expression from her husband, who himself was probably trying to ignore the coming of morning.
She sighed as she fell into bed and tried to curl up in the cooling sheets. Just thirty more minutes. Eyes wide open. Thinking about the case. Thinking about mornings with Chris. Time to get up. At least she could get dressed a little more leisurely. Take a long shower, shave. Put anti-frizz product in her hair for a few minutes rather than rinse immediately. Her hair dried fast in the arid Abilene climate so there was a lot less frizz. This was good. She got dressed. “Now, I’ll take that cup of coffee.”
Doc caught her on her cell phone en route to the hospital. “Well, how’d it go?”
“Slam dunker. No problems. Everything went great. Staff was great.”
“Hey, good work. Did Cal mind that I wasn’t there?”
“He asked me if I was going to do the surgery. But a lot of people ask me that.”
Even when she was in private practice, sometimes when she recommended surgery, the patients asked if she would be the one doing the operation. Depending on whether the cup was half full or half empty, she could interpret the question as their making sure no other fool was going to do the case while they were under anesthesia, or in the case of the half empty cup, they were checking to see if there was a qualified male surgeon who would step in when needed. She never asked. Just answered, “Of course, I am.”
“Well, of course you were.” They arranged to meet in radiology to check out the X-rays.
She found the films herself. After almost twenty years of having to look for her own films, it didn’t take long in any radiology department to dig up some rays. Of course, they were never in the alphabetical files labeled IN HOUSE. That would be too easy. There were always some miscellaneous bins somewhere and sure enough, there was a SURGERY file. The big metal nail stood out on the film, right down the middle of the femur, locked in place up top and down below by the screws.
“Impressive work, Doc. Lucky patient. Lucky me, to have someone like you to cover my practice. I think I’m gonna like having a lady doc around.”
“You’re just saying that. Beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Listen, your agency recommended you highly. They said all your previous employers were very complimentary. Some even asked you to stay. I’m real glad you didn’t and that you’re here.”
They left the radiology department and went down the hall. It was busy this time of the morning. Lots of hospital personnel and family members were walking up and down the halls. Leslie and Doc were quiet but she could tell he wanted to say something. And in a few moments, he did.
“Listen, I just wanna say, well,” he hesitated, uncomfortable, “well, I know about your husband. And it’s not real easy talking about that stuff with a colleague and all, but I’m real sorry for your loss. Well, I hope this work and being in Abilene can help take your mind off things for a little bit. That’s what you need. Some time. You remember from medical school Psychiatry. It just takes some time.”
“Thanks, Doc. I’m working on it. And, I hope after that little episode over the whoopee cushion last night, you don’t think it will affect my ability to take care of your people. I mean, I just want to…”
“Hey, don’t even say it. I wouldn’t give that a second thought. I just hope to hell no patients fart in front of you, that’s all.”
The schedule that day was similar to the previous day. They started out in surgery. Doc had a couple of knee arthroscopies, followed by a shoulder rotator cuff repair. There was a carpal tunnel release and last, he took some plates and screws out of a kid’s arm. The boy wanted to play football and the prominence of the hardware was painful when he hit another player.
They were running a little late so Leslie offered to round on the patients while Doc went on to the office. She would join him there when she was done. Eula was first on the list. She was doing fine. Progress was pretty slow with her ambulation and so she would make plans to send Eula to a rehabilitation facility where she could get a little more intensive therapy than was offered in the hospital.
The total joint patients would be ready to go tomorrow. None of the patients seemed surprised or disappointed to see her instead of Doc.
Now she was ready to go see Cal, but first she wanted to get his X-rays. There were certain kinds of patients who always wanted to see their X-rays. Cal was one. Usually it was active guys, young or old. Women usually didn’t care or were squeamish over them. But the guys, they liked to see hardware in their bones. Like trophies.
