I woke up a few hours later. Jude held me tighter. “Go back to sleep, Julia. You need more rest.”
“You must be uncomfortable, Jude.”
“I’m not, in fact I’m very comfortable.” I closed my eyes and drifted off again. The dogs jumping off the sofa woke me up some time later. Jude got up to let them out. I could hear him in the kitchen getting them their breakfast. I got up and went to the bathroom. When I emerged, I could smell coffee brewing, so I went to the kitchen and sat down at the table. Jude sat down on the horizontal side.
“Will you be okay if I go to town, Julia? I can go another day if you want me to stay.”
“I’ll be fine, Jude. And thank you for being so good with me last night. I’m sorry I gave you a hard time.”
“Don’t worry about it, luv.” He reached over and put his hand over my left hand and gave it a squeeze. “I’m glad you finally got some sleep. But it wasn’t enough. I’d like you to lay down for a bit after I leave. I‘m going to give you your meds, then go and feed the cow and check on the chickens. I’ll clean her stall when I get back from town. When I get in, I will get your crutches from upstairs. You stay on that chair until I do, you‘ve been on that foot enough. I didn‘t say anything last night since you were so stressed, but I‘m saying something now.” He poured me a coffee, and got my meds out and put the morning’s dose in a shot glass and set it in front of me with a glass of water. “How is your hand? Do you need some pain medication?”
“Yes, please. It’s throbbing.” He got some pain pills and gave me two. Then he put a jacket on and was out the door. The dogs had finished their breakfast and went out with him.
I sat and drank my coffee, thinking about what had happened the night before. The pain in my hand was reminding me how stubborn I’d been over that glass of wine. I knew Jude was concerned about my drinking. Part of me wanted to tell him to back the hell off or he wouldn’t like the result of his meddling. The other part of me knew he was right and I should not be drinking with a heart condition. I knew he was just trying to look out for me. I also knew I needed to move on and get over Ben. Jude was being such a gentleman and I felt completely safe with him. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have fallen asleep in his arms.
He said he had felt that spark, too. Which indicated to me that he was feeling something for me. He said he would not make a move on me and that if anything were to happen between us, it would be at my initiative. How did I feel about having a relationship with him at some point down the road? I certainly was attracted to him and I really liked him, but did I want to go to the next level? I didn’t know.
Jude interrupted my thoughts when he and the dogs came through the door. He poured himself a coffee and a second one for me. Sitting down at the table, he said “I’m going to go upstairs and shower after my coffee. Then I will get breakfast for us before I go into town.”
“I need to go upstairs and get dressed.”
“Why, Julia? You should be going to bed for a while longer.”
“First, I need to try milking the cow.”
“How can you milk her with only one hand?”
“Just do one teat at a time instead of two.”
“I’d really rather you didn’t go out there today. You had a rough time last night, then didn’t get enough sleep. I’d like you to rest today, if you will. Milking the cow can wait another day or two.” His eyes were pleading with me.
“Okay, Jude - if it will make you feel better.”
“It’s not for me, it’s for you. But if that gets you to do it, so be it. Is there anything you want me to get you while I‘m in town?”
“I can’t think of anything, Jude.”
“I’m not going for a bit, so if you think of something, let me know.”
Jude insisted I go up and lay down before he left. After breakfast, he brought my crutches down so I could get up there without walking on my broken foot. He followed me up and into the bedroom. “The dogs have just been out, I’ll be back before they need to go out again, so you stay up here and sleep”, he said as he pulled the covers over me. “You sure there’s nothing you want?”
“I’ll see you later, then.” He kissed my forehead, then left the room.
It didn’t take me long to fall asleep. I was still pretty tired. Jude was right to insist I get more sleep instead of going out to the barn.
I opened my eyes. Someone was sitting on the bed beside me. I recognized my husband, Ben. “Ben! What….”
“Shhhh, Julia. I’m only allowed to visit for a couple minutes. I had to come back and talk to you.”
“About you. You need to stop with the drinking, Julia.”
“Don’t you get on my ass, too, Ben.”
