Dorothy scraped the mud from the bottom of her shoes. Bending was the worst, but there was no way to accomplish the task without bending. She turned to fling a handful of mud into the darkness and saw two small shoes stuck in the unforgiving muck just inches from the Annex door.
They looked like Bobby’s. The little imp. He wasn’t even to be out in the rain, much less leave his one and only pair of shoes out here for anyone to help themselves to.
She wrestled them out of the mire and hurled a glob of mud as far as she could toss it. Dollops of sludge and debris broke away and landed on her arm and peppered her skirt. She gasped, looking at the mess she’d made of herself. In an instant it turned her pristine white coat into prison garb.
Thoughts as dark as her dirty coat simmered up from her empty belly, and she suddenly lashed out.
I hate this!
The words she spat into the night seemed thrown back into her face by the pelting rain. They stung her ears and bruised her heart.
She muttered, striving to dispel the harsh thoughts as she swiped another fistful of mud and cast it angrily to the ground. Rain dripped across her face, mingling with the tears that had somehow exploded from her eyes.
Leave it, Dorothy...just get on with it!
She slammed the soles of Bobby’s shoes together, doing a great deal to shed mud from the shoes and a great deal more to soil herself and the annex wall. But if anything, the little shoes looked worse than before.
Again and again she clapped the soles together.
Her muscles shrieked louder with each vicious thrust, until at last her shoulders fell in exhaustion and her mind slipped into darker territory.
This is all my fault.
As the words slid from the shadowy place where she’d confined them these many months, the stone that was lodged in her throat finally moved, letting out the cry she’d stifled for so long.
I did this.
The condemning words seemed to scorch the darkness around her, at the same time bleeding her of anger as she released them into the rain. Her breast heaved, forcing long, rasping gulps of air to rush from her with the guttural sounds of a woman whose mind was threatening to abandon her.
God help me!
Suddenly the self-vilification was gone. Just like that. Dissipated into the molecules of wetness that still pummeled her face.
Resignation slowed her hand as she swept away the worst of the mud from herself and from Bobby’s shoes and carried them with her into the Annex.
Step by trembling step she moved away from the scene of her momentary madness. It was time for her to get a grip. She could do it. She had to do it. She’d done it countless times before. She could do it again. She was a problem solver. A healer. A saver of lives. A clever creator of ingenious tools. She was a visionary, a devoted Christian, a champion of the underdog, a servant. She was a mother. A parent. A warrior.
She was a failure.
The thought stopped her in her tracks, and with the greatest effort she struggled to find words that would banish that horrible thought. But it refused to release her.
She couldn’t protect her children. She couldn’t find the food to sustain them another day. She couldn’t even clean a muddy pair of shoes.
Dorothy had never in her life accepted failure. But she had never in her life felt so tired. Thank God for the rain, because if the air raid sirens had gone off again she didn’t think she had the strength to gather the children and crawl under the bed.
It must be the fatigue that got the best of her tonight. She wasn’t the sort to rail at the wind. She’d have strongly admonished any of her student nurses who spoke to themselves the way she had tonight. She might even have lectured her own children had they dared show such weakness.
Yes, that was it. Fatigue. It had to be the fatigue. It seemed to quadruple each day. Since they’d moved the children’s ward to the Main Building it was twice as far from her room now, and she had to stop and rest at least three times every time she walked to or from the clinic. Needing to stop twice in an eight-minute walk was nothing short of shocking.
She paused a moment before entering the room, and begged her God to clear her mind, to let her creative spirit flow so she could craft a solution to getting food for her children.
In the unusual quiet she felt a tiny portion of her burden fall away. Somehow it was going to be all right. That thought encircled her mind and calmed the tremor in her stomach.
Feeling stronger than she had a moment earlier, Dorothy straightened her shoulders and arranged her face in the cheerful countenance she required herself to present to her children, and stepped into the room.
She walked quietly to the corner she shared with her two children and then stopped, a small gasp escaping her lips. She reached one hand to the wall to steady herself, and the other flew to her mouth of its own accord.
Carol was sitting up on the bed, licking her fingers and smiling more broadly than
Dorothy had seen in weeks. Bobby sat beside her bed on his little stool, a bit of cloth in his hands that he now raised for Carol to make another selection.
Dear God in heaven.
Bobby had found food.