She went down to the radiology department and checked out the films, took another look at her handiwork and went back upstairs. In the hall outside Cal’s room, she pulled his chart from the “nurse server” shelves. While checking his blood pressure, temperature and lab results, she noticed a lot of noise coming from his room. There were clearly a bunch of visitors, male voices, and they were carrying on with her patient. She couldn’t specifically hear the words, but they were teasing and laughing.
Leslie prided herself on her bedside manner. She made it a point to try her best to communicate with her patients and their families on their level. Sometimes this could be difficult, but most of the time it was easy for her. Nevertheless, she found that walking into a room full of people was somewhat intimidating. At the least, it was distracting to the patient. But sometimes it could be distracting to her as well. Family members and friends could be a positive influence on the patient, but frequently in a crowd of more than two, there could be negative influences and even hostility. There were a lot of people out there who were frankly hostile toward doctors and the medical environment. If they were there, she could feel their silent attention to detail.
In a room with more than two or three people there was frequently someone who was self-centered. They wanted to talk about themselves, their problems, their experiences. Someone always had an orthopedic problem and they thought this was a good time for a free consult. They might try to minimize the patient’s problem and compare it to their own. It would take every ounce of patience on her part to keep from asking them to please shut up.
Sometimes, in a room of more than two or three there would be someone with whom she might have something in common. It’s just human nature to want to talk about something like kids, school, where you were born or hobbies. Then she would feel guilty for diverting attention from the patient. Hospital visits were a time to focus on the patient, and distractions were in general, unwanted.
It sounded like this was a room full of laughing, joking, good ol’ boys. She would have to shake everyone’s hand. She was sure she would have to be part of some joke at her patient’s expense. She would have to ask them to leave while she looked at Cal’s leg and checked his bandages.
Oh, well, she thought, here goes. She walked into the room. She looked directly at Cal and decided to take cues from him regarding how he wanted to deal with his friends.
“Oh, oh, boys, we’re in trouble now. Here’s my doctor.”
There was silence for a moment or two, and then, “Figures you’d get lucky enough to get a lady doctor, and not ol’ Doc Hawley.” Laughter for the joker, followed by general chatting and agreement.
“Doctor Cohen, I’d introduce you to these guys, but I know you must have better things to do. They were all there when I busted my leg. I was beating them, hands down, so they’re here to cheer me up. Then they’re going to go celebrate, I’m sure.”
“Well, don’t celebrate too long, you guys. He’ll be back sooner than you think.” This was followed by comments about her northern expression, “you guys.”
The articulation of the plural form of “you” distinguished people as being from the south or the north as much as any other word, phrase or accent. In her travels around the country she had contemplated the use of both and had actually come to the conclusion that “y’all” was much more efficient and pleasing to the ear than “you guys.”
At this point she was feeling a little more at ease. Nothing negative or self-centered going on here. She started to look around and make eye contact with the people in the room while she pulled out Cal’s X-rays. They all appeared to be cowboys or wearing cowboy clothes anyway. A couple of them had been wearing cowboy hats and had removed them when she came in the room. They had hat hair and little indentations where the hat brim had been. When she looked at each one they gave her kind of a head dip of greeting or acknowledgement and she reciprocated.
“Hey, Doc’s got my pictures. Let’s check it out.” She had to get up alongside his bed and turn around to put the film up toward the light on the ceiling. It was then that she was able to see the man who had been standing off to the side. He was smiling at her and the other guys instantly caught on to the fact that there was some recognition.
“Regan!” She couldn’t suppress the surprise in her voice.
“Leslie.” A statement of fact. “Now you’re one person I didn’t expect to see here.”
“I take it you two know each other?”
“This is the lady I was telling you about. The one from the wreck.” He looked at Leslie. “You didn’t tell me you were a doctor.”
“What a small world. I can’t believe it.”
“Man, you tried to kill the lady who was supposed to fix my leg. That’s really strange.”
They all started talking about the wreck, the coincidence, and Leslie began to feel as if she was party to the situation which took attention away from the patient. She put up the X-ray again and everyone swung around behind her more or less, to take a look. She showed the before and after films.
