Another day passed and another after that. I hadn’t slept so much in my adult life – an early bed and then long afternoon naps. At first I worried that the kids wouldn’t have enough to keep them busy.
Whenever they’re in the apartment with nothing to do they bounce off the walls, so we sign them up for camp, lessons, sports. But it wasn’t a problem at Selu. They dug clay and made bowls, gathered kindling and caught crawdads. One of the teenagers helped Dante make a bow and arrows. Chloe and a new friend wove necklaces out of grass.
When it rained we spent a whole day shelling beans and playing board games; we hadn’t had so much time together in more than a year.
After the first twenty-four hours – once I could see there were no perverts in the community, or at least no threatening ones – I realized I didn’t need to watch the kids as closely as in New York. There were no cars to run them over, no violent movies, no junk food. And someone was always watching by the creek. Hours passed when I didn’t see them until they appeared at my side, faces smudged with soot or honey, just to check in.
On the third day I woke up at sunrise. The kids were still sleeping, but I was ready to stretch my legs and I figured they’d find me in the common house. Corinne was slicing cantaloupe with elaborate care, her long brown hair hanging down over her face as she positioned the blade before sawing gently into the flesh. She did everything that way, meticulously, precisely, attentively; whether scrubbing a skillet or mixing slippery elm bark tea.
It drove me crazy to watch how slowly she moved, and I asked if I could help. I had sliced about eight cantaloupes into wedges and would have finished the whole job by the time Corinne started in on her second melon. Then my knife slipped. It was only a superficial laceration, but blood was spurting fast enough I had to ask for a Band Aid and some antibiotic ointment. For the first time since I’d met her, Corinne moved fast; before I could object my finger was dressed with gauze and honey.
We sat at one of the tables. “I can’t believe I did that,” I said. “I haven’t cut myself cooking in about ten years.”
“Do you cook a lot?”
“No, but you know, my hands are normally pretty steady. I spend a lot of time threading catheters down babies’ throats.”
“That must be scary to have someone’s life in your hands.”
“It’s the most thrilling job on earth.”
She asked me about the kind of patients I treated, the illnesses they had, how I coped when they died. And I found myself talking on about why I loved what I did. I said that once I’d tried an occupation dealing every day in matters of life and death, everything else I could imagine doing seemed trivial. Corinne just nodded. But I found myself defending my profession — the time it took up, its centrality in my life. “When it’s a choice between baking a cake for my son’s birthday, or preventing someone’s heart attack, I’m going to get the cake from a bakery!”
“I can imagine.” Corinne ran a finger through her hair.
As we talked, the breakfast crowd had trickled in. “I think I’ll be all right,” I told her. “We’d better get the rest of the food ready.”
She looked up at the crowd. “They’ll manage okay.” She turned back to me. “It sounds like you feel caught in between.”
“Sometimes,” I said. “Doesn’t everyone?” But I realized as I said it that Corinne probably never did have that feeling. In my world, everyone had a plan, not just the doctors and accountants, but babysitters and busboys; even homeless people were figuring out how to get ahead. I always loved that energy in New York. Now I was looking at someone for whom the future didn’t matter.