While empyting and rearranging the truck, Despina thinks, My alarm clock's battery needs to be replaced.... What if I'm late for my appointment with Jacques? ... He'll just think I changed my mind about coming. ... The latitude and longitude here are so different from Iowa, it's messed up my ability to somewhat tell time by the position of the sun. ... I'm really getting paranoid about it!
Digging out her one summer dress and various toiletries, she heads down to the hospital while she is still REALLY sweaty, taking the truck so it will be handy. She loads the empty milk can with great difficulty. The water in the hose has been well-sunned all day, so she douses her hair and face with it, slaps on a dollop of shampoo, and suds it up good. She does not care that her clothing gets soaked in the process, not thinking about fabrics becoming transparent.
Jacques, exiting the hospital's front door, takes one look and suggests, "Maybe it would be better if I filled the can for you while you moved around to the facilities."
Embarrassed, she lays the hose down and moves rapidly to the rear. Once there, she realizes, Oops! All my clean clothes are still in the truck. Waiting as long as she dares in the semi-dark, she finally cools off enough to start to shiver. Peaking her head around the door, she checks to see if the coast is clear, then goes to the truck, hops in before anyone else comes along and drives around to the back.
She combs out her short hair, which dries quickly, then adds a touch of make-up and dresses leisurely.
When she is as presentable as she can get with the facilities at her disposal, she sneaks into the ambulance bay far enough to see the clock. Only three p.m. If I go back out in the heat, I won't be crisp and fresh for long!
Digging around behind the seat of the truck, she retrieves her Complete Works of Shakespeare volume, then sits in the truck in the shade of the hospital building and reads.
Soon Jacques happens by.
Ducking his head, he reads the title. "An appropriately 'English school marm' kind of a book. Why not come on inside and read on the couch?"
"People won't take it amiss, will they?"
"Hummm. I don't know. Nobody's done it."
"That must make life here pretty lonely."
"Oh, the White Eyes stick together. Nobody wants for companionship. This is just not where they meet. If the Indians would come by, it might be, but we're careful to stick to neutral places the Indians will come so as not to seem snobbish."
"Sense of community" as a moral arbitrator, a dictator of even minute personal decisions? Interesting concept.she mulls internally, then tentatively ventures an extrapolation. "Then, if anyone saw me reading in my truck, they'd think me snobbish? They wouldn't assume I didn't want to get all sweaty again before going to church?"
"They're not used to people other than me going into town to attend church. A few of the others I have met here go to town regularly, but the places they go are places the Indians go, too."
Reading between the lines, she thinks, Like Ye Olde Watering Hole? Places to drink?
"The Indians can't go to the White Eyes' churches?" she asks aloud.
"Sure, they can, but nobody would go out of their way to make them feel welcome. People tend not to go where they don't feel welcome."
"Will I feel welcome at the Baptist Church?"
"I don't know. If I were going to take a chance on the Protestants, had no doctrinal hang-ups, and was just trying to enjoy the service, I think I'd sooner bank on the Presbyterians, at least in this area. Or maybe it is just my prejudice showing through, as they are more 'high church'."
"Okay. I can try them tonight. I have no strong connections of a theological nature that would conflict for the short term."
"Have you thought about eating supper?"
"Not really. I don't get real hungry in extreme heat."
"Aw, shucks, Ma'am. There you've gone and shot down my smooth lead-in to fishing shamelessly for a home-cooked meal."
With a tinkling laugh, Despina responds in kind. "Well, put that way, what does your mouth hanker to wrap itself around?"
"Oh, I thought you'd never ask! How about a tuna and noodle casserole? I just happen to have the ingredients on hand."
"You know, you just might be in luck. I think that one is actually in my repertoire."
He boiled a pot of lightly salted water, leaping back when she plopped a dollop of butter into the water, creating a small splash.
"Keeps the noodles from sticking."
"And the cholesterol from dropping."
She takes his can of Pam outside and douses the casserole dish well, then stirs up the cream of mushroom soup, milk, and tuna. She preheats the oven to 350 degrees, then blithely cases the cupboards. Spying a box of Grape Nuts, she removes them, setting them on the counter next to the dish of goop.