“This is your bone when it was broken. That’s the hip, up top. Your knee is not on this X-ray, but it would be down here.” She pointed in the opposite direction. Someone asked if the bone was broken or was it fractured. She’d had that question asked many times before. A lot of people thought there was a difference between broken bones and fractured bones.
“Both. They both mean the same thing.”
They all looked at the guy who asked like he was a dumbass.
“Now here’s the after film,” she said, to some “wows” and “whoas.” This is the titanium nail that is down inside your femur bone, kind of like a shish kabob. The screws up top and down below keep the bone from twisting or shortening.”
“I’d like to see that. Cal, with one leg short and turned out.”
“Maybe he’d ride better.”
“Doc promised me that after this operation I would ride even better than I already do.”
“And I’m charging him double for it too.” They all started laughing. Leslie noticed that Regan had moved over to the other side of the bed right across from her. She could look at him fairly easily without being obvious. He had dark brown hair with a little grey. It was probably curly, but he wore it short. It was getting a little thin on the temporal area but was otherwise thick. He was in his late thirties or early forties. Her age. He looked at her. They smiled. Cal was watching them, observant.
She talked about plans for the next couple of days. She was starting him on blood thinners, shots, which he would have to give to himself once he went home. His buddies all had a lot to say about that. They talked about physical therapy, how much weight he could put on his leg and when he could go back to work. She needed to look at his dressings and his leg. His friends began to excuse themselves.
“Doctor Cohen. It was good to see you again.”
“Hey, same here.” She felt funny letting him call her “doctor” but it would be too complicated right now to offer otherwise. She said goodbye to everyone and turned back to Cal.
His bandages were dry. The leg was swollen as expected, but he was able to move it already. Everything looked good.
“Doc and I will check on you tomorrow, okay?”
“See you tomorrow, Doctor Cohen. Thanks again for taking care of me last night.”
“You’re welcome. See you tomorrow.”
She walked out in the hallway and wrote her progress note. She dropped the films off at the nurse’s station so they could send them back to radiology, then walked toward the elevator lobby.
Regan was waiting for her down the hall. He was leaning against the wall, arms crossed in front. He shoved off with his shoulders when he saw her coming.
Leslie said, “Hey, you, I’m glad you waited around. That was too much of a coincidence. So weird seeing you here.”
“What’s really weird is that you’re Cal’s doctor. You’re an orthopedic surgeon?
“Uh huh. So how do you know Cal?
“Cal and I have ridden horses together for years. We work together too. Do you ride?
“Well, not in a very long time. Used to ride when I was a kid. Just rode around mostly. Took some English lessons, did a little jumping. Also did some play day kind of stuff, you know, barrels, pole bending.”
“Ever work any cattle?”
“On foot, but not horseback. My dad had some cattle when I was growing up.” Now the conversation was starting to get personal and she knew she’d better divert it. Shift it to him.
“So, did I hear Cal say you were all at a show together when he got hurt?”
“Yeah, roping. There was a big show at the Expo center.” He paused. Fidgeted a little. Turned his ball cap in between his fingers along its rim. “Are you doing okay? I mean, after the accident. You know, your ankle and all.”
“Sure, I’m fine. The ankle’s still a little sore and I feel a little achy. How about you? Did you get up the next day a little stiff?”
“Not too much.”
They made small talk about the accident, insurance, the weather. When they got to the elevator lobby he asked if she was going down. He pushed the elevator button. When they got on she felt strangely nervous. He was definitely attractive and she felt uncomfortable having considered it. They forgot to push the ground floor button. The elevator started making the obnoxious buzzing noise. They both jumped for the button at the same time and touched each other’s hand. She felt a nervous sensation again. He looked at her directly. Searching for a sign where he shouldn’t be. As far as he was concerned, she was Mrs. Cohen. Mrs. Dr. Cohen.
“So are you Doc Hawley’s new partner or something?” He was searching. Think fast. The elevator arrived on the ground floor and they got off.