“I’m getting on your ass. You need it. You never used to drink like this.”
“I never needed to.”
“You don’t need to now. Look, Julia, you need to get over me. I don’t want you sitting around moping and endangering your heath with the wine. That’s not a good way to treat my memory, darling. It’s time to move on. Find someone else. It will not sully my memory for you to fall in love again.”
“It’s not like there are any prospects, Ben.”
“There’s someone right in this house that is beginning to care for you a lot.”
“Yes. Give him a chance, Julia. Go slow if you need to. He’ll understand. And please, listen to him and take his advice.”
“There’s so much I want to ask you, Ben.”
“About the afterlife?”
“I’m not allowed to tell you anything except that it’s comfortable. No pain, no sorrow. I have to go now.”
“Ben! Ben!” I called out. Someone was shaking me.
“Julia, wake up. You’re having a dream.”
I opened my eyes again and Jude was standing over the bed with his hand on my hip, gently shaking me. “Jude! What…”
“You were having a dream, luv. You were calling out to Ben.” I instantly remembered what I had been dreaming, but I wasn’t sure whether to tell Jude or not.
“I’m sorry, Jude. I know you want to get going.”
“Get going? I went and I’m back now. I checked in on you to see if you were okay and you were thrashing about. I take it you were dreaming about Ben?”
“Yes.” I sat up.
“You stay right there, Julia. I’m going to get my stethoscope and check you out. I want to make sure the stress hasn’t affected your heart.” He was back in a couple minutes with his stethoscope and b/p cuff as well as a Holter monitor he had picked up in town. He wrapped the cuff around my arm, placed the diaphragm of the stethoscope just inside my elbow and inflated the cuff. He slowly - too slowly! - deflated it before taking it off.
“It’s a bit high, luv. Let’s listen to your heart.” He carefully listened, then told me to lay back down while he put the Holter on.
“Jude, can I have a shower while on that?”
“No, you can’t.”
“I’d like to have one first.”
“Okay, let me get it ready for you.”
I took my nightshirt off and put on my bathrobe before going to the bathroom. Jude was running water for me. The shower seat was in the tub.
“It’s all ready, luv. Let me help you get that boot cast off, then I’ll go make my bed and clean up my room while you’re in here. I‘ll give you a few minutes after I hear the water stop running, then I‘ll come back to help you get this on again.” He left and closed the door.
Half an hour later, we were in the kitchen having lunch. “What else did you get in town?” I asked Jude.
“Some first aid supplies and medications, just in case either of us needs them. Oh, and this.” He got up and went out to the porch. Seconds later, he was back with a small gift bag in his hand. He set it on the table beside my plate. I was just finishing my sandwich.
“For me?” I asked.
“What is it?”
“Look inside and see.” I pulled the tissue paper off the top and peeked in. It looked like nail polish and a small jewellery box in the bottom. “Need some help? I know you are one handed right now.” He reached in and pulled out the box. “You take the lid off. I’ll hold it.”
I pulled the lid off with my left hand. Inside was a gold bracelet. “Jude, it’s beautiful!”
“Here, let me put it on you, luv.”
“Thanks.” I held my left hand out and he put it on my wrist. “Jude, you aren’t British, yet you use the word ‘luv’ a lot.”
“My mother was from England. I picked it up from her, but I only use it on very special people.”
“You are very sweet. Why were you single?”
“Too busy raising my children, though I did date a little here and there. Nothing serious, though. Let‘s see what else is in here.” He brought out a few bottles of nail polish in various colours. “You pick a colour and after I clean the cow’s stall, I will put it on you, since you have only one hand at the moment.”
“Jude, this is so nice of you, but I’m not used to it.”
“Not used to what?”
“Wearing jewellery, doing my nails. Never really had time for it. Or money.”
“Well, you have time now, and money is not an issue. So let me pamper you a bit. Unless you don’t want your nails done.”
“Oh, no, it’s fine. I used to do them in my teens, I loved it. But then I married a farmer! It will be nice to have them done again.”
“I’ll be back soon.” He called to the dogs and took them with him.
