Hannah lay crumpled in the grass, a clothes pin clutched in her hand and tears wetting her cheeks. She straightened her already-swelling ankle and rubbed it through her knee-high stockings. Pulling her housedress down to cover her knees, she searched the neighbors’ yards and sighed. No one had seen.
The wet clothes- Clarence’s white t-shirts, boxers and socks—lay in the dirt, still attached to the clothes line that’d broken and sent her tumbling. They’d need to be washed again. Hannah winced, imagining a trip down the basement stairs on this ankle.
The stairs she’d raced up and down thoughtlessly for thirty years had become a source of anxiety since last Thursday.
Clyde, the furnace man had come up from the basement that day, his heavy boots thudding on the wooden steps. Hannah pulled the metal spoon from the beef stew she stirred, replaced the lid and grabbed her checkbook.
He appeared in the kitchen doorway. “You’re all set, Mrs. Glover. Furnice’ll run like a greyhound now.”
Hannah smiled. “Good. Need a healthy furnace in New England.”
After she’d paid him, he’d gotten into his red truck and slammed the door.
Her hand was back on the stew pot’s lid, when she heard the sound—a guttural cry she identified all at once as her husband’s. She raced to the basement door and descended, in slow motion it seemed. At the bottom, she stood on tip toes, reaching for the pull sting that would illuminate the dirt-floored basement.
Her eyes searched the dimness and caught sight of Clarence, huddled in the corner.
His face was white like the laundry soap, his teeth clenched. “My leg…”
“I’ll call the ambulance…”
“No! Help me… upstairs.”
It was the request of a proud man, an old Yankee carpenter who’d gone down to shoot the breeze with the furnace man, but stumbled on the stairs and fallen, hurting his leg. A man who’d dragged himself into a darkened corner rather than let that furnace man see him hurt. He’d waited a half hour to hear Clyde’s truck start up, before calling for help.
Looking into his eyes, Hannah knew he meant what he said. He wouldn’t forgive her if she called the ambulance. Lord, you’ve gotta help me. How long had the agonizing trip upstairs taken—a six-foot injured man, supported by a five-foot sliver of a woman? She’d prayed all the way and somehow, finally released her hulk of a man into the safety of his recliner, where he’d nodded his assent towards the telephone.
The x-rays revealed a degenerative disease. Clarence’s legs were weakening, the doctor said. Only a matter of time till he’d need a wheelchair.
“We’ll be all right,” she’d said, squeezing his wrinkled hand. “For better or worse, remember?”
Now, in the grass, she cried bitterly. Lord, I’m so afraid that I won’t be able to care for Clarence. I can’t. Unless You help me.
Already, her children whispered about nursing homes. Hannah overheard Neva’s hushed voice drifting from the living room last Sunday. She’d been basting the chicken, the oven’s hot breath on her face. Momma’s so frail. She can’t help Daddy get around…
How did they suddenly know so much, her girls who she’d taught to cook and sew and love God? Now they knew more than her?
The morning dew soaked through Hannah’s dress and she shivered, then struggled to her feet. She’d ice her foot and return for the clothes in a bit. As for tomorrow, she’d leave it to the Lord.
For ten years they defied the odds, the combined effort of Clarence’s strong arms and Hannah’s strong love getting him in and out of bed, on and off the commode and into the old recliner where he spent his days. Hannah cooked and cleaned, sometimes mowing the lawn or taking the car in for work. Each night she helped him over the bedroom threshold, the one he’d carried her over on their wedding night.
On Sundays the children came always asking, “How are you two making out?”
Clarence would glance at Hannah and wink. “We’re doin’ fine.”
Still they whispered when she left the room to baste the bird—How on earth does she lift him?
She’d lean over the roasting chicken and smile to herself. She shouldn’t be able to do what she did for Clarence, any more than this chicken should be able to fly. But she did.
By God’s strength, she did.
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