“Well, not really. I’m covering his practice while he’s out for a while.”
“Oh, really. Like for how long do you do that?”
“I think for about a month or so, depending on how long he needs me. It’s called locum tenens. Doctors who don’t have partners sometimes need other doctors to help them out so they can go on vacation or take a break, whatever. So here I am.” She tried to sound very matter of fact. “Anyway, I’ve got to go meet Doc at his office. He’s got patients this afternoon. We’re seeing them together.”
“Well, I’m glad he’s here to help you out. Looks like you’re handling things just fine.”
“Oh, thanks.” Leslie looked at her feet, and then at Regan, “Well, I better get going. Good to see you again.”
“You too. Hey, Doc. Drive carefully.” He gave her a knowing kind of smile, eyebrow raised. She waved and turned toward the Taurus. He headed over to an older looking truck. The white one with the brush guard would be in the body shop.
Leslie took a deep breath. That didn’t just happen to her. She felt good about the fact that she kept her distance and was sure he wouldn’t have gotten any vibes from her. Still, she must have given him a sign, because there was something.
It was about 3:30. There would still be a lot of patients to see at Doc’s office. She was looking forward to it. She was confused by her emotions and seeing patients was just the thing to get her back on track.
Doc was dictating. Feet hiked up on his desk. Stayed in that position when she walked into his office and took the consultation chair opposite him. He asked how things went. How did the patients handle it? How was the femur? He used the familiar, though not disrespectful way of referring to patients by their injured body part.
She assured him that everything checked out just fine. Patients were all tucked in for the evening and the “femur” was fine. She told him about running into Regan. Doc was intrigued.
“He’s a good boy.” She was struck by the reference to Regan as a boy. “Knew his daddy well. They left him pretty well set up, but he’s a hard worker and has built that construction business up on his own. Regan’s had his own disappointments, if you wanna know the truth. Nothing like yours, don’t get me wrong, but he’s had his problems.”
“Like what?” Leslie didn’t want to appear too interested. Next thing she’d know Doc and Brenda would be trying to set her up with every eligible bachelor in town. She’d seen it before. Widows and widowers are always prime matchmaker material. They got along with the deceased spouse, chances are they’ll do well in a second marriage. It was different for her and even though she didn’t respond to Doc’s disclaimer about the level of severity of her problems over Regan’s, she was pretty sure it didn’t compare.
“Regan married his high school sweetheart, you know, they went together for years and just finally made it legal. They had the little girl per-itty quick after that. Anyway, his daddy died shortly thereafter and Regan had to get busy dividing the estate with his sister and basically taking care of her. She took her daddy’s death pretty hard. Then he got real busy with his work. I guess it was too much for the wife. One day she up and left him for another guy. Took the kid with her. From what I heard he just wasn’t the same after that. I think he felt a little guilty because he didn’t fight her for custody when they moved off to California. The baby was pretty young and I doubt she would even know Regan. People around here aren’t even sure the kid was his. I guess it was the best thing looking back. Maybe she would have left him sooner or later. Now, I don’t know him that well or anything. People just talk. I guess he stays busy with work and his roping.”
“So he never remarried.”
“Nope. Don’t know why not. Like I say, from what you hear in general, he’s a good boy. No drinking problem like some of those cowboys he hangs with. Good worker. You name it. Pretty eligible in my book.” He put his feet down, leaned forward in his big cordovan leather chair. “Well, not our problem, right?”
“Right.” Her voice trailing off. Distracted a little.
“That’s a real coincidence, you taking care of Cal and all. I guess he had to try to send you to your maker first and then when you passed muster, you could fix up his buddy!” Doc, laughing at his own comment. Leslie had to chuckle at his chuckling.
Brenda stuck her head in. “All right, you two. We do have patients here today. Or should we send them home, y’all have so much to talk about.”
“Listen to this, hon. Doc here ran into Regan Wakeman again. No pun intended. Up at the hospital.”