I wanted a drink so I got up and walked to the fridge, sans crutches. The bottle of wine on the top shelf seemed to be calling my name. I stood there a moment, ignoring the pain in my foot, trying to decide. I really wanted it, but I remembered my “visit” from Ben - and the promise I’d made to Jude. Whether it was a dream or an actual visit from the afterlife, Ben was right - I had to get past his death and make a life for myself in this new world I found myself in. And Jude was so nice and so concerned. After what he’d just done for me, how could I break my promise again - my promise to not drink for two weeks? I took a can of pop from the crisper and shut the door.
Sitting back down at the table, I popped the tab on the can and took a drink. Jude came in from the barn in a while and looked at the can. “That’s not great, but it’s better than wine.”
“I won’t lie to you, Jude. I almost went for the wine.”
“What stopped you?”
“My promise to you. And my dream.”
He sat down. “I’d rather you have done it because it’s what *you* wanted, but at least you didn’t have any. It will get easier, luv.” He gave my good hand a squeeze. “I’m going to put a chicken in the microwave to defrost, then go upstairs to clean up. When I come back down, I’ll put it in the oven. I’m going to make a nice dinner for us tonight. You leave it alone, you’re to stay off your feet, okay?”
“After I get it in, I’ll do your nails.”
Jude had brought an assortment of colours and I chose a pale pink nail polish. We sat at the kitchen table and he applied it very carefully. I was impressed, he did a perfect job. “Where did you learn to do this so well?” I asked him.
“When my daughter was too young to do it herself, I did it for her. She was a real girly-girl and got interested in makeup very young. Her mother would give her some of her old clothing that she didn’t wear anymore, and Alisha would dress up in fancy dresses and we’d have tea parties.”
“That is sweet, Jude. Did you have custody?”
“Yes. Their mother felt they would be better off with me as my income was considerably higher. I didn’t ask for child support, but she spent a lot of time with them and helped out with what she could.”
“You were a good dad, Jude.”
“Thank you, Julia”, he said before getting up from the table. “I have to go feed the cow.” He turned and walked out of the kitchen. I had seen a hint of a tear in his eyes. That’s why he left so suddenly, I thought. My heart went out to him. It must have been hell to bury your children.
I got up, and using my crutches, made my way upstairs. I hesitated outside the door of the master bedroom, then opened it and went inside. I had closed the vent, as well as the vents in the other unused rooms, so that the furnace wouldn’t heat them and the oil would stretch farther. The room was cold. It was exactly as I’d left it the last time I’d been in it. The mattress was on the floor, leaning up against the box spring. I’d left it there after trying to get it out of the bedroom and giving up. I really should try again, I thought. Would it be wrong to ask Jude to help move the mattress my husband had died on? There were no stains on it, it had been covered in plastic with a heavy mattress pad over that. So it could be used again, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to sleep on it. Maybe I’d switch it with the one guest room mattress that was the same size - queen. Ben and I had started to replace the double bed in each room with a queen but we were doing it as we could afford to.
I went over to my dresser and pulled up the chair we had kept in the bedroom. I sat down on it and adjusted the makeup mirror, then began to do my face. I’d never worn it every day, but if we were going somewhere, I’d usually put a light coat of it on. It was hard doing it with only one hand so I just did some foundation and blush. Then I went to the closet and selected a nice blouse to wear. I put it on and brushed out my very long hair.
After making sure I looked all right, I went back downstairs. I figured if Jude was cooking a nice dinner, the least I could do is look presentable. Jude was just coming in. He stopped when he saw me. “Julia, you look very lovely!”
“Thank you, Jude. I figured since you were cooking a nice dinner, I should look presentable, though I couldn‘t put full makeup on, or earrings with only one good hand.”
“ You look just fine, luv. Now I have to go change and clean up!”
“No, you don’t, Jude.”
“I probably smell like a barn. I’ll put a pot of coffee on, then I’ll go do it.”
We had a nice meal in the dining room. Jude found my candles and lit them - I had told him that this was his home, too, and to feel free to use anything in it. “I’m not trying to make it ‘romantic’, Julia”, he said. “I told you that if anything were to happen between us, it would be at your initiative. I just thought you needed a nice evening and that if I did your nails, it might be a pick-me-up for you.”
