Thursday, October 03, 2019

Poplar Mountain Part 36 by Dellani Oakes


The church is crowded for the funeral. The brothers aren't sure if it's because they want to show respect, or if they want to make sure that Big Earl is really dead.

The service passed in a blur. The heat of the building and press of bodies made Luke weak. He was dizzy and sweating when they rose for the final hymn. He swayed slightly, but Will supported him, holding his elbow until his knees gave out. Sitting conspicuously, he bowed his head as if praying. In reality, it was the only way he could keep from vomiting.
Moments later, Doc Starbuck stood at the end of their pew, eyes full of concern. He and Will helped Luke to the room where the minister changed into his vestments. Pushing him gently onto a seat, the doctor examined him.
"I had a feeling this would be too much for you, Lucius. But I couldn't keep you from your pa's funeral. Will, I got this. You go on back to your mama. She'll need you for the graveside. Send Miss Belloit back, if you would."
"Yes, sir." Nodding, he half bowed and left.
Moments later, Dollie stood framed in the doorway. She rushed to Luke's side.
"Is he all right? Did he relapse?" She felt of his forehead and checked his pulse.
"Too much heat and not enough air," the doctor replied. "He'll be fine once he cools down. Start by taking off that jacket, son." He helped Luke take off his jacket, loosen his tie and roll up his sleeves.
Dollie got a towel from the cupboard and dampened it at the sink in the corner. Squatting by his side, she bathed Luke's face and neck with it. The doctor found a Communion goblet in the cabinet and got him a drink of water. Luke smiled when he saw the vessel.
"Reckon I'm doubly blessed now, Doc?"
"Got to be, boy. You sure recovered faster than I anticipated. It's that constitution of yours. The Henrys have always been a hardy bunch. Must have been quite a virulent microbe to get you down."
"Don't quite know what that means, sir," Luke answered, somewhat embarrassed by his ignorance.
"Means it was a hell of a bug," the doctor replied. He took Luke's pulse, frowning. "You're to take it easily tonight. I don't want you up that mountain. If you have to, stay with me and the wife."
"We've got dozens of beds going begging," Dollie replied. "Patty and I can keep an eye on him tonight."
"You'd be my choice of nurses," Doc Starbuck replied. "I never met two women more attuned to illness and healing than you two."
"Our mother is a nurse," Dollie replied, dabbing at Luke's face once more. "His color's better." She settled back on her heels, smiling.
Doctor Starbuck encouraged her to sit on a chair. She didn't move until he lifted her, seating her.
"The chapel's cleared out now. We'll head back to my place. I've got my car."
"Leave that for Mrs. Starbuck," Dollie said. "I've got mine. Will and Patty can ride back with your wife."
The doctor agreed this was a good plan. They found his wife and Patty waiting by the front door. Sharing that information, they went up to the girls' dorm. Dollie made up one of the beds in the dormitory and Luke gladly sat on it.
"Don't have my pajamas," he said to the doctor.
"Nonsense, you don't need 'em. Strip down to your nickers and undershirt. It's too damn hot for such fripperies as pajamas," Doc Starbuck said.
Luke had to admit that it was warm in the room. Dollie opened the large, low windows. This side of the building was mostly surrounded by mountain laurel bushes. Their fragrance filtered through the screens, wafting over them on the gentle breeze. It wasn't much movement of air, but it helped. Dollie left to find a fan to move the air more. While she was gone, the doctor helped him undress and put him to bed with just a sheet over him.
Dollie set up the fan so it would blow across him. It felt marvelous. She brought him some broth and a cold drink. He drank both and fell into a light sleep. He could hear Dollie talking to the doctor. Soon, their voices blended into the droning of the bees in the bushes outside. His sleep deepened and he suspected Dollie had slipped something in his drink. He was past caring as the sound of the bees lulled him.

Luke sat up in bed, listening. It was dark, but a light shown in the hallway. The door was ajar and he could hear voices down the corridor. Putting on his pants, he walked barefoot to Dollie and Patty's apartment. Their happy voices met his ears. Their laughter was joined by the deeper tones of his brother. He tapped on the door which was slightly open.
Dollie called to him, opening the door. "You look much better! Come on in. I was just about to wake you. We're ready to eat."
Will helped him sit as if he were a woman. It embarrassed him slightly, but he had to admit he didn't think he could have scooted the heavy chair in himself.
"You ain't up at the house with Ma?"
"She told me come look after you. She's got more family than she knows to do with. The girls are there to help her. Plus all our aunts and cousins. She'll be fine. I'm just as glad not to be there. Hard for me to be sad. That man may have been good once...."
© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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