“What a coincidence. How’s he doing?”
“He seemed fine. We didn’t really talk that much. I was seeing his friend. It’s the guy I operated on last night.”
“Speaking of, Leslie, that was so nice of you to take care of that patient last night. Hal just rolled right over and went back to sleep. Now, get to work you two. Patients are waiting.”
The surgeons shuffled out of the break room, scolded school children. Doc introduced Leslie to patients she would be taking over and discharged others, to come back only if they had problems. More presents were handed over though none so compelling as the whoopee cushion. They were a reminder of Doc’s status with his patients. Leslie had never seen anything like it in her private practice. There were always some presents at Christmas time. Some patients brought tokens of their appreciation for a job well done, but nothing like this. It looked as if there had been a wedding or baby shower at the office. His patients were really devoted. Leslie hoped she could give them what they wanted and needed while Doc was out. But she was already wondering when he would actually be back. After clinic tonight, they were going to sit down and go over all the last minute details and she would question Doc about his surgery a little. That way she could get an idea. They finished up and Brenda ordered some pizzas to be delivered.
They went over forms, designated stacks of papers, things that needed to be reviewed and signed regularly. There were a lot of tedious things the staff just couldn’t do. A lot of ink on paper. Signatures. This was no different than any other office, but she was taking on a fully operational office, not one partially shut down while a doctor was out for a short time. In a practice this busy there would be somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty to thirty forms, notes, or dictations that had to be signed every day. Nursing home and physical therapy notes had to have her signature in order for those companies to get paid. It was really an outrage, but no one could do anything about it. Charts, prescriptions, return to work forms, wheelchair approvals, handicap parking permits. All had to be signed. There were baskets for urgent, semi-urgent and not-so-urgent papers to sign.
The pizzas arrived and the three of them took a break. Leslie decided now would be a good time to get the lowdown on Doc’s situation. She would just get to the point. That’s one of the good things about being a doctor. She could just ask, even if it’s a colon.
“So, Doc. Tell me about your surgery. What’s going on?”
“Leslie, here’s the deal. Basically, I’ve got colon cancer. I’m getting a colectomy of some sort. Anyway you look at it, I’m lookin’ at my shit in a bag. Right here.” He pointed to his stomach.” He looked over at Brenda, who was giving him the tight-lipped-angry-eye-look. “What? She’s a doctor. She knows what I’m talking about.”
“Well, you don’t have to put it like that. In those words, I mean.”
“Hey, there’s no need to beat around the bush here, right, Doc? You gotta stand behind me now. It’s you and me against Mother Teresa over there.” Brenda was rolling her eyes.
“Look Doc, I’m not taking sides here. While you’re out, there’s the hand that feeds me.
“Now there’s a good girl. You may just have to stay home and lick your wounds by yourself, you old bear.”
Leslie wanted to know more. “Seriously now, is this pretty certain? Is there much potential for problems? Chemo? You know. Do you know what to expect?”
“Doctor Calvert and the oncologist at Texas Tech, what’s his name, Jimenez?”
“That’s right, Jimeno. They think it’s pretty routine stuff. Nothing out of the ordinary. They’re good guys up there in Lubbock. I didn’t want to have this kind of surgery here. Can you imagine having to face those nurses and folks in the OR after that kind of a case? No way. Never get any respect after that. Barring any complications, I should be back within a week. And it’s not a big deal to go up and down eighty-four to Lubbock for follow-up. If it was an emergency, that would be different.”
“Hey, I’m with you on that one, Doc. I wouldn’t want to have any kind of personal type surgery in my own town. Plastic surgery, breast surgery, that kind of stuff. An ankle or a knee, a brain. That’s different.”
“There’s a little convenience factor though, Leslie, and that’s because I won’t be around to help you out here that first week while Hal’s at the medical center. It shouldn’t be too bad. The staff is as prepared as they can be. I’ll be only a phone call away if there are any problems. But, I need to be up there to help Hal with his little bags.” She looked at Hal innocently and made little silly hand gestures like she was holding little bags. Leslie looked at Doc. He was in a little denial. Trying to act casual about this serious stuff. There could be complications and at best it wasn’t going to be easy.
