Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Tempie dragged her groceries behind her in the wheeled metal bin as she walked the half mile between the store and her house. They would have delivered, the cashier had reiterated no less than fifteen times.
"Don't do this to yourself," Mike, the owner, had come out of his glassed-in office to scold her gently. "Just call."
They all treated her as if she was as delicate as the children she healed. And there were times she was. And during those times she appreciated their help, and the help of the nurses and cashiers that came to cook for her and read to her when she'd taken on so much pain she couldn't get out of bed. Dianne would bring the classics to keep from sullying the ears of her angel, and Jolene would bring Cosmo or Us Weekly to give Tempie a taste of the life that normal people lived, people who weren't supposed to be angels. People who weren't expected to be delicate.
On a whim, she took a detour, adding half a mile to her slow walk to wander by the local playground. The joyous screeches and happy laughter lifted her spirits. Children didn't know how to live anything but a normal life. The children in the hospital freed from their hospital bed and their pains wouldn't be any different from these children playing in the sun.
Had Temperance played like that when she was younger? It felt like so long ago. She'd been healing children since she'd been one herself, starting the cycles of pain and recovery at the tender age of eight when her best friend jumped a small ramp they'd created on the sidewalk with a warped plank of wood and a brick. She'd landed wrong, jerking the handlebars, and ending up in the street just in time to bounce off the hood of a car.
Raya's pain had ripped through Tempie, even as the girl fell to the street. Tempie's father jumped from the car, stumbling around to stare drunkenly at the crushed bicycle. They'd traded, so Tempie's bike was the tangled mess attached to the bumper, but she'd ignored him to follow her instincts, pressing both hands into the blood as her friend screamed. The hardest part was handling the pain. She could fix the injuries, but the pain had to go somewhere, and Tempie took it into herself then and kept taking it since. Otherwise, they'd never really heal. Contant pain caused it's own injuries.
She might dream of a normal life, of spending more than a few days without pain, but when the parents showed up with desperate teary eyes, how could she say no? How could anyone? She wondered if any of the children out there playing were hers, were able to play because of her.
She hadn't kept track, but the newspaper had counted them up last year, leaving off Raya, of course. No one knew about Raya except the man that had hit her. The man who'd then sold his daughter's abilities for booze money until he'd died of cirrhosis of the liver just before she would have finished high school had she been allowed to keep going. Still that left her newspaper total at 311. Because of Temperance, there were 312 children who were able to enjoy these playgrounds.
By any measure of life she'd ever heard of, 312 children alive and healthy counted for so much more than how many dates she hadn't been on, how many ex-husbands she'd never had, or the lack of children in her own home.
Usually in the recovery times, when she was almost better, but not quite ready to heal the next one...
Only then, did she let herself wish for something for herself warmer than a tally count.
Temperance dropped down onto her front stoop, needing a few minutes to rest before dragging the cart up the two steps into her house. She'd been sitting only seconds when she recognized the cashier -- not Jolene or Dianne, Temperance didn't know this one's name yet -- bouncing up the sidewalk.
"Mike sent me. He thought you'd overdone it. Here let me take this into the house for you." She pulled the cart out of Tempie's hand and up the steps so easily, without even a hitch in her breath or the slightest sign of effort. She could probably have carried the milk, bread, and peanut butter the whole way without the assistance of the cart.
Temperance sighed, steeling herself to the indignities of being taken care of and followed the cashier into the empty house where thank you cards and caretakers took the place of emotion and family and reminded herself to be appreciative.