“That’s very sweet of you, Jude.”
After dinner, Jude stacked the dishes in the sink, and we sat in the living room in front of a fire with our coffee. “If my hand wasn’t injured, I’d play my guitar for a bit”, I said.
“Don’t worry about that, luv. We can just sit and talk.”
“Jude, we really need to get more done to get ready for winter.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“We absolutely need more firewood. That is number one priority.”
“Do you know where to get that?”
“Yes. We *could* just go around to each place we see that has a chimney and gather up their leftovers from last winter, but that would take too much time. The fastest way is to go to the sellers and load their wood into that truck we brought back from U-Haul - it would hold more than the pickup truck.”
“Wouldn’t they be low, too?”
“No. Everything went down in March, people who underestimated how much wood they’d need for the winter would be looking for more, also some bought it in smaller amounts and more frequently. And, finally, they might have started on the next winter‘s supply.”
“Yes, because it needs six months to dry out.”
“Okay, but *you* won’t be doing any slinging of wood. I’ll load it.”
“You can’t do it all yourself.”
“I have to. You only have one good foot and one good hand. What else needs to be done?”
“I need to make sure there’s enough hay, straw and grain for the animals. And we need apples.”
“Where are we going to get hay and straw?”
“Raid farms for leftovers from last winter. It’s not ideal, especially with hay, but it will have to do.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Hay loses it’s nutrients over time. But we can’t get a late crop in because it’s wet.” We’d had some rain the last couple days.
“When do you want to start doing all this?”
“Tomorrow - after I milk the cow.”
“I’d really like you to wait at least a few days and let that hand heal a bit, though I fear that it is hopeless to even try to talk you into it. You can drive with just one hand, right?”
“Yes, I do it all the time.”
“Here’s the deal. We’ll take the U-Haul truck and *I* will load it, okay?”
“Jude, it will be so much faster if I help. You can throw the wood onto the truck and I’ll stack it. We can do it in half the time.”
“I sense it would be useless to try to talk you out of that.”
He laughed. “Ok, here’s another deal - if you re-break your foot, you let me cast it. I’ll put a walking cast on.”
I thought a moment. “Okay, Jude. It’s a deal.” The smug look on his face told me he was certain I would break the bone again. I would have to be extra careful so that that wouldn’t happen.
I slept upstairs that night, but did not sleep well. I kept tossing and turning. Every time I would look at the clock, it was still too early to get up. Finally, it was 5am. We’d been sleeping until sometime between 7 and 8, but I got up anyway. After going to the bathroom and getting dressed, I went downstairs and let the dogs out. Then I put on a pot of coffee. I wanted to start washing the dishes in the sink, but there was no way with my one hand all wrapped up. So I filled it with hot soapy water to let them soak, and sat down at the table.
Jude came down just as the coffee was ready. He poured us a cup and sat down. “You are up early, Julia.”
“I couldn’t sleep so I figured I might as well get up and get ready for the day.”
“I’m going to take that Holter monitor off before we go and I’ll look at the results. If I don’t like them, you are staying home.” The dogs barked to let us know they wanted in. Jude got up and got their breakfast for them.
We finished our coffee and headed out to the barn. “How are you going to do this?” Jude asked as we walked across the yard.
“I’ll put her in the bath stall, it’s narrow so she can’t swing away from me. I’ll give her her grain while I milk her, that will help take her mind off what’s happening. I have a holder there to put a bucket in, I used it when training horses to stand in a narrow space. Grain helped a lot!”
When I got Mama in place in the shower stall, I asked Jude to get me a bale of straw to sit on as I did not have a stool low enough. I cleaned her udder and sat down with a clean bucket between my legs. Here we go, I thought, bracing myself for a kick as I reached under her and took a teat in my left hand. I squeezed and milk sprayed into the bucket. Mama shifted a bit as if she wasn’t sure she liked this touch where her baby nursed. The calf was looking around the barn, I knew she wouldn’t stray far from her mother but I asked Jude to keep an eye on her just in case. “Easy girl”, I said in a calm voice. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
I gave the teat another squeeze….then another…then another. No kick. I breathed a sigh of relief. Soon I was in full milking mode one handed. I milked the quarter dry, then took another teat. I did three quarters and left the fourth for the calf. There was enough in the bucket for Jude and I.