Tomorrow was Friday, and Doc’s last day at work for a while. Saturday he would start his prep for surgery. Sunday they were heading for Lubbock and would stay overnight in a hotel in order to avoid driving early in the morning. Surgery was scheduled for Monday morning. Any other treatment would be based on what they found in surgery.
They stayed at the office for a long time. Brenda continued to show her where things were. Doc wanted to talk shop. Leslie hadn’t really thought about it much until then, but one of the things she missed, and she was sure Doc missed, was orthopedic shop talk. It’s all good stuff. Rich stuff. Orthopedic talk itself has got to be the best medical talk, she was sure of it. Hardware and drills, putting stuff together, whether it’s athletes or grandmothers is just good story telling. What do urologists or gynecologists talk about? There are no screws and plates, high speed drills there. Nobody wants to hear about uteri or bladders. Nope. She loved shop talk. So did Doc. Maybe the only ones who don’t like shop talk are spouses.
She remembered a party during her training, when she and the other residents were talking business. After a while, she went to find Chris. She had abandoned him for the shop talk. She found him, asleep, sitting in a chair in the middle of all the resident’s wives. They were having their own form of shop talk, just ignoring her poor sleeping husband, whose head was dropped and lower jaw hanging open. She tried from that point on, to be more cognizant of leaving Chris out of the shop talk. He knew something about lag screws and drill bits. But sometimes she couldn’t help it. She didn’t have to worry anymore.
Brenda didn’t seem to mind. In fact, it looked like she was enjoying the talk too. She hung in there for a while. Doc questioned Leslie about how she liked to do things. What brand of equipment did she use? They went back and forth for a few hours. Brenda started to nod off. They decided to call it quits for the night, made plans to meet in the morning. There were no scheduled cases. Doc wanted to round, then go back to the office to do his last clinic. He looked tired.
“Goodnight Leslie. We’re glad you’re here.”
“See you in the morning, Doc.”
During the night a kid with a broken wrist came into the ER. They called her directly. She and Doc had decided to list her as the covering doctor from this point on. Doc had taken care of this kid and his siblings before, so they considered him to be their personal orthopedic surgeon. She wondered if Doc got called every night. Tough life. Surely he gives them up to the guy on orthopedic call sometimes. She went in, set the fracture, and came back to the hotel.
A cold front was coming. The black sky was strangely crystal clear and the stars were brilliant. They seemed low and close. The moon was dazzling and full. There was a halo around it. To the north she could see a wall of clouds. The front. The moonlight reflected off its leading edge, shining against gun metal grey. The reflections were repeated on the undersurface of the clouds, like light and dark grey cotton balls. The news warned people to bring in their pets, throw sheets over their plants. They recited brief instructions on how to keep water lines from freezing. These people didn’t know what a cold front was. Try a cold front in the Shawangunk Mountains.
Shoveling snow. The weight of snow and ice bending the tree branches over their street. Snow piled high enough that they built tunnels in it. Snow men too. The kids bundled up so thick she could only see their little noses, pink, running. Twin smoke breath clouds. They let her buy blue and pink or red matching outfits until they were about seven, when they developed their own childish sense of fashion. She remembered a winter when they had blue and red down snow suits. One piece. They could hardly move. They waddled. The moisture collected around their nostrils and froze there. Little crystal webs. They could suck the air through their noses and make their nostrils stick together. She did it too, but she had to squeeze hers together with her fingers. As they got older, and the cartilage in their noses got firm, they had to use their fingers to push them together too, but like the matching snow suits, it didn’t interest them so much anymore.
Leslie loved cold weather. Winter was her favorite time of year. She didn’t want to think of their favorite winter. But she did.