"There's a clean bowl in the dish washer." He nods toward a door set in the counter to the left of the sink.
"Cold water to wash dishes? This is going to be quite an adjustment."
"There actually IS a water heater in here for sterilizing the instruments. It's just not enough to SHOWER in comfortably. Three seconds of bliss, then the ICE CHIPS hit."
"I don't need a bowl. The cereal is a topping for the casserole. You can use an unsugared cereal, lightly buttered bread crumbs, a handful of potato chips, that type of thing."
When Despina enters the Presbyterian Church, the first person she meets is Nancy.
"I'm so delighted to see you again."
After Despina explains how she happens to be there, Nancy takes her under her wing. In response to inquisitive questions from the ladies in the adult Sunday school circle, Despina gets good mileage out of describing her reaction to her non-classroom, keeping everyone laughing. Soon she has a promise, unasked for, of the loan of some old desks and a blackboard, which Nancy will have Tex deliver.
Day of Atonement?
All too soon, it is time to return to the hovel. People begin to leave, and Despina assures Nancy that her nice young man's service must have just run a bit long.
But, Jacques does not come.
"I will not hear of you staying alone, abandoned, here at the church! What church is this Jacques attending? We can deliver you," Nancy insists.
Less than a block away, they meet a very forlorn Jacques, afoot, heading toward their church.
Rolling the window down, Tex asks, "Trouble?"
"Someone appears to have put water in my gas line while I was attending services, according to the mechanic. He can't work on it until tomorrow morning. I've reserved two rooms at the local motel. Would you mind dropping us off there?"
"Of course not. It's right on the way. Hop in."
Despina remembers, No water, minimal heat,but she keeps her mouth shut. Asking this super nice lady to drive another 20 miles to the reservation is too much. Even the flat road is so pot holed as to be nearly impassable to a low slung passenger car.
As they check in at the office, Jacques requests, "May I get an early wake up call? The mechanic will be coming in at seven to pick up the car."
"Sorry, señor, but there are no phones."
"Getting up early is not a problem. I'm an early riser. Taking an early morning walk before the heat hits will be quite therapeutic. I can knock you up."
"You're really being a good sport about this."
"I just am sorry that you have to buy me a room. I never thought past bringing my offering."
"The mechanic thinks if we bleed the line, then refill the tank, things ought to be copacetic. If there is sugar in there, too, though, things could get bad."
"Do we have trouble like this often?"
He hesitates. "The priest wanted to call back a parishioner with a car to help me out, but I settled for calling the mechanic to arrange to tow the car to the garage. When I described how it died, he seemed sure he knew what the trouble was. Father Fran seemed to feel it was done in retaliation for Saturday night."
"So what trouble did you get yourself into on Saturday."
"Me? I, uh, one never really knows about these things."
Despina surfaces at dawn the next morning. Five-ish is quite a few hours from his appointment. I need to do something about finding a solution to the "no water" problem. Maybe if I walk down town, the cafe will be open.
Setting out, she walks briskly along the highway, trying to remember how far down the road the cafe is. Nothing is open yet, and the lack of facilities has begun to be a real problem when she spies the sheriff's office. A light blazes, so she crosses the deserted highway and pops in, startling the night dispatcher, who had been asleep.
"Kin I he'p ya?"
"I sure hope so. Can you show me the closest bathroom?"
With a nod, the flustered clerk indicates a door, and Despina disappears into it, emerging a short time later looking washed and refreshed.
"What time does the cafe open?"
"I'd say, give 'er 'nuther 45 minutes, or so, 'n she ought ta be there, cookin'.
"How far is it from here?"
"'Bout three quarters of a mile, on t'other side."
She heads back, first knocking politely, then POUNDING, on Jacque's door before getting a response.
As they are walking toward the cafe, Cu's battered pick-up pulls up along side.
"Por qué están Uds. andando?"
"Hay agua in la linea de gasolina."
"¿Qué, qué? ¿De dónde vienes?"
"Del motel. Vamos al café para desayunarnos."
Cu leans over and forces the passenger side door open. She climbs in, then Jacques.
After using her last bit of change for a sweet roll, she and Cu drop Jacques off, then head back to meet her students on their all-important first day of school.
Last updated 2/9/02.