Jude put Mama and baby out in the pasture and did her stall, then we went back to the house. I put the milk through the separator, then put the milk and cream in the fridge. I’d make butter with the cream this evening or the next day.
Jude took the Holter monitor off me and I had a shower while he looked at the results. When I went back downstairs, he was making breakfast. After we sat down to eat, he said “I know you are wondering about the Holter. It isn’t catastrophic. It looks a little worse than what’s in your chart, but a simple medication adjustment should work. I brought some back with me from town yesterday, figuring I might need to make a change.”
“Can I still go today?”
“Yes. But listen to your body. If you are tired, stop working and let me do it. Deal?”
After Jude showered, we were on our way. We didn’t take the dogs as we did not want them getting underfoot or running off and getting lost - though they usually stuck quite close to us.
Jude and I made a good team and by 1 in the afternoon, we’d got almost half of the truck filled. He insisted we stop and have lunch so he went into the house and came out with a couple cans of baked beans and a can opener. “Oh, Jude, you might want to get something else for me.”
“I’ll be farting up a storm.”
“Oh, okay.” He headed back to the house. I laughed.
He came back with a can of ravioli and opened it as well as his beans. “How are you feeling?” he asked as we ate.
“I’m doing okay”, I replied.
“I should have brought my stethoscope to check you out during our break.”
“I’m all right, Jude. Really.”
“How about your foot?”
“It’s okay, too. A little sore but not bad.”
“You let me know if it gets bad or if you get tired or have any chest pain or fluttering, you hear?”
“I will, Jude.”
By late afternoon, we’d almost filled the truck. I wandered over to what looked like a garden and sure enough, found some squash and pumpkins, which I insisted on picking. Back at the farm, we unloaded the wood into the free stall barn. We didn’t stack it, just put it in piles for now.
I slept a bit better that night - out of sheer exhaustion, I’m sure - but still not as well as I normally did. I had stayed up late to make butter out of the cream I’d gotten from milking the cow.
Once again, I was up early to get ready to go out again. I estimated we had one more load of wood to get to have enough to get through the winter. Ben and I just had a cord delivered before the virus had hit. We fed the animals and had our breakfast and were on our way. I didn’t milk Mama as we still had milk from the previous day and I’d got enough butter from the cream to last us a while. I told Jude that next time I milked, I’d make ice cream.
“That will be a nice treat”, he said. “Though you need to watch how much you have. Come to think of it, I do, too.” He patted his belly.
“You look just fine, Jude. You really aren’t that big.”
“I’m bigger than I should be. And as a cardiologist, I know better. Now that I’m in a situation to eat better than canned beans and pasta, I will get in better shape.”
“Throwing wood and bales of hay and straw around will help with that!” We both laughed.
That day was a lot harder on me than the previous one had been. And it had been bad enough. By the time we got home and got the wood unloaded, I was in a lot of pain - both with my foot and my hand - but did not want Jude to know. “I’m going upstairs for a shower”, I said.
“Use your crutches, Julia.” I hadn’t been using them while stacking wood.
After we both had showers, he changed the dressing on my hand. I tried not to show how much it hurt. “You are in a lot more pain that you are letting on”, he said to me. “Tomorrow, you rest.”
“I can’t, I have to get hay and straw.”
“It can wait a few days.”
I decided against arguing with him over it. The next morning, I got up even earlier and snuck out. I hoped that Jude wouldn’t be woken by the truck starting but even if he was, I’d be gone by the time he got downstairs. It was still dark out, so I drove down the road to another dairy farm, parked and layed across the seat to rest until daylight.