They had just moved into the new house. It was winter, an inconvenient time to move but that’s when her favorite house in New Paltz had unexpectedly gone up for sale. She had always wanted that house. It was old. Large enough. Red brick, white trim, black shutters. Snow covered the house. The inside was bright with reflected sunlight through the curtainless windows. Sounds were amplified and echoed off the bare wooden floors. Vivi and Vic ran around the house looking for all its secrets. And there were plenty. There were a couple of attics. Some old sealed boxes were left behind. They had to find where the doors were and had to access them through closets. A basement with an obsolete boiler was very scary. There were closets under stairwells, nooks and crannies. Little windows in strange places where there had been old renovations on top of old renovations. Even a dumbwaiter! There was an old servant’s staircase, steep, dark and narrow. It was a magical place and they loved it. In the backyard there was a steep hill. They found an old round aluminum toboggan, buried in the snow on its side so that just the edge was peeking through. The kids spent the rest of the winter climbing up and down that hill taking turns on the toboggan. She could watch them through the kitchen window when she was home. Chris and their nanny got to watch them the most. Chris could do quite a bit of work out of the house, when he wasn’t traveling.
In any place where the winter is severe and long, there comes a day, a sunny day, when the snow starts to melt. It’s not going to snow again. Things that have been stuck in the ice and snow can be gradually pried loose. Water drips from icicles on the roof and erodes little caves in the snow and ice on the ground under them. It was just such a day when Vivi saw a dot of bright color six inches down in one of those little water caves. She ran in to get a gardening shovel which Leslie found in a box in the garage. They went outside to dig up the crusted snow and ice. They found a marble. A single tiger eye marble. It was beautiful. Leslie had not seen marbles in years. Of course she hadn’t been trying to see marbles but they simply didn’t have the appeal now that they did when she was a kid. This was a find. The kids started digging up the ice under the dripping icicles trying to find more. They found a red marble and a clear one. Then a marble painted to look like the Earth. They found a large bubble gum sized multi-colored one. And then no more. The rest of the snow in the back yard was still way too deep to excavate. They had to wait. As the weeks went by the edges of the snow began to recede, and more little dots of color were exposed. Sometimes they could scout the bright ones through several inches of snow and they would dig them up. By the time the snow melted they had found close to one hundred marbles. There were some very old ones. Some newer ones. Some looked like they had been cracked by pouring boiling water on top of frozen marbles like she had done as a child to make jewelry. It was a treasure. The kids were mesmerized by them and the nature of their discovery.
The one tiger eye was the coveted prize and they decided to draw straws to see who picked first when they divided them up. Leslie provided each with one of her green felt draw string shoe bags. She took two toothpicks and broke one short. They picked, and Vivian picked the short one, instantly throwing herself backward on the bed in agony. She knew Vic would pick the tiger eye. But he didn’t. He took the big multi-colored one, leaving the tiger eye for Vivian. Then they took turns picking marbles one after another and putting them in their bags. They lay in front of the fireplace all day looking at those marbles. Looking deep into their little internal structures.
“How do they make marbles, Mommy?” She didn’t know the answer. She promised someday she would look it up.
The stranger question was how did they get there? The people who owned the house before did not have any young children. The marbles were spread throughout the yard, not in one place as if they had been accidentally dropped there. She could have found out the history of the marbles easily enough by calling the previous owner, but chose not to. The magic surrounding them was a beautiful thing, not to be spoiled by reality.
After the accident she had an estate sale and then sold the house in late November. The family who bought the house wasn’t moving in until after the first of the year. A cold front came through in mid-December. That night she gathered the two felt bags from under Vic and Vivi’s beds. She stood on their back porch for the last time. The night sky was clear, sharply cold. The moon reflected off the gathering frontal clouds which would dump over a foot and a half of snow on upstate New York. Leslie untied the little knots and opened the bags. She searched for the tiger eye but couldn’t find it. Then she flung the contents of the bags out over their yard.
The next morning the only thing that interrupted the blanket of white was the top edge of the toboggan leaning against the garage.