When it was light out, I got up and found the hay and straw storage, which was outside - the huge piles were covered with tarp to protect the bales from the elements. It looked like they had quite a bit left. Good. Made my job a lot easier. I backed the truck right up to it and started loading bales. Fortunately, this farmer used a lot of rectangular bales and not as many big round ones.
I had got about half the truck filled when it happened. I jumped off to throw some more bales up and landed on my broken foot. I’d been sitting down and sliding off. This time I jumped, intending to land on my good foot. It didn’t work out the way I planned. I landed and felt excruciating pain in my foot as I fell to the ground and lost consciousness.
My mind is foggy after that. I was in and out of it, more out than in. The first time I half way came out of it, it was twilight. The next time, it was dark. It was cold but I couldn’t get it together to get up and in the cab of the truck. I passed out again.
I felt something sniff me and opened my eyes. In the light of the moon, I saw an animal, it looked to be maybe a coyote. Then I saw another one. I tried to scream but couldn’t find my voice. They both layed down next to me, one on each side. I could feel their body heat. I drifted out of it again.
I heard a whining and opened my eyes. Dawn was breaking. One of the coyotes dropped something next to me. It was a dead rabbit. It nudged it’s prey closer to my face - it seemed like it was trying to get me to eat it. Once again, I lost consciousness.
I could feel myself being picked up and tried to open my eyes but was only able to open them a bit. “Wha…” I got out.
“Shhhhh, luv. Don’t try to talk. I have you now, I’ll get you home and look at you.” It was Jude. He put me into a pickup truck and shut the door. I could feel the warmth of the heater. He got in on the driver’s side and pulled out. I was out once more.
When I came around again, I was in a bed - the sofa bed in my living room. There was an awful burning in my chest. I looked around and saw I was hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor. There was a blanket and a pillow on the easy chair. There was a fire going in the fireplace. How did I get here? I wondered, then began remembering bits of what had happened. I remembered Jude picking me up. Where was he? He wasn’t here in the living room.
“Jude!” I called out in a weak voice. No response. I didn’t see the dogs either. They must be outside.
My broken foot and my hand hurt. Something felt weird about my foot. I tried to move the blankets to look, but I was too weak. I closed my eyes and drifted off.
I woke up when the dogs jumped up on the sofa bed. Jude was standing beside it. “Julia, luv!”
“Hi, Jude”, I said in a weak voice. “How did you find me?”
“First off, how are you feeling?”
“Like a Mack Truck hit me.”
“Do you remember anything of what happened?”
“I remember jumping off the truck and feeling a godawful pain in my foot. I fell and lost consciousness, I think.”
“Maybe from the pain, but then your heart took over in keeping you down.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I got you home, you were in v-fib.”
“Ventricular fibrillation. It’s a type of cardiac arrhythmia. I had to shock you to bring you back. It’s a good thing we brought all that cardiac equipment out here.”
“Is that why my chest is burning?”
“Yes. The paddles made burn marks. I’m sorry, Julia, but at least you are alive. I have cream for it, I’ve been putting it on for you.”
I tried to sit up. “You stay down, luv. You are too weak to sit up yet.”
“Why did it happen?”
“The v-fib? I don’t know. It could be from over-exertion or from the shock of laying in the cold all night. I‘ve been giving you antibiotics to prevent pneumonia.”
“I need to get the truck and get the hay off it.”
“What you need is to rest. I got the truck and unloaded it.”
“I took the old pickup and left it there at the farm you were at. We can get it when you are better.”
“You drove that big truck?”
“Yes, I did. I had to, I knew you’d be mighty pissed off at me if I didn’t get it home.” I smiled.
“It’s in a cast. You re-broke it and broke another bone. The cast will stay on until it’s healed”, he said in a firm voice.
“Just until I feel better.”
“No. Until it’s healed. Now, you rest. I’m going to get some supper on. You need to eat.”
“I don’t think I can eat.”
“You need to have something. You haven’t eaten in at least 3 days. I don‘t know if you stopped for lunch that day.”
“You‘ve been out of it that long.”
Three days! I’d thought it was still the same day Jude had put me in the truck and brought me home! He got up and went to the kitchen. I closed my eyes and fell asleep.